I love the Transformers wiki. Sure, that was kind of to be expected, seeing as I love Transformers in general (and I can indulge in that a bit more now, as I just realized both Beast Wars and Prime are available on Netflix in their entirety), but the wiki itself is a joy to read even aside from that. There’s a lot of great commentary on the pages, stuff that I find hilarious to read even outside of looking up specific bits of information.
There’s also a lot of good metacommentary on fandom as a whole, including the absolutely priceless and TVTropes-inspiring page on Ruined FOREVER. You can’t help but run across that a few dozen times in basically any online fandom. This latest change has ruined the franchise forever, and now we’re into the inevitable decline. And while I love that idea, I have to wonder… has it ever happened? Have we really ever seen a franchise that has been irrevocably ruined forever? Or is jumping the shark as a concept kind of ridiculous?
I think it’s helpful to define terms here, first and foremost. What does a series need to have to have been ruined forever?
The franchise has to be meant for forever. You might not have liked the direction that Lost moved in as the series wore on, but saying that it was ruined forever belies the fact that the damn thing was always meant to end at some point. Sure, it wasn’t always a given of when, but there’s no forever under discussion here. Anything that’s meant to be a short and self-contained series by definition can’t be ruined forever, because it was always going to have a beginning, middle, and end. This can get fuzzy at points – Evangelion has been dragged out of its grave multiple times, after all – but it’s at least a comfortable baseline to start from.
The franchise actually has to be killed. The problem with saying that something is ruined forever is that forever is a really long time. Open-ended storytelling is such that you can go through a period of downturn without necessarily earning the label that it’s ruined forever. Sure, I’d be the first to say that some horrid and toxic influences have seeped into franchises over time, and there are some properties that have gone away from what I personally like; I’ve kind of clocked out of Kingdom Hearts altogether, for instance. But unless a game actually kills that franchise, I can’t say it’s ruined forever, just that I don’t like this direction and it would take a turnaround for me to be brought back in.
Special mention here had to go to Happy Days. Despite being the origin of the phrase “jump the shark,” the show went on for another seven seasons after that episode. The show continued longer after the shark-jumping than before.
Ruination is, well, ruination. Saying that something was a financial failure isn’t enough by itself. Ruining something requires that it is entirely ruined, that no one even wants to think about going in and poking around for parts, that it’s better to let the whole thing just sink into obscurity. Better to tear it all down and start over completely with something that doesn’t have the faintest ties to the points of origin. You don’t renovate a ruined structure, you build something completely new. If you’re going to say something has been ruined forever, you need to have something that you can point to as a point when even poking at the carcass is an actively disgusting enterprise.
Those seem like fair criteria, don’t they? We’re not talking about something you dislike, we’re talking about something that ruins a franchise forever. And yet it’s really hard to actually hit any of those criteria.
I wrote not so long ago that Capcom has been doing a pretty bad job of handling the Mega Man franchise, but it hasn’t been ruined forever, just allowed to lay fallow for a while and propped up by some mediocre remakes and re-releases. Mega Man X7 might have been the weakest game in the series, but it didn’t ruin the game forever; it damaged interest, but Mega Man X8 and Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X were both good games and showed what could be done with the franchise as a whole. A good game is still eminently possible.
Metal Gear? I can’t say I’ve got a real hankering for playing the next game with all the changes made, but I also haven’t played it. Considering the sheer number of games in the franchise, I can’t imagine that one title will ruin it forever. Yes, the latest title makes a lot of changes I think are net negatives and has some really toxic crap seeping through it, but it doesn’t obviate the possibility that there will be good aspects too. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be pulled back together.
World of Warcraft? Yeah, Cataclysm was a real shit sandwich, and Mists of Pandaria has some extremely uncomfortable racist stuff simmering below the surface (not helped by the fact that I’m pretty sure the people at Blizzard could have found at least someone to pull off the street who would say “yeah, this is kind of racist as hell to anyone who isn’t white”). But MoP is still a pretty good expansion despite the missteps, and while Warlords of Draenor has some equally skeeving veins of misogyny running through it the expansion looks like it’ll contain plenty to like too. We’re going through low pulses, but there’s nothing that can’t be rectified.
Saying that this stuff is ruined forever is ignoring the fact that forever is a long fucking time. It means that something isn’t just damaged, isn’t just limping, but that there is nothing to be done that will ever make this interesting or relevant again. Which belies our collective love of dredging up old tidbits of pop culture and refreshing them, whether or not it’s actually a good idea; someone made a Lone Ranger film, and I don’t think anyone should need to be told why or how that’s a bad idea from the start without a very careful reworking of concepts. (Having a white dude play a native American who’s still the second fiddle to the white male hero doesn’t count as a careful reworking of concepts.)
But does it really matter if fans still act derpy about this? Yeah, it kind of does, because it means that actual discussions get lost in hyperbole. Cries of “this is ruined forever” obscure the actual point made by people reacting to a genuine negative change, especially if those cries are raised when anything is changed. If a fan community hollers that this change is bad before the change is actually experienced, why would anyone listen to the community again? Even if they happen to be right this time around?
Every new Final Fantasy game has been ruining the series forever over the past fourteen years, and yet it’s chugging along just fine.
Maybe there are a lot of things that really have been ruined forever despite the fact that I can’t think of an example. But I think we’d all do well to abandon the phrase. Even if something has deeply impacted your enjoyment of a series forever, saying that it’s inherently ruined is a bit far. (And don’t even get me started on “raped my childhood” as a protest.)