- Remake Television: Reboot, Re-Use, Recycle ed. by Carlen Lavigne
In a June 2015 episode of PBS’s web show Idea Channel, host Mike Rugnetta addresses the recent surge of remakes populating the contemporary media marketplace.1 Rugnetta argues that remakes are symptoms of a “collective narcissism,” citing a blog post by geek icon Simon Pegg, in which Pegg poses a theory that children of the 1970s and 1980s have maintained an “extended adolescence.”2 Pegg’s blog post and Rugnetta’s webcast attempt to account for the cultural conditions that produce remakes and our desire for them: How do media producers co-opt our nostalgic impulses? What do remakes tell us about contemporary taste cultures? And why are remakes ridiculed as derivative at the same time that they draw massive audiences?
Remake Television is a timely investigation into the dynamics of “recycled” media.3 The collection acknowledges that remakes are especially prevalent today, but it also demonstrates that the history of [End Page 150] television is a history of recycling—TV is a “hyper-nostalgic medium.”4 The fifteen essays offer a broad swath of case studies that reveal various modes through which TV recycles itself, from adaptation to rebooting, reenvisioning, and reimagining. Throughout the collection, there is an emphasis on the “intertextual nature of remaking” and on how cultural shifts influence what, how, and why media are recycled.5 Although these essays certainly cohere in their shared focus on recycled media, a missing element in this collection is a clear formulation of key theoretical concepts—this might have been done through a richer introduction or by breaking the book into parts (it’s amazing how much conceptual work a few well-conceived headings can accomplish). Lavigne offers brief opening remarks; at first, I appreciated her lack of pomp and her trust in the reader to experience the collection without a guiding voice. I’m never an advocate of long, formulaic introductions that read like a string of paraphrased abstracts, but some of the best edited collections find their value in the strong framing of the editor’s introduction. This is where a little theoretical heavy lifting can set the tone and context for the rest of the volume, and so I think Lavigne missed an important opportunity here.
In lieu of a substantive introduction, however, the first three chapters are well placed—they engage more directly with the theoretical stakes of remake culture than do the later chapters. For example, in his discussion of The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010–) as part of a transmedia “zombie matrix,” William Proctor recognizes the need for more audience-based research on remakes, arguing that scholarship should emphasize modes of interpretation over formal analysis.6 Steven Gil uses the dense intertextuality of The X-Files (Fox, 1993–2002, 2016) to establish the claim that “it is possible to trace the creative lineage of a television series and assess the ways that an original’s own creativity is formed out of the way it remakes earlier concepts and premises.”7 In the chapter most invested in the “why” of remake culture, Ryan Lizardi claims, along the lines of Pegg, that “the remake nostalgic ethos … reaffirm[s] dominant ideologies and a hegemony of the past,” thus encouraging an uncritical attitude toward recycled media texts.8 These chapters, however promising in their theoretical positioning, don’t have time to establish a full conceptual latticework for the collection. Rather, they emerge as broad calls for what further scholarship on remakes might look like. Sadly, few of the later chapters seem to answer these calls; some essays barely address the underlying cultural significance of remakes as a media category, instead focusing on comparisons between “original” and “remake” that seem to undercut a major point of the book.
Another issue at stake in this study of remake culture is the question of media specificity. On the one hand, I applaud Remake Television for sticking to its title—the [End Page 151] case studies are limited to TV, and perhaps this strategy...