Armagideon Time

When the fan hits the shit

April 24th, 2014

The above clipping ran in a 1965 LIFE article about the pursuit of the youth demographic and its axioms are still observed in force some five decades later. Sure, outliers and exceptions can be trotted out, but a cursory glance at the present trappings of “geek culture” leaves few doubts about the general identity of its target audience.

I dug the piece out my archives to illustrate an important point which needs to be restated:

The machinery which guides production is far removed from the habits which spur consumption.

This can be difficult for the consumer to process, especially when they fall into the category of “fans.” Fandom is — at its core — the marriage of consumption and personal investment, and a not-so-distant cousin to the concept of “brand loyalty.”

That personal investment leads to a form of romantic myopia about the nature of the beast, especially when one gets to the higher level where the real game is played. The bottom line isn’t “will the fans enjoy this?” It’s “will we turn a profit on this deal?” For every auteur or visionary at the nominal helm, there are a legion of suits doing their utmost to ensure the backers and shareholders will see a return on their investment.

Concepts like “artistic value” cease to operate where massive budgets and questions of future solvency are involved.

Why make a Call of Duty game every year? Because the rubes will buy it. Why pander to a bunch of mouthbreathers at the expense of a wider audience? Because they know where the maximum return for least risk lies. To paraphrase a line from Starship Troopers, the status quo will persist until it dies or something even more profitable is uncovered.

Theoretically larger and more profitable audiences are just that — theoretical. The entertainment combines wouldn’t reject them should they emerge, but good luck finding a firm willing to invest the resources required to develop and bring them to sustainable viability…and certainly not when it could alienate the existing base. Armchair analysts have ideas, but the suits have reams of research data and historical examples tailored to fit their perspectives.

There isn’t a Wonder Woman movie in production because WB doesn’t see a profit in making one, given the astronomical budgets these films have come to require. Some Jane or John Q. Fandom might have a really (and possibly legitimately) workable idea for one, but they are not up against a bunch of nervous executives and bankers waving the returns of Elektra or Catwoman or John Carter and a thousand pages of focus group data in their faces.

WB/DC isn’t trying to ape Disney/Marvel because they don’t see a percentage in it. History will prove either the wisdom or folly of that stance, but fandom’s collective opinion will not be the deciding factor.

Truth to tell, fandom’s “power” isn’t worth a rat’s ass. The legendary tales of saving Star Trek from (rumored) cancellation via a letter writing campaign almost always neglect the fact that it was not what the petitions said but what they revealed about the show’s viewers — educated young professionals with surplus cash at a time when networks were aggressively courting that demographic. They also deceived the network into thinking the potential audience was larger than it presently was, and thus shunted the show into a timeslot in which could not realistically compete.

Fandom couldn’t save Speed Racer. It couldn’t save Firefly. It couldn’t save Scott Pilgrim. Cheerleading in the echo chamber doesn’t count for much, especially when the gathering of the faithful might be able to fill five or six screenings, tops.

I’m not defending the status quo or trying to discourage those folks (including myself) who wish to see it evolve into something more diverse and less beholden to knuckledraggers. You can’t fight the Beast without understanding its nature, and fan delusions of grandeur won’t solve a damn thing.

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5 Responses to “When the fan hits the shit”

  1. Jordan Levells

    You know, you’re depressingly right. I say this as a man who tried (and inevitably failed) to get Kamen Rider Spirits brought to the US via petition back during the days I still thought fandoms could make a difference. (So, nearly two years ago). I do often wonder how things like the Mass Effect ending outrage got traction at all, but I’m sure it’s the exception to the myth of fan influence.

  2. minkubus

    There’s a lot of creative space out there that doesn’t adjoin with hardcore fan service. There is also a lot of creative space out there that doesn’t adjoin multinational media corporations. Anybody who’s up to the task of churning out a thoughtful and heartfelt Wonder Woman script could also be expending that energy on…maybe something besides a 1940s psychiatrist’s gender essentialist hullabaloo? What’s the worst that could happen?

  3. stavner

    Minkubus, somebody could write a script about a female superhero who isn’t Wonder Woman and hopefully reach a new audience that way.

  4. minkubus

    Indeed, comics do benefit a lot from people who have not just done the most obvious thing, the most derivative thing. There is more potential in comics than Silver Age love letters, on one hand, and violent slash fic, on the other. So, how bout that new Jeff Smith project?

  5. sallyp

    Sadly, I must concur with your conclusion. As much as we might purchase books, and merchandise, and blog or tweet or tumblr or whatever other thing is out there…about them, our opinions really don’t matter a damn.

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