This video by the gang at Red Letter Media pokes fun at how many of this year's upcoming movies will be sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, adaptations from other media, etc. The unstoppable nature of this trend really makes you wonder what's behind it. To understand it, we need to see its full scope.
See my earlier post that crunches the numbers on how common this unoriginal approach to storytelling in film has been, using the top movies at the box office from 1936 to 2011. In short, it tracks the outgoing vs. cocooning social cycle: cocooning audiences prefer familiar material more than outgoing audiences, who want to experience a story they haven't already heard about. Another post hinted at the same trend in pop music, where the same song stays on the year-end charts for more than a single year nowadays, although that was not an exhaustive study over time.
I haven't crunched any numbers on it, but there's also a clear trend in TV shows toward creating multiple adaptations of a single brand (CSI, CSI: Los Angeles, CSI: Sheboygan...). American Idol featured entirely familiar songs, only sung by people you've never heard of. And Dancing with the Stars not only has familiar songs, but familiar personalities dancing along to them. The judges on these competitions are also familiar stars.
As long as it's instantly recognizable, audiences will cling to it for dear life. That seems to be the proper way to interpret this broad trend — not as "against change" or "against novelty," and by implication "for what is traditional" or "for what has been proven to work."
These lame rehashings are no more than a generation old, so they are not part of an enduring tradition whose preservation the audience feels bound to maintain. They are merely a security blanket for a population afflicted by anxiety and depression, in contrast to the delightfully off-beat material that the fun-loving audiences sought in more outgoing times, with a peak in the 1980s.
This view of entertainment as self-medication as opposed to experimentation suggests a link to the forms of drug use that prevail in cocooning vs. outgoing times. This post reviewed the distinction between stabilizing and destabilizing drugs, and showed that the stabilizers soar in cocooning periods, while destabilizers become popular in outgoing periods.
Stabilizers give a little pep to the depressed and mellow out those with shaky nerves — the popular amphetamines and barbiturates that were consumed on a massive scale during the Midcentury. The turning point came during the '70s when the public reacted against the attempt to mainstream the use of Valium. But as cocooning returned in the '90s, the mainstream returned to drugs like Prozac for the on-edge and Ritalin for the restless. These stabilizing drugs are an attempt to correct the emotional dysfunction that comes from being socially cut-off.
Destabilizers are about opening up the mind to strange, new moods and experiences, not to return the mind to normal. Marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and the like. They flourish when the mainstream already has a satisfying social life and normal emotional functioning, and seeks out something beyond the ordinary. They are "party drugs" or "social drugs," unlike Miltown or Prozac, which are meant for the isolated housewife or Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Because they are more destabilizing, people use them with greater wariness about their dangers than they do when consuming antidepressants and focus-enhancers, which are taken complacently.
Entertainment, then, is just another form of self-medication in cocooning times, or off-the-beaten-path experimenting in outgoing times. This psychiatric view may go farther toward explaining the tendency of cocooning periods to be more culturally bland, stale, and monotonous, than other views which tend to dehumanize the self-medicating cocooners as inherently dull and uncreative.
They may in fact have similar creative capacities and ability to appreciate novelty, but they are being suppressed in order to meet the more fundamental psychological need for everyday emotional regulation. Folks in outgoing times have Maslow's basic social and emotional needs met, so they are freed up for higher pursuits in creativity and self-actualization.