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.

DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
Show Hide image

Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era