We are living in the Age of the Sequel. I’m unable to back this up with
things like ‘facts’ or ‘knowledge,’ but my gut instinct tells me that
never before has popular culture been as mired down in open ended,
infinitely continuing storytelling.Sequels have always existed – God,
as is so often the case, was the trailblazer with His controversial
sequel to the Old Testament (you think the battles over the Star Wars
prequels are bad you should look at some of the flame wars that have
gone on over this book and its place in the canon) – but now instead of
the exception they’re the rule. The hard and fast rule.

The problem is that stories without endings aren’t stories. Endlessly
sequelized/open ended serialized stories have chapter conclusions, but
never a real finale. There’s never a summing up, a place where
everything has been leading. There’s never a grand finale, just always
the link to the next possible chapter (or to the previous, untold
chapter. Endlessly prequelizing or sidequelizing serve the same
function of robbing narrative of a proper conclusion). Stories without
endings are chain letters into the unknown. There has to be a
destination, a completion, to make a story really satisfying. It’s
probably the biggest, most reasonable complaint about the promised
fourth Bourne film – that story was completed at the end of The Bourne
Ultimatum
. The journey was finished. Sure, other events may one day
occur in the life of Jason Bourne/David Webb, but you gotta know where
to end your story, and that was the right place. It was told. And
what’s the point of a story that can’t be told, that just keeps waiting
for the next chapter?


Even the Greek/Roman myths have endings. Heracles died eventually. Can
you imagine Batman dying (for more than a couple of months, at any
rate)? People like to defend bullshit serial nonsense comics by
bringing up the mythology angle, but if Heracles’ story has a
conclusion, why doesn’t Superman’s? And if Zeus can change into animals
and rape broads, why can’t Beast Boy?


The funny thing is that if you ask any movie site web master for two
truisms of this business (besides ‘Writing about comic book movies gets
you mad pussy’ and ‘No amount of showering will ever take away the
stain on your soul’) they’ll tell you that it’s readers complaining
about endless sequels/reboots/adaptations and the fact that stories
about endless sequels/reboots/adaptations get the most hits. You want a
news story to get some traffic? Simply bring up Batman 3/Dark Knight 2
(whichever numbering system suits your fancy); meanwhile everybody will
be bitching about the remake of Clash of the Titans, because God knows
that has less originality than the SEVENTH movie in our lifetime based
on a comic book character that has been continuously published since
the previous time we had a Depression. So everybody moans about these
things, but it’s all anybody wants.



Why is this? I honestly have no idea. Thanks for reading this short editorial, and have a good night!



Well, I guess I should try to at least take a stab at it. And I will use a fork, as my theory is three pronged.

I think one part of the
answer might lie in the near complete comic booking and
infantilization of our culture (not only are all of our stories endless
serials, the idea of a reboot, an idea the comic industry has
championed like Mary championed Typhoid, is part of our mainstream
cultural landscape in a big way. And even people who don’t want to make
‘sequels’ like to do things like set their films/books/AIDS quilt
patches in a shared universe. Bret Easton Ellis owes everything to Stan
Lee), but the second part lies in another dichotomy: while people are stupider and
lazier than ever, they feel smarter and more involved than ever. Think
about it: most sequels used to be just simple continuations of stories.
Even The Odyssey feels less like ‘The Iliad Saga: Part II‘ and more
like ‘Hey, you guys liked that one? Here’s what happened next.’* You
would pick up a zillion Tom Swift books, and they’d all be essential
rehashes of each other, and you’d go see an endless series of Andy
Hardy movies, none of which really required you to be immersed in Andy
Hardyana.



And for the most part (some exceptions like The Thin Man series and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (an ersatz sequel to the Martin and Lewis films) prove the rule) these were lower class
entertainments.You kept coming back for more of the same on The Guiding
Light
(in its 73rd year! Holy shit), but nobody thought Gone With the
Wind
needed a sequel. Until the 1990s, that is, when we all got a
little stupider.



