Lost in Translation has examined the passage of time on technology and how that affects adaptations and remakes. However, technology isn’t the only thing to change over time. Society and culture aren’t static. What was one scandalous may now be commonplace. What was once de rigeur is now out of fashion. What was once common practice is now forbidden by regulations.
Older contemporary works are seen as period pieces today. The social mores of Jane Eyre have long given way, so adaptations place it during its time. Prohibition limits The Great Gatsby to the 1920s. Changing the setting of either requires work to make the stories believable in the new era. Today’s world isn’t as class-based as the Victorian era and the excesses of the Twenties fall flat in today’s borderline recession.
Some works don’t have that nice delineation in their era. Their themes are considered timeless. But the details have begun to date them. Adaptations that don’t take into account the changes are going to fall flat. Take Catcher in the Rye, a novel commonly assigned in high school English classes. The novel was written in the Forties and reflected education and teenage isolation of the time. While teenage worries of finding a place in the world is still a concern, the details of the novel date the work. Today, Holden wouldn’t have flunked out of four schools; at some point, his learning disability would have been diagnosed long before the story began. He wouldn’t have been able to leave school without permission without an Amber alert being issued. And there is no way he could have walked into a bar to order any alcohol without ID; bars risk losing their license and both the establishment and the bartender risk large fines. While the book appears to be contemporary, it isn’t, and any adaptation, assuming the Salinger estate allows one, needs to be able to adjust for these changes.
It’s not necessary to go back that far. Even works from the Eighties needs to adjust. The 2006 film adaptation of Miami Vice had to account for how much the War on Drugs had changed since the TV series began airing in 1984. The police have become far more militarized, with military-surplus gear, in the intervening time. And not all changes are obvious. Subtle changes have happened over the past few decades.
Contemporary novels aren’t the only works affected. Science fiction has always been about the issues of the time the works were written. Let’s take two episodes from the original Star Trek, “Let That Be Your Final Battlefield” and “Day of the Dove”. With “Let That Be Your Battlefield”, the message was that discriminating because of skin colour was destructive, as the last two survivors from a planet where the only difference between peoples was whether they were black on the left side or the right side. Today, while the message is still needed, the approach would be less of a sledgehammer, like in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Far Beyond the Stars” which showed how discrimination hurt people. The message of “Day of the Dove” was that it is possible for foes to set aside differences and come to peace. In the original Trek, the Klingons represented the Soviet Union while the Federation acted as a stand-in for the US at a time when the Cold War was in full force and almost turned hot after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, the Cold War is in the past and, for the most part, the threat of nuclear annihilation has been dropping since the Eighties.
A quick fast forward to 1978 to the original Battlestar Galactica provides another example. At the time, women were beginning to try to break into the combat arms of various military services. The first American woman to be a combat pilot was Jeannie Leavitt in 1993. In the episode “The Lost Planet of the Gods”, to replenish the losses in shuttle pilots during the evacuation of both the Twelve Colonies and Carillon, the Galactica opened flight training to all, including women. In the episode, thanks to a disease picked up on a planet, the Galactica‘s fighter corps was down to just Apollo and Starbuck, forcing the new shuttle pilots to upgrade their skills to fly Vipers, the starfighters. On a mission to escort a medical shuttle to the planet to find a cure for the disease, Apollo and Starbuck lead the new pilots, but each needs to break off, one to check the planet for a safe landing zone, the other to check on a Cylon fighter trailing the squadron. When Starbuck leaves, he places Lieutenant Deitra, played by Sheila DeWindt, a black woman, in charge. Deidra gets four on-screen Cylon kills over the two-part episode and returns in a later episode. Today, though, the idea of not having women in any combat arms, especially in an advanced society, is considered backwards, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot showed women, including Kara Thrace and Sharon Valerii, as pilots with no fanfare about their gender.
Even today’s works will be affected in the future. As a wise green Muppet once said, “Always in motion is the future“. Most works will be based on current culture and issues. Creators can try to predict, but the most surprising thing about these predictions is that there is a success rate. What speculative fiction can do is explore the potential issues, from treatment of artificial intelligences to the problems of extraterrestrial colonization, and get people to think about them. The idea of firsts – first man in space, first woman to become a fighter pilot, first black man to command a mission on the International Space Station – will fall eventually as the firsts are achieved, yet today, they are important to track.
Culture is changing. The only constant is change. Adaptations, including remakes and reboots, will have to either keep the original work in its original time or make the effort to adjust the work to reflect the changes. Both approaches have challenges, and it is possible that an original cannot be easily updated.
And welcome to the column with Most Controversial Sounding Title yet. Which, much like my columns on sex, is probably going to be far more pedestrian than expected. Which is good in this case.
What we’re going to talk about here is our races (in this case species) and races (the distinct groups within species) and culture.
Yeah, I’m gonna keep it clinical if I can. (more…)
Best summary I heard “In Riverdale Anything Can Happen.”
I think there’s something to that. Archie in concept is tethered to certain ideas and characters who are archetypical. This in some ways is limiting, but as the characters are about very human situations, it is a human tether. Archie’s situations are human ones – love, school, life, death, food (especially in the case of Jughead).
