The Disappearance of Imagination

Anna and Lena

A while ago I was stopped at a red light across the street from a movie theater. As I scanned the titles, I realized that every single movie was a sequel, a remake of an old show, or a recycled idea. Stunned, I wondered if it might be a coincidence. So I started watching the titles as they changed over a few months. The vast majority of movies were, in one way or another, regurgitations. The percentage of movies based on unique ideas these days seems small.

Having spent several hours with 40 authors yesterday, signing books at a Barnes & Noble, I also had a chance to look at how many novels were based on unique ideas, as opposed to those based on well established tropes. *cough* Vampire Romance *cough* When we read books, our mind has to create the pictures in our head. Are we so lazy that we only want books we have already imagined?

Today I was talking about the evolution of Lego toys over the course of my life. I remember when Legos were just cubic bricks and generic space guys. Now, the bulk of the sets sold are commercialized to go with movies and other famous themes. They are cute, don’t get me wrong. But the specificity of characters and pieces seems to indicate a fundamental change in the toy. The users don’t need as much imagination. The more specific the pieces, the less one has to imagine… and the fewer creations they can be used in. The spaceships I built as a kid didn’t have as many sleek lines or perfectly color matched pieces, but I knew what kind of fuel they burned, the limits of their firepower, and how the pilot would enact emergency repairs after a crash landing. Now?

It’s the part your mind “fills in” that is the “imagination” in any creative endeavor. I had a blue t-shirt with a paper S-shield and a red towel held on by safety pins when I played Superman. Now they sell full body costumes with custom sculpted abs and biceps padding and maroon boots. Better? Probably. However, it requires less imagination. We used tape and cardboard to make spaceships for our action figures. The toy spaceships now are detailed collector’s items. But they can only be used for one thing. When a ship is made of cardboard, you can easily add oversized thrusters, cannons, or any number of modifications.

My question: Has commercialization and marketing sapped our imagination? Do we create less because of the quality of the creations we consume?

Where are the new superheroes? Will we only have Spider-man, Batman, and the other old superheroes for the rest of our lives? Are there no fans willing to read comics for new superheroes?

Why do we only see vampires, werewolves, and other monsters that were created long ago used over and over again? Where are the new monsters?

Maybe this is my own parallax. Maybe I’m not seeing the full picture. I hope I’m wrong. Still, doesn’t it feel like everybody is less imaginative because they are all just “playing” in the imagined ideas of others?

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5 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Imagination

  1. I wonder this too! How many times can you remake Superman or Spiderman? And a lot of movie titles are remakes. Of course, there are some great new movies/series, like Game of Thrones. The other thing is: kids don’t play outside now like they used to! We used to run around in the back yard with our phasers and play Star Trek. Now, they just play the Xbox!

  2. I believe you’re right, but we are also competing against all the great ideas already in existence. Might be hard to think your new idea is great when you find older ideas awesome.

    • I argue the opposite. The number one way to exercise the imagination is reading. Even reading established tropes. *cough* Vampire Romance *cough*. One has to imagine. Because of of eBooks and eReaders and also because of books like Harry Potter, a new generations of readers are emerging.

      What you are describing is not a lack of imagination. It is a combination of marketing and competition. Yheela said it correctly. We have to imagine the well established tropes because they are easy to imagine. But just because that is where the imagine takes us first doesn’t mean that is where it will end. If we expect writers and movies producers to only produce new amazing awesome ideas, we would only get a few books/movies a year.

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