Not Long Ago, In a Galaxy that is Our Own....
It’s not often that Jacques Derrida and Luke Skywalker are mentioned in the same breath, so when they do, we should make the most of it. For this particular delight, we have Chris Fox to be thankful for. Two years ago in September 2020, he posted a thoughtful video “Literary Deconstruction Needs to Go” (1), which, in my opinion, didn’t receive the attention it deserved.
Say the word “deconstruction” and the name Jacques Derrida is likely to spring to mind – at least for the philosophically-minded. Luke Skywalker, though? While well versed in the Force and throwing evil Emperors down strategically-placed chutes, his thoughts on the finer points of literary theory aren’t so well known. Clearly, the scenes where he, Chewbacca and Han Solo whiled away the hours discussing the finer points of post-structuralism made the cutting room floor….
Luke Skywalker, in Chris Fox’s video essay, served to illustrate a phenomenon within contemporary culture, namely the way that established – and often much-loved – characters are transformed out of all recognition. Specifically, he was referring to the way the Luke Skywalker of The Last Jedi was utterly unlike the Luke Skywalker of the original trilogy. At a stroke, the optimistic young Jedi who cared about his friends had been transformed into a cynical, embittered old man who’d turned his back on the world. How could these two wildly different people be the same character? And by what literary alchemy could the former become the latter? Enter “literary deconstruction.”
Deconstruction emerged in the mid 1960 from a number of works written by the French philosopher and historian, Jacques Derrida – works such as Cogito et histoire de la folie (1963) (2), Speech and Phenomena (1967) (3), and Writing and Difference (1967) (4).
Rather than seeing texts as having an intrinsic meaning, Derrida proposed that any meaning was a construct that resulted from the difference between words. If language was a system of signs, then meaning came from the contrast between these signs and words only had meaning because of their contrast with other words. For instance, every word necessitates its opposite: we can only have “nothing” in opposition to “something.” As a consequence, it was futile to search for some intrinsic meaning, for looking behind one sign would only lead to another sign and so on. Instead, one had to “deconstruct” the oppositions within the text.
Derrida, though, went one step further. He argued that, not only did words obtain meaning through such oppositions, they also contained an implicit hierarchy, with one opposite taking precedence over the other. As he said, “In a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other […], or has the upper hand.” (5) The task of deconstruction, then, was to uncover and overturn these oppositions in order to bring these hierarchies, and choices behind them, to the surface. This could not produce any final definitive meaning, for the oppositions were themselves necessary to produce meaning. Instead, it would be an endless process of analysis.
Derrida’s theory became highly influential, spreading beyond philosophy. In the 1980s, the term “deconstructivism” emerged to describe an architectural style that challenged tradition, rational order and purity of design, often in a playfully provocative manner (6). Where modernist architects had stressed “form follows function,” seeking to create “rational” designs, postmodernist architects challenged this, creating seemingly “irrational” designs. Whereas modernist design emphasised an object’s purpose, postmodern design played with it, appeared to thwart the object’s purpose, despite performing it as well as seemingly more “rational” designs had done.
By the 2000s, this process had crept over into film and TV, too. Rather than create new fictional worlds and characters, film and programme makers could “deconstruct” existing ones. As Chris Fox explained, this followed a three-stage process: first uncover the hidden meaning of the original texts, second construct a new storyline from the characters and worlds in those texts and third subvert audience expectations around those fictions. If deconstruction proved you could never convey meaning, then there must be no meaning in anything and everything ought to be mocked.
Was this true deconstruction, though? Derridan deconstruction was a means of analysing text based on the differences between words, while deconstructivism was an approach to design that played with the relationship between form and function. While both sought to challenge tradition – including modernist traditions – neither sought to disparage the past. Derrida himself had stated that deconstruction was not a cynical or nihilistic process. It was a process of continuous analysis that constantly required new terms to explain the interplay of the differences; (7) it was not a process of re-invention that necessitated the wholesale rewriting of existing works. We could therefore argue whether what is happening today within film and TV is truly “deconstruction.” Whatever term we use, Chris Fox had hit upon something very important.
