According to Christianity, 2014 years ago, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and was reborn. However, the holiday that we now call Easter has for even longer than that been associated with rebirth, marking as it does the start of spring. The egg as a symbol of rebirth predates Christianity and all manner of festivals centred around the Harvest have been commonplace since time immemorial.
We humans have always liked the idea of rebirth. We naturally lean away from the idea that when something is gone, it’s gone for good. The presence of the afterlife and reincarnation in religions throughout human history shows that clearly enough. Jesus was not the first god to rise from the dead.
Ancient Greek religion and mythology contains numerous examples of what they call a katabasis – a descent to the Underworld before rising again. Heroes such as Heracles and Perseus are famous for their adventures beyond the lands of the living, as is Vergil’s (and later Dante’s) Aeneas, while Dionysus, god of wine, was himself born a second time from the thigh of Zeus.
But religion is not the only place where our obsession with rebirth is to be found. The constant need to ‘reboot’ everything is often seen as a modern fixation. At the moment we’re seeing a new Robocop, a new House of Cards, even a new Godzilla. We had a new Spiderman only five years after the old one had disco-danced down the road out of sight and out of mind.
People suggest that this phenomenon betrays a fatal lack of creativity in the modern age. Eight of the top ten grossing movies of 2013 were sequels, and adaptations of books, reboots in their own way, dominate the box office. One of the biggest songs of last year, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ was a straight-up blast from the past; its mind-numbingly catchy funk restarted the festival circuit career of Chic ft. Nile Rogers. Furthermore, the internet, and specifically YouTube, is painted with the complaints of self-proclaimed musical purists for whom real music is dead and anything made after 1995 might as well come encased in frozen dog shit. But is it the case that our culture has lost the ability to create new stories, new ideas?
This is emphatically not the case. As MS MR told me at the end of last year, “there’s more good music being made now than ever before”. As the internet grows and grows, so too does the potential for new and interesting media. There’s more independent film than there has ever been, there’s more literature than there has ever been; everything grows exponentially.
What’s more, it’s not even the right question to ask. The value of a cultural work is not determined by its originality, but rather by its innate worth. Homer’s Iliad, widely considered one of the greatest poems of all time, told a story which was known well by its audience, as did the vast majority of ancient classical literature. The art was in the telling; ancient Greek poets weaved new meanings and fresh interpretations into events which had long dwelt in the consciousness of their readership. The density of allusion and adaptation in Ovid forms part of his poetic identity. Similarly, the works of William Shakespeare were largely either based on previous plays (often in different languages) or on historical events.
Of course, this is all because of one simple fact. Everything is a rebirth of something. There’s a reason that critics go on about an artist’s ‘influences’ in reviews and interviews, saying that the artist draws upon X, or conjures up images of Y. While one might easily be drawn into thinking of rebirth as an opportunity for a clean slate, the truth is more complicated. Jesus, risen from the dead, is still Jesus, but his existence has taken on a whole new meaning. A man who is reincarnated into a snail may in some mystical way still be the same person, but his is a different existence entirely.
Similarly, Shakespeare’s retelling of the story of Othello has a whole other life to Cinthio’s original tale, the new Godzilla starring Bryan Cranston is worthy of being judged on its own merits, and Trinity’s Cherwell, while connected to Hilary’s, has a new lease of artistic life. This is not to say that the new shouldn’t be compared to the original, but merely that it must be recognized as a piece of art in its own right.
This is often my response to people who complain when film adaptations of books don’t match up to the original. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that in the book of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, it isn’t Éomer who leads the charge at Helm’s Deep. The film exists separately, and while its proximity to the original allows for a certain amount of interpretational crossover, it certainly doesn’t preclude its changing elements of the original story.
The reboot is a part of human existence; it’s not going away, so stop complaining about it.