Javier Grillo-Marxuach is beloved by genre fans for the many TV shows he’s had a hand in writing and producing—including Lost, The 100, the Xena reboot that sadly never was, and the upcoming Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. A few years back, he released a book of essays about his time in the TV trenches, and he just dropped a sequel.
Shoot That One: More Essays by Javier Grillo-Marxuach came out last week (was first published on his blog a few years back. Other entries explore such topics as George R.R. Martin, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Blade Runner, the badassery of villains in recent blockbuster movies, and so much more.
We are thrilled to share “The Audacity of Being Jaded,” Grillo-Marxuach’s insightful and poignant (and, it should go without saying, hilarious) look at how nerdy fandom and pop-culture nostalgia has manifested across different generations of his own family. (Spoiler alert: His dad sounds pretty damn awesome.)
“The Audacity of Being Jaded”
It’s easy to believe that Hollywood is some sort of malignant entity whose job it is to turn the “good,” “wholesome” and “deeply heartfelt” entertainments of our childhood into a physical graffito on our collective innocence.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I often look at the billboards for the latest reinvention of something I once loved and take it as a personal affront… but as the years go by, and the entertainment/industrial complex goes predictably about the business of expectorating the necessary number of sequels, prequels, equals, reboots, remakes, and reduxes to keep the pumps primed and the money spigots open, I find myself reliving two pivotal moments in my relationship with my father – a man I not only adore, but also consider exceptionally wise.
In 1977, during one of my many fascinated, microscopic – and hyperverbal – explorations of the minutia of Star Wars I noticed that my father, whom I had taken conversational hostage with that day’s monologue (probably some speculation about Tusken Raider social dynamics and the ethics of making Banthas into beasts of burden), was slowly drifting away. Naturally, I immediately doubled down on my need for my father’s attention and demanded to know how he could possibly be bored by something as shiny and awesome as Star Wars.
Starting, my father looked at me. As he processed my question, his expression turned into a very amiable version of that much-imitated Robert DeNiro “shrug-sneer of resignation” – and said something to the effect of, “Well, you know, we had that.”
“Excuse me – you HAD that?”
My dad smiled, conveying to me that it just wasn’t that new to him – what with his having grown up watching Flash Gordon movie serials and all.
My hair stood up on end. My eyes bugged out.
Flash Gordon? With the tin foil? And the visible wires holding up the dorky spaceships? And the gorilla-suited monsters, and the lame cardboard Hawkmen wings - and IN BLACK AND WHITE!?
The old man nodded - yeah, same thing, right?
Mercifully, this exchange didn’t permanently damage my relationship with my father - but it did puzzle me for years. After that day, every time I made my parents take me to see the latest Amblin’ flick, or the next two films in the original Star Wars trilogy, or the newest Star Trek sequel, I would look over to them and wonder what hopelessly primitive artifact of their childhood prevented them from fully enjoying the wonders on the screen.
About seventeen years ago, I started to hear about this thing called “Harry Potter.” Finally, when word of its wonders trickled down to me from people my own damned age, I broke down and bought the first book.
To me - and I know that even this will be seen as blasphemy by the faithful - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a delightful reinterpretation of the hero’s journey with a dash of Fay Weldon and a pinch of the lighter side of Roald Dahl. Duly entertained, I pretty much left it at that, having no real desire to know anything else about Mr. Potter’s future adventures - much less read six more increasingly door-stoppy tomes on the subject.
By the time Harry Potter became a seven book, eight-movie-with-upcoming-spinoffs, theme park attraction, shared universe, global phenomenon that bridged the generation gap between Millennials, and Gens-X and -Y, I found myself sitting in the car with my 11 year-old niece... and having exhausted all of my ability to listen with rapt attention to her exegetic speculation on the manufacturing difficulties faced by the makers of “Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans” I drifted away into my own thoughts - and found myself the target of the same question I posed to my father decades before.
My answer was not dissimilar...
“Well, you know, we had that.”
The look of outrage on my niece’s face remains etched in my memory to this day. Also, it’s now on me that she will probably never read Fay Weldon in protest - which is a shame, because I have seldom had as great a ride with a novel as I did the first time I read “The Hearts and Lives of Men.”
