With the rise of big tech censorship and open calls to silence voices that do not agree with the zeitgeist, I’ve been slowly coming to a premise that you may be able to guess from this post’s title. The coronachan stimulus bill’s insane inclusion of language concerning ‘illegal’ streaming sites pushed my thoughts over the edge.
I’ve been thinking to myself, what will we do when we can’t watch or read or play the stories that entertain us and spice our lives?
What will I watch at Christmas when Die Hard - which already must be rented or bought - is banned because ‘the terrorists didn’t deserve to be killed. John should have sent a social worker,’ or ‘John is too macho’? What’s left when something newer like Cobra Kai - which I find fairly moderate politically - is either morphed out of shape and bent to political purpose, or simply removed entirely?
I could list many IPs and go into detail concerning the things that might cause such canceling, but I don’t think I need to. Some will dig into my specific examples anyway and miss the point. Through either age, neglect, or censorship, old stories will begin to disappear.
It’s the worst for movies because the physical market has shrunk considerably. There are some things that likely never made it off VHS, and piracy controls have always been strongest for TV and film.
Practically every game ever can be run in emulation, so legality aside there are options, and I would guess that passionate gamers care for their collections fairly well. Still, it’s troubling that fresh, reliable copies and equipment can be hard to come by. Preserving the gameplay itself is one matter, but some games from all decades sported amazing stories, and that’s what matters here.
Fiction in print seems to be somewhere in between these two. You can find copies of most things you’d want - at least I can - but at some point the used prices will rise too far due to rarity, or else the tomes will waste away from neglect or damage. If there were stories in your past that you’d like to share with your children, what will you do when you can no longer access them?
My current practice is to code the things that are important to me into my new stories, but I think we can be even more intentional than that. We can take the ‘conservative’ mythos that we so value and retell our most precious stories the way that subversives love to retell fairy tales. The difference being that we would keep the morals of a story intact, and in some cases even sanitize or further solidify them.
Let’s chat about encoding the old stories first. People do this anyway - it’s impossible to escape - but putting intentionality into the mix is always more effective when seeking a specific product.
Here’s my example:
Coming to Power is a sci-fantasy epic that grew out of essentially everything I ever consumed. It gestated for many years and was complete within the last few years. So what of our mythos is encoded in it? Those who have read the book may be amused.
Jon could reasonably be called a composite of Mario, Link, Simon Belmont, Goku, Aragorn, and Bastian (Neverending Story). His eagerness to participate in the heroic quest was an echo of Bastian’s passion, and a reaction to the reluctant heroes I often encountered since I read a lot of fantasy from the 70s/80s. See Thomas Covenant and others.
His power over coherent light began as an analog to Mario’s fireball combined with Link’s full health energy sword projectile, the aesthetic solidified once I discovered the searing beams of devastation in Dragonball. That’s the superficial stuff, but the themes are there too: Saving the girl, defeating the darkness inside and out, and finding honor and glory after doing the right thing.
Masters of the Universe comes into play with my Hero’s Metal setting, where the characters are extremely powerful and have specific talents and roles. The world itself is alien and old, with mysterious ruins and possibly even magitech. Pierce does the right thing because it’s right, just like He-Man, and as a bonus, we’ve got elements of Conan in there for flavor and depth.
Some of this was intentional, some of it was not. All of it adds color, spice, and strong bones to the world-building and narrative.
You can check other examples of this type of encoding with Alexander Hellene’s Swordbringer series and Brian Niemeir’s Combat Frame: X-Seed. Please leave comments as to other examples you might have in mind!
So being aware of our influences and sometimes highlighting them is all well and good, but what if I want to experience Die Hard with my son and it is no longer available?
Come ‘round the fire, young ones, and let me tell you the tale of John McClane and the Fall of Gruber.
I don’t know about you, but my memory isn’t too great, especially in the moment when I need it, so why not write it down?
