Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fandom, etc.

I came across this piece by Ken Lowery the other day, and it struck me as being rather... hysterical. If you don't want to read the piece, I will sum it up for you. Lowery doesn't like the obsessive super-fan that feels a sense of entitlement and ownership with their favourite intellectual properties that do not belong to them. Here is Lowery's pointed criteria:
They likely have a fandom-related nickname. A pet named after a character. More than three t-shirts related to their fandom. They’ve been to conventions. Met some of the creators, actors, or what have you. Because they seek out their kind – partly to discuss their fandom in relative safety, and there’s nothing wrong with that – they often find themselves in like-minded echo chambers with no checks or balances to tell them when they’re getting a little, you know, weird. Your average Wookiee Appreciation forum is just one tentative post away from becoming a furry enclave.
Which means that I fit Lowery's definition of a super-fan (other than the pet thing - my pet has a particularly historical reference for a name). This is where it gets a little hysterical though. Notice that Lowery is concerned with super-fans discussing and appreciating and dissecting the property in the safety of the anonymous internet, where there is no reality stopping us from discussing the minutiae. We would argue infinitely.

Lowery's major point is that the super-fans are very possessive and feel a sense of ownership. When a creator or writer mishandles the character or situation, and by mishandle, I suppose it means have the character act differently than before, or what have you, then the super-fan spews vitriol on messageboards, boycotting it or personally insulting the creator. Example? Sure, why not? Okay a good example is calling Dan Didio a "didiot". Or something about Joe Quesada in relation to the events from "One More Day" - which I probably won't waste your time on.

Lowery says that when the property is handled in a way that doesn't jive with the fans, they become defensive and often threaten the creator. Really? Is that what he's saying? Quote, please:
The threat is clear: We’re the kind of people with the blind devotion that can turn a thoroughly mediocre movie like Serenity into a cult classic, but if you cross us, we’ll take it all away again. That the fans never follow through with those threats is beside the point. It’s all about caustic rhetoric and the illusion of wielding the power in the relationship.
Okay. But threats are still threats, Mr Lowery. So super-fans are dangerous is what you're saying.

Lowery spends some time showing us that the creators are in a lose-lose situation. If the creator chooses to play ball, then the fans will be outraged with the mistreatment or whatever. If the creator doesn't interact with the fans, such as in Lowery's example of the producer of the new Doctor Who series, then there's a backlash and the threats come again.

Lowery sums it up by advising creators to simply not engage with the fans. At all. "You cannot win with a super-fan," he says.

I may be incorrect for pointing this out, but there's a reason why the super-fans feel a sense of entitlement. I'm not justifying it or anything, but here's the reason. Because we are the consumers and through the almighty dollar, we purchase and consume the goods presented to us by the creators. The producer of the goods has a responsibility to the consumer that the goods are not pure crap.

However! However, there's a fine line to be seen. Sure, the consumers deserve the product they were promised. Sure, the producers have a responsibility to the consumer. But the consumers do not own the goods as the goods we're talking about are intellectual. So the super-fans deserve to demand the best product that they're paying for, but on the other hand, the threats and sense of horror when something is slightly different is out of order.

I understand what Lowery is saying. The obsessive super-fans are far too obsessive and forget that they don't own the publishing rights to Spider-Man or what have you, and since they don't own the rights, the real owners of the rights can do whatever the f*&$ they want.

Here's my beef with Lowery, though. The obsessive super-fans are not the entire market of the intellectual properties that we're talking about. They represent only a piece of the overall market, only one demographic. The obsessive super-fans are just that - obsessive.

A comment on the page put it much better than I could. This comes from C. A. Bridges and he replies

So may I suggest that the problem isn’t with fans as a group at all, even superfans, but with obsessive people? Every group, EVERY group has a class of people in it who go too far, who think they have more power than they do (or should). Sports fans who post threats at coaches, or riot in the streets when their team wins. Church members who run everything and begin to ostracize those who don’t recognize their status. People in the workplace with exaggerated notions of their own power, usually because they haven’t got any.

Sure there are fans who go too far, who demand too much. But it’s possible to condemn them without mocking the fans who don’t. I suppose it’s a lot easier to laugh at someone in a costume at a con, but it’s a damn lazy argument.

Very well put, Mr Bridges.

There has to be a spectrum of fandom, then. I am a super-fan who obsessively nitpicks over details of things. I am a super-fan who has gone to cons and has met creators, etc. I have written messageboard posts and blogposts which contained pure vitriol for something utterly frivolous (such as my complete loathing of Ultimates 3). But I do not make threats or boycotts. I do have a healthy sense of reality. In fact, I would say that most of Internetdom has a healthy sense of reality. It's the minority that gives fandom a bad name.

Lowery pays lip-service to a fan-spectrum at the beginning of his post, making it seem like he's one of the boys, but sane. I don't think his idea of moderate fandom is nuanced enough. There's much more than the obsessive and the apathetic moderate that he claims to be.

Such as myself, and such as most of the people on the Internet.

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