What elements do you believe motivate the reaction of fan culture and how do they relate to recent remakes, reboots, and remixes? How might these components be used to incorporate generational studies of fandom/popular culture with memorable messages?
When reboots, remakes, or other related adaptations are announced, one of the primary questions that appears again and again (in addition, of course, to why?) is: Who is this for? An unvoiced assumption of claim or ownership lies in this question. If the reboot/remake is “for” a specific group or person, then who has standing to make claims on how the text develops? Recently, there has been great debate within fandoms and more general viewing audiences about the legitimacy of claims made on these reboots in regard to casting and race. Perhaps no franchise has been the site of so many claims of recent as Spider-Man. The film franchise was rebooted in 2016 for the third time since 2002’s Spider-Man, with each reboot accompanied by promises to be more like the original comic book Spider-Man we all know and love. Chief among these concerns are the “relatability” and “everyman” qualities of Peter Parker outside his Spider-Man role (Hayes, 2015; Whitbrook 2015).
Recent fan campaigns regarding the casting of Spider-Man, particularly the main role of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, have attempted to make claims for based not only on “material or quantifiable” grievances – the lack of characters of color in comic book adaptations – but also of grief (Cheng, 2000, p. 6). Anne Anlin Cheng defines racial grief and grievance in The Melancholy of Race, noting that racial grievances have become more legible; appeals to concrete solutions for racial discrimination are understood and at times addressed. However, the intimate, psychological aspects of the never-fulfilled promises of American racial equality – the melancholy of race and its attendant grief – are still seldom articulated or addressed (p. 10). The consistent branding of Peter/Spider-Man as a “relatable” character and the resistance to addressing the character’s whiteness suggest that while fans of color may have claims to be represented, their identities and experiences will never be relatable enough to stand in for a blockbuster film’s “general” audience. For those who are non-white, Spider-Man is not (for) you.
Fans have called for the casting of a non-white Spider-Man in the lead-ups to both The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Comic artist Alice Meichi Li presents a case that incorporates both grievance —why should Spider-Man not reflect the “real-world” demographics of Queens, New York? — and grief. As Li explains, “Rather than navigating a world where we are constantly shown as being sidekicks and sidelined, maybe we can be the superhero for once” (Li, 2015). Li also provides a succinct image macro that describes the grief. The issue is not just one of quantities of characters or of “positive” vs. “stereotypical” representations, but of how certain identities are defined as necessarily outside the “relatability” or normalcy of whiteness.
Major comic-book-movie and TV producers (principally DC and Marvel, but also those with rights to their characters, such as Fox and Sony), have demonstrated willingness to acknowledge, if not address, the grievances of activist fan groups regarding race and casting. While Sony ignored fans’ campaign to cast Donald Glover as Spider-Man in the Amazing Spider-Man (2012) franchise reboot, Marvel promoted interviews with Stan Lee wherein the creator said that “anybody” should be allowed to audition for the role (Lamar, 2010). With Spider-Man now being shared by Sony and Marvel, Marvel has been promoting the casting of Zendaya in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Although they and Sony have been coy about whether or not she will portray main love interest Mary Jane Watson or a more minor role, they have again appealed to the authority of Stan Lee to legitimize her casting in the film at all. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has also been quoted defending the casting, proclaiming “I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin” and that “if we're going to continue to make movies based on the almost all white heroes and supporting characters from the comics of the last century, we're going to have to get used to them being more reflective of our diverse present world.” (Kaufman, 2016).
Lee and Gunn are quick to acknowledge the grievance – that characters of color are underrepresented in comic book adaptations and that actors of color deserve to be cast in these projects – but do not address the grief presented by Li and others that results from never being considered “relatable” or “normal” enough to be the all-American teen hero. Donald Glover can be in Spider-Man – the actor reportedly has a role in Spider-Man: Homecoming – but couldn’t be Spider-Man on the big screen. With each reboot and each subsequent “generation” of fan campaigns, more grievances (characters of color appearing at all, the snubbing of Glover in 2012) are addressed by the studios, but grief remains outside the responses provided by these industries. Recent examples include director responses regarding the replacement of “stereotypical” Asian characters with white actors in Iron Man 3 (Guy Pearce as The Mandarin) or Dr. Strange (Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One).
As many of the essays here point out, the relationship between fans and source texts is a complex one, often mediated and described in pejorative terms. Among Aubrey Luxx Mishou’s observations, for instance, stigma and shame often attend the condition of fan-supplication; public derision potentially awaits the pariah whose life revolves around an overly obsessive embrace of “their” pop culture text. Inferiority, as a fan sensibility, might even be seen to be fundamental, the nature of the beast. In his classic analysis, critiquing Michel de Certeau, Henry Jenkins outlines the influential notion of textual poaching, offering up fan-respondents as infiltrating spaces owned by others, engaged in illicit and illegal acquisitions, people operating “from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness” (27). Even when fundamentally re-characterizing audiences as being active rather than passive, Jenkins’s notion of “the complexity and diversity of fandom as a subcultural community” (283) might seem still to project the agency of textual respondents as furtive, second-class, slightly on the defensive, apt to be clandestine, certainly far removed from the corridors of power.
And yet, on the other hand, as Cait Coker helpfully points out, there does seem something endemic, even humanistic, about the recurrent habitual work of textual re-appropriation. Our deep-seated need, or compulsion, to reply to the texts that nourish us – audience reception as a kind of call-and-response dynamic – originates historically way before the time of internet shaming and online trolling. Enjoyment begets participation: reading and consuming texts, whether literary or audio-visual, is just the start of a process: our passions stirred, we must respond, reply, remake, reinvent, whatever the social costs.
Why might we not take a step further, then, and reformulate fandom, and fan-response, in more positive, productive, even utopian terms? The “memorable messages” invoked in our Media Commons leading question, might even prompt us to think of fans’ heightened engagement as a kind of symbiotic or even transcendent relationship with source texts. Recall another classic piece of scholarship, Richard Dyer’s “Entertainment and Utopia” essay, which argues that classical textual systems (drawn principally from the song-and-dance numbers of Hollywood musicals) configure a utopian sensibility on-screen. Carefully mediating real-world pain, transforming it into pleasure, the utopian musical text compartmentalizes and “solves” problems with transformative conditions, whose allure, for viewers, is resplendent. Dazzlingly rendered within the classical musical number, but widely applicable in mass entertainment texts elsewhere, Dyer’s principal categories of utopian textual transformation are:
Scarcity(poverty, income inequality) vs. Abundance (equal wealth)
Exhaustion(work as grind, urban pressures) vs. Energy (work as play)
Dreariness(monotony, predictability) vs. Intensity (excitement, affectivity)
Manipulation(social constraints, roles) vs. Transparency(open spontaneity)
Fragmentation(isolation, disempowerment) vs. Community (collective action)
Obviously we can see the resonance of Dyer’s quintet in classical media, from Footlight Parade (1933) to Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but applying these same entertainment tenets to contemporary fan culture, and its permeation of certain mother lode case studies, might help us recast the fan equation in more proactive, positive, and perhaps representative ways. No longer a poacher, surreptitiously filching someone else’s work, the fan-respondent exists in a reciprocal quasi-partnership with a source text or canon; their work, in especially advanced conditions, is an engaged act of cohabitation, a passionate heightened committed connoisseurship. Flocking to the most productive text-sites, when conceived of in these ways, the fan-respondent expands the ecosystem, augments and surpasses the limits of their (textual) point of origin, engages the lively communal beliefs of like-minded peers, flaunts their own empowering media literacy, even their own artistic supremacy.
Conceiving of fan culture as – potentially – utopian in this way can nuance our appreciation of appreciation. Online BitTorrent sites are one particularly rampant source of such activities, whose cinephilic labors can become entirely transformative, positioning these devotees as ancillary authors, bypassing copyright laws by reconfiguring texts – rebooting and remixing them themselves, well outside traditional commercial media outlets. Subtitling is one especially remarkable avenue of activity here. Regularly now, BitTorrent communities sponsor linguistic and technical experts to create their own new translations of esoteric texts, to be able to see (and screen for others on re-authored DVDs) international cult texts, whether contemporary video art from Nigeria, French avant-garde works (with newly rendered intertitles) from the 1920s, or classic studio movies from Mexico, Italy, Japan, and even farther afield. (The same practice also reverses itself, in which beloved classical Hollywood texts, never before commercially subtitled, receive the same treatment for non-English-language viewers around the world.) These pundit-archivists thereby improve upon an original work, enhancing its value and circulation, turning an inert established piece of media into a porous text, with a new digital afterlife, reconfigured and reactivated for a reinvented, broader, limitless online audience.
But the practice of porous media texts is not limited to foreign fare, specialist obscure esoterica. We can trace such practices right to the heart of the international collective mainstream. Take Star Wars (1977-), which seems arguably the richest case study of the porous media text. In what is perhaps the ultimate example of the (pejoratively labeled) “fan edit,” Petr "Harmy" Harmáček, a teacher-turned-self-taught-media-restorer from the Czech Republic, spent five years compiling 16mm dupe prints, digital scans, television broadcasts, and old laserdiscs of the original Star Wars trilogy, reconstructing the films as originally released in the pre-home media era. Working with a team of online aficionados, most of whom were anonymous members of the OriginalTrilogy.com website, Harmy’s DeSpecialized movies galvanized legions of respondents, from Wired magazine to hordes of BitTorrent seeders and leechers. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHfLX_TMduY) Who is to say which is more culturally significant, more inspiring to multitudes: the advent of the new Disney-era Star Wars sequels and spin-offs, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) to Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), or Harmy’s legally grey-area DeSpecialized original trilogy variants?
