published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In Tune: Casserole belongs on kitchen table, not in theaters

If someone prepared the same delicious casserole every night but served it to you on slightly different plates, how long would it take before you asked for something new? Not long, I'm guessing.

So why is it that we seem content to settle for iteration instead of innovation when it comes to our entertainment?

In music, you can hear it in the work of Dr. Luke, the producer whose signature touch is immediately identifiable in the sound of pop superstars such as Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Jessie J, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. All of these singers have charted material, even though much of it sounds similar, often embarrassingly so.

Cinema is no different. Since the new millennium, almost every mega-successful movie has been a sequel or remake. Box Office Mojo's list of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time is packed with comic-book blockbusters and franchises such as "Harry Potter," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Only two films on the list -- "Titanic" and "Avatar" -- are standalone properties. Even so, a pair of "Avatar" sequels are in the works, and "Titanic" is basically a one-off by default unless James Cameron decides to rewrite history.

The story is the same for video games. During the current generation of consoles, publishers and developers have shifted to annual or semiannual additions to franchises such as "Mass Effect," "BioShock," "Gears of War" and "Assassin's Creed." The "Call of Duty" and "Need for Speed" series are the worst offenders, with eight and nine titles released since 2005, respectively.

And don't even get me started on zombies and vampires.

So why do we do this? Why are we content to buy the same casserole, even though the recipe remains all but unchanged? Why are we content with iteration instead of innovation?

Clearly, we must enjoy something about the underlying structure of these works or they wouldn't sell well enough to warrant a sequel. Maybe most people still find the casserole delicious, and those of us longing for innovation simply have unrealistic expectations.

After all, Ecclesiastes tells us: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." A British literary critic even suggested there are only seven basic plots to work with: Man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. himself; man vs. God; man vs. society; man caught in the middle; and man and woman.

Some people might argue that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but that's bunk. Just because something is financially successful doesn't mean it isn't broken. Artistic innovation requires risk. A casserole, on the other hand, just needs to be reheated.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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