From Film to Franchise
Since the turn of the Millennium, there has been an increasing trend where established characters, worlds, storylines and fictional lore have been radically transformed. Superficially, they remain the same, such as characters retaining the same name and appearance – and possibly being played by the same actor – but beneath the surface, they have been remade. The hero is turned into a villain and the villain a hero; the likeable character is made unlikeable and the unlikeable character made likeable – or, at least, this is the attempt. The term we use to describe it is less important than what is happening, which in this case, is the fundamental remaking of works of fiction.
Why has this happened? At first glance, it seems a perverse thing to do. Why would anyone want to change a well-loved and successful character, never mind turn them into something they are not? Surely, if audiences like that character, then it makes sense to keep them as they are, and if producers don’t like those characters or think they’re outdated, then why not pension them off and create new characters instead?
The answer lies in the way that films and TV shows have evolved. What had been standalone works or self-contained series have been transformed into open-ended “franchises” or “IPs.” Creating new work involves risk: for every book or film that succeeds, hundreds more will flop. Commercially, it is much more enticing to take something with an audience than to try to build one from scratch. If producers can take a proven success and convert it into an extended franchise, then they can minimise risk and maximise returns. For any commercial enterprise, this is a highly attractive prospect.
Now, instead of trying to sell individual works on their merit, producers can take a fictional world or universe and keep marketing new “content” to its audience. Instead of taking a risk on new ideas, they can milk existing ideas until dry. Instead of building new audiences, they can tap into existing audiences until they grow bored. Instead of creating new characters, worlds or storylines, they can exploit existing ones for all they’re worth. One fictional world can be used to support multiple fictional “products,” increasing the marketer’s bang for their buck. In consequence, authorship is reduced to “content creation” and the need for genuine creativity minimised. The result? Increasingly risk-averse and mediocre writing.
Still, this doesn’t explain why producers would seek to trash their own product. If an audience loves a particular work, then surely it makes sense to give them what they like? After all, this is the basic principle of supply and demand. However, this is also where “IP management” hits a problem of its own making. When one reduces authorship to mere “content creation” and removes all risk-taking from creating fiction, then writing skills will atrophy. Eventually, the arts of worldbuilding, character creation, dialogue and storytelling will be lost, leading to a second problem: how can producers meet audience demand when their “content creators” aren’t up to the job?
Now, producers and the new “content creators” have to find a new way to garner attention. Lacking the ability to create, they reinvent creativity. Instead of being the creation of something new, it becomes the transformation of something old; instead of being the making of something out of nothing, it becomes the changing of something out of recognition; instead of giving audiences what they want, it is forcing them to accept what they’re given. In short, the new creativity means “subverting expectations.”
The word “subversion” should alert us to what is going on. Look the word “subvert” in the dictionary and you will find words like “undermine,” “overthrow,” “ruin,” and “destroy.” Subversion is not a neutral process. It does not mean change, update or add a twist; it means to destroy what has gone before. By definition, when a film or show sets out to “subvert expectations,” it does not merely intend to do something different, it intends to undermine what has been done already – to radically remake the fiction, and stick two fingers up at the audience for good measure.
The phrase “subvert expectations” is the key to understanding what’s going on. It means that the new character, world or storyline by definition cannot be the same. They have to be different – and as radically different as possible. The hero must become a villain and the villain must become a hero the likeable character must be presented as unlikeable and the unlikeable character must be presented as likeable. A logical or consistent change by definition cannot subvert expectations; only an unexpected or unimaginable change can do that.
The nu-creativity means throwing away what has gone before and inserting new material without precedent. It means trampling on what people love and force-feeding them stuff that makes them feel nauseous. None of this is inexplicable. Logic and consistency mean explaining how characters got from where they were to where they are, which means working within existing parameters, which means accepting the authority of what came before. The moment the new content creator does that, they have stymied their ability to subvert. Only sudden, radical and boldly inconsistent changes can subvert expectations.
