Fandom's Universe: To Be or Not to Be Fanatics
You cant browse the internet without coming across some post or rant about how Hollywood is ruining someone’s favorite franchise with SJW politics and changing the cherished, classic tropes that they made them special. Right now, the most notorious for this is Star Wars. In recent years since its return, the fan base has been split among old school loyalists and those wanting something more relevant. However, it's not only this franchise that is experiencing this.
Many other genres are experiencing the same conflict, mostly the long-running ones that already have a dedicated base. Star Trek ran into this problem with both the revived movie franchise and the Discovery series. While their fandom has not been as volatile as their Star Wars peers, they have been just as vocal about their feelings that Discovery somehow violated established canon. Halo, which is starting production on its own TV series finally, has suggested that some adaptations may be done to help successfully transition over to television with dates, locations, and ethnicity of characters.
It seems that the longer a franchise exists, the more religious its fan base gets. They become less open to any change that messes with how their faith perceives the product.
To be fair, this is nothing new to fandom as a entity either. The DC character, Jason Todd, the second Robin in the Batman comics, was nearly universally hated in the 80s. Fans made their displeasure known long before the internet existed, leading to DC famously killing off the character. Speaking of Star Trek, Deep Space 9 also fell into this sand trap in the 90s. Trek fans of the original and Next Generation series didn't like seeing their utopian Federation universe tainted by problems and tendencies that humanity was supposed to have already overcome. The cynicism was continued during the next Star Trek series, Enterprise.
The Star Wars prequels met with similar, divisive reactions (which now ironically are loved). And the popular PC game series Mass Effect upset many of its fans with its controversial ending as well as with its follow up, Mass Effect: Andromeda, years later.
"The story must always come first, with any sort of message or social issue being secondary, or as part of the backdrop of the story"
So does this mean that these are just over-reactive fanboys screaming over nothing? Not exactly, and I would say something has changed in the last decade.
It starts from the current progressive movements in the entertainment industry, trying to counter-balance and right past wrongs done to non-White, non-male actors. More and more people wanted them to be more inclusive and representative of what society is now, not the nostalgia of what was before. While media was not new to inclusive characters, going all the way back to the mid-1980s, many people felt that was not enough. And now they had the clout to get real change.
Subsequently, more and more media were bringing other sexes, orientations, and ethnicities center stage, or were doing ensemble casts. Yet this was also a time where the culture war was going nuclear, and there was a clear push back from people who felt that the changes were becoming to invasive. These reactions ranged from genuinely misogynistic and racist insults, to those with no prejudice but disliked being preached to what they should believe, to fans just really upset that their childhood heroes were being changed and, in their eyes, violated. It has been causing fans to live up to their full name of fanatic.
Nothing has helped escalate this conflict more than social media. The explosion of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook onto the mainstream put fuel on the fire in both a good and bad way. Positively, word of mouth about franchise projects spread much faster and allowed fans and actors to interact with each other. This then led to more butts in the seats at theaters.
Negatively, however, that same connection easily could turn toxic. Kelly Marie Tran quitting Instagram over racists insults for The Last Jedi was just the most recent case. Social media also somehow increased the fans sense of ownership over the people responsible for producing their favorite content. And recently, that has created online battles over different people wanting different priorities represented, such as with the recent Netflix Voltron series.
From my perspective, there are two main obstacles. One is the reality that while fans who prefer the older interpretations of the property may not be the whole population, they are by no means just going away quietly or back off because others feel they’re not relevant anymore. Studios and corporations think only in terms of money, and they see investing into the future as the way to maintain the cash flow. That means going along with whatever is trending as well.
As much as many fans like to bitch that studios like Disney is trying to actively turn their franchises into SJW platforms, if those issues began falling by the way side with social values, they would change gears in a heartbeat. This is why Star Wars has stopped doing what Marvel has been doing, pushing two or three movies a year. While many fans liked Last Jedi, many just as much hated it and showed it by not turning up for the subsequent title movie, Solo, months later, hitting Disney where it counted the most; their bank.
So these fans (or fanatics) definitely still have a voice and pull, no matter what the other side says.
The other problem though has nothing to do with fans. It has to do with storytelling. So for example, while many fans vehemently hate on TLJ director Rian Johnson, no fans have shown the same vitriol towards Dave Filoni. The man has headed two of the most successful, non-movie Star Wars products; Clone Wars and Rebels. In those works, he and his team have shown not only a respect for what the franchise has been, but have also been able to skillfully add progressive elements that other creators and directors struggle doing, but without being overbearing and preaching.
His shows are able to present their product in a way where it's about the character and story first before any message. And any message that is there is not beaten over the viewer's head like a dead horse, or done in a gratuitous fashion that demands your acknowledgement, it's simply there. Other franchises that have made this work are The Fast and Furious and The Hunger Games. That's how you run the line between fanatics on both sides.
The story must always come first, with any sort of message or social issue being secondary, or as part of the backdrop of the story. Otherwise, the viewer might as well be in church or a mosque. Everything in these worlds feel natural or have earned their place, and that is necessary in a society as cynical and sensitive to being preached at as ours.
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© 2019 Jamal Smith