I’m sure that I’ve probably talked about this subject at least once or twice before, but – for today- I thought that I’d revisit the topic of why older versions of popular genres are so fascinating. Apologies in advance if I repeat myself about anything, but hopefully I’ll also end up adding some new ideas to this article too.
Whilst some genres (such as the fantasy genre, the romance genre etc..) are pretty much timeless, many genres often go through subtle changes every few years. This is especially true with genres that either try to predict the future (eg: science fiction) or most genres that try to elicit a strong emotional response in the audience (eg: comedy, horror, thrillers etc..)
Most of these changes are obviously because society itself gradually changes over time. For example, people have different fears than they did a couple of decades ago – and genres like the horror and thriller genres reflect this. Likewise, new technological and scientific developments have given science fiction writers more ideas about what could happen in the future etc…
One of the things that I love about older versions of my favourite genres is that they’re surprisingly a unique type of historical document. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but it’s astonishingly cool to see what everyone’s imaginations, hopes, fears and worldviews used to look like. Old versions of popular genres give us a vivid window into the history of the popular imagination in a way that history books, documentaries etc.. never can.
Of course, there’s also the nostalgia factor too. Although I grew up in the 1990s, I was a kid back then and I saw the world from this perspective. So, seeing things from this time as an adult is absolutely fascinating because it lets me see a period of history that I both do and don’t understand.
To me, things from the 1990s are both familiar and unfamiliar in a really cool way. It’s kind of like the exact opposite of Sigmund Freud’s concept of “The Uncanny” (which is the idea that things which are both familiar and unfamiliar are inherently unsettling, bizarre or disturbing).
Another cool thing about old genres is that, drained of their immediacy and contemporary resonance, things from the past have to stand on their own merits. They can’t just rely on being new or “relevant”.
Whilst, for example, old American horror comics from the 1950s might not actually be frightening these days, this only makes the wonderfully grotesque artwork and the hilariously cheesy “so bad that it’s good” storylines stand out even more.
Likewise, whilst the special effects in old sci-fi TV shows like “Bablyon 5” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” might not dazzle modern audiences in quite the way that they used to in the 1980s and/or 1990s, all that this does is make the excellent storytelling, characterisation and ideas within these shows stand out even more.
Then there’s the fact that some old genres just look cool. Of course, everyone has different opinions about this – but I absolutely love the look of 1980s and 1990s sci-fi. Back then, digital technology was new, exciting and still slightly nerdy. Back then, everyone thought that the distant future would be a wonderful “Star Trek: The Next Generation”-style utopia or an awesome cyberpunk “Blade Runner”-style dystopia.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, even the fashions were a lot more creative in some ways. Likewise, with things made in the 1990s, there’s a really interesting undercurrent of imagination and optimism too.
After all, this was after the cold war, but before 9/11. It was a brief oasis of relative peace and optimism in world history and this meant that writers, film-makers etc.. couldn’t just get ideas for stories from looking at everything that was wrong about the world around them. They had to use their imaginations more.
You can even see this extra imagination in computer games from the time. For example, virtually all of the popular first-person shooter games from the 1990s involved fighting against an imaginative array of space aliens, monsters, nazis, evil cultists, cyborgs etc… Compare this to popular modern FPS games, which are often drearily “realistic” military-style games.
I could go on for a long time, but there are a lot of reasons why old versions of current genres can often be more fascinating than modern versions of the same genres. They’re works that have to stand on their own merits and they’re also works that give us a unique window into what everyone was thinking in the past.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