The only constant is change.
Times change, social mores change, ideas about what is acceptable change, audiences change, and creators change.
If you weren’t born perfect, or have absolutely no capacity for self-reflection (and therefore no ability to mature), chances are you’ve said or done something that you regret or want to take back, be it an unkind comment, a problematic Halloween costume, or maybe a Artwork that has not aged well.
Most of us have no choice but to self-reflect and resolve to do better in the future, and perhaps apologize.
But the people who make movies and films have the ability to change the past in ways that the rest of us don’t have.
The trend for an artist to alter their finished work really took off when George Lucas’ Star Wars films were re-released in 1997 before the prequels.
The films’ special effects and storylines were updated in ways that ultimately angered fans. To this day, there are still people who are very, very insistent that Han Shot First and Salty that the Original Flavor movies are nowhere available to stream.
As physical media slowly gave way to digital space, artists now have the opportunity to endlessly rework seemingly finished works. (See Kanye West’s promise to “fix” his song “Wolves” from the Life of Pablo album.)
But a move by Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer has raised questions about when good intentions can lead to a slippery slope.
The Duffers have updated Stranger Things
As reported by GQ UK, fans have discovered that the Duffer Brothers have updated some episodes of their Netflix (NFLX) – Get the Netflix Inc. report Hit “Stranger Things” from a few years ago.
One relates to a fairly innocuous continuity error regarding a character’s birthday that only the most obsessed would notice. (Trust us, it’s not worth dwelling on.)
Rumors have circulated that a scene in which the character Jonathan Byers spies on his eventual girlfriend Nancy Wheeler in a rather creepy way was removed to make the character more purely good and heroic, rather than mixed and flawed. (You know how all people are in general.) But according to GQ, that was proven wrong.
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But the Duffer Brothers have confirmed to Variety that they intend to do their earlier work George Lucas, so there’s really nothing stopping them going in that direction, so there’s no reason why they want to continue the character of Jonathan couldn’t technically change because many fans have complained that he looked like a pervert.
That doesn’t seem like a big deal now. It is after all, just a TV show. But is it a wise idea to endlessly fix the past?
We must learn from the past, not fix it
While people always get their feathers ruffled and feign moral outrage, it is Well that our notions of gender, race, imbalances of power, and moral behavior are constantly in flux. It is a sign that we can move forward as a society. Hopefully.
But while the impulse to alter the past to perfectly suit the current climate is understandable, ultimately it’s not a wise idea.
Should the sexual assault jokes be removed from Animal House or the many racist scenes involving the character Long Duk Dong changed in the streaming versions of Sixteen Candles?
This might make contemporary audiences more comfortable. But it would ultimately only burnish directors John Landis and John Hughes’ reputations and portray them as something more than they were: flawed people working in a different era and making very unfortunate creative decisions that we can all still learn from.
There’s no easy fix to this problem, but trying to fix the past is arguably just as unhelpful as ignoring the problems in old movies and shows that make us cringe today.
The best way is still Disney’s approach (DIS) – Get the Walt Disney Company Report and HBO Max (WBD) – Get the Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. report. “Gone with the Wind” is undoubtedly an important film in the history of cinema. It’s also unquestionably racist. In 2020, HBO Max made the decision to include a disclaimer with content from the film Denies the Horrors of Slavery.
Before the film begins, Jacqueline Stewart, presenter and film scholar at Turner Classic Movies, explains “why this 1939 epic drama should be viewed, contextualized, and discussed in its original form.” A second panel discussion entitled “Gone with the Wind’s Complicated Legacy” is also included.
It is also known that Disney has a long legacy of cartoons that now make parents gasp.
Some of these are hidden in the vault, like “Song of the South”. While other films with problematic elements like “Lady And The Tramp” (Siamese cats have long been viewed as a monstrous Asian stereotype) are now preceded by the disclaimer: “These stereotypes were wrong then and still are today. Rather than removing this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it, and spark conversations to create a more inclusive future together.”
This doesn’t fix the old movies and their nasty elements, but it shouldn’t fix them. It never helps to pretend the past is anything but what it is. Instead, problematic old movies can be an important lesson in how things were, how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go.