Anyway, these lower class entertainments traded on the appeal of the
familiar. There are probably a lot of reasons why sequels – especially
in cinema – weren’t as popular back in the day, but if I had to boil it
down I would say that at least part of it came from the desire for
freshness, especially at the movies. Back in the day, when goils were
goils and men were men, you’d go to the movies every week. And that was
almost everybody; the cinema was the national pastime. So you wouldn’t
want to go back and keep seeing the same shit every single week (and
besides, there were serials, which while technically finite, went on
week after week); you might want to see the same type of movie, and
maybe even featuring the same stars you loved, but you didn’t need to
find out if Scarlett did, in fact, go hungry again.



That’s obviously changed, but I feel like the inherent low classness of
it never did. That’s why nobody admits to sequels anymore. Everybody
has some fucking saga they need six movies to tell (if we had seen
Leonard Parts One Through Five I think we could be living in a very
different world today. We needed to have those pieces filled in). It
even happens in literature, where otherwise respectable authors want to
keep ‘exploring’ the world or characters they’ve created. Nobody says,
‘Hey you guys liked that one? Cool, here’s what happened next,’ it’s
always ‘I am glad you liked that one, as it’s but one small segment of
a massive universe of sequels, prequels, sidequels and spin-offs. And
toys.’



We’ve bought into that. We’ve bought into the idea that Iron Man has a
saga to tell, and it will require six hours – at the minimum, not
counting The Avengers and other Tony Stark guest appearances – to tell
it. And even then, that story may be over, but there are many more to
yet tell! And we want to hear all the stories, because they’re familiar
and we would rather just have the same familiar stuff fed to us again
and again, just so we don’t have to think. Except the saga aspect makes
us feel like we are thinking, like we’re hearing a truly epic tale of
shape-shifting alien robots fighting over whatever it is they fight
over in the next one.

But it can’t be just that we’re dumb, can it? It occurs to me that the
real, base reason for the sequelitis afflicting us today isn’t that
studios are greedy (it’s certainly a reason, but not the main one) or
that we’re dumb (again, a reason, but not the whole magilla). It’s my previously promised third prong of the theoretical fork: that we’re immature, unable to
face our own stories ending. Just as we seek endless youth for
ourselves and in our entertainment, we seek endless storytelling. We
want other stories to go on forever because it gives the illusion that
ours will as well.



The last century or so has seen us as human beings getting farther and
farther from our own mortality. We don’t like it, we don’t like facing
it, and if you’re Darren Aronofsky and you make a movie about it we
simply will not go see it. The End is too final. Even Happily Ever
After is too final. We want our stories to (not) end with And Then This
Happened Next. Fuck, we’ve gotten to the point in recent years that
when you can’t do any more And Then This Happened Next you just go to
Okay Let’s Take It From The Top Once More. Not only will James Bond
never die, he’s going to become a rookie all over again. It’s all
because we don’t want our lives to have a The End. Finality is a
bummer, man.



Is that too simplistic? Maybe. I mean, Hollywood greed and laziness
really can’t be underestimated in this case, but it’s obvious that
they’re selling us something we want. And you can’t say that the
familiarity we get from endless sequels or open ended serials comes
from our economic climate; this shit has been a serious force in motion
pictures since the 70s. This is something in which all of us – myself
very, very included – are complicit. Man, I walk out of movies
wondering how they’re going to continue it, and sort of do little
fanwanks in my head as to where the Thematic Elements of the
Overarching Saga of an undead serial killer might go now. In the end
Hollywood can only feed us what we want to eat, no matter how much we
don’t want to admit that. And maybe as long as we’re not comfortable
with our limited time on this Earth, that limited time is going to get
clogged up with endless sequels.



* Although the more I think about it the more I realize The Odyssey is
really just a spin-off of The Iliad. Like Joanie Loves Chachi.