More fundamentally, literary subversion involves deliberately remaking the audience’s relationship with the work of fiction. Altering a character, world or storyline in a way that audiences don’t care about can’t subvert anything of note. Subversion means getting a reaction, and the easiest way to do that is to shock and offend. If one is incapable of eliciting a positive reaction by creating something audiences love, then one can at least elicit a negative reaction by creating something they hate, and the more they love something, the bigger the reaction will be.
Therefore, subverting expectations demands ridiculing beloved characters and inserting unwanted nu-characters to overshadow them. The more the audience is shocked, the better; the more it is appalled, better still. It doesn’t matter whether the audience hates what they see, only that they keep paying to see it. Let them fume on social media, they’re still talking about “the product.” Let them rage against the promotion, the idiots don’t realise they’re part of it!
Literary subversion demands that characters are remade and storylines rewritten. It demands that unloveable nu-characters hijack the show and elbow aside popular “legacy” characters. It demands that much loved works of fiction are treated with utter contempt and audiences offended. As long as people keep talking, it works. The only thing it cannot survive is a lack of interest.
At this point, it is easy to dismiss this provocative behaviour as a publicity stunt or marketing gimmick; a way of gaining attention in a crowded space. Big deal, we’ve seen it all before. It’s just promotion, who cares? Such a view is mistaken. In reality, literary subversion is much more than that. There are many ways of gaining attention and the fact that the new content creators have chosen this particular form to gain attention is revealing. It points to something unspoken, a silent truth, a mentality no one wants to draw attention to.
Just as the act of literary creation is a communication between author and audience via the work of literature, so too is the act of literary subversion. By subverting works of fiction, the new content creators make a statement about their imagined relationship with the audiences – a statement they communicate with the subverted works themselves. The act of subversion itself is a statement of authority, and it shows us how the new content creators see themselves and their relationship with audiences – audiences they have inherited and done nothing themselves to build.
Disrespect my Authority
Behind the effort to redefine the audience’s relationship with the work of fiction, literary subversion serves a deeper purpose. An author does not have to justify their relationship with their fictional creations; as the author, they have a natural position of authority. Nor do they have to justify their relationship with their audiences: as the author, audiences recognise them as the creator of their works and respect them for creating it.
None of this applies to the new content creators. They have taken over someone else’s work and, while they might have obtained a legal and financial right to it, they have no artistic legitimacy with respect to it. At this point, they have done nothing to earn the audience’s respect or love, and they have to establish their authority with respect to their audience – something no author ever has to. How do they do this, when there is no reason for audiences to care about their contributions to the franchise?
This leaves presents a dilemma: either they can work within existing parameters, in which case they will always be judged against their predecessors and found wanting, or they can set their own parameters, in which case they will be rejected by audiences as “uncanonical.” When large amounts of money are dependent on a limited amount of talent, this is no intellectual quandary; it is a major investment decision.
Literary subversion provides a way around this. Why should the new content creators play someone else’s game? They own the legal and financial rights now, so they can rewrite the rules, forcing their predecessors to be judged against their standards – a much more appealing prospect, particularly when one is not talented enough to create worthwhile original work of one’s own.
It makes perfect sense. If one cannot create anything of value, one can at least destroy things of value – and the more valuable, the greater one’s powers of destruction. If one will never have a statue put up, one can always tear down statues of others – and the more famous the person, the higher one’s notoriety. By knocking down others, one brings them down to one’s own pitiful level – at least in terms of physical monuments.
Authorship v Content Creation
This highlights the difference between genuine authorship and “content creation,” and why the new content creators behave as they do. Authors do not subvert the expectations around their own works, as undermining their own works and audience would be utterly self-defeating. This, of course, does not apply to the new content creator, who is undermining someone else’s work and audience. Insofar as this is defeating, then it is someone else who suffers that defeat – or appears to. At least initially, the new content creator does not bear the cost of their actions.