My niece’s newfound antipathy for Fay Weldon notwithstanding - and seriously, do yourself a favour and track down a copy of “The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil,” it will knock your socks off - the full reality of “Well, you know, we had that” didn’t land on me until I watched the 2009 reboot of Star Trek.
Now, nü-Star Trek a very entertaining film... even though my entire takeaway is that it’s the story of a pretty young man who is given a starship by a much older man as a reward for, well, little else than being pretty.
(there may, indeed, be a great deal more pleasure to be had from re-watching nü-Star Trek as a sci-fi mutation of Behind the Candelabra with Christopher Pike as Liberace and James T. Kirk as Scott Thorson, than as originally intended... but I digress)
In any event, even as I enjoyed the many thrilling moments in this latest iteration of my beloved franchise, it quickly dawned on me that... well... for its many flaws - the ponderous pace and tone, the spackled on greasepaint make-up on all the leads, the disturbing tightness of the pajama-like duty uniforms, and the uncomfortable homoerotic subtext, just to name a few - I just plain LIKE Robert Wise’s Star Trek - The Motion Picture.
A lot more.
Even if Star Trek - The Motion Picture - and subsequently The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock and their ilk - were about emotions profoundly out of the range of experience of a 12 year old boy (my age when I first saw that film in theatres), that primal experience of first experience can never be experienced again.
As fun as the 2009 nü-Star Trek reboot may have been, I’d already taken my first drink from that bottle thirty years earlier... and it doesn’t matter that my vintage was a slow, and ponderous - and charmingly operatic - exploration of liberal white male menopause accompanied by visual effects that seem quaint to the modern eye.
For both better - and worse - that’s what Star Trek means to me...
... and, well, you know, now I’ve had that.
None of this doesn’t mean I’m resigning from watching genre fiction and filmmaking, and not enjoying anything anymore, and tossing out all my James Blish novelizations in favour of the works of Thomas Mann (I’m a long way from committing to The Magic Mountain the same amount of time I’ve committed to The Naked Time).
I have, however, found in being jaded a certain liberation from, say, the outrage of reading that a beloved character may die in a future instalment of a beloved franchise... or that an actor I dislike has been cast as my favourite hero... or the need to check out the latest trailer for some new version of a beloved property on fear of excommunication from the great guild of the over informed, over-opinionated, and otaku-like.
Yes, the uniforms may be even shinier now... and yes, there’s no visible matte lines on CGI model starships... and yes, no one under twenty will most likely understand what that last thing meant... but I’ve now been around the block. I now know the path of the hero’s journey from beginning to end, and that means I don’t have to start the journey from jump street each time: or jump at the chance to watch it retold endlessly.
Maybe the version of the hero’s journey that is etched in my DNA is profoundly politically incorrect - or hopelessly stupid - I do come from an entire generation of men who think the archetypal James Bond is a pallid, and somewhat fey, older dandy who smiles during inappropriate moments and pervs out on unconscionably young women - but that’s what I got when my pleasure receptors were ready to be influenced on a core level by such material...
... and that opportunity only comes once.
Walking out of nü-Star Trek, I felt a certain wistfulness - like my season had passed.
No, it was a little harder than that.
It was like pop culture had just served me notice that I had conclusively aged out of the desired demographic target.
But the sting passed... quickly replaced by the memory of a conversation I’d had with my father two years earlier, when I phoned him from my car, upset that a friend had strong-armed me into going to see Transformers 2.
“Ah, yes... the Revenge of the Fallen,” declared my father. “A GREAT film.”
“What are you talking about, Papi?” I replied. “Are you sure you heard me right?”
“I did hear you right... and I have seen that film... in IMAX.”
“And you weren’t horrified by the punishing length, the onslaught of cliched images, the frenetic ADD cutting, the horrible stereotypes, and the interminable action sequences?”
“I did not look at the screen once,” my father explained. “I spent my time in the theatre turned away: watching the delighted faces of my grandchildren.”
I took a moment, to process that, and then came back with another argument...
“What about the oppressive soundscape, the cheese rock soundtrack, and the ear-shattering explosions?”
“Ho... no, no, no,” my father returned with a chuckle. “I wore earplugs.”
Excerpt from Shoot That One: More Essays by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, first published by Puppet Bureau, reprinted by permission. Copyright Javier Grillo-Marxuach.