In such ways, among such circles, fan culture can become nothing less than a utopian celebration of technical literacy, applied cine-mediaphilia: the triumph of the amateur over the professional. Porous texts like these, moreover, create both on- and off-screen a proliferating diegetic space, a private universe, that encourages inhabitation, an ever-expanding network narrative with no end in sight.
Dyer, Richard. Only Entertainment (London: Taylor & Francis, 2002)
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture (London: Routledge, 1992).
Generations, and Reboots, and Fans, Oh My!: A Pedagogical Approach to Questions of Fandom, Fan Labor and Participatory Culture
One way to address the question of fan reaction and fan response is to look at what fans are actively doing and creating within their online communities. Fans are an incredibly prolific bunch and are not afraid to make their opinions heard. One way they do that is through the Fanworks they produce, from art, to videos, to fanfiction. Fans then post these things and circulate them online within social media sites frequented by other fans. In so doing, they form what New Media scholar Henry Jenkins identifies as a participatory culture, one in which members engage in being co-inventors and co-architects of their culture, and are not docile receivers of the culture that others have created. This means that those who feel part of that culture participate by creating texts that are then used by, and circulated in, that community. Examining Fanworks, the products of Fan Labor, can not only foreground different types of fan opinions, reactions, and cultural conversations, but can also be an interesting pedagogical tool to bring a wide range of social and cultural discussion questions into the classroom. Drawing on the contemporary pedagogical methodology Participatory Culture Skills (PCS), I suggest that we can not only address the specific question of reboot/remix motivational reaction, but we can also outline one pedagogical method with which to analyze questions of Fan Culture specifically, and participatory culture in general.
In a report entitled Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture, put out by the MacArthur Foundation, Henry Jenkins et al. identified a set of eleven Participatory Culture Skills (PCS) that they believe all students need to become empowered, democratic participants in new media environments, fan-based or otherwise. These skills can also be useful lenses through which to look at participatory communities, such as Fandom, and to foreground practices going on within that community. Regarding the specific question of different reactions from various generations of fans within Fandom, one of the skills identified by Jenkins et al. is particularly useful, that of Negotiation. As Jenkins et al. understand it, Negotiation deals with the skill of moving both across various online communities, as well as within a given community, identifying and respecting multiple perspectives, and understanding and respecting alternative norms. Online, culture flows easily across different communities that, in the physical world, would have no direct contact and therefore no awareness of how their views and cultural norms differ. Consequently, this meeting of disparate groups frequently results in passionate debates about conflicting values or norms.
Even among members of the same community, although members may share similar values and norms in general, they may still differ in opinions about the meanings of shared artifacts and experiences. For example, although Spiderman fans may share similar opinions about the fictional character, history and back-story, they may disagree about the value and assessment of the Spiderman movie remakes. The participatory culture skill Negotiation, when used as a lens through which to examine the Fanworks where these conflicts play out, offers a way to identify and explore these dissenting perspectives and how the surrounding community deals with these conflicts. In the case of different generational perspective and fan reaction to movie reboots and remakes, by applying the lens of Negotiation to different Fanworks, for example memes, we can not only identify specific elements that motivate fan reactions to reboots, but we can also see how these reactions play out within the fan community, and how that community opens a space for conflicting reactions to be understood, if not resolved.
Negotiation assumes that there may be differing positions across and within participatory communities like Fandom. Examining various fan memes, we can clearly identify dissenting groups. One group of memes reflect some fans’ dismay at the trend toward movie remakes and reboots.
Within this group is also evidence that for older fans, who revered the original movie and saw it as part of their childhood identity, remaking that movie somehow defiles or ruins their childhood memories.
On the other hand, the are a group of fans who express frustration not over movie reboots themselves, but over the amount of complaints about the reboots.
There are also those fans who are excited about reboots, believing that classic films from one generation can be remade to provide new context and new meaning for a new generation.
Negotiation can be seen at work most strongly in the fan memes from the third group of fans within Fandom, those fans who acknowledge and recognize the different sides of the conflict, and who try to negotiate between the two. One approach we can see is trying to point out inconsistences in the various arguments, and so offer an objective, mediational perspective.
Another approach is the creation, through Fanworks, of a space for a negotiated middle ground, where both sides can be validated and yet brought together.
These fan memes were able to recognize points of tension from the various sides of the conflict, and yet offer a response that negotiates at least a respect for opposite points of view, if not one path to reconciliation.
Looking at the textual productions of participatory communities through the lens of Participatory Culture Skills can offer us one way of using contemporary pedagogical approaches to bear on the question of generational studies and fan culture. It can also be brought to bear on larger issues within popular culture, and within online participatory communities in general. Being able to visually foreground individual issues with topical themes within particular culture or online communities can be a useful discussion starters for the classroom, not only because it foregrounds dissenting sides, but also because it highlights possible spaces for the various perspectives to be worked through and to potentially find common ground and respect for opposing points of view. This is only one small example of the way this pedagogical approach can be expanded to explore other questions within the classroom, and in research, concerning questions of fandom, fan labor and participatory culture.
Whether you like it or not, reboots, remakes, sequels, and their ilk are here to stay. Of the top ten grossing movies worldwide, seven of them are sequels to something else. [Box Office Mojo, 2 December 2016] The market has spoken, and what it wants are more twists and turns based off of established intellectual properties.
Driving these “cinematic universes” are large fanbases with their own desires and demands. While DC's cinematic offerings have enjoyed financial success, they've suffered critical backlash, with reviews on aggregating websites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes failing to reach past 60% on even the highest-scoring movie in the franchise, 2013's Man of Steel. In response, DC's enterprise has insisted that they'll be meeting a fan demand of having their movies be “lighter” or “more upbeat.” Geoff Johns admitted of the company's upcoming Justice League that “we accelerated the story to get to the hope and optimism a little faster.” (Fritz, 2016)
We can find another example of fanbase demands in the Starship Troopers franchise. Paul Verhoeven directed an adaptation of the original Heinlein novel in 1997, and has been very open about his distaste for the source material. In an interview with The A.V. Club in 2007, Verhoeven said “we felt like we had something… you could even say had a tendency to be fascist. We felt we should counter that with irony…” (Tobias, 2007)
According to the director, the film is, indeed, meant to be a satire – or at least an ironic take – on the original book. So it makes an amusing sort of sense that a reboot of the franchise is planned, but this time around, with a closer tendency to stick to the source – and presumably, stripping out much of the irony and satire present in Verhoeven's work. Verhoeven seems less than pleased, stating that “going back to the novel would fit very much in a Trump Presidency.” (O'Falt, 2016)
A take on this could be found through modern musical mega-hit Hamilton, a huge winner at the recent Tony Awards and in box office sales. Despite being an adaptation of a non-fiction story – the life of Alexander Hamilton, naturally – showrunner Lin Manuel-Miranda insists that the founding fathers are cast as people of color. “We're telling the story of old, dead white men but we're using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience." (DiGiacomo, 2015) Hamilton is necessarily a play from the mid-2010s, and represents a specific image of America as portrayed through the lens of modern times. The thing that makes Hamilton stand out as a not just a story, but as a piece of the arts, is their specific use of people of color to deliver a message.
This and Verhoeven's comments bring an argument that the reuse of these established properties is almost an act of reclaiming a culture mostly set up by previous generations. When a director works on a new reboot of a movie franchise, or even a musician covering another song, it could be seen as an act of not just retreading what came before, but specifically using what's already been established as cultural shorthand, to make room for other, newer elements brought in by the present. In this context, the continued prevalence of reboots, sequels, and spin-offs makes a lot of sense – millennials are using this as an opportunity to carve out their own cultural identity despite most of it being made of what was left for them before.
Fritz, B. (2016) Warner Bros.'s New Strategy on DC: Lighten Up, Superheroes. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/warner-bros-s-new-strategy-on-dc-lighten-up-…
Tobias, S. (2007) Paul Verhoeven. Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/paul-verhoeven-14078
O'Falt, C. (2016) Paul Verhoeven Slams Starship Troopers Remake, Says It'll be a Fascist Update Perfect for a Trump Presidency. Retrieved from http://www.indiewire.com/2016/11/paul-verhoeven-slams-starship-troopers-…
DiGiacomo, F. (2015) 'Hamilton's' Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show). Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/hamiltons-lin-manuel-miranda-f…
As a medievalist, I am all too familiar with the subject of remakes. According to Umberto Eco, we have been revisiting—which is to say, remaking—the middle ages from the very moment that the period was declared finished (66). Seen in this light, our contemporary enthusiasm for resurrecting comic book heroes, science fiction franchises, Tolkien novels, and any number of other things that might, arguably, be better left dead, is not new. It is instead symptomatic of what, in medievalist circles at least, is an older and well-studied impulse: the desire to understand (or at least represent) the complexities of the present through a recourse to a less complicated, though largely imagined past.
As a writing studies scholar, I am less clear how to answer the question posed to me by one of the editors of this field guide: how to square our contemporary enthusiasm for remakes with writing studies and, in particular, composition. Writing studies, after all, tends to be a positivist field. With a relentless emphasis on improvement and progress that sometimes manifests itself as a concern for social justice, it is much more interested in the future than the past. In fact, I sometimes worry that the discipline is misnamed. For although writing is its privileged form of performance, what writing studies teaches (and evaluates) is not writing, per se, but subject construction: the fraught and always rhetorical question of how we should compose ourselves via complex forms of performance, of which writing is only one.
I suppose, though, that I could start with revision. As Eco writes about the wax museums, amusement parks, and the other roadside attractions he encounters during a tour of the United States in the 1970's, the vast majority of contemporary remakes—even the new Point Break movie—are implicitly marketed not as simply better than the original, but as somehow offering “more:” more action, more adventure, more realism, and, in almost all cases, more technology (8). To borrow a term popularized by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, many of these productions use high technology to remediate their predecessors (2-9). They employ familiar characters, storylines, and themes to validate potentially unfamiliar technologies and systems of production. In doing so, they produce the old in the guise of producing the new, crystallizing though their positive example our negative conception of what it means to be outdated or outmoded.