Literary subversion therefore represents the ultimate exercise of authorial power. By making the fictional world subservient to them, they get to demonstrate their godlike power it, and by making themselves the ultimate arbiter of its lore, they – not the original author – get to define what it is. Indeed, just as consistent character development cannot be permitted, the new content creator must not recognise the fictional world’s existing lore as that would make themselves subservient to it – and to its creator. To recognise their predecessors would mean accepting their artistic subordinance to them. If the new content creator wants the power that comes with literary subversion, they cannot afford to do this.
This is why the new content creators’ writing style takes the form of authorial fiat. Fictions must be treated explicitly as fictions, and changed at a whim. Everything central to a character or storyline must be disregarded, and extraneous details take their place. Having acquired the rights, the new content creator must behave as if they can do whatever they want. Fictions are fictions; they don’t have ‘core traits’ or ‘fundamental natures.’ I don’t need to apologise or explain! They belong to me and I will do whatever I want!
And what is the most powerful gesture they can make? Changing what is to what is not and what is not to what is. Subversion demands it. If one wants to subvert the audience’s expectations, then one has to find out what the audience expects and do the opposite – which brings us back to Chris Fox’s three-stage process.
First, one must understand (a) what the characters, worlds and storylines stand for and (b) what they mean to the audience in intellectual and emotional terms. Second, one must put in place one’s preferred narrative. This must include the outer shells of the existing characters, worlds and storylines, else it would not be possible to subvert them. Finally, one must change the substance of the fiction, so it (a) stands for something fundamentally different and (b) means something utterly different to the audience in both intellectual and emotional terms. The more offensive this is, the greater the effect.
By disregarding what has gone on before and imposing their own incompatible vision, literary subversion does not update, modify, or deepen a fiction; it produces a travesty, a debased mockery masquerading as the original but with none of its merit. The new content creator is not adding to the canon; they are parasitising what came before.
We can see this more clearly if we look at the subverted works in isolation. On its own, the “nu” character is nothing – a shell, defined by what it isn’t. It owes its entire existence to its superior predecessor, without which it would be of interest to no one. People get angry when they see “nu” Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, because they love true Luke Skywalker. They would not care a fig about Brian Nosepicker in The Last Schmedi - a hypothetical character identical to “nu” Luke in every way, except that he isn't Luke - because they would have zero emotional investment that character. Lacking the capacity to endear, literary subversion only possesses the capacity to enrage. Subverting expectations is like scribbling a moustache on the Mona Lisa, then baring one’s buttocks to the gallery.
It might seem then that we have reached the end of the road for literary subversion, that is a power grab as well as a marketing stunt, but even this would not fully describe what is happening, for there is one further element that cannot be avoided. This is the deepest element of them all: the ideological dimension.
In fiction, characters, worlds and storylines stand for something – they have a meaning. Character meaning depends on their character journey or arc: the character starts in one state, experiences a series of events, makes decisions and ends in another state. This journey tells us who they are.
Story meaning depends on the way the character arcs are placed within their broader context. This tells us not only what the characters stand for individually, but what they mean within their world. Even if a character undergoes a journey in which they superficially start and end in the same state, this does not necessarily mean they have not undergone a journey. Despite the events they have experienced, they have failed to learn or develop as a character, so that although they end as they began, it is their inability or refusal to change to the changed circumstances and that defines their arc. In this case, it is the failure to change that defines the story’s meaning.
For instance, we might see a power-hungry tyrant overcome a series of obstacles to achieve their lifelong ambition of seizing absolute power. Beneath that, though, we might also see the things that character has lost, maybe without their realising it. They see their story as one of achieving their prized goal against adversity, while we see it as the unspoken cost of pursuing such an ambition. They may have gained the prize, but they have also alienated their friends and lost what made them special as a human being. The moral of the story is not merely that power corrupts; it is also the cost of that corruption in human terms. This is what that character arc means to us.
Subversion means throwing this all away. It is not just that a core character trait is altered, it is that their whole journey and everything it stood for is discarded. The coward who discovers their inner hero or the villain who discovers their inner goodness suffer the indignity of finding their entire character journey airbrushed out and something else inserted in its place. Without explanation, their core traits, defining characteristics, their circumstances – even their experiences themselves – are changed completely, then changed again. In the end, the character stands for nothing, and ceases even to be a character.
