I Haven’t Thought of You Lately: Nostalgia, Veronica Mars and Batman

I scanned the pledge levels, but hesitated to commit my money. I have a very uneasy relationship with Kickstarter. Crowd-funding, a seeming necessity of the 21st century economy, strikes me as borderline exploitation…

“A long time ago, we used to be friends, but I haven't thought of you lately at all.” – The Dandy Warhols

I had not thought about Veronica Mars in over two years until I saw the launch of the Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie based on the short-lived TV series. Suddenly a wave of nostalgia came over me as I watched the clever video clip made to enliven fans and garner pledges for the project. The show was a favorite when it aired on the now defunct UPN TV network and then later the CW. I scanned the pledge levels, but hesitated to commit my money. I have a very uneasy relationship with Kickstarter. Crowd-funding, a seeming necessity of the 21st century economy, strikes me as borderline exploitation. Consumers are not producers, and blurring the line between the two is a precarious state for the economics of the creative arts. Patrons certainly still exist in this era, but that’s more a matter of charity or establishing legacy than what crowd-funding is currently. But nostalgia for the show stayed with me, and as I read certain comics–namely DC’s Batman #18–the idea of nostalgia took on two forms: mourning and remembrance. As I thought about those comics and went down the rabbit hole of commentary on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, I came to an uneasy understanding of what it all means. Popculture is insatiable and our longing for the past can be stifling, but sometimes it all comes together and makes us happy. There is no universal truth about what nostalgia can create.

“It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” – Frank Zappa

“It [Veronica Mars] crosses the streams of the Internet’s two most powerful by-products: overpowering nostalgia and impatience,” wrote Josh Wolk for Vulture. He’s partially right. The Internet isn’t necessary for nostalgia (or even impatience) to take hold of Popculture, but let’s concentrate on nostalgia. TV shows in the mid to late 1980s like What’s Happening Now, The New Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters Today are fairly concrete evidence of that idea. What he was getting at he wrote fairly succinctly later in his article. “Nostalgia is grasping for the impossible: You don’t want more of what you remember fondly; you want to be back at the time when you enjoyed it, which is an impossibility.”

Nostalgia is a warm blanket and a plate of cookies we can wrap ourselves in and munch on when we are downcast about the present and nervous for the future. It’s a means of recapturing and reimagining the past to suit our despondent moods. One of the joys of today is being able to instantly return to the TV shows, movies, books or songs that made us so happy so long ago. The Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) murder hasn’t been solved yet and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) haven’t started their smoldering but doomed romance in the gray area between "09er’s” and the others of Neptune, California. Our DVD collections betray us sometimes, but the sweetness of returning to what inspired us is a hard vice to kick.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” ― Marcel Proust

As I said earlier, nostalgia took on two forms, remembrance and mourning, and that was underscored after reading Batman #18.

The most recent Robin, Damian Wayne, is dead and DC will spend the next month mourning the loss in its Batman Family of titles. I’ll confess that I have never cared for the Damian character. He was a plot device that never became a real boy, outliving his usefulness years ago. But his death did remind me of the first Robin to die in comics, Jason Todd, and what followed his passing, particular the story arcs “Year Three” (Batman #436-439) and “Lonely Place of Dying” (Batman #440-442 and New Teen Titans #60-61). Those stories presented Batman as having trouble mourning, taking risks he shouldn’t and introduced the world to the third Robin, Tim Drake.

I’m sure Scott Snyder had those comics on his mind as he wrote Batman #18. He wouldn’t want to replicate them, but he would want to capture some of the emotion behind them. While not as sentimental as what appears in Batman and Robin #18, Snyder takes the opportunity to present a mourning Batman while also revisiting his Harper Rowe character, adding layers to her and her brother Cullen, and giving readers another perspective on the Dark Knight as he is and Gotham as it is. She is an interesting new creation, embodying a fairly modern female identity and offering us a ground level character that knows firsthand the viciousness of the city.

She reminds me of what Tim Drake used to be before his most recent incarnation as a superhero stalker, someone who sees Batman hurting and wants to help. Harper’s skills are impressive but undefined as to what the future will hold. She needs a mission, a purpose beyond playing nanny to her brother. Batman or Gotham, depending on your perspective, can provide that for her. Heroes need allies of all kinds.

I do wish Harper was bit more defined as an alternative culture modern woman and she didn’t wear the ninja outfit, but I can’t fault Snyder for his story decisions. The whole comic is well done, in spite of the muffled chapters just like in Batman #12, and my minor gripes are personal preferences.

Getting back to the previous death of a Robin, that period for Batman comics was a wonderful time. The stories following Jason’s death allowed for a new examination of what Batman and Robin mean in an era very different from when they debuted. I recall it fondly, yet I wouldn’t want them to be done again. They had their time and I can revisit them as often as I’d like. So when it’s said that popculture nostalgia, a longing for more of what we previously enjoyed just as we enjoyed it, can misrepresent what’s really going on, I understand that idea firsthand.

“After we stopped going to the moon, it all ended, we stopped dreaming.” – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

“So is the next Kickstarter campaign going to be funding the salaries of Warner Bros. executives,” Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter posted on Twitter, reacting to the millions of dollars the Veronica Mars movie project raised in less than a day. At deadline, the project had raised over $3.5 million. That’s impressive for a defunct, little watched TV show off the air for over five years. Of course we are talking about a popculture where Firefly still holds a place in the ‘verse.

I’ll admit that the prospect for a Veronica Mars movie does excite me, and I’ll go pay money to see whatever is made, but the way the project is being funded causes me deep concerns for the future. The project’s success at beating its goal will more than likely inspire studio executives and others to view Kickstarter as a money farm, a way to milk consumers on both ends. Maybe they won’t, as only properties with passionate fan bases can hope to see this type of reaction.

As Josh Hirschland wrote regarding Kickstarter and Veronica Mars, this is perhaps a variation on Hollywood applying price discrimination–identical goods or services transacted at different prices, such as movies in 2D and 3D versions or theatrical release DVDs versus uncut release DVDs. The uber fan can be easily exploited (and willingly so) to fund the production and buy tickets to a showing, as well as buy all the tie-in products without ever demanding a cut of the profits for their investment. Their reward is the actual thing being produced, and they are so filled with love for the property and the nostalgia it creates that they’ll never care just how much they are being marginalized. That’s the business of pictures for you.

“Come on now, sugar, bring it on, bring it on, yeah. Just remember me when.” – The Dandy Warhols

The prospects ahead are for more studios and publishers owning TV, movie, book and comic properties with passionate fan bases to utilize Kickstarter to line their pockets without having to take on much risk. In a capitalist-like market, reducing risk and retaining rewards is optimal regardless if a move can be seen as exploitation. I don’t think the creators of Kickstarter saw themselves as enablers of economic exploitation, but in many ways that what the crowd-funding Website has the potential to become.

And that potential is heavily reliant on the nostalgia of popculture, that powerful sentiment that keeps certain stories or characters so fresh in our minds and finds us buying everything related to them. Without it, a Veronica Mars movie probably isn’t possible. Now, who’s up for marathon-ing all three seasons?

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