A case in point can be found in HBO’s Westworld. Released in early October 2016, the series preserves many of the outward characteristics of Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie and the short-lived television show that followed. As in the original, it chronicles the events that take place in an immense theme park, one that, in true medievalist fashion, uses the latest representational technologies to affect a return to the past: not the Middle Ages, but to what scholars such as Lynn White and Laura Kendrick have argued is a cognate, the American west of the 1860s, as it is frequently portrayed in mass culture. Visitors are interpellated into the park as “newcomers” lately arrived to the frontier. There, they encounter the “hosts,” scores of highly realistic, animatronic robots (or more precisely, androids) who exist solely for their pleasure, no matter how dark, rapacious, or violent those pleasures might be.
Yet as in the original, HBO’s Westworld is not only concerned with the park’s visitors. It also follows the park’s support staff—its technicians, designers, and administrators—as they struggle to ensure that Westworld remains profitable despite troublesome signs that the programming of many of the hosts has become infected by something that looks suspiciously like consciousness. What results is reminiscent of the way that Jean Baudrillard describes the relationship between Disneyland and Los Angeles in that the fantastic unrealism of everything that takes place in the park proper functions to preserve the illusion that a “real” exists outside, one which begins at the margins of the park’s underground labs and control rooms and extends outwards to the late-capitalist world of high-stakes corporate finance that constitutes the Delos subplot (12).
There is one crucial difference, however, between the original and the remake. In Crichton’s movie, the machines are explicitly presented as the disease. As epitomized by Yul Brynner’s performance as the black-clad gunslinger, they are, at best, hollow and cold imitations, simulacra whose inherently homicidal predilections are unleashed by faulty hardware. Crichton’s movie thus offers something of a cautionary tale. Released at the dawn of the personal computer age, it explicitly warns of the dangers of repurposing digital high-technologies that, at the time, were primarily associated with the military industrial complex for entertainment and other base pleasures . The film’s not-so-subtle message (it is a Crichton film, after all) is that these technologies are as corrupted as they are seductive, and that by indulging ourselves in them, we risk losing the essential but, of course, undefinable "thing" that differentiates us from our machines.
In HBO’s remake, however, it is the humans, not the machines, who are the disease, a point that is perhaps most obvious in Ed Harris’s character. Reprising Brynner’s performance as the Gunslinger, Harris appears in the series as the enigmatic Man in Black, a visitor who is every bit as relentless and, one might argue, as cold and mechanical in his pursuits as Brynner’s original. Yet Harris’s character is explicitly identified as human rather than machine. As this transposition suggests, HBO’s series inverts the causation of Crichton’s original, constructing the depravity and violence (sexual or otherwise) that pervades Westworld as inherent not to the park nor its technologies, but to the people who create and consume these technologies—its inventors, designers, managers, and visitors. In fact, if the Logan and William storyline is any indication, the series suggests that this violence and depravity is passed virus-like between the human visitors and, as such, functions as kind of dark counterpart to the spread of consciousness amongst the hosts . What ensues looks suspiciously more like a high-tech appropriation of the slave narrative than a horror film. Featuring flashbacks of lost children and two African American characters who wake from deprivation, violence, and bondage into critical consciousness, Westworld ultimately implicates its audience in the same crime for which it condemns the park's visitors—a kind of technological oppression that is rooted in our apparently essential human desire to lose (and thereby find) ourselves in fictions that, without paradox, are increasingly more spectacular and, at the same time, more "real" than those that came before.
But to return to my original question, how does writing studies help us understand this reversal, and, in particular, the dark view of human potentiality that informs it? What does Westworld teach us about how to compose, or better yet, revise ourselves in relationship to both the high technologies fetishized in the series and to the complex systems of late capitalist production upon which these technologies (and the series itself) are beholden? I worry that the answer lies in what Nick Dyer-Witheford identifies as one of the most pernicious beliefs of the so-called Information Revolution: namely, the belief that humanity is rapidly becoming obsolete in the face of advances in high technology (43-44). In this schema, there is no more room for improvement and no point in attempting further revisions. As Felix discovers to his dismay, our digital technologies have become so superior that it is pointless to dream of remaking oneself as an innovator and certainly not a creator. Given our obvious limitations, the best we can hope for is to follow along obediently and to ignore, as best we can, the spectacular trauma taking place around us.
I worry that this is what ultimately lies at the center of Westworld’s maze—the not so subtle point of the fantastic game of deterrence that the series and, by proxy, much of remake culture asks us to play. It is not simply that there are no new stories to tell and no longer any need for imagination. It is that we are doomed to repeat the same old stories, albeit in always brighter colors, higher frame rates, and better resolutions.
1. For a more positivist take on the potentials of computers and simulation at the time, see Stewart Brand's Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Death among the Computer Bums.
2. I am reluctant to include a spoiler, but the audience discovers that the Man-in-Black is the mature incarnation of the violence and depravity that germinates in Logan's and William's relationship.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.
Crichton, Michael, director. Westworld. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973.
Eco, Umberto. “The Return of the Middle Ages.” Travels in Hyperreality. Translated by William Weaver. Boston: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1986. 59-86.
__________. “Travels in Hyperreality.” Travels in Hyperreality. Translated by William Weaver. Boston: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1986. 1-58.
Kendrick, Laura. “The American Middle Ages: Eighteenth-Century Saxonist Myth-Making.” The Middle Ages After the Middle Ages in the English-speaking World. Edited by Marie-François Alamichel and Derek Brewer. Cambridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, Ltd. 1997. 121-136.
Nolan, Jonathan and Lisa Joy, creators. Westworld. Home Box Office, 2016.
White, Lynn. “The Legacy of the Middle Ages in the American Wild West.” Speculum, vol. 40, no. 2, 1965, pp. 191–202. www.jstor.org/stable/2855557. Accessed 3 December 2016.
Witheford, Nick-Dyer. Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Transmediation is often understood as content moving across multiple media platforms, transforming en route to create rich worlds that live beyond a single text. That movement usually flows from print to screen media, then to the fansphere of response and remix (Semali). One of the broadest transmediated universes is Star Wars. Amongst the subsets of Star Wars fandoms exists an often overlooked sort of transmediation: physical making, specifically in the costuming organization Mandalorian Mercs, a fandom that must evolve for a new generation of content—and fans.
Unless you have watched the Clone Wars or Rebels animated TV shows or played the Star Wars video or tabletop role-playing games, you may not know what Mandalorians are, but you would likely recognize one nonetheless.
Founded in 2007, the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club (MMCC) is the third official Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) costuming charity organization; the others are the Rebel Legion (Jedi, Rebel pilots, etc.) and the 501st Legion (Imperials, mostly Storm Troopers). All three organizations represent canon characters from their faction—like rebel Obiwan Kenobi and Imperial Darth Vader—and the original trilogy’s taciturn bounty hunter Boba Fett, followed by his father Jango Fett, who sired the clone army of the prequel trilogy, inspired the MMCC’s armor designs.
Although born of Star Wars canon, the Mandalorian Mercs (short for “mercenary”) set themselves apart from the other two organizations in their openness to homemade, customized armor. This is not cosplay; the Mercs are sanctioned by Lucasfilm and raise money for various charities. But the building of armor and going through the review process for membership approval is a rite of passage into this subculture of a subculture.
The sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney has made two major impacts on fans: prevalence of merchandise is one. Interestingly, for Mercs the market impact has not been the corporate fuel many other respondents have discussed. Given their specific set of material needs, the MMCC hosts a busy forum where, in addition to the usual fan theories, discussion, and art, people post their progress on their armor, get feedback, and find specific items needed to meet the club’s guidelines for armor approval. Prospective and official members can locate expert makers and commission items, especially ones that are difficult to scratch-build, like the iconic T-visor helmet. Thus forms a specialized marketplace made up of and serving the community of Merc makers rather than Disney.
The other major impact of Disney acquisition is new canon. The pre-Force Awakens content most fans grew up with is now the stuff of legend, causing a mixture of trepidation and excitement. For Mercs, the Mandalorian-centric content of the animated show Rebels is most relevant; it features female Mandalorian Sabine Wren, who some speculate may eventually become the Mandalorian leader.
With Sabine, Twi’lek pilot Hera, and returning Clone Wars heroine Ahsoka, the show demonstrates fairly savvy feminism, which goes far to ingratiate a new generation of decidedly fourth wave fans. Fans widely embrace the show, and discussion of Rebels is popular on Merc forums and social media. Many Mercs—especially those interested in seeing more diverse identities represented—are thrilled with the narrative focus on this fierce Mandalorian woman.
Sabine’s prominence in Rebels also means that new Mandalorian armor styles are appearing frequently, which means new possible armor designs. The Mercs have already approved numerous canon Sabine kits, but this intergenerational fandom of makers has a significant task ahead: to negotiate and engage with a whole new canon in an increasingly intersectional Star Wars universe. Though we have yet to see guidelines for customized Sabine-style armor—or any of the new types featured in Rebels—there is every opportunity for future fan-fueled innovations.
