Sunday, May 25, 2008

In My View: My war against derivative

That is it. I've had it.

I'm declaring war against the word, "derivative."

At first, I thought it would fade away. That it would be one of those words that popped into the general lexicon and then fizzled away. I had hoped that smarter minds than mine would prevail. I had secretly prayed that someone, somewhere would raise a red flag and say, "Wait a second here…"

But this word is insidious and I've heard it used more and more often like some sort of mantra to describe why someone didn't like a show. I don't know what murky depths this word crept out of, but it is time to beat it back.

The problem with it is that it is by and large a MEANINGLESS word when it's applied to fiction. Every story on a basic structural level is the same. There's a problem, rising action, climax, resolution and denouement. But maybe that's too general; perhaps I should say almost every mecha show is the same. There's a teenager who encounters a robot who must use said robot to defend the world against the forces of evil. I can trace a direct link from Amaro Rei to Shinji Ikari to Lelouch Lamprouge much like I trace a direct link from Pyramus and Thisbe to Romeo and Juliet.

But no one ever calls Shakespeare a hack, now do they?

The thing is that people use this word as some sort of code sign meaning, "Well it's too much like everything else." But even that is a lame excuse. Honestly, I have to quote iknight from a comment (I think the first he ever left on my blog) on a post I wrote comparing Evangelion to RahXephon.

I'm not convinced that the clone issue is really the key one: RahXephon could be a clone of Eva and still be good, and it could be perfectly different and be awful

And that's the fundamental point these people seem to be missing. A show shouldn't be judged on how much like other shows it is, but on the strength of its characters, plot, themes and things that actually matter. A show can be fundamentally similar to another show and still have things that make it interesting and worth seeing.

But what makes this plague so worrisome is that it sets up an expectation in people's minds that by some magic the show they're going to watch will be something completely new, untainted by the tropes and conventions of whatever genre it might fall into. Those great story ideas come out of some magical spring that is isolated from the rest of the world. And creators would remain uninfluenced by the works that preceded them.

Because of course, they don't need to know how people act, or how a story is structured, or how to create tension. I mean why would they need to know that stuff.

They're creating something new.

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