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July 7, 2014

Is It Possible to Ruin a Medium?

There’s a new Transformers movie out.  Joy of joys.

I really don’t want to talk about it for very long, much less see it.  If you’ve poked around this blog before, then you may be aware that one viewing of Dark of the Moon pretty much shaved thirty years off my life.  I’m not in the mood to lose any more, whether it’s by way of seeing Age of Extinction on TV years after release, or by plopping down in a theater to subject myself to the torture.  In all fairness, though, I’ve heard from a few people -- MovieBob, surprisingly -- that the latest is the best yet.  That’s not saying much, and even his review seemed to make the praise relative to complaints, but I guess it’s something.

The Tuesday after MovieBob’s review, a video went up where he suggested that we need to (as per the title) “Leave Michael Bay Alone”.  That’s…actually pretty fair.  He’s a person who’s very easy to rage at, obviously, but setting aside the fact that he didn’t make the Transformers movies alone -- let alone turn them into a runaway hit -- hating what he’s put out and hating the man itself skirts a very thin line.  And people just might play double-dutch with that line thanks to the fodder provided by the trilogy.  Er…quadrilogy.

But talking about Bay and the Transformers movies is as good a point to start as any.  See, there’s something I think might be worth talking about -- which you might have guessed if you read the title.  If you didn’t, then don’t go back and read it.  You’ll spoil the surprise.

The common phrase thrown around when it comes to Michael Bay, his movies, and the like is something along the lines of “He’s ruining movies!”  Or “Everything is ruined thanks to Transformers!”  Or something that implies that everything we know and love is going to suddenly stop existing.  If you ask me, that’s some pretty strong hyperbole.  It’s something made in the throes of passion.  So if the question here is “Is it possible to ruin a medium”, then my basic answer would be “no.”

The Bay cadre and the Transformers movies aren’t the be-all and end-all.  They aren’t the only movie-makers, and they aren’t the only movies.  They’re problematic, sure, but you can’t put all the blame on them.  Beyond that, you can’t blame them just because they’re “the big guys” who swing around money like they’re trying to bust open a piñata.  Remember, that money can be put to good use if the right people are handling it.  Just look at the Marvel movies; I’m pretty freaking sure that they cost hundreds of millions each time out.  And while they’re at a point where they’ll make their money back (and more, probably), they can reliably come out because they’ve earned the loyalty and respect of fans -- loyalty and respect gained through quality products.  The way it should be.

But let’s step away from movies.  These days, gamers have every reason to be…shall we say, concerned about the state of the video game industry.  It seems like day after day, there’s some new controversy popping up, or some sign of trouble, or some broken promise on release day, or some company treating the player like hamsters that launch golden eggs if you abuse them long enough.  

But as I’ve said, even in the face of an industry enamored with Call of Duty, halfhearted power fantasies, and “the same, but less” mentality, there are glimmers of hope all around.  Call of Duty is another problematic series, but even that sluggish leviathan ends up getting overturned by a tidal wave of releases -- past, present, and future. Variety and quality abound, even if they don’t get as much love or attention as they deserve.  


Now, you may remember me saying that my basic answer to the question at hand is “no”.  And I stand by that.  But that’s the basic answer.  Going even one word further turns that simple “no” into a “no, but”.  And that’s where the issue lies.

I don’t think it’s possible to ruin a medium outright…but I do think it’s possible to degrade it.  The problem lies in imitation; I have a gut feeling that a movie like Battleship wouldn’t have been an honest-to-God theatrical release if Transformers hadn’t shown the marketability of a simple toy franchise turned into hours of noise wrapped in an orange and blue taco.  (You could argue the same about the deluge of nostalgia-mining properties rebooted into oblivion, but that’s seedy territory best left for another time.)  Call of Duty not only begat plenty of posers and pushed others to adopt several of its aesthetics and particulars -- including Final Fantasy, of all things! -- but opened the door for developer after developer to try and “appeal to a wider audience”…and fail because of it.

Video games and movies are hardly the only examples out there, I bet (someone more well-versed in the cultural impact of Twilight could probably make an argument or two), but I think you get my point here.  One bad apple can make things harder for others for creators, as well as for the audience.  From vicious cycles trapping content-producers in steel-framed templates, or fans force-fed disappointment fresh from the trough, the troublemakers that manage to gain power use it to bring everyone down…the troublemakers included.  One would think that with a fourth movie and infinity dollars, Michael Bay would push for a better, tighter movie -- one that’s definitively good instead of the faintest praise imaginable.  Apparently, that wasn’t part of the plan.

But that’s enough out of me.  This is your chance to weigh in on the subject, and answer the question for yourself: is it possible to ruin a medium?  If so, then how?  If not, then how…not?  How did things end up this way?  And perhaps most importantly, what do we do about it?

If you’ve got the will, go ahead and divulge.  Unleash your opinion with the rage of a storm.  Or something slightly more poetic.  Ready?  Set…comment!

