Thursday, June 2, 2016

TL;DR: I Guess We Better Talk About that "Fandom is Broken" Article

if you are not pleased with what follows, Queen Elsa has some words for you...

Honestly, I have no idea if I was reading Devin Faraci back at BadAss Digest before it became Birth.Movies.Death., and I couldn't tell you exactly when I started seeking out his writing in particular.  Pretty recently, I guess, like maybe even in late 2015.

Well, a few days back it seems Faraci went and accidentally lit a spark under the butt of the collective hive-mind of the internet, and whatever was under that butt wasn't just flammable, it was atomic rocket fuel.  He wrote an article called Fandom is Broken, but I don't need to tell you this.  Because chances are, if you read this site, you've already read the article elsewhere.  It's certainly been making the rounds.  If you haven't read it yet, here's the link.  Go read it and then come on back.  These 1's and 0's will still be here floating in the interwebicon.  

Back?  Excellent.  We missed you.  How are you?

One more to read - it's that Onion AV article Faraci linked to, and it's also required reading.  Sorry.  So, off with you if you didn't read that, too.

Sigh.  So...  For this week I had already planned to write about the upcoming Ghostbusters film, the grousing going on about this new movie ruining some peoples' childhoods, and I thought I might outline why - frankly - that's a really weird stance to take on a 30+ year old movie that was never, ever going to be the same again no matter whether it starred the same four guys (which we should have just let go of since Raimis' passing), four other different guys, four women, four guinea pigs or four plates of nachos.

But we're not going to park it on Ghostbusters.  Oh, no.  Because these two article made me think about a few things, and, in ways big and small, I am certain I am part of the problem, too.  And so are you, buddy, so don't feel so smug.

At this juncture I think it's important to take a breath and have a moment of self-reflection rather than take to the twitters and prove Mr. Faraci absolutely correct by threatening him.

There's no question that fandom has changed.  We're not supposed to say that - but it has.  It's changed because 20 years ago, no one had heard of an Avenger, there was no Harry Potter, Star Trek was for people who didn't have dates on Saturday nights, and admitting to comic collecting as even a teenager was going to get you eyed more suspiciously than saying you collected the filthiest pornography you could find.  "Nerd" was still a slur, "geeking out" was not a phrase in anyone's vocabulary, and - mostly - being really, really into anything that wasn't sports, your job, your family, etc... was not something that was considered something that should be catered to well-adjusted adults.

Maybe in its darkest of hearts, maybe there geekdom is still the same, but, what was once a shadowy subculture only barely seen and terribly misunderstood is now responsible for billion dollar movies and cultural shifts.  Everything is out on the table now, from CosPlay being a thing like it's normal, to Cons filling convention centers instead of Motel 6 ballrooms, to the endless petitions to renew things and change others, to exploding hashtags.  And, to my eternal surprise, the "are-you-f'ing-kidding me?" death threats.  But there's a new sense of entitlement which seems to have exploded, a loudly stated expectation of being catered to, very specifically, no matter your tastes, and calling to have your exact needs as a "real" fan met - it's become positively batshit.  This part - this part seems new.

Like I said, I know I'm part of the problem.  After all, I've been tracking DC Comics' and the comic biz's flailing for... (sob) thirteen years now, putting in my two cents.  I've bitched and moaned about what I saw as Superman's poor treatment at the hands of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. films in more than one place (maybe more than a couple hundred places).  And I am pretty sure I sent some snippy tweets to DC and WB when they were sending me promo tweets - until I finally realized "hey, I can unfollow these guys".

The eye-rolling instigated by cognitive dissonance I think folks are going through right now with their Ghostbusters fury sure feels familiar when I consider my own reaction to Batman vs. Superman.*   I know what it's like to enjoy something quite a bit and see it changed so thoroughly that you no longer recognize it (and see other people excited by what's coming).  And, of course, to have folks you don't know merrily telling you "Oh, that movie you love still exists.  Stop whining."

