We Think It Started With: Straight-to-DVD "Mockbusters" like Transmorphers and Sunday School Musical.
If there is anything sadder than a cheap movie knockoff, it'd have to be, we don't know, some kind of terrible childhood disease. Today every blockbuster drags in its wake countless zero-budget ripoffs with similar titles and covers, meant to confuse elderly or stoned customers into buying the wrong DVD.
Not only do ridiculous versions of Western films turn up in places like China, but in the U.S., you have Asylum Films, a studio with a huge library of movies designed to go directly to video and scrape a little cash off of the famous franchise. So when Battle: Los Angeles hit theaters, Asylum crapped out Battle of Los Angeles.
Via The Asylum
You'll never know the difference.
If you've ever heard someone say that constant remakes and sequels are the biggest sign of Hollywood's creative bankruptcy, you have to admit that this is a few levels lower than that.
It Actually Started: In the 1800s.
Back when movies were called books, the most popular ones weren't released all at once. Serial novels were more like TV shows; they were sold a few chapters at a time and released every few weeks so people had to keep buying them to find out what happened. These books were enormously popular and were written by reputable authors like Charles Dickens. They cost about 12 cents for every few chapters.
Predictably, to cash in on serial novel sales, smaller printing companies started publishing books that came to be known as "penny dreadfuls." These were cheap books that cost only a penny to buy, were printed on low-quality paper and told shitty, two-dimensional stories ripping off the premises of the popular 12-cent serials.
Via Wikimedia Commons
To be fair, that does look kind of kickass.
Full novels during the 1800s also did the Transmorphers thing; more than three dozen novels came out at nearly the exact same time involving journeying to the center of the Earth. The "hollow Earth" fiction basically started after an American soldier, John Cleves Symmes Jr., proposed a real-life expedition to the "interior world" through holes in the North and South poles. Despite being completely insane, this idea influenced Edgar Allan Poe to write his only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which in turn inspired dozens of similar stories borrowing the plot, the most famous being by Jules Verne and the weirdest probably being by S. Byron Welcome, who made a story about going to the center of the Earth an allegory for tax proposals, which we can only imagine was thoroughly riveting.
"But as a parallel argument, I feel it fails, since he appears to have no understanding of higher math--"
"Honey, let me stop you right there so I can go die of boredom."
Additionally, as aggravating at the recent surge in vampire popularity might seem, it helps to know that the same popularity has been ebbing and flowing for more than a century. After the (arguably) first vampire story, The Vampyre, was written in 1819, a wave of vampire stories followed, including the penny dreadful story Varney the Vampire and a novel you may have heard of by Bram Stoker called Dracula. All of which never would have existed without an unapologetic willingness to steal a plot.
We Think It Started With: The founding of the MPAA rating system in 1968.
As we've mentioned, the Motion Picture Association of America is responsible for sticking ratings on movies that go a long way toward determining how well those movies perform at the box office. Audiences and filmmakers alike have been complaining about the capriciousness of the system for more than 50 years, but they might quiet down about the issue if they learn how tyrannical censorship on productions used to be.
"Rated X? This is nothing less than fascism!"
It Actually Started: In the 1500s.
During Elizabeth's reign, England was in political turmoil. Bloody revolts and protests could spring up from anywhere, so the government enforced strict laws over the theater, since 3,000 people attending a play was more than enough to start a rebellion. Thus, the censorship board was born out of fear, and if you were a theater company at the time, the only thing worse than the rules were the punishments.
A no-cursing-allowed rap battle with Clay Aiken.
Under the eye of the government censors, theater troupes had to submit their scripts and have them approved before they could be performed. You know, to make sure the play wasn't morally tantalizing or overtly violent or contained any controversial political themes. In an ironic twist, the punishments for writers who didn't follow the censorship guidelines were insanely violent and included torture or mutilation.
Not only did this early MPAA terrify writers and bore audiences, it also was responsible for massive gaps in the literary history. Historians believe there are likely plays by both Ben Jonson and Shakespeare that don't exist today because they couldn't get past the censors and so never went into print.
In fact, after a performance of Jonson's play The Isle of Dogs, which was a satirical attack on Elizabeth's court, all London stages were shut down for almost a year. That meant that for months, the people of London basically had no means of entertainment to distract them from their shitty, plague-infected lives. We have to wonder if taking away their fun was really such a great way to avoid a bloody revolution from the peasants. Then again, if we know people, they found other sources for their banned content. It is the one enduring law of entertainment: Porn always finds a way.
Read more from D. McCallum here.
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