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The golden rule of cultural references in film and TV

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You can't buy yourself out of a bad movie by citing a good one...

Gentlemen, this is not acceptable.

Catching up on Fringe, which I'm enjoying more than I thought I was going to, I do however find myself once again irked by something that makers of far-fetched programs really ought to be careful about: referring to a fictional universe that's more credible than your own fictional universe in order to gain verisimilitude.

For example: it's acceptable for Quentin Tarantino to refer to Get Christie Love! in Reservoir Dogs, since the self-conscious styling of that movie is at least matched by the dated conventions of a 1974 US TV series. It's acceptable for The Wire to criticise the CSI franchise, which it does several times over its five seasons, since it's widely-acknowledged that The Wire is nearer to the reality of American detective/police work than anything CSI.

But I do wonder if Fringe has the right to refer to the Star Trek franchise in the dialogue of its characters. Perhaps it does, unlikely as the series set-up may be, since it does at least ostensibly take place in a contemporary environment that's recognisable to us - even if it finds as many exploding people as Kirk found lascivious alien love-goddesses. But it would help if Fringe creator J.J. Abrams wasn't the new Star Trek overlord, and if Spock himself didn't figure in the series. Lucky that season one of Fringe doesn't get in any Mulder and Scully references, since it places itself in the same continuum as The X-Files at the start of season two.

Anyway, having also rewatched the original 'V' recently, and guffawed to find it making desultory references to Star Wars, I hereby ordain Porter's Law: that, with the exception of comedy skits and parody, screen-writers may not refer to any movies or TV that are less believable than the work in which they are placing it. Sci-fi and fantasy writers are particularly warned, as they are most prone to 'punk' superior product for the sake of street-cred.

Exception: the only way to cite better flicks/TV than you're actually producing yourself is to make sure the show in question is at least thirty years old. For instance, I'm fine with Spike Lee referencing Night Of The Hunter in Do The Right Thing, even if it's a better film than any he has made..

Additionally, Roland Emmerich is banned from referring to any fictional worlds apart from his own.

See also the reference-filled Doctor Who story Dragonfire:

Doctor Who complete reviews: Dragonfire


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