Pictured: Lauren Woolbright in MMCC-approved armor for her original character, Maia Ocharon
Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club, Lucasfilm Ltd, 2016, http://mandalorianmercs.org
Munro, Ealasaid, “Feminism: A Fourth Wave?” Political Studies Association, https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/feminism-fourth-wave
"Sabine the New Mand'alor - Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Theory," The Stupendous Wave, 19 Aug 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-VH1O1xui8
Sadin, Caylie, “Review: The Women of Star Wars Rebels Episodes 1-4,” Nerdy But Flirty, 10 Nov 2014, https://nerdybutflirty.com/2014/11/10/review-the-women-of-star-wars-rebe…
Transmediations in the Classroom: A Semiotics-Based Media Literacy Framework, Ed Ladislaus M. Semali, Peter Lang, 2002
Ward, Jason, “Mandalorian Graffiti: Sabine as a Tagger in Star Wars Rebels is Appropriate,” Making Star Wars, 19 Feb 2014, http://makingstarwars.net/2014/02/mandalorian-graffiti-sabine-as-a-tagge…
Star Wars: Rebels, Lucasfilm Ltd. 2016, www.starwars.com/tv-shows/star-wars-rebels
“Sabine Wren,” Wookiepedia: The Star Wars Wiki, http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sabine_Wren
“Hera Syndulla,” Wookiepedia: The Star Wars Wiki, http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Hera_Syndulla
“Ahsoka Tano,” Wookiepedia: The Star Wars Wiki, http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ahsoka_Tano
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in Print and Film: Technology, Imagination, and the Networked Catastrophe
In the midst of widespread reboots, remixes, and remakes of popular media, I’ve been considering how expansion of technological devices and networks have impacted the narratological and ideological composition of such films in ways that we might be less prepared to notice, today, given the ubiquity of such gadgets, devices, and technology. With the relatively recent remake of the children’s “classic” story Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett (1978) as a film (2009)—summaries of which I, apologetically, do not have the space to provide here—a noticeable series of shifts appear that indicate a movement towards abolishing the suspension of disbelief, the reduction of what we might call non-material imagination (i.e. imagination not subjugated to use-value, the production cycle, or pragmatics) to mere innovation/invention of commodities, and the expansion of natural disasters into networked catastrophes with more far reaching economic, political, social, and environmental impacts.
The cultural scripts of progress and techno-scientific innovation/invention that govern the opening moment of the film deal with the lonely, isolated child-scientist, Flint Lockwood, who wants to change the world by means of innovation. In the original narrative, no explanation is offered as to why food falls from the sky, but in the film version, everything is “explained” to the child- and adult-viewer by “science,” various technologies, and “facts.” And by “science,” I mean the grand narratives of science within the spectacle of society that, still today, in Roland Barthes’s words, have “picked up after bourgeois positivism and been used by society to maintain the fiction of a theological truth disengaged from language” (Rustle 9-10). Without reducing science and technology to the same thing—see Juri Lotman’s description of these as antithetical, the former being characterized by “explosions” of knowledge and the latter by gradual developments (88)—the child who enjoyed food that “just” fell from the sky, and the imaginative pleasure derived from such a suspension of disbelief, now is left merely to consume the “facts” offered to explain away…well, everything that happens in the story. Even the iconographic Jello sunset in the book gets appropriated for use-value: it becomes the means of Flint’s (awkward) seduction of Sam Sparks.
For Theodor Adorno, the “human spirit can’t be content with mere ‘factuality’” (“Note” 39), and it’s precisely this emphasis of pragmatic factuality that engenders perhaps the greatest loss in this remake. The local problem in Barrett’s Cloudy also becomes a global “natural” catastrophe in the film. The combination of out of control food production and the massive accumulation of wasted food behind the town’s dam results in this “natural disaster” that threatens not only the town but the whole globe, the blame of which falls onto the mayor at the end who serves as a Girardian scapegoat figure. The expansion of technological networks—and the subsequent subjugation to and surveillance by these networks of most everything—have, benefits notwithstanding, issued in catastrophes, and their related suffering, becoming more far reaching in their effects. For Jean-Luc Nancy, a renewed understanding of “technology” is needed in light of the networked political, economic, social, and environmental relations to account for technology as “not an assembly of functioning means” but instead a force that “exposes us to a condition of finality that had till now been unheard-of: Everything becomes the end and the means of everything” (36), echoing the spirit of Adorno’s haunting words of us all becoming too practical (Minima Moralia 44). What’s left—both for us and the residents of Chewandswallow in the Cloudy film—is not an assemblage of parts as much as, in the mutual cross referencing of everything, the “destruction of all construction and what I might call struction, in the sense of heaping up [amoncellement] without putting together [assemblage]” (Nancy, After 36). The shift seen in the Cloudy book to the Cloudy film illustrates the primacy of techno-scientific advancement and their resulting hyperobjects (see Morton) under a rule of general equivalency within the network, which can (though by no means has to) come at the cost of imagination. If individuals and social collectives have any chance at freedom and social justice, imagination will be crucial—including a sympathetic imagination to think oneself into the life of another, even those with whom we vehemently disagree. Such a sympathetic imagination rests on the ability to decide, at crucial moments, to suspend disbelief and think new worlds into existence, even imaginary ones in which manna falls mysteriously from the sky.
Adorno, Theodor. Minima Moralia. 1951. London: Verso, 1974.
–. “Note on Human Science and Culture.” 1963. Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. Trans. Henry W. Pickford. New York: Columbia UP, 2005. 37-41.
Barthes, Roland. “From Science to Literature.” The Rustle of Language. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989. 3-11.
Barrett, Judi and Ron Barrett. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 1978. New York: Antheum, 1982.
Baudrillard, Jean. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. 1970. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Sage Publications, 1998.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Columbia Pictures. 2009.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. After Fukushima. 2012. New York: Fordham UP, 2015.
Lotman, Juri. The Unpredictable Workings of Culture. Tallinn: TLU Press, 2013.
Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013.
Sequels, adaptations, spin offs, remakes, reboots… There is no doubt that contemporary popular culture is characterised by a ‘serial logic’. These practices follow an economic imperative, but they also produce an ‘aesthetic of repetition’ (Ndalianis, 2004: 33) in which adaptations, sequels and remakes complicate their relationship with the ‘original’ and show a high degree of self-reflexivity, inviting the audience to engage in an intertextual interpretative game in which the original and the new version must be compared (Littau, 2011; Ndalianis, 2004; Proctor, 2012).
Remakes and reboots open up fictional universes to new audiences, broadening their fan base and encouraging these new audiences to revisit the original. But at the same time, each new version creates tensions and anxieties among the original fans, stirring up debates about authenticity, fidelity, creativity and authorship (Hills, 2003; Gray, 2010; Tompkins, 2014). For example, CBS's remake of MacGyver prompted many comments from fans of the original series who complained that not only was the new series poor quality, but it did not respect the spirit of the original: ‘a good reboot (…) will put its own spin on things. But at the same time, you should not destroy the core of the concept that made the original popular in the first place’ (IMDB, ‘Mucked-Gyver‘, Wizard-8, 24 September 2016).
Moreover, self-reflexivity in remakes can encourage viewers to apply 'forensic' fandom practices (Mittell, 2015: 52, 261-291; see also Ford, 2014: 63-65) in order to question and problematise the relationship between the original and the new version. Westworld (HBO, 2016) is an interesting case study. It is a remake of Michael Crichton's 1973 movie Westworld (which, at the same time had a sequel, Futureworld [Heffron, 1976] and a cancelled TV series, Beyond Westworld [CBS, 1980]). HBO's series is a perfect example of a complex and drillable text (Mittell, 2015), which encourages fans to carry out forensic practices such as analysis, mystery solving and, most importantly, developing and sharing theories in forums such as reddit (which has now more than 135,000 subscribers).
Westworld includes several references to the movie (such as the presence of the Gunslinger, who is a character from the movie, in episode 6), showing a high degree of intertextuality and self-reflexivity. Even before the series' pilot was aired, several viewers asked the reddit community whether they should watch the movie. Some of the answers argued that watching the movie would improve the viewing experience, foreseeing the existence of intertextual references: ‘(…) I think there will likely be Easter eggs in the series from the movie’ (XXX_Mandor, 11 July 2016). After the show premiered, other posters pointed to the incorporation of the original movie into the viewers' ‘mystery-solving’ activities: ‘(…) It's definitely not going to spoil anything but could provide some fun fuel for speculation’ (Deliriousjoker, 17 October 2016). As intertextual references to the film kept on appearing in the series, some fans started questioning what the real relationship between the film and the series was, discussing whether these references were just Easter Eggs or evidence of something else:
The show may or may not be a sequel to the movie so I would watch it just in case. (Rickgrimesfan123, 8 October 2016).
- (…) [the appearance of the Gunslinger in episode 6] It seems to confirm that the show is a sequel to the movie and to confirm what the "disaster" or "incident" or whatever of 30 years ago was. (ArbitraryLettersXYZ, 7 November 2016)
- Or it's simply an Easter Egg (Littlebill1138, 7 November 2016)
In these debates, Westworld's showrunners (Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy) were usually mentioned in order to support a specific theory or not (‘The showrunners have already debunked this’ [cruzercruz, 7 November 2016]), while also acknowledging the playful and creative nature of fans’ speculation, going beyond the authors' intentions: ‘I have just read that interview with them [Westworld's showrunners] saying not to look too much into it [the appearance of the Gunslinger]. Yeah, like that's going to happen’ [ArcticConvoy, 8 November 2016].
Although these debates are not at the centre of the fans’ discussion about Westworld, they are relevant because they show how fandom practices add complexity to the already complex relationship between ‘original’ and ‘new version’. In this case, forensic fandom practices include watching the original movie to gain knowledge about the fictional world, finding pleasure in comparing different versions of a fictional world, and incorporating the original text into practices of mystery-solving.
Ford, S. (2014). Fan studies: Grappling with an 'Undisciplined' discipline. The Journal of Fandom Studies, 2(1): 53–71.
Gray, J. (2010). Show sold separately: Promos, spoilers, and other media paratexts. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press.
Hills, M. (2003). Putting away childish things: Jar Jar Binks and the ‘virtual star' as an object of fan loathing. In: Austin, T., & Barker, M. (eds.) Contemporary Hollywood Stardom. London: Arnold, pp. 74-89.
Littau, K. (2011). Media, mythology and morphogenesis: Aliens. Convergence: The international journal of research into new media technologies, 17(1): 17-36.
