In this article by Devin Faraci at the site Birth Movies death, the writer explores the bizarre world of fandoms in Fandom is Broken.
Controversies and entitlement shine a light on a deeply troubling side of fandom.
Last week the AV Club ran an excellent piece about the nature of modern fan entitlement, and I think it’s fairly even-handed. The piece covers both the reaction to an all-female Ghostbusters reboot but also the hashtag that trended trying to get Elsa a girlfriend in Frozen 2. The author of that piece, Jesse Hasenger, draws a line between the two fan campaigns, rightly saying that whether driven by hate (Ghostbusters) or a desire for inclusion (Frozen 2) both campaigns show the entitlement of modern fan culture.
While the author of this article means well, he ultimately misses the bigger point. Look at the two movies in the quote. One of the movies (Frozen) is a cartoon for little girls. The other is ostensibly a comedy movie (although nothing will hold candle to the actual Ghostbusters). These fandoms, including the uproar over Captain America later in the piece demonstrate something far more depressing. The “uproar” is over entertainment products, which in the late capitalism West is how many people derive their identity. I can speak with some authority about this because I was part of the otaku subculture in my early teens and then the SF and fantasy fandom in high school. Which is why I can tell you in no uncertain terms, science fiction and fantasy fandoms have a lot of petulant, childish people. It’s not any different from “diehard” sports fans whose identities are tied up in what they consume. Thanks to our atomized, debased culture, people’s identities are no longer directed outward toward their community, church, region, etc. but into their entertainment.
“Geek Culture” is the best example of this. Faraci makes note of the history of the Batman fandom:
The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture and the arc of fandom it sketches out is a profoundly disheartening one, with Batfans morphing from monkish annotators of the character’s fictional history into crusaders harrassing anyone on the internet who sees Batman differently than they do.
The reason for the transformation is no mystery. Comic books evolved from cheap children’s entertainment–something my father used to buy at the drug store as a kid–to a medium in its own shop. Most people move on from comics into adulthood, but a few stay behind as adult fans, making these kinds of absurd demands on the writers and artists. They have no real identity invested in family, community or their job, so they invent one directed at comic books.
The fandoms of these franchises are right, in a way, to demand exactly what they want from entertainment. Faraci writes:”They [the fans] see these stories as products” because they are. Anyone with even some intellectual honesty has to admit that the glut of remakes and franchises in the past ten years of Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Marvel movies (among a laundry list of others) as anything but corporate products. They are hardly the results of an artist working to create a unique vision. If someone can have whatever kind of smart phone, computer, television, or car they want, why shouldn’t they be able to demand what they want in a movie or a TV show? The fandoms are correct in a backwards way. Modern movies and video games may use art, but they are not unique works of art.
Faraci makes the claim “that isn’t how art works, and that shouldn’t be how art lovers react to art.” These aren’t original works of art, and the source article’s comparison of Picasso’s work to the latest Mass Effect video game is a complete false equivalency. One is the reification of an artist’s vision, the other a consumer product designed to make money. Ezra Pound had a sound rebuttal to this in 1930:
The significance of any work of art or literature is a root significance that goes down into its original motivation. When this motivation is merely a desire for money or publicity, or when this motivation is in great part such a desire for money directly or for publicity as a means indirectly of getting money, there occurs a pervasive monotony in the product corresponding to the underlying monotony in the motivation.- Ezra Pound, “Small Magazines,” The English Journal 31
Fandom is certainly broken in its implications for mass society, though not in the way Faraci alleges in the article. Fandom is a sign of an adolescent culture, on the one hand, and an artistically bankrupt culture industry.