Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 158

In his introduction to Retcon Game: Retroactive Continuity and the Hyperlinking of America, author Andrew J. Friedenthal notes in part, “I contend that the editable hyperlink, rather than the stable footnote, has become the de facto source of information in America today, and that the groundwork for this major cultural shift has been laid for decades via our modes of entertainment” (8). On that intriguing and compelling note begins Friedenthal’s wide-ranging investigation into how Americans increasingly find themselves viewing history not as fixed, but as malleable and transformable. He looks first to media in many forms, from the comic book to episodic television, as the source from which American culture has been increasingly accustomed to the idea that nothing, not even fixed history, lies beyond the boundaries of change. Friedenthal begins in the first chapter of the book by exploring ways in which what he terms “narrative instability” (17) has always been a part of, and accepted by, numerous cultures. For this specific example, he turns in part to the storytellers of old, those who recited and transformed, by virtue of the individual’s preference for certain events or characters over others, narratives passed down in the oral tradition. Friedenthal distinguishes that these sorts of inventions and transformations lacked the intention often found in the recasting of history today, but reiterates there importance as setting a tradition wherein events – fictional or historical – might be changed. Of special note is Friedenthal’s work with popular culture, especially comic books, as primary examples of those places where continuity shifts and changes. The examples are all well- chosen, carefully contextualized, and demonstrate the author’s keen understanding of the intersection between narrative-as- entertainment and narrative-as-mutable-history. His work with the Justice Society of America comics of the 1970s and 1980s demonstrates the larger reality found in long-running and wide- ranging comics wherein “a fictional universe that has propagated for so long and with such narrative multiplicity that creators are able to look back on previous stories with the perspective of history and cultural memory” (67). His knowledge of and understanding of fictional narrative across a number of formats leads to intriguing theories about text, stability, and history. Friedenthal’s book provides a unique and terribly important perspective into our digital culture especially, one marked by editing and revision more than it might be marked by stability. By asking his readers to consider the consistent mutability of narrative in its fictional forms, he opens the complex discussion of how we might approach modern American culture’s tendency to expect all stories, from the personal to the historical, to also submit to such editing. 158