Mittell, J. (2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: New York University Press.
Ndalianis, A. (2004). Neo-baroque aesthetics and contemporary entertainment. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Proctor, W. (2012). Regeneration and Rebirth: Anatomy of the Franchise Reboot. Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, 22: 1–19.
Tompkins, J. (2014). ‘Re-Imagining the Canon’: Examining the Discourse of Contemporary Horror Film Reboots. New Review of Film and Television Studies 12(4): 380–99.
Up until recently, cinematic remaking was academically neglected despite its longstanding role in Hollywood history. Scholarship tended to march in step with popular film journalism, which dismissed remakes, sequels, and prequels because of their commercial imperatives and lack of creativity (and continues to do so today). But there are many other ways of looking at cinematic remaking, including approaches that take into account the cultural work and social functions these films perform. In this post, I want to suggest that cinematic remaking has always played and continues to play an important role in structuring the evolution of cinema as a technological medium, and – more important for my purpose here – in shaping processes of identity formation among successive generations of cinemagoers. Following this line of thought may provide new insights into the reception of recent Hollywood remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings.
On the one hand, then, Hollywood manufactures its own history as a narrative of technological progress in and with long-running, cross-generational chains of remakes, sequels, and prequels. On the other hand, cinematic remaking plays a crucial role in constructing audiences as media generations – a concept I use to describe viewers within certain age groups that share a cultural field and set of embodied media practices. Such media generations include fans, film critics, scholars, and casual viewers who share pop-cultural reference points. Movies like Ghostbusters (1984) or the first Star Wars trilogy, for example, have become infused with cultural meaning around which media-generational identities have then been constructed and maintained. I argue that this often happens retrospectively and through social practices and discourses which aim to protect beloved media texts against new versions and the extra layers of meaning they invariably add to movies of the past.
In the broader scheme of things, cross-generational chains of remakes, sequels, and prequels preserve a repertoire of popular narratives as they recycle familiar plots, characters, settings, and themes. They provide temporal continuity markers for a culture, and gradually become (film-historical) sites of memory. At the same time, each individual movie in the cinematic remaking chain is also grounded in a specific historical moment that shapes the ways in which generations imagine themselves as mnemonic communities. It comes to stand in for that moment in terms of its social, political, and cultural dynamics as well as its position in film history, i.e. the specific technologies (e.g. sound, color, widescreen, 3-D, CGI, motion capture), performers, narrative structures, and visual aesthetics, or, more generally, the medium’s affordances and constraints at the time.
Reactions to Hollywood’s recent remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings are informed by intergenerational differences between audiences who do not identify with the same media texts. Nicholas Stoller’s Bad Neighbors (2014) makes reference to how such feelings of media-generational belonging can play out as Mac (Seth Rogan) and Teddy (Zac Efron) debate whether Michael Keaton or Christian Bale is the best Batman. Intergenerational differences are often expressed more aggressively, however, as a deep dislike of the new version combined with nostalgia for an older pop-cultural reference point. Thus, fans and critics alike try adamantly to rescue their beloved movies from being overwritten by a new media text. The extremely negative reactions to Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters trailer in May 2016 are emblematic for the kind of emotional response remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of an enduring classic are able to elicit. In the case of Ghostbusters, often-voiced fears that cinematic remaking will destroy childhood memories (and therefore poses a potential threat to the collectively constructed identity of a media generation), were additionally overshadowed by an overwhelming misogyny regarding the gender-swapped cast. The movie eventually stood its ground (even featuring meta-references to this pushback), yet – like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) or Jurassic World (2015) – it was also very careful to cater to the sentimental attachments and nostalgic feelings of an older media generation (with a plethora of intertextual references and bonuses for viewers in the know). Cinematic remaking always addresses a double audience but these are clearly concessions designed to make the new media text less threatening with regard to media-generational identity constructions and more enjoyable for audiences whose pop-cultural reference points lie in the past. For generational studies of fandom and popular culture, cinematic remaking is a multifaceted object of study. It invites reflections on the role of media and popular culture in our lives, in-depth analyses of media-generational identity formation and the role specific media texts play in this process, and investigations of intergenerational controversies surrounding cinematic remaking and the resulting shifts in the practice they may provoke.
Hotly anticipated by fans all over the world, and based on arguably the most famous science fiction television franchise (Doctor Who fans would no doubt disagree with that), J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek (2009) proved to be a critical and financial success. This was not, however, a guarantee. The previous film series starring the cast of The Next Generation went out with a whimper in 2002 with Star Trek Nemesis and the television series was seen to have exhausted the well with the much maligned but recently reclaimed Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005). Still Star Trek, managed to offer fans a film which fulfilled their desire to see their favorite characters back on the big screen and attracted new audiences, importantly younger audiences, to a television series that still had a reputation for cheap cardboard sets and old-fashioned storytelling.
Yet, Star Trek worked by managing to pay homage to the original series (with Kirk, Spock and all the iconic characters played with vigor and real enthusiasm by all the actors) and creating its own look and feel that is distinctly modern. Abrams took all the elements that made the TV series work and blew them up to provide real Hollywood spectacle. From the very beginning of the film we know it is the Star Trek universe, with familiar audio beeps and chirps sounding from the USS Kelvin’s communication circuits. The language used by the crew, their uniforms and demeanor all suggest United Federation of Planets. We are back in the world of space exploration and human endeavor. However, this tranquility was quickly disrupted by an alien attack on the Kelvin; the chaos of the ensuing battle bringing Star Trek into the same fast-paced league of the Star Wars franchise. From that point on Star Trek become more like George Lucas than Gene Roddenberry.
This change in tone, pacing and level of action was not an unwelcome transition. Star Trek takes the fun and humor from the original television series and makes it central. In many ways the new versions of older characters are caricatures, Urban as Bones is grumpy and delivers his familiar ‘I’m not a …, I’m a doctor!’ lines with aplomb and Pine as Kirk is all too cocky and one can see him growing into Shatner’s Kirk. But, at the same time, these are different characters (for example, Spock is in a romantic relationship with Uhura) and they are informed by a contemporary Hollywood sensibility. They are new action heroes for the 21st century and their youthful exuberance as seen in the subsequent two sequels has taken them in different directions than their alternate and original timeline predecessors. Throughout the now three films in the renewed Star Trek movie franchise there are hints to what has come before, adapted for both fans and newcomers: for example, we get to see how Kirk cheated the infamous ‘no-win scenario’ of the Kobyashi Maru at Starfleet Academy in the first film and in Star Trek Beyond (2016) it is revealed that the main antagonist is a veteran of the Xindi War first seen in Enterprise. There are also changes to established canon: we see Spock’s mother killed when Vulcan is destroyed by Nero. However, all moments – old and new – combine to form a coherent whole in which the intriguing premise is how the new film will create new adventures based on previous texts. The 2013 sequel, Into Darkness, gave us exciting insight to this with a re-imagined Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) targeting the Federation and doing battle with Spock and Kirk in roles reversed from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Kirk sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and Spock defeats Khan.
So, are the recent films reboots or re-imaginings or are they something else? And how do fans view them? Do they potentially deter fans because they play with and pick at established story canon? William Proctor says of the franchise reboot: “The audience plays a vital role in this process and the struggle for hegemony is never static but always on the move, negotiating, dialoguing, resisting and acquiescing. The reboot strategy illustrates that audiences critically assess the texts they consume and, at times, cause the industry to rethink their tactics” (2012: 15). Certainly, Paramount is well aware of the potential backlash fans can create if they feel “their” text is “harmed” in any way. For example, fan reaction to the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond was so negative that Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty and wrote the script, posted online that he also disliked it and promised fans the second trailer and film would be better. Using his own fan status Pegg acted as both gatekeeper and spokesman – reflective of the contemporary culture in Hollywood to incorporate the fan wherever possible.
In Star Trek we have a blueprint for how Hollywood can take a previously successful, if not totally relevant, television series and give it a new life – not tied down by its own history but using history to inspire the story. The Star Trek franchise incorporates the fun and action of the blockbuster and thanks to the most recent addition it now has that one thing for which the television series has always been famous: social commentary. It works on multiple levels, and in its re-imagined version new audiences gets to see and feel again all those moments that made the original so impactful. We wait to see what will happen with Star Trek: Discovery on CBS next year – however it turns out, fans are ready to press the reset button.
Proctor, William (2012), “Regeneration & Rebirth: Anatomy of the Franchise Reboot,” Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television,22.
The term “fan service” is frequently used in a pejorative capacity, in derisive descriptions of remakes and reboots that attempt self-consciously to “satisfy” fans of their source texts (by, say, deploying members of original casts in fleeting cameos, offering direct references to source texts and their sociocultural impact, or responding to perceived fan demand by romantically uniting characters long believed to be ideally suited to each other). The term could easily be understood, however, in relation to the services that fans themselves provide, demonstrating the viability of proposed remakes and reboots through their active fandom, offering unofficial blueprints for official screenplays through their prolific fan fictions, and even, in some cases, directly contributing to production.
There have been countless instances of major corporations soliciting “expert” fans. In his essay “Screen Studies and Industrial ‘Theorizing,’” John T. Caldwell offers several examples of the growing corporate tendency to co-opt fans as tastemakers, knowledge producers, and “active collaborators,” in the process hijacking that which, in other hands, might seem a mode of resistance—a “negotiated” reading strategy: the production of paratexts. Caldwell suggests that “fake blogs and websites”—those created by corporations masquerading as “everyday users”—have been ceding ground to less “obvious” strategies for the corporate shaping of media reception. After all, basic digital literacy makes it reasonably easy to tell a fake, corporate-authored “fan blog” from a genuinely user-generated one.
