Modern American culture is nothing more than a geek media Skinner Box. The vast majority of geek gunk is driven by pure nostalgia. Creativity seems to have been banished, and with all the reboots and remakes all we do is endlessly recycle the identical characters, costumes, and props, endlessly retelling slightly different stories about the same exact characters.
Our reboot culture is Commedia dell’arte with phasers and sonic screwdrivers, though without the viscerality that Punch and Judy could deliver so effectively. Like a child-proofed house, we’ve padded all the dangerous corners and blocked up all the electrical sockets, so our media is safe, repetitive, and hence insipid. We’re paying billions of dollars to ensure yet more episodes of Baby’s First Geek Gunk Commedia dell’arte.
Ready Player One is, admittedly, NOT another episode of Baby’s First Geek Gunk Commedia dell’arte, but that’s because it’s the Laff-A-Lympics Geek Gunk Commedia dell’arte. It doesn’t have one particular brand of Geek Gunk, it has ALL THE GEEK GUNK IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD.
Back to the Future? It’s in there. Gundam? In there. Iron Giant? Totally. Superman, Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman? All there. King Kong, Halo’s Spartans, Christine (the car), Marvin the Martian, Hello Kitty, Beetlejuice, Mechagodzilla, World of Warcraft Orcs, Commander Sheppard, Lara Croft, The Greatest American Hero, Battletoads, Joust, Overwatch’s Tracer, Femshep, Bloodrayne, Deadshot, Sagat, and a chestburster from Alien? Vehicles from The A-Team, Mad Max, Street Fighter, and Speed Racer? A Devo hat? Would I be mentioning them all if they weren’t all in there? Plus dozens of more that I didn’t pay attention to and I don’t care about.
THIS MOVIE IS ALL THE POP CULTURE REFERENCES. (Except Marvel and Disney. Maybe they charged too much or simply refused, just to be jerks?)
I HATE this movie.
The hero is a wimp. The genius scientist is an autistic wimp. The main villain is a greedy wimp.
WHY IS EVERYTHING ALWAYS ABOUT THE WIMPS?
I want something brave. I want something bold. I want something MANLY.
I want something steeped in Western Civilization. Steeped in the Bible. Steeped in honor, masculinity, virility, courage, chivalry.
I want something that MAKES culture, not MIMICS it.
Pointless references and in-jokes are a cheap, shoddy way to feel clever. Hey, it’s the stock-in-trade of Twitter, but a novel or movie used to have higher standards.
If you allude to something, allude to something with MEANING. Allude to culture, not pop-culture.
Allusions to a serpent staff bring back visions of people so bereft of faith, they couldn’t even lift up their eyes to look at the staff, so they died in utter agony as venom stopped their heart. Allusions to a fiery furnace evoke exactly the opposite image: men so faithful, an angel appeared to them and preserved them in the heart of the most intense flames imaginable. A reference to the “famed loyalty of Iago” would evoke tales of a man who is so twisted by hate for his former closest friend, he’s insane with it, and willing to destroy his life to strike back at he whom he loathes.
These are eternal verities, principles so fundamental to human existence they’ve mattered in every culture on every continent for every hour of human existence on the planet. These are what stories are supposed to be ABOUT.
A culture that forgets these truths produces works of art that are, by turns, either insipid or depraved. Ready Player One falls into the former category, and so is slightly better, but only slightly. It isn’t morally depraved, but it is artistically debased.
We deserve better.