Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's In Today's Water

A while back I had an extended discussion of the present day phenomenon of creators (writers, filmmakers, artists of all kinds) mining the classics in their own work.

Sometimes it's a retelling, like the two current versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories: the splashy Hollywood films with Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson and the modernized (wonderful!) TV Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson.  Sometimes it's a mash-up like the funny and clever Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (or its lame clones).  Sometimes it seems purely a smash-and-grab, theft and vandalism.  (Read earlier posts here, here, and here.)

But today I woke to an NPR interview with well-respected novelist P.D. James talking about her new mystery, Death Comes to Pemberly.  Apparently this terrific writer - who's never written such a collaborative work before and vows not to again - just felt an irresistible urge to combine her modern detection novel skills with Jane Austen's classic comedy of manners.

So I give up.

Image borrowed from Plus Nine. Neo Now - visit to see more great robo-classics.

This is not artistic laziness (well, sometimes).  This IS a real part of our era.  This urge to work with the classics IS some millennial phenomenon, some zeitgeist, which creators must wrestle with, this need to manipulate and reshape our past.


Why? Or why now?

My gut feeling is that it has something to do with the Millenium, with the vast social and economic changes happening in this developing Information Age, and a lot to do with the sudden computer-driven ease of finding, grabbing,  and manipulating these classics.

This will come as a shock to younger readers, but when I was a kid the only way to "borrow" the Mona Lisa, say, was to find a postcard to physically cut up or to trace her out of a book - where she was probably black and white.  Now you can tweak her colored pixels instantly.  If you want to mash her up with Paris Hilton, no one can stop you.  Ditto literature and music.  It's all easily available and manipulable.

Who can resist?

Or why not?

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