I'm now on this flipside of the Ghostbusters equation (and I am a pretty big fan of that 1980's classic), but I genuinely feel like the new movie is probably a best-case scenario rather than trying to get 3 guys in retirement age to come out and try to capture the magic again.  Knowing the studio sees not making a movie with the name Ghostbusters as leaving money on the table, I've long ago internalized the difference between "no new Ghostbusters" and "they're gonna do something with what seems to be a potentially lucrative property".  And, you know, I am a big fan of all four of the main cast for the new movie, and I'm hoping the edginess and top-of-their game point these folks are at will make for a good movie.

Just as Marvel Studio's box-office ascendancy meant that there absolutely would be a DCU Cinematic Universe - and it was all starting with a rendition of Superman I found a bit heart-breaking -  I can sort of get where you're coming from if, for some reason, what really mattered to you about the Ghostbusters movies was that the Ghostbusters had dicks.**

Look, after the past decade of comics-reboots feeling really disappointing to me as a longtime fan,  but seeing how those New 52 books were somehow still a thing (and, hey, I may have been right!  Thanks for Rebirth, DC!), and the launch of movie franchises I felt fundamentally misunderstood the central conceit of their predecessors (DC's movies and the new Star Trek films), I can almost - almost - get why people feel their childhoods are being attacked.

But it's nothing new.   Sometimes I wonder how Universal Monster fans felt when Love at First Bite showed up in theaters and all they wanted was a serious Dracula.  Or Zorro fans felt when Zorro the Gay Blade shamed it's way across movie screens.** * Or even the latest low-rent Lassie re-tread or RinTinTin felt like warmed-over garbage to some hardcore action-dog fan.

So, what is this "entitlement" the two articles are on about?

As a 41 year old guy who grew up with comics showing up on the spinner rack, first news of movies coming out usually arriving first via trailers and then when I realized there was a little spot in my local paper that mentioned that sort of thing.  But, look, as those articles point out, we've lowered the barrier between fan and creator.  Between fan and marketing company running deep data analysis on twitter feeds and social media activity.

But even in my darkest hours regarding Man of Steel or its sequel, I don't recall sending angry tweets to Zack Snyder.  Or Henry Cavill.  And certainly not Ms. Amy Adams (who is a national treasure and should always be treated with the courtesy and respect we reserve for royalty).  I didn't hashtag the heck out of twitter or even try to convince anyone why they shouldn't see the movie other than state my position why I wasn't going.  That's where I'm at now.  Not so sure that's where I would have been fifteen years ago, but that's mellowing with age, I guess.

That said - I wonder if I would have been onboard with Batman v. Superman and anti-Faraci as a 20-something and the tools at hand of the modern day.

If there's one point I agree on more than any other point that Faraci makes - it's that the audience/ fans seem to have lost sight of the notion that story has a point, that authors, even of corporate IP storytelling, have a point of view and a way of telling a story.  And, while fans are welcome to pay or not pay for that story or vision and the ancillary merchandise - the notion that the filmmakers must hear you as loudly as you hear them is... new.  Let alone the notion that a story as comic, movie or book is somehow an act of participation, that the consumption of this idea does not just become something enjoyed and part of that person, but that person becomes part of it.

I very much agree with the point made in the Onion AV article that the insistence of fandom (and, apparently, ample freetime multiplied by the power of internet access and a hashtag) is banging at the door, insisting their voices be heard.  They used the Frozen example - something I believe Faraci, the AV Club and myself will all happily state we think is likely a fine idea, while also rolling our eyes at how surprised and shocked those hashtag activists will be when the idea is turned down.  And, by the way, now that idea HAS to be forgotten, lest tweeters get the idea that becoming a pestering mob trying to dictate what a corporate behemoth like Disney will get them something.

This is why you don't feed the stray cat unless you want to keep it.

And it doesn't always work.

See Snakes on a Plane.  Or, rather, do not.

