Never mind Veronica Mars – let’s kickstart Dawson's Creek onto the silver screen

A plea to fans to fund a project turning cancelled TV show Veronica Mars into a movie raised $2.5m in 48 hours. While this could very well be the future of how we consume television, Bim Adewunmi isn’t sure why fans, rather than studios, should bear all t

 

Even now, there are still the smouldering embers of excitement all across the social media platforms I use. Fandoms in the age of the internet tend to be a noisy, garrulous lot and one in particular is losing its collective shit. Because Veronica Mars – one of the most beloved cult shows of the 2000s – is to make a comeback on the big screen. The show’s creator and its star, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell respectively, launched a Kickstarter campaign (more usually the preserve of smaller independent internet-only web series like the The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl or UK-based Brothers With No Game) to raise $2m over 30 days. It raised $2.5m in 12 hours. According to Thomas and Bell, if the film goes into production, then studio Warner Brothers will help with distribution. The film should land in early 2014. Modern filmmaking, eh? God bless the internet.

 I didn’t watch Veronica Mars first time around. I was at university for one thing, but more importantly I was still really into Gilmore Girls, and I had no extra time to devote to another perky young American, no matter how excellent her surname. (2004 also brought Desperate Housewives and The X-Factor, so, you know, a few turds came with the punchbowl.) Thanks to a period of under-employment a few years back, I’ve rectified the error to a degree, catching stray episodes on daytime television. Tiny slightly hokey details aside – the show is set in a town called Neptune, for example – it’s a good show, and as teen private investigator Veronica, Kristen Bell is a case of perfect casting ably assisted by very good writing. Fans of symmetry will be pleased to know the show’s first season was nominated for Best Network Television Series at the Saturn Awards. On the small screen, and in the hands of Rob Thomas (who went on to co-create and co-write the superlatively good Party Down), it was excellent. But how will it fare at the cinema?

 There are two distinct camps when it comes to making the leap from small screen to silver. A cursory glance at a small sample suggests there is usually no middle ground in this arena: they are either good or astonishingly terrible. Pop quiz: what do The Avengers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Thunderbirds and On The Buses have in common? Their big screen adventures ended in ignominy and disappointment. On the flip side, consider South Park, The Muppet Show (several times), Firefly and um, Jackass. Pretty great, right? Right. It is a fine art, transferring stories and back-stories that often took years to craft and get right onto a big screen in one 90-minutes-to-two-hours chunk. Sure, you bring along an already dedicated audience (Veronica Mars fans more than most: one guy paid $10,000 into the Kickstarter for the chance to speak in the film), but you also carry with you exceptionally raised expectations. It’s easy to fall short.

Musician Amanda Palmer gave a rapturously-received TED talk in February called ‘the art of asking’. In 2012, Palmer raised $1.2m on Kickstarter after initially asking for $100,000 to support her new album and tour. Later, she would advertise for musicians to come and play for free on the tour; the criticism was almost unanimous. There were questions raised about the accountability of Kickstarter (which had raised almost $350m as at August last year). Quieter voices are also left asking if this is the wave of the future – will we, as consumers be doing this more and more? In a short piece at IndieWire, Bryce J Renninger says we can expect to see more studios using this system, and hinges his way of thinking on a few potent reasons: free publicity, upfront funds, data collection and reduced responsibility on putting out a quality product. Already, showrunners of two American TV series, Terriers  and Men Of A Certain Age have floated the idea of doing similar for their cancelled shows.

What does it all mean for the way we consume television? Clearly, a good swathe of the pop culture-consuming audience has no problem giving cash to projects they love – it’s in our nature to love irrationally, after all. But is the Kickstarter method the way to do it?  For sure, Veronica Mars' superfans didn't need much persuading to pony up some spare cash for the show they once loved. Will this method work for unknown, unbeloved new ideas struggling to stand out in the Hollywood landscape? Put it this way - would you lay down £25 if you read the synopsis for recent Hollywood megahit Argo on a Kickstarter page? I loved Argo, but I can't honestly say that I would have. And for that matter, precisely how many films can you comfortably make for $2.5m these days? That's budget filmmaking on a scale that we don't see too much of, even in our recession-hit times. And anyway, fan or no, isn't it just a tad cheeky that we are subsidising big-time studio Warner Bros? Perhaps it's churlish of me to feel this way.

Of course, if this turns out to be the beginning of a Brave New Vanguard of crowd-funded Hollywood entertainment, may I suggest one little-known and only modestly influential TV show ripe for big screen glory? Dawson's Creek, m'lud. All that angst, nicely matured via a bankruptcy (Dawson), an affair (Pacey, obvs), an unexpected windfall plus the re-appearance of an exciting ex (Joey, of course) and a new and noble quest for equal marriage (Jack, campaigning alongside his adopted daughter, whose mother Jen, died in the show finale). Listen, Kevin Williamson - call me. We can knock this script out in three months.

