We Should Redefine How We Think About Adaptations & Remakes


Cultural critic Walter Benjamin once wrote that "storytelling is the art of repeating stories." In today's transmedia buffet of franchises, interconnected universes and cross-media tie-ins, this quote feels more relevant than ever. Professor Hutcheon argues that “multiple versions” of something can exist “laterally, not vertically.” We can see this in practice in things like supplementary comic books to comic book movies, like a dog chasing its own tail.

She also emphasizes how our definition of "original" can be easily undefined, and not just because every artist borrows from what came before. The dictionary definition of "original" is "the source or cause from which something arises; a work composed firsthand," and most importantly: "not secondary [...]" The problem is, by this definition, the Game of Thrones TV series has become the original work by overtaking the publication of the literary source, which will become the "secondary" one.

As Martin and the show's creators are walking different paths to reach the same destination, the authority of singular authorship becomes harder to define. The adapters have become the originators and co-authors, a head-screwy fact that avid fans of Martin's book series have been trying to make peace with.

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It's not just Game of Thrones, either. If a video game tie-in for a film is made concurrently with the film it's based on, which is the original? Anime versions of serialized manga overtake their source so frequently that "filler arcs" -- literally filling for more time until more plot is published -- have become an accepted convention.

By dismantling the word "original," we can erase the chronological privilege it has, even if what we think of being the original is just the original to us. Take Disney's recycling of fairy tales and folklore, for instance. What an adaptation does or doesn't do better than its source is subjective, but we shouldn't always assume that something will be superior just because it happened to come first, and there’s plenty of room for a story to be told in multiple, separate ways to multiple, separate audiences.

NEXT PAGE: Have We Actually Been the Problem All Along?

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