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Techno-utopias

Sequel-baiting

Sequel-baiting is the practice by film-makers to construct their plots in a way that encourages audience demand for a sequel. As well as cliff-hanger endings, there’s the technique of introducing characters and subplots that require follow-up once the main story is over.

Huge fish tank with people standing infront of itSuch is the virulence of “sequelitis” that fans make up their own trailers to films they would like a real film maker to produce, and they publish these on YouTube, as if goading James Cameron into announcing a sequel to Avatar. The amateur trailer is usually assembled from clips out of the original film.

There are fake sequel trailers for Avatar, Inception and Titanic, to name a few. The editing tools for mashing up video content are available on anyone’s laptop. This isn’t user generated content (UGC) so much as user-generated teasers, mock-prequels and movie trailer parodies.

It seems as though a fake trailer induces massive numbers of hits to its creator’s YouTube channel, at the cost of having to bear an interminable thread of comments from angry and frustrated visitors, when they realise there is no sequel.

Sequel-baiting is a commercial and instrumental indication of a basic human propensity to will some event into existence. Not only media, but also consumer products, succumb to this chain of expectation, as evident in recent speculation about an “iPhone 5.”

Naming and numbering heightens expectation. There’s the role of version numbers in keeping a project open and edging it ever onwards: NASA’s Apollo space missions 1 to 17+; Windows 1.0-10.0+; Web 2.0, inviting expectation of a 2.5, 3.0 or more.

These sequencing tactics are indicators of a propensity within the human species to project forward, to anticipate, and to be ever expectant, which are in a way also about constructing a future, and even making the idea of the future.

Science fiction stories heighten anticipation for what might be, though we know they are as much about the present as the future.

Looking forward, and inventing a future, is also a looking back, and inventing a past. In a sense every looking forward is an attempt to get back to something, often to something even better. The forward look references what’s already gone.

This is also the nature of utopia, looking to a better place and circumstance that in many ways transforms the past: the Celestial City (or Heavenly Jerusalem) as a return to a renewed Garden of Eden; William Morris’ utopian future in which there are no factories and no commercially-induced division of labour, a return to an idealised pre-industrial state.

This tendency of human beings to project, anticipate, and indulge in hope is a strong theme in the writing of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Expectation is far from frivolous or in vain. Without having a fore-project there would be no understanding — which is to say we could never understand anything: a movie, a trailer, a book, this blog. We are creatures always expecting, with pleasure or dread, and it is this concerned projection (into a future) that enables us to make sense of things. It’s also a two-and-fro movement where expectations undergo inevitable revision in light of expectations that are unmet, or realised differently.

It seems that in life as with media we are always looking for more or less of the same, and this compels us to think and act, and drives people to invent. All this constitutes the fore-projection of understanding: future-baiting of a sort.

Bibliography

  • Bellamy, Edward. 1967. Looking Backward 2000-1887. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Bloch, Ernst. 1986. The Principle of Hope. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Coyne, Richard. 1999. Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • More, Thomas. 1965. Utopia. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Morris, William. 1970. News From Nowhere. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Sequel-baiting

  1. “…every looking forward is an attempt to get back to something, often to something even better.” reminds me of fashion. This phenomenon is so obvious in the fashion world. The so-called “it” /”new” elements of every new season we see at the latest fashion weeks is actually a tribute, or say improvement or make-over to the “old” elements which have been used before perhaps over millions of times. Usually when I buy something (e.g. clothes, shoes, etc.) which is considered being fashionable, my mom will tell me that she had that kind of dress/jeans/shoes when she was young. It is actually a cycle, and what we do always leads back or relate with the past, as well as what we invent always inspire by something that is already exist. There is always an “old” corresponds to a related “new”.

    Yet to me, “the forward look references what’s already gone” is not very true. Not everything can be gone for good, and sometimes something just reappears in a different way and look. No matter how good or bad that thing becomes, the essence of it is still there just like no matter how much we change we are still who we are.

    Posted by Zongping Shi | December 5, 2011, 10:38 pm
  2. I think sequel baiting in film is a fascinating concept. The fact that there are uber fans out there who take the time and have the creativity to construct fake sequel trailers shows the power these movies have on us. There are also myriad ways in which film makers use this baiting technique. There is the Star Wars style sequel baiting which to me is the most “valid”. This is usually based on a whole story and the arc of the narrative is told in such a way that we need multiple films to complete it. George Lucas had his epic tale all sorted out in his head before one frame was shot. Another example of this sequel baiting concept is when the original films have box office success. Somehow, the Final Destination film franchise continues to churn out sequels using the same formula, and I can only assume that these films are money makers for the studio. Also, they are guilty pleasure films for the public. Cheesy, and poorly acted, yes, but who doesn’t want to see a group of cocky kids try and cheat death? Film makers may also be baited themselves to revisit an older story. This may be the case with Ridley Scott and Blade Runner. It has been recently confirmed that after 30 years, Scott is going to direct a sequel to his distopian future noir sci if masterpiece. This is interesting because the original 1982 film had a somewhat happy ending that went against the whole mood of the rest of the film. The 1992 Director’s Cut had a bit of a cliffhanger and I think this is the version that will be referenced in the sequel. This film also exemplifies your idea of “looking forward inventing a future is also looking back and inventing the past”. The whole feel of Blade Runner is futuristic yet nostalgic and very “old” looking. This of course, is a much more dystopian look at the world, and could be a warning to,us in the present rather than “utopia, looking to a better place or circumstance, that in many ways transforms the past.” Seeing how Scott’s vision of the future has, quite frighteningly, been a fairly close representation, it will be interesting to see what he does with the sequel,to Blade Runner and if he will move toward a more utopian idea.

    Posted by Matt Kravitz | December 17, 2012, 10:12 pm

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