Less likely to be recognized are the instances in which major corporations effectively ventriloquize through “ordinary consumers,” since the latter are often contractually barred from exposing their corporate connections, and obliged to emphasize their “amateur” status even when working with proprietary content. (Consider, for instance, any number of “lifestyle” vloggers who take to YouTube to tout new corporate products, including films and television programs.) “All of these producer-as-audience initiatives,” writes Caldwell, “work to merge audience identification with industrial identity.” Perhaps the most conspicuous method through which corporations seek to conceal the carefully engineered labor of the “ordinary” fans on whose behalf they purport to speak is the employment of the so-called “professional fan”—the celebrated auteur whose creativity is said to spring from a “typical,” vernacular fandom.
Take the case of J. J. Abrams, the filmmaker who, according to conventional accounts, successfully “rebooted” the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. A dissenting (albeit satirical) view of Abrams’s status as “professional fan” and savior of two beloved franchises has arrived in the form of the new season of Comedy Central’s South Park (1997 – ), which views the desire for remakes and reboots as an indication not of benign nostalgia but of reactionary fervor. “We all want something new but that makes us remember the things we love,” says one character, having traveled all the way to Abrams’s mansion in order to beg the director to “reboot” the national anthem in the wake of protests.
This seemingly innocuous statement soon reveals its fascist underpinnings, as various characters begin to encounter so-called “’member berries”—“a new super fruit that helps you mellow out and relax.” Named for their coercive invocation of the past, these berries become reactionary mouthpieces, spouting such lines as “’member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?” and “’member when marriage was just between a man and a woman?” (along with obligatory references to Chewbacca and other beloved pop-culture characters). Offering a trenchant critique of the way remakes and reboots often function to inflame racism, misogyny, and queerphobia online, precisely through their perceived deviations from popular memory, South Park alludes to the online bullying of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Yet even Jones’s version of Ghostbusters, with its laudable emphasis on women in STEM, comes in for abuse in South Park, as one character proclaims, “It may seem fun to go back and recycle the past we love, but we end up with no sustenance.” Wanting to recreate one’s past—to service the fans who apparently live in that past—is perilously close to the kind of empty, reactionary nostalgia being peddled by Donald Trump. South Park recognizes this, and its darkly humorous political critique is among the most provocative accounts of fandom that we have.
The emotional response garnered by announcements of film remakes and reboots is a fixture of social media, as ardent fans of books, film, comics and games often react with vitriol against directors and producers who declare intentions to remake or reinvent familiar narratives. Angela Lansbury’s critical response to the remaking of Beauty and the Beast stands as a strong example of the emotional response of fans at large, her language echoing the terse befuddlement of consumers who prize original productions and “don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I can’t understand what they’re going to do with it that will be better than what we’ve already done” (Derschowitz). As Lansbury’s appraisal articulates, there is a social tendency to prize original productions, to which a cultural currency is attached for originality, vision, or simply being the first, and an ethos of fandom is established through the (at times militant) dedication to “original” material. In response to this month’s survey question of motivated reaction and pedagogy, I propose a reading of this fan ethos through the lens of Nishant Shahani’s Queer Retrosexualities, and argue that fandom of once-marginalized material stands as a “bottom state,” and that the subsequent rejection of remakes that works to popularize this material is a disidentification with the newly-popular that seeks to preserve an agency of “otherness” once found in the adoration of the socially unaccepted.
I suggest that the ardent devotion of original fandom comes from the same space of shame and disidentification as Shahani’s “bottom state” of mid-century queerdom.Using Stockton’s “embrace of debasement” from Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame, Shahani asks “how a return to a decade when the stigma of shame marks queers can be generative and reparative” (19). Relying on Edelman’s advocacy of “an embrace of negativity that refuses the pull towards affirmation or the attachment of social meaning to queerness” (21), Shahani promises to examine “the seductive and communal pleasures in embracing a moment when queerness appeared to challenge the very foundations of the social order” (21) – a reclamation of the pejorative which becomes a source of agency through its own rejection of that social order.
The bottom state for comics fans, by way of example, is the historical moment when their fandom is a subject of public derision, and thus their dedication is performed through their preference for the material over larger social acceptability. Prior to the cultural saturation of the present market the archetype of the comics fan is one of social inferiority, as illustrated by the “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons. Despite his espoused intelligence and advanced degrees, the forty-five-year-old comics shop proprietor is a subject of ridicule in his 1991 introduction, represented as morbidly-obese in poorly-fitting clothes, whose superiority complex alienates members of the community. He is the “basement dweller” made cartoon, designed to dislike. And yet in his sense of superiority fans see (and perhaps identify with) a kind of agency: he is a figure excused from social mores, successfully indulging his primary interests as a business owner, and liberated from the restrictions of social anxiety. This agency in the present is challenged as comic material becomes more popular, shifts to reflect contemporary tastes and expectations, and thus the landscape of fandom becomes dramatically altered. It is this alteration against which fans rail, and this autonomous agency they seek to reclaim through their defense of a “bottom state” of geeky fandom, bolstering their defenses against an invasion of mainstream culture and the social regulation it brings.
Derschowitz, Jessica. “Angela Lansbury comments on Beauty and the Beast remake, original’s legacy.” Entertainment Weekly. EW.com. 22 Nov 2016. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
Shahani, Nishant. “Introduction: Theorizing Queer Retrosexualities.” Queer Retrosexualities: The Politics of Reparative Return. Lanham: LeHigh University Press, 2012. Print. 1-36.
I define “marginalized material” as comics, cult classics, or other materials whose cultural value is not recognized at its moment of production, or whose fandom elicits critical social response.
Engagement with a text has been always been a part of human behavior, from well before the ideas of fandom and fannishness and remix culture. It’s in our very natures to change a story to reflect ourselves in it. There’s an old German tale about a printer who is printing a Bible, and his wife comes into the shop and changes the lines of type in Genesis from “and he shall rule over thee” to “and he shall be thy Fool!” In the story (related in Moore, p 73) she is supernaturally struck down and dies, and the moral is that women shouldn’t work in the print shops, they shouldn’t change the text, but what we should take from this is a rather profound example of a woman literally changing the narrative of the dominant culture to empower herself. When we look at fan works, this is what we see over and over again: people changing the stories to see themselves, and so there are stories where all the men on the bridge of the Enterprise are women (and the official comics even played with this idea themselves in an issue!), and art where Harry Potter and Hermione Granger have brown skin. When mainstream culture acknowledges fan culture, it is recognizing that this need for representation is not only valid but absolutely necessary in our contemporary society, and that this is how positive change happens. In Star Trek: Beyond, a fifty-year-old franchise finally got a canonically gay character onscreen; in Ghostbusters we get women action heroes who aren’t in conspicuously sexy outfits.
When it comes to the use of fan culture in teaching, one thing I’ve always tried to do is point out how genre and fandom generally go back much farther than the Internet would have us believe. Consider the mother of modern science fiction, Mary Shelley, and Frankenstein being published in 1818, and then consider how Jane C. Loudon writes her 1827 novel The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in response: Shelley had described the Monster saying that “A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch,” and Loudon a wrote a new novel around this idea; she further confronted Shelley’s (shocking, for the time!) near-atheism with more Christianized concepts, and so two of the greatest stories of genre were meant to be in cultural dialogue with one another!
Another example is Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,which was left unfinished until Jules Verne decided to finish the story in 1897 with Le Sphinx des glaces. There’s many more examples than these, but it’s important to note that all texts talk to one another, and it’s really only with Twentieth Century publishing practices that we see the introduction of power hierarchies which destabilize authorship such that one body of work is considered lesser than another, fan writing—and that it is absolutely no mistake that the disempowered persons writing in fandom are women and minorities. Moreover, mainstream response to texts that have openly fannish origins—like Fifty Shades and the numerous Twifics that make up full tables in bookstores today—is so violently antagonistic and derisive as to make the old German story above seem quaint, but it reinforces how the notion of women changing texts remains genuinely frightening to some.
As a final thought regarding fan history, what I would like to encourage is thinking of fan culture as going beyond media franchises and online interaction. There are vast bodies of print zines from the SFF, pulp and comics heydays of the 1930s-1990s that need to be included in our discussions, and looking even farther back we can see social reading and writing groups that are perhaps not who we would identify as fans but who nonetheless perform what we consider fan practices. Above all, take notice of what seems to be gaps. It could be that the people and texts you are looking for are right in front of you; they just haven’t been identified…yet.
Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (1992).
Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, Eds., The Fan Fiction Studies Reader (2014).
Anne Jamison, Ed., Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World (2013).
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture (1992).
Sam Moskowitz, The Immortal Storm, A History of Science Fiction Fandom (1954).
Sheenagh Pugh, The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context (2005).
Harry Warner, Jr. All Our Yesterdays (1969).
The fan culture that proliferates around the BBC’s Sherlock’s demonstrates unprecedented fan involvement in the Internet era, but it is far from new. Since the Sherlock Holmes canon’s inception in the late nineteenth century, its fans have participated in “The Sherlockian Game”—an ongoing attempt to resolve the inconsistencies within Arthur Conan Doyle’s original texts through the pretense that the characters are real individuals. For instance, Frank Sidgwick’s 1902 essay from the Cambridge Review appears as an open letter addressed to “Dear Dr. Watson.” In this essay, Sidgwick refers to Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as Watson’s story and accuses him with “charges of inconsistency” (Sidgwick). Although some contemporary Sherlock fan clubs, such as the Baker Street Irregulars and the Speckled Band, scrutinize the texts and their adaptations like Sidgwick, other fans have adopted different values. Two particular elements that motivate the alternative fan reactions towards the BBC’s Sherlock include the show’s metafictional references to its fans and the queerbaiting phenomenon.