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars.

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

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High explosive, damp squibs: the history of bombing raids

Governing from the Skies by Thomas Hippler examines the changing role of aerial bombing.

Bombing from the air is about a hundred years old. As a strategic option, it eroded the distinction between combatants and non-combatants: it was, Thomas Hippler argues in his thought-provoking history of the bombing century, the quintessential weapon of total war. Civilian populations supported war efforts in myriad ways, and so, total-war theorists argued, they were a legitimate object of attack. Bombing might bring about the collapse of the enemy’s war economy, or create a sociopolitical crisis so severe that the bombed government would give up. Despite efforts to protect non-combatants under international law, civilian immunity has been and continues to be little more than an ideal.

Hippler is less concerned with the military side of bombing, and has little to say about the development of air technology, which, some would insist, has defined the nature and limits of bombing. His concern is with the political dividends that bombing was supposed to yield by undermining social cohesion and/or the general willingness to continue a war.

The model for this political conception of bombing was the colonial air policing practised principally by the British between the world wars. Hippler observes that the willingness to use air power to compel rebel “tribesmen” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa to cease insurgency became the paradigm for later large-scale campaigns during the Second World War, and has been reinvented in the age of asymmetric warfare against non-state insurgencies: once again in Iraq and Afghanistan – and, indeed, anywhere that a drone can reach.

The problem, as Hippler knows, is that this type of bombing does not work. A century of trying to find the right aerial platform and armament, from the German Gotha bombers of 1917 to the unmanned missile carriers of today, has not delivered the political and strategic promise that air-power theorists hoped for. Air power is at its best when it is either acting as an ancillary to surface forces or engaged in air-to-air combat. The Israeli strike against Arab air forces at the start of the 1967 war was a classic example of the efficient military use of air power. In the Second World War, the millions of bombs dropped on Europe produced no social upheaval, but the US ­decision to engage in all-out aerial counterattack in 1944 destroyed the Luftwaffe and opened the way to the destruction of Germany’s large and powerful ground forces.

The prophet of bombing as the means to a quick, decisive solution in modern war was the Italian strategist Giulio Douhet, whose intellectual biography Hippler has written. Douhet’s treatise The Command of the Air (1921) is often cited as the founding text of modern air power. He believed that a more humane way to wage war was to use overwhelming strength in the air to eliminate the enemy’s air force, and then drop bombs and chemical weapons in a devastating attack on enemy cities. The result would be immediate capitulation, avoiding another meat-grinder such as the First World War. The modern nation, he argued, was at its most fragile in the teeming industrial cities; social cohesion would collapse following a bombing campaign and any government, if it survived, would have to sue for peace.

It has to be said that these views were hardly original to Douhet. British airmen had formed similar views of aerial power’s potential in 1917-18, and although the generation that commanded the British bomber offensive of 1940-45 knew very little of his thinking, they tried to put into practice what could be described as a Douhetian strategy. But Douhet and the British strategists were wrong. Achieving rapid command of the air was extremely difficult, as the Battle of Britain showed. Bombing did not create the conditions for social collapse and political capitulation (despite colossal human losses and widespread urban destruction) either in Britain, Germany and Japan, or later in Korea and Vietnam. If Douhet’s theory were to work at all, it would be under conditions of a sudden nuclear exchange.

Hippler is on surer ground with the continuity in colonial and post-colonial low-­intensity conflicts. Modern asymmetric warfare, usually against non-state opponents, bears little relation to the total-war school of thinking, but it is, as Hippler stresses, the new strategy of choice in conflicts. Here too, evidently, there are limits to the bombing thesis. For all the air effort put into the conflict against Isis in Syria and Iraq, it is the slow advance on the ground that has proved all-important.

The most extraordinary paradox at the heart of Hippler’s analysis is the way that most bombing has been carried out by Britain and the United States, two countries that have long claimed the moral high ground. It might be expected that these states would have respected civilian immunity more than others, yet in the Second World War alone they killed roughly 900,000 civilians from the air.

The moral relativism of democratic states over the century is compounded of claims to military necessity, an emphasis on technological innovation and demonisation of the enemy. For all the anxieties being aired about militant Islam, the new Russian nationalism and the potential power of China, it is the United States and Britain that need to be watched most closely.

Richard Overy’s books include “The Bombing War: Europe (1939-1945)” (Penguin)

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times