No, it’s not because that percentage is higher than 90% (it’s impossible to calculate, though there is no doubt it’s high!). The law as commonly quoted implies that quality is the issue, whereas IMO quality and redundancy are both huge limiting factors on the degree to which we can enjoy new works. In fact, redundancy is likely the bigger problem, since the more quality works that are “out there,” the fewer that can be created.
My relevant posts on the issue:
I think the latter post is especially applicable to this issue considering the big movie of the year: Star Wars Episode VII:
It’s a goddamn remake/reboot/rehash/retread of Episode IV! Even people who like the movie are not denying this.
They have all the money and talent in the world at their disposal, and they can’t come up with a really good story and an original villain. But new stories are hard to write. Redundancy is the great enemy.
In our day and age, we tend to be picky about originality. We are IP-anal: you can find articles online about all manner of supposed ripoffs of riffs, lyrics, melodies, and whatnot. Sometimes, those ripoffs are absolutely real (cough, Led Zeppelin, cough). Sometimes they are merely plausible, and sometimes they are BS.
But ripping off something from a bad work to use in a superior work may be an IP sin, but it doesn’t necessarily create bad art. For another Star Wars example, some accuse John Williams of ripping off a British TV theme for his Star Wars theme. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but the former is not very good and the latter is a masterpiece. Most of Shakespeare’s plays do not have original stories, but we do not fault him for that.
But once we have a quality work like Hamlet, that draws shadowy barriers that we may not cross, lest we be redundant. Redo the story of Hamlet? Better have a good excuse, do something really new. How about having the ghost of a murdered king implore his son to exact vengeance? Nope, that was effectively used in Hamlet. How about the image of pouring poison in the ear to murder someone? Probably not, unless we want our work to be compared to Hamlet. And so on. The plot, images, dialog, etc., become off-limits to us.
But avoiding redundancy requires us to do much, much more than merely avoid “ripping off” other artists. The much more difficult task is not ripping off ourselves. My friend and I have been listening to the music of the Rolling Stones, going through all their albums. The redundancy issue is big. Perhaps any band is allowed a crack at the historically redundant 12-bar blues. Heck, it’s practically the same melody every time. But should a band do 50 12-bar tunes? Can they call be good? Distinct? And that’s just the start of the redundancy problem when listening to the Stones’ oeuvre. There are lyrical redundancies, instrumentation redundancies, melodic redundancies, tonal redundancies, and so on. Yes, 90% of it is “crap,” but large portion of that crap is crap because it’s redundant.
Music, however, is one art form where it’s relatively easy to avoid redundancy. Relatively. In stories, it’s very hard indeed. In fact, the point of my story saturation thread is that we have pretty much run out of broad strokes stories and are now just repeating ourselves to lesser effect. Mad but badass villain who wants to take over the world? Chosen one? Quirky sidekicks? Loveable rogues that get the girl? Macguffins out the wazoo? Been there done that a zillion times.
It’s old. Tiresome. Worn out. And we’ve only had video entertainment for 120 years and novels for 230 or so. Nothing is going to make this stuff fresh in the millennia that lie ahead.
More and more as time proceeds, Sturgeon’s Law is going to be less “hey man, that sucks” and more “hey man, that shit was old a hundred years ago.”