But because Archie has this tether, you can then go hog wild with it in a way. It always has a ground, so go nuts. Team Archie up with the Punisher, have him fight Predator, explore alternate timelines, create the Legion of Archie. Whatever works – Archie and company are still themselves.
In turn the series own limited focus – wholesome teams in their rather nice town – provides a limitation. In some ways the best thing to do is go a bit nuts – and you can, as you have themes to work with and return to.
Finally the human-humorous grounding gives you fertile ground to experiment. The message of Riverdale is “Everyone belongs,” as we’ve seen with the groundbreaking Kevin Keller. Everyone is a pretty wide berth to experiment with.
Glad to meet the new Archie, same as the old Archie, a difference we can all be glad is the same.
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.
(Originally published at Ganriki, by Serdar Yegulalp. I felt his thoughts would be useful here.)
Of all the questions that inspire diverse and deeply subjective responses from anime fans, one of the most prominent has to be the question most every newcomer to anime asks, and finds the answers at least as confounding as the question itself: Where do I begin with this stuff? The evangelical fan, the fan who wants that many more fellow fans to share his obsession with, waits with bated breath for that moment to arise, and may well spend no small amount of energy trying to invite others in. But does introducing people to anime really make them into fans? Or do fans arise a good deal more spontaneously than we’d like to believe?
It’s a good question to ask. I have myself grappled with it long and hard, and for a long time stuck with the argument that for everyone out there not (yet) into anime, there’s an anime for them of some kind. For the Harry Potter fans, you maybe give them Fullmetal Alchemist or Soul Eater. For the CSI and Law & Order crowd, perhaps Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or Psycho-Pass. Any number of lists like this already exist, or could be drawn up to connect present and future fandoms with present and future anime titles.
What I don’t think any of this does, though, is create new anime fans, in the sense of people who are into anime as a single, broad, overarching subject of interest. And from everything I’ve seen, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the big myths of fandom, any fandom, is that the uninitiated can be made into fans if they are only exposed to the right material. For a long time I wanted to believe that people I knew who were generally uninterested in anime could be made curious about it by exposing them to some of its most creative, maverick, and generally excellent productions. I know better than to think this now, not merely because it’s untrue, but because it presumes things about fandom that aren’t true either.
People not motivated to seek out a given thing may nod and smile if you put a good example of it in front of them, but they generally don’t get primed to seek the rest of the subject out on their own. Case in point: Comic book movies haven’t caused a mainstream surge in interest in comic books, just in comic book movies, and that’s mostly because they represent some modestly novel wrinkle in how summer blockbuster entertainment can be assembled and deployed. The comics themselves are still not part of the picture for most people.
Likewise, if you, a fan, put a given show you love in front of someone else, a non-fan, and they react with polite indifference or nonchalance, it’s not because the other person is an idiot — and it’s also not because you lack for the right pitch to give them, or the right material to expose them to. It’s because the ways we acquire tastes and share them with like-minded others are not so straightforward as all that. It’s better to be an ambassador for the things you love than to be an evangelist for those things, but not always easy to tell the difference between the two behaviors.
From what I’ve seen, people have to really want to be a fan of something, especially when it’s a large and overarching category of things — anime, for instance. You’re better off respecting that for what it is than trying to turn it int something it’s not. And even many people who are fans of a given anime or three are not necessarily anime fans — meaning, their interest in those particular anime is dictated more by their interest in the things themselves, rather than any curiosity for anime as a whole, let alone for Japan itself.
This last insight — that anime fandom doesn’t always translate into curiosity about the culture that created it — was something I had to learn about and get over fairly early on. If someone else liked a given anime or three and that was it, that was fine. If Japan wasn’t a topic of interest for them generally, that was fine too. Demanding a better grade of fan (whatever might be meant by “better”) by insisting that they replicate my path into fandom wasn’t likely to do anything except alienate others.
Besides, the way to have a better kind of fan isn’t about having them duplicate the experiences (and, presumably, the responses to those experiences) that led you, or anyone else, into fandom. If anything, it lies in the opposite path: allowing a fandom to be that much more welcoming of, and interested in, people who have something new to bring to the table. When you open your ears and learn about what it is that brings people to something, it becomes easier to see that you have more in common than you have setting you apart.
What matters most, I think, is not the act of recruitment, but the act of friendship over something found mutually interesting. The now-defunct anime distributor Central Park Media once had the motto “World Peace Through Shared Popular Culture”, a sentiment I think is the right idea. It matters more that you are able to bond as people over something than as fans.
Case in point. Not long ago a friend of mine showed me an episode of Free!, which I had up to that point avoided. I sat with them and watched it mostly to be social. To my surprise, I liked it a lot, and I plan to talk more about it in the future, since I think the popularity (read: notoriety) of the show says a lot about the ways people try to claim ownership of their entertainment. On the other hand, DRAMAtical Murder (which they also showed me) didn’t have anything to offer me, though; it just isn’t my thing. Our friendship was in no way diminished by this revelation.