Or, you know, don’t.  You can go check out this post instead.  I made a video for it, and for your pleasure.  It’s barely three minutes long, if that, so I hope you’ll go check it out.  I put in, like, ALL OF THE HOURS to make it, so I’d prefer if that effort didn’t go to waste. 

If you do (and look past the okay-ish art and questionable sound), then you’ll officially be a Cool Guy.  In my book, at least.


  1. I hear you on The Lego Movie -- though that unfortunately reminds me that in the same time frame as its release, RoboCop '14 was unleashed upon the world. Cripes. There should be LAWS against failing that hard.

    It's interesting that you'd bring up The Dark Knight. I'm hesitant to talk about it any further than I have to, but I really do feel like I won't be able to rest until I say SOMETHING about it. Like, I know I mentioned Michael Bay as one of the "troublemakers", but I seriously considered mentioning Christopher Nolan and the Batman trilogy as another source of problems. IIRC, there's an article floating around where Damon Lindelof -- one of the guys behind Prometheus and Lost -- says that Nolan was simultaneously the best and worst thing that's happened to movies in a while. And I can't really argue with that. Nolan's done some good work, sure (believe it or not, I actually like The Dark Knight), but the problem is that A) he's not the be-all and end-all in storytelling -- as shown by The Dark Knight Rises, AKA one of the most frustrating movies I've ever seen -- and B) people are trying to copy the :style" without understanding how to do so effectively or why it worked in the first place.

    I don't want to generalize, but I don't think it's a coincidence that there's been a meteoric drop in the amount of fun and cheer movies -- and games, and shows, and more -- are allowed to have, and that trend started somewhere around the time TDK gained serious traction. Granted you could argue that it's a reflection of the times and the cultural zeitgeist (yay recession!), but I don't think I'm entirely off-base here.

    I'll hold off on that subject for another day, though. You've got a pretty good point there -- a lot of problems stem from a lack of confidence. It seems like making anything these days threatens to incinerate a state's worth of banks, so it's only natural that those holding control over creative content (just typing that made me spew blood from my mouth) would try to play it safe. Give the people what they know will sell. It's depressing, sure, but it can't be helped.

    I'd like to think that the solution -- sure, let's call it that -- can take a couple of forms. One of them would be to give the people something with some genuine quality. Feed them something that's actually good, and not just superficially good merely by tickling their underbellies. The other form would be to teach them that they don't have to buy into shit just because it's there -- not in this day and age when you've got access to INFINITE content. Teach them gently. Help them see the light. Raise their standards.

    I'd say it's that simple, but both those options are unbelievably difficult. And of course, this is coming from someone whose brother -- who really should know better by this point -- has already pre-ordered Destiny just so he can "play the beta". Shout-outs to mediocrity.

    I need a chaser for all this despair. ToQger, help a brother out!


  2. I totally think it's possible to ruin a medium. If something is continually pumped for a piece of content and is terrible for so long, it can be ruined as a whole. For example, Final Fantasy - ok, why do all your posts make me want to talk about my frustration and rage with FF and Square-Enix?

    Final Fantasy has been so bad in the last decade + that I feel the whole franchise is tanked and as a whole, it's ruined. Of course, judgement is in the eye of the beholder, but the recent FF games were so bad, that I think every new FF is just going to suck. I consider this being ruined when in the past, I would assume every FF game was going to be awesome. Going from assumed awesomeness to assumed suckage is classified as "ruined" to me.

  3. No, I spent a whole lot of time writing stories, getting my work published in a magazine, finishing the Chrome Horde, failing to find a publisher for it and now I am slowly working on a YA book while making sure I slowly re-introduce myself in society.

    I don't know if this is a matter of large-scale narrative warfare. I think Catching Fire is so clinically sterilized and prepared, that it should actually be shown in creative writing classes. There are parts in Hunger Games where you can SEE the narrative unfold and if you squint really hard, you can sort of notice the Acts coupling and decoupling during the entire course of the movie.

    Catching Fire was to me, almost mechanical and I believe it is its theme (CLASS WARFARE MOTHERFUCKER WOO!) that has made it such a huge success. I will be able to go more into detail once (if I ever) read the books.

  4. Yeah, I figured as much. Call it a gut instinct, but I had a feeling that you wouldn't have gon off the grid (in a sense) unless you were working on something big. Or several things variable in size. And it looks like I was right. Good on you for putting in that effort -- and here's hoping it leads to something great.

    Just watch out for stairs. And/or time warps. They're pretty brutal.

    Getting back to THG, though? Yeah, I can see why the class warfare stuff might help the series out. I'm not sold on Katniss Everdeen and the others, but I seem to recall everything around them drawing my interest. I wouldn't mind seeing more of that explored...assuming it's explored well, of course.

    Then again, I have to ask myself: is it worth it to follow a story if I don't want to do it through the lens of a main character who can only get a "meh" out of me at best? It's possible if the books are better, but still...

    On the other hand, I could do the smart thing and play some more Mario Kart 8. Given that the Mushroom Kingdom apparently has anti-gravity technology now, I suspect there's a story in there somewhere.