Dear Popular Culture,
Look, I realize this kind of thing is usually done face-to-face, and the “open letter” is, by definition, a rather impersonal medium for communication. Whenever you dramatize this kind of thing, it’s always in a small room, a select group of friends and family, all present to insist that we’re only doing this because we care. But there’s a lot of you to track down at once, and the written words is our medium of choice here at Flavorwire, so this is just going to have to do. We’re staging an intervention, popular culture. We’re worried about your addiction to the past.
We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that there have been red flags for years — warnings that we’ve chosen to ignore, but that any reasonable person would realize were a sign that your insatiable desire for nostalgia was getting out of hand. An A-Team movie? A remake of Clash of the Titans — and then a sequel to it? Bringing Knight Rider back to TV? Shame on us, popular culture, for not seeing Rock of Ages as the cry for help that it so clearly was. Shame on us all.
Any recovering addict can tell you the moment that they “hit bottom” — when they realized that their addiction was out of their control, and they had to seek help. And if you didn’t see that you “hit bottom” last Friday, then you might be in worse shape than we thought. That was when we found out about not one, but two troublesome transgressions. The first came from the Great White Way: news that the next big hit movie to make the jump to Broadway musical would be… Tim Burton’s forgettable, unfunny 1996 flop Mars Attacks! C’mon, Popular Culture. We saw Mars Attacks. Did you?
The second tidbit was even more worrisome: that you’re working on a sequel to the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito movie Twins, called Triplets — with Eddie Murphy as their previously unknown third brother. Popular Culture, listen closely now: this is something that no one wanted. No one has thought about Twins since 1989. It was a one-joke movie to begin with — a joke exploited to his fullest comic possibility in the ad campaign. You must remember that campaign: an image of Danny DeVito, with the name “SCHWARZENEGGER” above it. Ha! And then… a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger… with “DEVITO” above it! It’s so funny, because how could they be twins!?! With a joke that uproarious, I’m not surprised that it took you 23 years to come up with a topper: a third one, who is black! WORTH THE WAIT! I can hardly imagine the ad campaign this time! (And by “I can hardly imagine,” I mean, “I can totally imagine.”)
Listen closely, Popular Culture, because this is important, and it bears repeating from time to time: Just because something existed before, doesn’t mean it needs to exist again. And, as a corollary to that, it’s also worth noting that just because something came out when you were younger doesn’t mean it was awesome. Jonathan M. Goldstein, the filmmaker developing a new Vacation movie (God help us), told The New York Times, “The people who decide what movies get made are now, like me, in their early 40s, and they’re turning back to what they grew up with.” It’s a reasonable explanation for why you’ve have ’80s fever for years now, Popular Culture, but it’s not a good reason for it. You already tried to recapture the magic of Twins, Vacation, and the other example given in the Times piece, Billy Crystal’s new comedy from his City Slickers collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; the results were Junior, Vegas Vacation, and Father’s Day. Do we really need to go through this again?
I know it’s comfortable to turn to the past and replicate it when deciding what new films, television shows, and Broadway plays to make, and it offers a degree of insurance that audiences might be more inclined to show up. But like the alcoholic who is just getting by from one drink to the next, you’re a nostalgia junkie who can only get a rise by reanimating what’s dead and gone. The past is past. Let the ’80s stay in the ’80s. The first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem.
Jason T. Bailey