This subversion is fundamentally different from an arc, twist or development. An arc is a consistent process of development as the character undergoes the events of the story, while a development adds a further journey to an established journey, allowing the character to change over time in a manner that builds upon what has happened already. It is perfectly acceptable for a hero to become a coward or for a villain to discover an inner goodness if that is established as the story. In the same way, it is perfectly acceptable for a hero to become a villain and then a hero again, if that subsequent character arc is consistent with the original.
Likewise, a twist reveals a detail that was not initially clear at the outset, which reframes – and thus is consistent with – what was set up at the outset. The twist operates within the parameters of the fiction by not revealing all the details at once and adding in a misdirection. These are all normal writing techniques and all involve remaining faithful to the basic parameters of the fiction.
Subversion, by contrast, does none of this. It means replaces one thing with another, emptying out what was there and pouring in what was not, and in contradicting what went before in the process. Far from staying true to the original parameter or journey, it must stay as untrue to it as possible, imbuing the fiction with properties it did not previously have and pretending it had them all along. Whereas a story arcs builds meaning, story subversion demolishes it.
This is no accident, for it serves an ideological purpose. When the parameters of fiction can change at any moment, they cease to have meaning. Any meaning is provisional, to be discarded whenever the new content creator wants, and any truth is disposable, to be replaced by whatever they see fit. By turning what the fiction is upside-down, they also turn what it means upside-down, and once they have drained all prior meaning from the fiction, they are free to insert their own messaging.
Propaganda in Disguise
This lies at the heart of the literary subversion. If we see a text as nothing but words on a page and fictions as nothing but cultural constructs, then not only can we change their nature, we can also change their meaning. We can turn existing works outside our control into vehicles for deliberate ideological messaging, and by constantly changing what the characters, worlds and storylines mean, we can make fictions serve their ideological goals. This turns literature into propaganda, leading to increased mediocrity.
The result is something which goes beyond the bad writing of previous eras. Instead of characters being reduced to one-dimensional mouthpieces, they become zero-dimensional ciphers, constantly changing and without no real character. This, too, is intentional. The characters’ job is not to convey the message, it is to provide a fleeting distraction while the new content creators hammer home their message. It would not be in their interest for the fiction to be too absorbing, for that would distract attention from the propaganda. Fiction must serve the ideological goals. The message must take precedence over the fiction.
This is not a cost-free exercise and has a lethal effect on literature. By producing works that are defined by what they are not and which are detested by the very audience they are supposed to appeal to, literary subversion debases artistic quality, and by turning works of fiction into vehicles for deliberate ideological messaging, it also debases artistic merit.
The result is a vicious circle of mediocrity and creative bankruptcy, in which mediocre writers subvert literature and subverted literature enfeebles writing, on an on in a race to the bottom until nothing is left. Left unchecked, this can end in only one place: the death of literature itself.
The Death of Literature?
Maybe this feels a touch overdone. Fictional characters don’t exist; they don’t have any true nature and it doesn’t matter what happens to them. So what if someone buy up a beloved story and trashes it? No one is forced to go and watch their films or read their books. After all, the old ones will still exist, unchanged (we hope).
Even allowing for this, literary subversion poses a real threat to fiction, and it is precisely because fiction isn’t real that it’s so pernicious. With non-fiction, there is an objective reality and, no matter much someone might undermine how it is written, that reality remains unchanged. Jacques Derrida could deconstruct the history of the French Revolution to his heart’s content, but it would change nothing about Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre or Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that fiction is like this, too, particularly when it’s done well. It is easy to imagine that there is some objective reality beyond the text, that fictional worlds are real places that can be explored with things in them that can be discovered. However, as YouTube channel Robot Head commented about Star Wars:
The Star Wars universe […] isn’t real. The locations aren’t real. The events aren’t real. […] A lot of people say things like, "I want to know more about the side characters in Star Wars or I want more Star Wars without the annoying Jedi and Sith" as if Star Wars is a real place and these other amazing stories are sitting there waiting to be discovered. […] The Star Wars side stories these people think would be fascinating just don’t exist. (8)
In reality, fictional worlds are inventions and only “exist” insofar as we buy into their fantasy. Fiction is the art of illusion. The author sets down words on a page, describing people places and events that others can imagine. If we treat the fiction as if it were real, then we feel the same emotions as in real life, even though we know there is nothing there. This is a shared enterprise. Writers, performers and audiences are engaged in the same pretence: to make the imaginary feel as though it were real.
