Fantasy, Sci-fi, and Fanbase Wars: How Our Love for Our Favorite Franchises Becomes Hostile
I was watching Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring last night because I felt like staying inside. Afterwards, I started binging Youtube vids of people making memes about certain scenes. It's normally a useless endeavour but I wasn’t out to accomplish anything and needed to veg and just get a good laugh. That’s really all that they are mostly good for.
Anyway, many of the commenters remarked on how awful The Hobbit trilogy was in comparison, even though that was a couple of years ago, and they got into internet arguments with the trilogies’ defenders. The points of contention centered on comparisons of Peter Jackson’s previous project to his second and many of The Hobbit’s defenders saw that first before the Rings movies. This ongoing argument, stupid as it was, reminded me of similar debates among Star Wars fans.
Ever since the prequels came out at the turn of the century, the franchise has been overshadowed by the constant criticism of the loss of soul from the original movies. Even The Force Awakens reinvigorating the franchise in mainstream society didn’t completely quell those voices. In some ways it just added to it.
Fans who were kids of either the prequels or Disney’s movies defended them because that was where they came into the franchise, while for old school fans it was of course the original trilogy. This pattern seems to repeat itself throughout all the successful scifi/fantasy fan bases. They have been around for so long that new iterations and interpretations by later generations felt like sacrilege.
It’s as if they have become self-styled religions into themselves.
God Wills it!
This affect of the genre on its audiences has always fascinated me. On a certain level I got it because I am a fanboy myself. I love the LOTR/Hobbit movies, the Starwars franchise and Doctor Who as well. I got that characters you grew up with as kids had a deep connection. I remember watching later adaptations of these franchises and thinking,
“Wait a minute! That ain’t right?! It was supposed to happen this way!”
I quickly felt a rise of defensive posturing in my mind and that these people either needed to be corrected or needed to leave my favorite franchises the fuck alone! That said, though I also saw it from a rational view and that was where my confusion lay.
Cherished as the memories that these franchises gave me were, they were fictional: not real. Frodo Baggins and Sauron were figments of Tolkien’s genius, imagination. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker were creations from George Lucas. They weren’t gods, idols, or divine laws and traditions. Other people not only had the right to see them a different way, but that it is also inevitable because we’re all different and not clones (no pun intended).
So why do love and appreciation for our favorite stories become religious fervor? Seriously, you read the comments that some of these people make, how angry and intense they get that some aspect of the story was changed, and it is hard not to compare it to Crusade-level devotion.
I think part of it comes from a certain quality of character put into creating these universes. There can be a soul about them in how they are written or portrayed that transcends anything before it and often times anything after it. You can never beat the original, something Hollywood hasn’t learned yet to be sure. As in most art, there is a certain aspect of the creator’s soul that goes into his creation and often times it’s a one time event. He/she may try to repeat it later and that too maybe successful, but it is never the same.
Going back to Tolkien, he wasn’t just a man who invented a fantasy genre or put it on the board. The man literally put decades of passion and experience into it, even going so far as to create individual languages of the different races. No other author has done that before and even if later authors have, they didn’t put anywhere near the research and personal touches into it that Tolkien did. I think that when we are trained to expect a certain quality, and then suddenly get some burst of something far superior or different, it then becomes a religious experience.
This segues into my next theory. On a certain level there maybe a part of our being that looks for something other in the world: something that is so different that has almost a divine quality. This can be especially true if we are going through circumstances that are difficult or hellish. We instinctively look for that way out or lifeline to pulls through and once we find it, we go at it with everything. Even if the circumstances pass and things get better, that salvation, momentary as it may have been, marked us. I know this was my experience, so maybe there is some projection here on my part, but it may still hold weight.
Successful franchises are not-one stop, train stations where everyone gets on at the same point. It’s becomes a long walk about, where different travelers meet up with it and join it a different legs of the journey. When that happens, there is some connection to where the journey began, but it also different because the new travelers entered into the journey at a different point. Their perspective and the perspectives they bring with them are different.
This does not mean that their experience taints the path somehow, because the path is more than just one person or community. It has evolved beyond that, speaking to people on a deeply, human level but with different voices.
So the problem is that many of us fans still confine the journey to where we joined it, not acknowledging that it has surpassed that or can. At the same time, fans who join the franchise later along the road may judge those who entered in before as the past. People who have irrelevant views of what and where the franchise they both love is now. These people fail to realize that journey and the stories also includes earlier followers as well and indeed may not have it that far without those earlier fans to carry the love.
Behold the Work of Thy Hands
No matter where they started loving these shows, books, and movies, all groups need to respect each other. Their experiences are unique and probably different, but not inferior. Force Awakens and Rogue One are told from a different perspective but that doesn’t make them inferior to the originals. There are still many fans who loved them as much as old school fans love the first trilogy.
Peter Jackson told his stories from the point of view of a film maker, as well as extenuating circumstances. Both sets of movies have their detractors and those who were touched by them as well. That doesn’t make either group dumber or less intelligent.
All art is judged by the beholder and because there are so many beholders, the judgment will always be different. They can still be enjoyed though regardless. Worst case, if it still sours our love for how we love that franchise that much, then don’t watch or read it. No need for insults or dehumanizing each other.