Putting the friendship first, and valuing that most, changes the way this whole process unfolds. If I’m good friends with a great many people, and they all share a taste for something that I don’t (Firefly, Irish reels, what have you), that’s no guarantee I’ll inherit their tastes on anything but the most superficial level. What’s more, friends tend to respect each others’ interests — if they don’t, they don’t tend to remain friends in the first place — and so the shared interests in any given friendship tend to equalize around the things everyone can enjoy without feeling obliged.
Let me put it this way: No fandom deserves to be represented by people who value being pushy over being receptive, and who value their own expectations over someone else’s actual responses. To that end, the best way to get people into anime probably doesn’t revolve around how to get people to watch your favorite show and love it too. It’s more about embodying how anime fans — or fans, period — can be some of the best friends a person could have.
Thanks to heavy worldbuilding you’ve got your setting, and in that setting you’ve got intelligent life (probably). Now that you’ve got sentient species in your universe,it’s time to work on their Culture and probably Civilization. I’m capitalizing deliberately, by the way for when I’m getting abstract.
Culture and Civilization are something we talk for granted because we’re used to living in them all the time. But they’re also huge elements of world building because of what they are – and taking them seriously is important because they are massive definers of intelligent life.
So once again we get into just what’s under discussion. I’ll go and give some quick summaries, but of course we’re talking about concepts people have debated for ages. So these are viewpoints towards applying these concepts to worldbuiilding, not to answering age-old questions.
Culture – Culture are those things sentient life learns and passes on amongst its members so they function, work, relate, interpret, and so on together. Simply, it’s the acquired knowledge, language, communications, and so forth that let intelligent life function and function with each other.
Civilization – Civilization is when you really kick things into high gear Culture-wise. You start building things, establishing centers, and writing your culture deep into your physical environment – and usually writing in general. I’d say that you need a culture to have a civilization, but then again there’s some pretty interesting world building to be had by violating that rule . . .
Metaphor-wise I think of Culture is the operating system and programs that run in a sentient being’s mind. When we start seriously connecting cultured people together and modifying the environment, establishing things that last over time, then you’ve got a giant interlinked system like a manufacturing system, computer network – that’s Civlilization. Yes computer metaphors are a bit cold for discussing such things, but i find they’re effective – and distant enough that I’m not using metaphors for culture and civilization that are too close to those actual things.
You can also see why they’re vitally important in writing:
So with this said, let’s get to building.
Creating the culture or cultures in your worlds is probably something you’re doing automatically. But I find it helps to have an idea of what we’re doing to keep us inspired, focused, and not loosing track of what we’re doing.
Culture is that which intelligent life creates, relates with, and passes on. It is language, rules, ideas, symbols, relations, and so forth, those things that let us function and function together. Think of it as a kind of “improved genetics” where intelligent life has the power to change and grow itself, and pass those changes on. These changes alter and improve not by generations, but by interactions between individuals and the environment.
(I’d even go so far to say truly intelligent life has to have Culture for it to do much. Having seen how we humans create culture almost instinctively, I think our limited sample set here makes an impressive example).
So this gives us a starting point for designing Culture – it’s how people (be they human or not) work together in the present and the future and communicate and store information. Yes, it’s a cold metaphor, but effective.
When building a culture you’ll want to focus on:
You can also drill down into the specifics of culture, like religion, language, and so forth. We’ll see about doing that later, but for now this should get you thinking.
Next, let’s think of what happens when you extend culture into something more permanent, civilization.
Civilization is when Culture settles down and really gets going. In a lot of cases literally – Cvilization is when people put down roots, build things, and make a more solidified place to “be.” It’s what happens when Culture gets physical in the forms of cities, temples, written language, and more.
It’s hard to extract Civilization from Culture, but in general Civilization seems to be associated with intense physical infrastructure. So for the purposes of this essay, I’ll consider Civilization to be when Culture becomes more established both physically and intellectually.
Not all your intelligent life in your setting will have Civilization. Culture exists before Civilization, and one doesn’t need organization, centralization, or much of a physical infrastructure to have Culture. In fact, the first question you have to ask about any intelligent life you design is how far are they into Civilization from just having Culture. A population of nomads or wanderers may have Culture but not what we’d recognize as Civlization.
So you might be able to stop here. But just in case . . .
When Culture gets solid, then you have Civilization. Civilization in your settings brings in so many other issues that, like culture, one could write hundreds of thousands of words on the subject. But as a handy guide to save you from that, here’s a quick checklist for designing your civilization.
So when it comes to designing Culture and Civilization you’ve got quite a job cut out for you. So beyond all the other advice, here’s what I recommend.
Read about real cultures and real civilizations.
Reading about other cultures than your own, about civilizations that have come and gone, that are and on their way up or out, gives you an intuitive grasp of how people and their social structures work. At some point you’ll probably get a good enough grasp to build your world or get out of a case of world builder’s block. But read.
Besides, it’ll broaden you as a writer and a person.
Culture and Civilizations are inevitable in your world when you’re building your setting’s intelligent life. They’re part of being an intelligent species, and you not only can’t avoid them in most cases, you really don’t want to as they drive the plot.
It’s challenging, but with work and good study, you’ll be up for it. My guess is if you’re doing any world building you already started it.
– Steven Savage