To make this illusion work, there are some expectations that must never be subverted. Without an objective reality to refer to, the author must set out the parameters of their fiction at the outset, so before they absorb themselves in it, the audience understands the nature of the illusion they are about to participate in. This means establishing the fictional facts – such as where the story is set, who the characters are, what they look like, what their history is and so on – which the reader or viewer must take on trust. When we treat fictional characters, worlds and storylines as if real people or places, it is because the author has done a particularly good job in establishing the parameters of their fiction. We feel as though they are real people, because the author has set out consistent traits and set them on a meaningful journey we can relate to, not because there is something there beyond the text. The moment that illusion is broken, the fiction is destroyed.
Therefore, by subverting audience expectations, the new content creator smashes the illusion necessary for fiction. Without consistent fictional facts, the illusion of storytelling is impossible. The audience has nothing they can trust and nothing by which they can experience the illusion of reality. The fictional facts are essential for fiction. Remove them and nothing is left.
Let us now imagine that, instead of trying to rewrite history, our hypothetical Derrida instead decided to rewrite Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. If he decided to subvert reader expectations by changing the characters, world and storyline, he would have changed the parameters of the fiction itself, pulling down the very edifice on which he was standing. A subverted Les Misérables in which the main characters were Lenny Henry, Shrek and Wonder Woman, the setting Macclesfield and storyline the personality clashes within the British space mission to colonise the Sun would not be Les Misérables. Arbitrarily changing the parameters of fiction means destroying the fiction itself.
Once again, literary subversion should not be confused with plot twists. The author can, of course, set up some apparent fictional facts, only to surprise the reader later – this is part of the fiction. The apparent facts have been set up specifically to be taken away. However, the core facts have been left in place. Agatha Christie might reveal that the murderer was in the scullery and not the parlour as we were led to believe, but she cannot suddenly reveal that Hercule Poirot was a caped superhero all along or that Miss Marple was in reality a punch-drunk ex-boxer called Reg – at least, not without trashing her own work.
Just as a builder knows they cannot remove a building’s structural support and expect it to remain standing, so too authors know they cannot tamper with the basic parameters of their fiction and expect it to work. Thus, when the new content creators decide to “subvert expectations,” they are not adding a clever twist or adding to a character’s journey; they are undermining the foundations on which fiction is built. The question is: have we reached the point of no return?
The simple answer is an emphatic “no.” The audience always has the last laugh. However much the new content creators might protest that their rewritings of established storylines are “canonical,” that is very much for the audience to decide. If audiences decide to ignore the subverted literature and stick to the original works, then it will be the originals that stand the test of time. Moreover, if audiences accept the originals as “canonical” and pay no heed to the subsequent additions, then those works will continue to form the “canon,” no matter how much the new content creators squeal that they determine what is “canonical.” Unfortunately for them, fiction doesn’t work that way. They might possess the legal right to produce works of fiction within a particular IP, but they do not possess the right to audiences’ hearts, and there is no reason for audiences to regard their efforts as only so much official fan fiction – or, rather, detractor fiction.
At best, the new content creators have, won a Pyrrhic victory. If one produces work that audiences hate, then it will only survive briefly on its acquired reputation. At some point, if nothing of value is added, audiences will drift away. At first, they might bite back, playing into the audience-baiting tactics, but eventually they will lose interest – the worst thing that can happen to any franchise. When that happens, the new content creators have not only pulled down the structural supports of their acquired fictions, they have also pulled down the structural supports of their own commercial enterprise. That is rarely a recipe for success.