Queerbaiting in Sherlock creates a discrepancy that occurs when the show’s writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, dismiss the potential for queer relationships while simultaneously permeating the series with metafictional references to homoeroticism. Examples of queerbaiting include affectionate moments of physical contact between Sherlock and Watson:
Figure 1. Watson puts his hand on Sherlock’s knee in a drunken moment.
Jacquelyn. “In Which I Review Sherlock (3x2).” The (TV) Revolution Will Be Analyzed, Blogger, 6 Jan. 2016, http://punkbunny87.blogspot.ca/2014/01/in-which-i-review-sherlock-3x2.html
Figure 2. Sherlock and Watson hold hands.
Me, Mary. “Finally: The Sherlock/John Picture Thread.” BBC Sherlock Fan Forum, Boardhost, 4 Jun. 2014, http://sherlock.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=3180&p=7.
This contradiction leaves fans who desire the explicit acknowledgement of queer relationships unfulfilled, leading them to compile video evidence or “clues” for queer subtext in Sherlock as a contemporary form of the Sherlockian Game. This act of gathering evidence resembles the original Sherlockian Game, in which fans examined the intricate details of Conan Doyle’s texts for inconsistencies. However, the main difference between the original Sherlockians and the contemporary ones is that the former rank the adaptations along a hierarchy of fidelity, valuing Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “aura” while the latter prioritize imagination over a strict adherence to the original stories. Ashley Polasek refers to the original Sherlockian Game as the fans’ formation of “pseudo-scholarship,” noting that “The Game is the cornerstone of these essays, and manifests itself as aficionados, familiar with the Canon down to the last detail, seek to generate a single cohesive narrative that slots flawlessly into historical reality” (44). In their attempts to historicize the Sherlock Holmes tales, Sherlockians imagined an idealized “aura” that is unblemished with inconsistency and is entirely based on a Victorian reality. However, current Sherlock fans instead seek to rewrite the original stories to validate queerness in the heteronormative realms of popular television and literature that perpetually deny the potential for queer relationships.
The BBC’s Sherlock is a text that has sparked debates surrounding queerbaiting because of its relatively unique status as a metafictional work that includes references to its fandoms. Besides John Watson’s constant refrain of “people might talk,” which implies a self-conscious awareness of an audience, Sherlock’s writers actually insert characters into the series that represent its two main fan cultures: the contemporary Internet-based Sherlockian fans who produce fanart and fanfiction that fetishizes homoeroticism and the fandom that mimics the Sherlockian Game’s traditional ideals of accuracy over imagination. In “The Empty Hearse,” contemporary fangirl character, Laura, and the more traditional fan, Anderson, discuss their differing theories on how Sherlock fakes his death. In Laura’s proposed scenario, she imagines Moriarty and Sherlock sharing a kiss.
Figure 3. Laura, the contemporary Sherlock fangirl character archetype.
“Holmes Alive Explanation.” Sherlock: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Expect to See in Episode One of the Third Season, News18, 5 Jan. 2014, http://www.news18.com/news/india/sherlock-10-things-you-probably-didnt-e...
Figure 4. Moriarty and Sherlock lock lips in Laura’s imagination.
“Sherlock Moriarty Kiss.” Sherlock: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Expect to See in Episode One of the Third Season, News18, 5 Jan. 2014, http://www.news18.com/news/india/sherlock-10-things-you-probably-didnt-e...
Anderson shuts down Laura’s idea with charges of implausibility while she attempts to defend her invocation of queerness. This exchange mimics the conflict between Sherlockians who are, like Anderson, invested in accuracy and the contemporary fans who, like Laura, abandon authenticity for imaginative homoeroticism. Anderson’s denial of the possibility of queerness metafictionally illustrates the queerbaiting scenario. The interaction between these two archetypical fan characters exposes how Sherlock teases its fans with the fetishized fantasy of queerness while simultaneously denouncing homoerotic possibilities. These metafictional references to Sherlockians along with the queer subtext in the series suggest that the show itself partakes in the queerbaiting phenomenon. Contemporary pedagogy can critically examine adaptations like the BBC’s Sherlock for fan culture references and queerbaiting to create the space for queer representation within remakes across multiple media forms, such as literature, “pseudo-scholarship,” and popular television.
“Baker Street Irregulars (Organization: U.S.) Archive, 1923-2007.” Houghton Library. Harvard University, 8 June 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Selected Writings, vols. 1-3. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, eds. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996-2002. Print.
Lellenberg. “Disputation, Confrontation, and Dialectical Hullabaloo.” BSI Archival History. Baker Street Irregulars, 8 Sept. 2010. Web.
Moffat, Steven, and Mark Gatiss. “The Empty Hearse.” Sherlock. BBC One. United Kingdom, 1 January 2014. Television.
Polasek, Ashley D. “Winning ‘The Grand Game’: Sherlock and the Fragmentation of Fan Discourse.” Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom: Essays on the BBC Series. Ed. Louisa E. Stein and Kristina Busse. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012. 41-55. Print.
Sidgwick, Frank. “Frank Sidgwick’s 1902 Essay.” BSI Archival History. Baker Street Irregulars, 23 Jan. 1902. Web.
By Hanna Klien and Claus Tieber
1. The amount of remakes, reboots and remixes within popular culture in recent times may be called a "retromania". (Simon Reynolds). Although revivalist strategies are not new, the current trend and its embrace within fan cultures indicate an increased need for continuity that is provided by focused frames of references.
2. Technological developments play an important role in this process, since popular culture’s archives are available for everyone today at all times. The increased speed of distribution and immediacy of access contributes to shorter cycles of revision. Generally, the wide availability of different versions (approved or disliked) heightens the pleasure in choice and diversifies identity options for consumers, in particular fans.
3. In industry terms an archive when owned by the company is called the back catalogue. For consumers the old and the new are separated by just a click in digital archives conforming to the same norms. Re-selling the back catalogue becomes more important when recent sales are falling, because less financial investment is needed. Remakes boost sales, but face the challenge to make a ‘property’ attractive for a new generation while not deterring (older) fans. In recent years a power shift in favour of fans has influenced such ‘generational’ relations.
4. In contrast to past underestimation of fans’ power ("The Harry Potter Wars"), the industry pursues collaborations with fan groups, also using them for their own PR. With new and social media, fan culture has an enormous influence on the success of the instalment of a new franchise, a remake, or an adaptation.
5. Retro culture is trans- and intermedial. Popular narratives are spreading around all forms of popular culture: comics, television, films, computer games, music etc. Popular narratives have no beginning and no end, they leave room for fans to fill in their versions. Since remix across genre and media boundaries are an essential part of fan practices (fan fiction, fan art, etc.), loops for perpetual meaning-making emerge in the tension between firmly established frames and signifiers of difference. Thus, the trend can also be seen as the effort of the industry to adapt to pleasures of media consumers in convergence culture.
6. Consequently, texts are increasingly multi-layered due to the necessity for producers to build references, Easter eggs and self-conscious links into their narratives. The very form and morphology of popular text is changing. Another aspect of this development is the diversification of fan communities also in terms of different generations within. Newly introduced elements in remakes can address formerly marginalised groups in fan cultures (for example, by reboots starring women in formerly male roles). Retro-culture together with a general tendency towards nostalgia in consumerism shapes bonds across such differences.
6. The high density of intertextuality does not only serve to address a variety of audiences but also holds the potential for intergenerational shared viewership. With the loss of TV as a ‘modern fireplace’, series can serve similar purposes within retro-culture. A TV show such as Stranger Things is able to reunite families in combining young characters for today's youth with a 1980s setting and loads of references for their parents. On the other hand, historical decades frequently become just a setting or a sound incorporated in consumption. Reduced to interchangeable references, signifiers of time and space are thus subjected to commodification processes, as is evident in productions such as Baz Luhrman’s The Get Down. While films such as Wild Style and Style Wars are referenced, the representation of hip hop’s origin is framed in mass consumption exemplified by over 10,000 retro sneakers by Puma, Converse and Pro-Ked manufactured for the show.
7. Due to a recent power shift remakes, reboots, and remixes pay tribute to (a sense of) proprietorship by fans, who in return consume a continuously growing number of related commodities. Thus, the media products rely on frames that provide continuity and reinforce fan identities, but leave enough room for creative versioning. Releases of such films and series have become multimedial events turning fans into essential players with varying power positions, not least based on economic means. Therefore, an important approach in generational studies of fan/popular culture is to focus on relations within fan cultures, looking at the groups that appropriate certain elements to contest others or the selective strategies in production to address particularly powerful groups (for example, by privileging a predominant reading through references).
Between headlines on Twitter bemoaning President Trump doomsday scenarios, one lighter tweet caught my eye: “Here's the nostalgia-heavy first trailer for Disney's Beauty & the Beast remake.” The trailer opened with the same delicate piano notes I had obsessively replayed over and over again in my childhood, creating a sense of ease I’ve been sorely missing these past few chaotic post-election weeks. Familiar scenes glowed from my screen, creatively re-imagined for an audience accustomed to a digitized, CGI movie world. Emma Watson, modern-day feminist icon, injected a sense of strength and backbone that had been missing from the original animated Belle. The trailer was only a brief insight, but it left me hopeful that Bill Condon has managed to stay true to one of my favorite stories while addressing some of the dated anti-feminist messages modern viewers have critiqued.
Jean Baudrillard1 notes that “the social becomes obsessed with itself” (p. 580). He points to our anxiety as a society to see ourselves reflected in the media in order to know at all times what we’re thinking; our love for adaptations of popular stories is one way to see this principle at play. I think reboots can be too easily dismissed as a cynical function of capitalism—a lazy way for corporations to recycle stories to get money from a reliable fanbase. However, the drive to create large-scale franchise reboots is not so different from the drive to that causes fans to labor over content remixes for free: we want to insert ourselves into worlds we love. On an individual level, fans accomplish this via forms such as Fanfiction, artistic renderings, or cosplay. On a large cultural scale, when industries reproduce different iterations of familiar stories, they are updated to reflect (or critique) values of the society at that moment the time.