In some ways, I'm not entirely shocked DC Comics has rebounded from the New 52 to Rebirth (and we'll figure out if Rebirth is going to work in a few months, not now).  After all, the last marketing attempt was a clumsy but somewhat honest appeal to the tweeters and facebook commenters - it was, as you recall, DC You.  DC Comics, in the face of slipping sales, was so desperate (and their own output so dissatisfying) that they basically laid themselves before the audience they so deeply coveted and said "You.  You tell us what You want, and we will make it."

And no one showed up.

Things got so bad - DC actually came lurking around to the fanbase they kicked to the curb like a sheepish ex, very sorry they ran off with the 20-something cutie.  But now they're back!  They're ready to recommit.  And they just want to prove that this time, they really, really mean it.

One area I've had more than one conversation in real life/ meatspace in the past year with folks who like to talk about "their fandom(s)", do the whole fan-fiction bit, and see it as an extension of the thing they love.  And, don't get me wrong - it is that.  My disinterest in fan-fiction has been written off as everything from "being too old to get it" to "he hates women being in the fan space" - and the first may be true, the second couldn't be further from the truth.

But I believe in intention of an author when writing a story - even if it's a compromised corporate story intended as more fodder for the IP farm.  I find your Steve Rogers finds love with Charmander concept puzzling at best and a colossal waste of time at worst.  And, yes, I've told one or two people I find it to be overstepping the boundaries of creator and fan.

That said - fan-fiction is mostly kind of silly and harmless, and - who cares?  


If you believe in the creator's process, no matter (or especially in light of) the compromise of working within a heavily managed corporate environment, it seems an odd tack to take to ignore the text of what you're consuming to repurpose and rewrite it.  And, yeah, yeah, I've heard your lofty arguments that "all fiction is fan-fiction".  But let's acknowledge that we're not talking about Roman co-option of Greek myths and admit someone is writing iffy all new adventures of The Vampire Diaries.

Writing something well enough that people care about it (or drawing it, or making a film about it, etc...) is insanely hard work - just go walk around any book store and think of all the stuff you don't want to read.  Think of all the shows you aren't watching on TV or movies you haven't seen.  Someone worked to craft that made up story that did not previously exist.  Maybe they made money from it or maybe they didn't.  That's irrelevant.  What I've never quite gotten over is the lack of respect for that work that's front and center when a story is co-opted to have relationships exist that did not because someone had a boner idea or a bad understanding of the author's crafted expression of what those characters meant and what they meant to each other (and the author).

While fan-fiction isn't new, it's a bit fascinating to see the shocking lack of understanding/ appreciation of IP law when it comes to whether or not you can just make a Star Trek film just because you feel like it (and because fans get excited by the idea).  And as much as I like a good underdog story and I do not care for Star Trek: Into Darkness, I'm basically equipped enough to understand that it will be internal forces at Paramount that will see fan-films released, not a legal victory.

How much cooler would it be to see an all-new sci-fi show that was the next idea after Star Trek, free from the shackles of fandom?  (You might just get a Galaxy Quest out of it).

In all of these cases - as much information as is available and out there - I simply get the feeling that many people - younger folks in particular - don't understand at all how the creative process works, how the business of art and creativity works outside of a high school classroom, in commerce, and what those movies, comics and books are for and that the good stuff is usually a happy accident.  Which is an odd approach to take to something that is your "everything".  Why not learn everything you can about the thing you supposedly love?

Why does it have to be about you?  And why are you such a jerk to the people who gave you the thing you supposedly love?  And, if you absolutely must say something online - what is the best way to say it?

If you figure it out - let me know.  I've been trying to figure that out for 13 years.  Like I said - I'm part of the problem.

I'm tired.  I'm sure someone will decide all of this means I hate someone.

*For the record, I wrote 5 posts in which I mentioned Batman vs. Superman, and only one in which I talked directly about the movie - which was intended as rational an explanation I could give for why I wasn't rushing to the theater.
**I'm sorry.  I held off as long as I could.
***somewhere there must be a 70's-era nerd who just fucking hates George Hamilton to this very day


J.S. said...

