Friday, May 16, 2014

More on the Future of Fandoms

On Tuesday, I posted a video from Youtube about the future of fandoms. Today I'm continuing on with that topic, along with an issue I briefly noted in my posts about loneliness a few weeks ago - that of organizing around loneliness, consumption, and fandom.

Fandom is a complicated, nebulous thing. Generally I feel positively about it, but here more recently I'm getting more negative portrayals more "really sketch vibes" to quote the song "While Lies" (which has been stuck in my head for the last month). There's issues of bullying in fandoms, of cutting people out because they have a different opinion, of generally perpetuating the bad things that happen to fans outside of fandom. But there's also another layer to this.

Fans, generally, are consumers. They delve into a certain product and soak up as much of it as they possibly can. Many, however, are also creators. They create their own works and own spin-offs and share them, often for free, on the internet. For the companies that own the product that fans are using to create other things, this is very often bad in their minds.

Why? I'm going to bring back a paper I wrote my senior year, linked here and one that was mentioned/linked to in the post "The Magic of Gifs." TL;DR, this paper discusses fandom culture and piracy and the tension between corporations and fans. The problem is that if you take something from an already existing cultural source - characters from a novel or TV show written in fanfiction, sections of a film turned into gifs, reproducing certain tropes and characters into fanart - corporations tend to view this as intellectual property theft and piracy. On the plus side, this makes fans pirates.


On the negative side, this makes them practicing an illegal act and violating copyright. Which means they can be fined and/or sent to jail.

This is an issues, especially when what fans are creating is really powerful and interesting, and are finding ways to not just passively view a cultural item but interact, create, and make something of it. This would seem to move them from Arendt's worries of a groups bonded by loneliness and commonness in consumption to perhaps a more positive, creative, and even collaborative exercises. So when corporate entities try to lay claim to cultural items, products that feel very much that they belong to we the common and not to them, it becomes a struggle not just between copyright and creation, piracy and redefining authorship, but also in how we organize ourselves in fan communities. If we are not allowed to produce and create texts that reference other cultural ones, ones that we create perhaps less to sell and consume but explore and learn from, then there will be a serious dearth in creativity and the positive affects of fandom.

What's more, what industries such as film and television are doing to make fans feel like they are participating and influencing the creation of such cultural items is troubling. While I love the fact that Marvel movies are continuing on and on and really understanding of what fans want, there's also a limited amount of creative interaction with fans. There's cons and Twitter and things like that, but fan input and actual creation with the Marvel movies doesn't happen (if it did, we'd have a Black Widow stand-alone film - or at least Tumblr likes to think so). I love the growth and expansion of the Marvel field but it's also a little worrying - they know what brings fans in, what makes them feel connected to it. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just difficult when an industry makes you feel like you have creative power and influence when you don't exactly and when you do create a work based on it, it's considered piracy.

Something else related to this topic, mentioned in the video from Tuesday's post, is the connection between politics and fandom. I wish the video delved into this a little more because I think it's super interesting, important, and maybe even a little dangerous. I'm not sure how I feel about politics and fandoms colliding in the way it's mentioned in the PBS video. I love the idea of using fandom as a way to engage with social issues, connect with community, and take action for change. I don't like the idea of turning politicians into oversimplified celebrity figures or using fandom as a way to get figures like John Green thrown into the political arena. It's one thing that Stephen Colbert has run for president; it would be another thing entirely I think if he actually ran as himself, not sardonically as the figure he plays on TV. Conflating politics and fandom like this makes the whole political area look more consumerist than collaborative, creative, and focused on change. But maybe that's the point -  maybe we're already there.

There's more I could say on this, I'm sure, but I'm going to leave it there for now. As ever, fandoms are complicated and thinking about them along these terms makes it more so, but if we continue to focus on collaboration and creativity, I have hope that fandoms can lead to positive affects rather than negative ones.

And I am not sorry for all the pirate gifs.

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