In a recent MediaCommons post, Stephanie Vie calls for us to think about the impact of remix and appropriation on composition practices. Tracing text remixes is one place to make explicit the cultural values that inform the composition. Ideologies can be traced beyond the end products, found within the processes of creation themselves. Creators now have access to fan discussions on social media, and as a result evidence of fan influence is clear within some texts. For example, after the most recent season finale of Game of Thrones, fans rejoiced at several on-screen nods to their theories that had been circulated on platforms such as Twitter and Reddit.
The fan-inclusive process of creation speaks to the crowdsourcing ethics of internet culture, and can be a useful tool for teaching students how to navigate issues of modern day authorship. Audiences who are accustomed to creating and appropriating their own content on social media have come to expect, rather than hope, for their voices to be heard. The process does also speak to more thorny aspects of this type of collaboration, such as the ease with which corporations can exploit fan creativity for profit. Although the barrier between fans and creators has shrunk, the access to large-scale creation rests at a massive imbalance. The consequences of the imbalance are reflected in the persistent homogeneity of mass culture; while I cheered for a less dainty Bell in the most recent Beauty and the Beast iteration, at the same time I noted the glaring lack of on screen diversity. Somewhere at an intermediate level—between individual fanfiction and massive blockbuster reboots—access has been opening. On YouTube, for example, a re-imagined Cinderella musical with an all-black cast went viral in 2013. Smaller scale platforms such as Netflix allow much greater access for creators from groups who are too often excluded. When barriers to creation are disrupted, a world of possibilities for remixes open up as familiar stories are infused with new identities and shared.
1Baudrillard, J., & Maclean, M. (1985). The masses: The implosion of the social in the media. New Literary History, 16(3), 577-589.
Fan culture brings out the passion of fans that sometimes is seen as an obsession. With the spread of technology, the influences of what many people find interest in has no limits. According to Hills, “A fan is somebody who can produce reams of information on their object of fandom, can quote their favoured lines or lyrics, chapter, and verse,” (Hills, 2002). There are different areas of which can produce during fan culture such as comic books, manga, science fiction, movies, and so much more. When it comes to mass media, there are different elements that help motive the reaction of fan culture.
One of the biggest influences in the entertainment industry is the power of social media. Social media allows many people to interact with one another by stating their opinion, starting conversations, posting photos or video footage, and so much more. Social media also allows many of their users to create hash tags that can lead to heavier traffic into conversations. The influences of peers can easily influence the different elements that produce fan culture. An example that I have that is currently popular is the infamous BeyHive. In popular culture, the fans of entertainer Beyonce Knowles are know as the BeyHive. They make up a huge fan base that supports one of the most powerful contributors in music. The BeyHive is known for praising everything she does, supporting all her music and clothing line, and also defending her when needed. Social media shares a big influence on the power of the BeyHive, especially on social forms such as Twitter and Instagram. In the link provided, you can see get the inside scoop of one of the worlds most devoted fan base. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So6ifqHkyoo)
Fan of Beyoncé see her as an icon. She has created new fashion trends when dealing with her music and clothing. When it comes to remakes, Beyoncé has influenced many trends or costume this for years. This past spring, Beyoncé put out an album titled, “Lemonade”. This album included a continuous video that includes all her songs and different costumes. For Halloween, many of her fans ended up dressing up like her mirroring the costumes from “Lemonade”. Remakes happen all the time when dealing with this superstar. Videos of her chorography have been remade because of her inspiration. An example can be from a video seen around the world in 2012. It shows this young boy that took the time to learn the whole chorography of a Beyoncé hit titled, “Countdown”. He then puts both videos side by side and helps the audience compare them together. View video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4aiwTkDwCY&app=desktop)
As an icon to fans, Beyoncé has given out different memorable messages. The BeyHive love her because of her stance on Feminism. The video of her performance can be seen right here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7pd1w022ME). Beyoncé has continuously talked about the beauty of women in her music and who runs the world, girls. She is very inspiring to ladies of all ages, telling them they can be whoever they want to be. Even when it comes to relationships with her husband, rap mogul Jay-Z, Beyoncé shares a message. Her relationship with her family is very private and she showcases that everyone does not have to know what is going on in their life. Beyoncé leads by example and has her fan culture, the BeyHive to back her up.
Hills, M. (2002). Fan cultures. Psychology Press.
Fans are members of a community that exists to self-perpetuate. What motivates them is engagement—engagement with one another, and engagement with the object of fannish passion, be it TV, film, anime, manga, comics, or games. I’m using a fairly strict, old-school, science fiction fandom–derived definition of “fan” here: a fan is someone who engages with others, thus creating a fandom. Lurkers, drive-by readers, and occasional posters to online forums may consider themselves fans, by which they mean to imply that they have more than a passing interest, but by the definition I’m using, acting in isolation doesn’t count. To be a fan, someone has to engage in a community, often by creating or commenting on fan artworks made for a specific fannish audience.
Entire genres of fan activity revolve around remix, including fan vids and fan fiction, not to mention their creation of endless double-tap Instagram bait in the form of manipulated artwork, slogan-y macros, and hilarious and/or adorable GIFs. Fans target this kind of engagement to a specific community to get a reaction: a like, a repost, a new follower. This circuit of creation and reaction turns into a loop, and by so doing, this fan engagement creates a fandom community that is based on these kinds of exchange.
It’s no secret that producers are keen to tap unpaid fan labor to promote their product. Viral marketing tries to drum up fan enthusiasm in hopes of engaging an entire community. Yet the impetus behind the creation of a fandom and the creation of an artwork (a film, say) that producers want to promote are fundamentally different: one is done to self-perpetuate, and the other is done for profit. This is true even if the promoted item nods to the fan remix ethos by itself being a remake, reboot, or remix. Producers have always created sequels, spin-offs, and mash-ups; their existence is not a nod to fans or fandoms. Fans and producers thus have completely different interests that compel their choices and behavior.
These components—self-perpetuation of a fandom loop on the part of fans, self-interest on the part of producers—need not be monolithically in opposition to one another, and explorations of their intersections and diversions may provide insight into message building for both. Some fans go on to become producers themselves (I’m thinking of Doctor Who fandom, or its obverse, the Phantom Edit), a desire sparked by fannish love. So one item that may link these two points of view is affective pleasure: fans are known to have it, and producers create texts so that they might feel it. A second item might be messaging: members of a particular fandom may engage in activism, and producers want to tap into that, be it by a text’s theme or by extratextual targeted activities or messaging. Where and how do they meet, and what strategies do they use to reach one another?
I tend to view remakes through Leo Braudy’s critical lens, as evidencing a source’s “unfinished cultural business.” Braudy posits remakes as more than simple retellings. Positioning remakes as transacting unfinished cultural business invites exploration of the socio-historical moments of the original and the remake. As the same can be said of adaptation, this entry engages with and explores the True Grit cycle: Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, the 1969 film adaptation, and the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake.
Portis’s novel deepens the themes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), John Ford’s elegy for the Western hero. Valence signals the death the Western hero by putting Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in a coffin at the start of the film. Doniphon died off screen, anti-climatically, and nobody knows his true role in settling the town of Shinbone. Portis’s True Grit also contains and marginalizes its classic Western hero, ending with Rooster Cogburn dead, buried, and then dug up and re-buried. Beyond that, Cogburn died an obsolete caricature of himself, a frail old man performing in a Wild West show. This works, because the novel’s true hero is Mattie Ross, a 14 year-old girl. Thus, Portis’s novel participates in the revisionist Western’s hollowing out of the generic tropes established by Hollywood.
It’s interesting, then, that the 1969 film adaptation turns away from revisionism and back toward classic Hollywood Western tropes. While Portis’s novel signals a torch-passing to Mattie’s rising generation, the movie re-centers old Rooster. It ends not with Cogburn dead (and twice-buried!) but with him alive, ornery, and riding off heroically toward the mountains. Wayne’s larger-than-life Rooster towers above Mattie (Kim Darby), shifting the film from Portis’s implicit consideration of 60s youth culture toward a validation of the “greatest” generation. With regard to transacting cultural business, the adaptation reveals cultural tensions surrounding generations in 1969 America; the film delivers a counter-argument, generating a conservative vision from a progressive text. The revisionists are wrong, the adaptation argues, the old Western hero is not dead; it’s neither time to bury/re-bury him nor yield to the younger generation. Time has not passed Rooster Cogburn and his ilk by. Far from fading into the past, they are the future.
The Coens refer to their version of True Grit as an adaptation rather than a remake, suggesting that they take issue with the 1969 interpretation. In execution, their film functions as either a “faithful” adaptation of Portis’s novel or a corrective remake of the adaptation. The Coens return Cogburn to his tragic Doniphon-like status, a man unable to transition to the new West that he helped produce. Jeff Bridges’s Cogburn dominates neither the film nor Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie, as the Coens return to Portis’s generation-formula. Rooster dies again, and the film approximates the novel’s ending by fading out on adult-Mattie standing over his (second) grave musing about the slipperiness of time. The unfinished cultural business transacted by the remake revolves around the (re)introduction of teenage Mattie Ross as the new Western hero. The film was released into a culture overtly considering the ability of young girls to carry action movies. Specifically, 2010 sees teenage girls avenge the killing of their fathers in a range of typically male-dominated genres: beyond Steinfeld’s turn in the Western, Jennifer Lawrence plays a neo-noir detective in Winter’s Bone, Chloe Grace Moretz a super hero in Kick Ass, and Saoirse Ronan an assassin in Hanna. The Coens’ remake harkens back to Portis’s novel in order to contradict Wayne’s film. In doing so, it repurposes 40+ year old sources to fit right into its own moment.