Ultimately, the choice lies with us. We get the politicians we deserve and the same is true of fiction: there is nothing inevitable about the current cultural vandalism. If we willingly choose to read mediocre books and watch lousy films, then we have only ourselves to blame when that’s what we get served. The new content creators might choose to defecate on the hand that feeds them, but that doesn’t mean we need to keep feeding them. If we don’t want old favourites to be subverted to death, then we shouldn’t play into their hands. Instead of complaining and making a fuss, we should ignore them and move on.
Maybe we also need to accept something more painful. Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes, we need to accept that things we love have had their day. It is time to give our beloved IPs a dignified burial and move onto something new. In this, at least, studio executives are only responding to popular demand. If we aren’t prepared to take a risk and try something new, then why should they? The good news is that we can change this if we’re willing to do so. Maybe there will be some duds on the way, but if we want to find that gem in the dirt, then we’ve got to keep looking. After all, all fiction needs to live is authors willing to create something new and audiences willing to give it a go.
And who knows, maybe we should be speaking of Jacques Derrida and Luke Skywalker in the same breath: one last light sabre duel in some side universe prequel to the sequel to fill the many, many plot holes, why not? Or maybe the adventures of Jean Baudrillard and his sidekick Jabba the Hutt as they traverse the Empire investigating galactic parking violations, or maybe a late-night series of talks on Impressionist French art featuring Jacques Lacan and Darth Vader, or maybe, on a rival network, a postmodern French Star Trek featuring Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Grand Admiral Roland Barthes exploring the contradictions inherent in their own metafictions. It may or may not be deconstruction, but Chris Fox was certainly onto something....
1. Fox, Chris (18/09/20) Literary Deconstruction Needs to Go, Chris Fox, YouTube, available at [viewed 28/11/22] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njTBdCrlmLY
2. Derrida, Jacques (1963) Cogito et histoire de la folie, Revue de métaphysique et de morale, Vol. 68, No. 4, Oct / Dec 1963, pp. 460-494, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_and_the_History_of_Madness
3. Derrida, Jacques (1967) Speech and Phenomena, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_and_Phenomena
4. Derrida, Jacques (1967) Writing and Difference, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_and_Difference
5. Scarpetta, G., Houdebine J. L. and Derrida, Jacques (1972) Interview: Jacques Derrida, Diacritics, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter 1972), Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 35-43, available at [viewed 28/11/22] https://doi.org/10.2307/464504
6. Study.com (undated) Deconstructivism in Art: Theory & Characteristics, Study.com, available at [viewed 28/11/22] https://study.com/academy/lesson/deconstructivism-in-art-theory-characteristics.html
7. Derrida, Jacques translated Bass, Alan (1982) Positions, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp.41-42
8. Robot Head (01/10/22) This is Not Star Wars – Andor, Robot Head, YouTube, available at [viewed 28/11/22] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-VigJenMg0
This is a problem from way back. There are stories of screenwriters who sell their work and the only original bit left is the title. But they don’t complain as they get megabucks.
Many film versions of books bear little resemblance to the original.
What about fan fiction? Those writers often take liberties with the characters that are big fans of.
The success of a film is often random and whether that be a “creative” film or a rehash of a franchise its success is difficult to forecast. So maybe studios have done the necessary risk assessment and decided that the risks are worthwhile.
Steve Shahbazian says
I suppose it comes down to a question of what we mean by “rights.” When an author sells a right, they have sold a financial or legal right, but I think there is still an artistic or moral right that always belongs to the author. The adapter, for instance, might have acquired the legal right to adapt (or mutilate) the work, but they can never acquire the moral right of authorship, because they did not create the art.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter who owns Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, it is always a Van Gogh painting. Even if Van Gogh had sold it to another artist with the right to adapt it in any way they liked, the original painting would always be Van Gogh’s.
Fan fiction is slightly different, because it does not claim to be canonical and is usually done out of love, which is why nobody really objects. The fan fiction author does not normally claim any kind of artistic status with regards to the work and nobody treats their work as canonical, so the quality of their writing or otherwise is generally not so important.