Now I’ve got more than one reason not to simply transcribe Die Hard beat for beat, as great as it is. But even were I to try, the conversion to prose is going to change some things. Between my own bents, the conversion process, and possible lack of diligence in the transcription (ie: paraphrasing), the story will be altered somewhat. This is how myths are grown.
Somewhere in the distant past, a blacksmith forged a really nice sword and a brave knight performed many great feats with it. As the tales of this knight passed from mind to mind the blacksmith was forgotten but the sword still needed an origin. So then, the knight found it. But no, he didn’t just find it, a fairy gave it to him. No, not a fairy but a lady. Oh, and she lives in a lake. Etcetera.
Forgive me for a terrible glossing over of the Arthurian mythos, but you get my point.
This brings me around to the main point. It’s time for conservative retellings.
Now I don’t really like the word ‘conservative’ but I’m using it because it’s widely understood. Maybe we can chat about the term another time.
The point is that we are on the verge of losing some important culture, from Ghostbusters to Daredevil to even Tolkien himself. In some cases, the original versions of things may be banned, as outlandish as that may seem. In most, I would guess they’ll just be allowed to fade away and become unavailable. In many situations, the new versions of things will continue to alter the underlying morals and themes and become the new definitive version. It’s that latter scenario that has Tolkien fans concerned about the upcoming Amazon series. We’ll see how it goes.
In any case, I think the idea of retelling is something for conservative creators to consider. Now we wouldn’t have as much leeway in adapting something like Die Hard as leftists do with fairy tales - I use it as an example because we are currently in the Christmas season. But I think the restriction of copyright in this instance could prove to be a strength. It forces the reteller to apply the age-old methods of myth creation and alter the story fairly significantly while keeping the original spirit intact. Iron out flaws, accentuate the goodness.
I’ll leave you with a quick example using my favorite of Christmas movies. Don’t take it too seriously because I’m not either. It’s just an example.
In my Die Hard retelling, Joe MacMahon travels to Supra City to attend his scientist wife’s unveiling of Time Window technology. The Christmas connection is that they are going to peep on the birth of Christ as a proof of concept demo. No sooner has Joe arrived at the Very Tall Science Building than terrorists seize the building and commandeer the time equipment. Their demands are simple: be allowed safe passage from Supra City, time equipment in their possession. When and if demands are not met, they will start casting hostages through Time Windows to be lost forever. (Dangerously overloading the equipment’s power levels allows for actual travel!)
When Brahms Stoober, the big bad, begins to play with the tech, it creates a stack of Time Zones that Joe must ‘climb’ in order to save his wife and stop the baddies. The air ducts become unstable wormhole connections between Zones. The machine gun becomes a plasma rifle. Sergeant Al would be largely the same, but perhaps the men are both veterans instead of police, or there might be some other force that they fight for. Keep the foot injury and the general sense of John - I mean Joe’s - toughness.
When Joe finally defeats Brahms they fall through the cascade of Time Zones and while Joe ‘lands on his feet’, Brahms does not and is plummeted into the depths of time.
That was a quick brainstorm but I think you can see how the spirit of the tale is retained while the superficial things are altered 1:1 or sometimes 1:10. Magnified or diminished.
It doesn’t have to be all this on the nose, either. We could do a Gremlins story in any setting, even with different rules for the monsters. We could do Ghostbusters in space, the focus being on good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, individualism vs. the bureaucracy, etc.
Of course all of this pertains to writing the stories and does us no good producing video or games - we will have to learn to collaborate with our fellow artisans to recreate the full cycle of the culture - but all of these mediums start with story first anyway.
So that’s my call to action. It doesn’t mean we all switch gears and retell these stories exclusively, but that we keep these ideas in mind and remember that our tales can be preserved through the means man’s myths always have - retelling.
Read Coming to Power and see how far someone’s ‘high school novel’ can grow if you get diligent and let it. Then check out my other books and the books of all the #pulprev and #superversive indie authors!
Thank you for reading.