On the one hand, threatening people or taking personal offense at the creation of most works of art is, on its face, kind of dumb (and not cool). On the other hand, the fact that we're living in a modern creative culture that consistently loots beloved works from our past instead of coming up with new and/or original ideas sort of invites attacks, doesn't it? It seems like the studios are counting on nostalgia to fuel viewership of their material because of the fond feelings that it engenders, but the flip side of that coin is that those same fond feelings can generate a sense of betrayal when people don't see the original work being treated with the reverence and dignity that they think it deserves. I just don't think the angry reactions should be all that surprising when people just keep cashing in on pre-existing material.

The League said...

Yeah - I think there's some fine points to this that - as a grown-ass'd adult with a life where this is not the sad stuff you have to ponder, you're probably a smidge removed removed, but I wouldn't dismiss your point (ie: the issue is both larger scope and stupider in depth than I think you'd think would happen in a civilized world). In many ways - I don't think the studios or publishers are doing anything that new - remakes of movies have been happening since the silent age (hey, even the Bogart "Maltese Falcon" is the second version of a book adaptation). So, the Ghostbusters question (and incipient Ghost-rage) is one side of what the articles are trying to get at, which is the toxic culture of fan entitlement. The Birth.Movies.Death. article in particular isn't just about getting "attacked" as in "criticized" - it's about actual death threats and the ease of harassment of creators (however loosely you want to define the term for parties responsible for creation of content) in an era of anonymous and semi-anonymous lightning fast communication. And, at it's core - I'd argue it's about a lack of critical approach to disappointment, or rational approaches to cultural ephemera - something I work on every day for the joy and reading pleasure of anyone with an internet connection.

At the end of the day - it's not like fan disappointment is new - it's the form of how disappointment is now expressed, not just in death threats, but in claims of "my childhood is ruined/ raped" - all stuff I can understand on a gut level, and which you can see why - when changes are great enough, why you'd be concerned for the integrity of the original work.

Pair that with the hashtag fan movements (and vocal outrage when those hashtag campaigns fail), and it's - if nothing else - an interesting new era. And, kinda tells me we're in an era when food and resources are so plentiful, this is the kind of shit we think is important.

The League said...

By the way, I'll go ahead and once again plug Glen Weldon's "The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture". If you want a terrific look at the curve of history that got us to this point, I can think of no finer guide.

J.S. said...

Yeah, I'd also point out that it's still pretty easy to mostly avoid all of the entitlement and nerd rage altogether if you want to by just consuming the primary products and not delving very far into the secondary market that spends so much energy working itself into a tizzy. I watch a lot of movies and films, but I usually don't become aware that people are all worked up about something until some "mainstream" (read, nonfanboy) media outlet publishes something about a particularly strong outpouring of emotion in relation to some particular work- usually to scratch their heads as to what all of the fuss is about. To a certain extent, I think that the secondary market builds a community around the original products, and that can be good and fun, but like every other community, under the wrong conditions it can end in pitchforks and torches.

The League said...

There's probably an interesting delta/ corollary (someone pick a vocabulary word for me) of how many people are out there consuming a product and being very, very loud about it and the general satisfaction that one can assume is there with the product from $ and returning purchases with a minimum of comment. The echo chamber of conversation can create a sense of "but everyone I know agrees with me, why isn't this changing to be what we want it to be? Let's get louder!"

RHPT said...

This sounds glib, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the internet, social media in particular, sucks. My entire 20-year professional career was made possible by the internet, so I don't say this lightly. But seeing how people behave online makes me incredibly sad. I jut don't understand wtf is wrong with some people. I will never understand how anyone can send such nasty diatribes to other human beings (especially women and minorities).

The League said...

Yeah, and we're the generation that remembers a world before the internet. We have a sense that this is not "normal". What makes me a little twitchy is that this is going to normalize.

RHPT said...

Cripes. Now I'm even more depressed about it

The League said...

The world is awful and we're all going to murder each other over Dr. Who opinions! Happy Friday!