With seemingly no preamble, China’s television censors released a statement last month discouraging the broadcast of any TV program dealing with time travel. It’s not an actual ban per se, but they list plenty of reasons why such shows are not savory: They “lack positive thoughts and meaning,” but the true damage is that they “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation.”
This offense seems to be limited to Chinese TV shows, including Palace, where a young woman falls in love with a Qing painting, travels back in time, and is wooed by ancient princes. But when I first heard this, my mind went to the American movies and TV series whose plots involve time travel.
The biggest criticism you could say is that the ones that aren’t written with a strong enough backbone become way too confusing. But what if we applied the Chinese State Administration for Radio, Film, & Television’s standards to these?
Lack positive thoughts and meaning: I guess that time-travel purists could say this about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but then again, “excellent” is in the title.
Casually make up myths: This might be my favorite part of the loosely-defined genre. The Fountain provides a new spin on the “fountain of youth” story, and when it comes to establishing the rules of time travel, Back to the Future and The Time Traveler’s Wife look at the effects of changing history on the group versus the original, respectively.
Have monstrous and weird plots: Planet of the Apes‘ twist is a shocker, but without the creepiness of the ape world, you wouldn’t appreciate how far the human race has fallen.
Use absurd tactics: See the thing about rules above — anything goes!
Promote fatalism: Time travel can’t just freewheeling: There must be consequences. If one of those is coming to accept that you can’t change everything, then kudos to The Time Traveler’s Wife and the SOAPnet series Being Erica.
Promote reincarnation: I can see why some people would be against reincarnation because of their religion or lack thereof, but I’m a sucker for movies like The Fountain, which reimagines the same characters in three different realities.
It’s these elements that make time travel stories so engaging!