I must say that I enjoyed that you touched on the idea of ownership. Original fans of the series (and of any text), express a sense of "ownership" for their favorite shows/movies/games. They feel as if it is theirs, although they didn't themselves create it, they feel a strong connection of personal property to the work. Which would explain the strong emotional ties of discomfort that they may feel from a Hollywood reimagining, plainly because it is not the original. No matter how well received the text may be, there will always be a tiny feeling that "'their' text is 'harmed.'" That is the beauty of fandom, it is both scary and romantic.
I wouldn't say they are "forcing" them; fans will sometimes abandon a disappointing text for their own imaginings. But yes, it definitely makes it more appealing. I find it to be clever.
As a mom of two, I know well how enjoyable—and sanity-saving—it can be to apply rhetorical theory to children's media, to which we parents are exposed ad nauseam, so I very much appreciate your post. For a while, my daughter watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 on repeat, so my question for you stems from that.
For my adult viewer-and-scholar self, the critiques of Cloudy 2 resonated, such as the technological creation of and threat to destroy ecosystems, questions of the pristine, the wild, and human intervention, ethical treatment of the animal and environmental 'other' ("I am not a monkey—I am an APE!!"), the Steve Jobs villain whose hippie flavor of corporate greed is exploitative of both environments and people, the self-replicating nature of consumer culture… There's a good bit going on there, even though I honestly find the film annoying to watch.
But bigger than that, to me, was the narrative structure's similarity to the Jurassic Park films. It has made me think about how our culture is infused with contradictory impulses of technophilia and techophobia, often depicted through sci-fi narratives, and the ways in which these messages have been communicated to child audiences.
Do you feel that, as with the original transmediation from print to screen you discuss, what is lost here is the imaginative in the factual, or are there other more dominant concepts at play for you in this film? Does this film manage to bring back any of the lost awe from the book, or does it present only further loss?
Do you feel there is a sense across children's programming that what's good for adults is good for kids, i.e. filmmakers logicking that the Jurassic model has worked before, so why not reapply it, rather than thinking about what message it sends or about trying to send some other message instead? Is this connection meant as sympathy for adult viewers? Or is this merely one instance of "bad" filmmaking (forced romantic side-plot, illogical science, flattened villainy, abundant cliche), same for kids' media as for adults'?
Thanks for raising the discussion!
I very much appreciate your discussion of the "generation wars" that are often sparked by reboots and new content in a franchise. Most of my experience with fandoms has been personal as a fan myself; I have not devoted much scholarly effort to fan studies, so a lot of this is new to me.
I was wondering if you could direct me to any relevant sources or comment on a question I have. As new Star Wars content has emerged, fans have broken into factions favoring one trilogy over the other or the new content over the old, and although it would seem logical for that to be age-based, I have not found that to be the case. It seems more likely for older fans to favor the original trilogy over Force Awakens, but the breaks don't always occur that way. I have experienced numerous fans under the age of 40 (an arbitrary break on my part, to be sure, but for the sake of argument…), for example, who object to the new content on the basis of identity politics; they don't like women and people of color starring in "their" franchise. Conversely, many fans embrace these changes, regardless of their age, and many regardless of their own political identity (meaning I know plenty of white folks who are perfectly happy with Finn and Poe and plenty of guys who love Rey as a character).
How does fan studies as a discipline break down generational questions like this when generations of the media themselves seem so clear? Do things tend to fall smoothly in line with age, or are there scholars discussing blurry lines? If age doesn't work so well as a way to talk about differing opinions, what might work better? Demographics? Politics?
Thanks, and great post!
Ooh, great questions!! I think there's two ways to think about publishing and generations:
1) What do we mean by publishing? From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries (more or less) coterie writing, in which women wrote and privately circulated manuscripts, was the default for women writers—and this was by no means as limited as it may seem, given that really popular manuscript works such as poems or songs could and do have upwards of a thousand copies in different hands. I liken this to both fanzines and locked online fan communities where writing can be shared with a similarly limited and intimate audiences. These texts are simultaneously private and public, shared and not shared, which is I think interesting on its own.
2) How do we think about generations—years or technology? The thing I really see right now is how contemporary fandom has split along gendered lines, with a lot of male fans still writing and producing in the fanzine format—title pages, numbered pages, table of contents, multiple authors—even for digital-only texts and women fans being almost completely online in digital archives and communities. And when it comes to the online communities I know so well, I see fans of all ages interacting in the same ways whether on Livejournal or Tumblr or AO3—there are established norms of behavior that we generally follow.
Right now what strikes me about Fan Studies is how it has historically looked at the people rather than the texts to make meaning—asking "who" creates and "why?", and only more recently asking "what?" I think we should look more closely at the whats—what are the fics and art being created and what do they mean writ large!
Yes, this is exactly what I'm hoping to consider. As I cannot speak to your personal experiences, I'll offer what I hope is a similar case. Some time ago news circulated that The Craft (1996) was going to be treated to a remake.
The reaction I heard, largely through social media and from a very particular demographic (30-something white middle class women), was vitriolic; fans of the original film were horrified that a text significant to their juvenile identities was going to be changed, and railed against the value of such a project. Interestingly, the responses weren't just dissatisfaction that the film itself was going to be changed, but a projection onto, and predictions about, the potential new fan base: there was eyerolling, sighs, and a general dismissal of a wave of preteen girls who would find themselves under the spell of social liberation promised in the fantasy of the narrative (pun unashamedly intended). This projected fan base became a subject of derisive superiority, as self-proclaimed fans of the 1996 film quipped with disdain that one should prepare for "a new wave of thirteen-year-old witches." But what this perspective didn't actively acknowledge is that this is precisely the identity upon which the responders were basing their dismissal - that they themselves were once enthusiastic preteens seeking out the same sense of power, and identifying with characters who excused themselves from traditional social structures. This is where I see Shahani’s bottom state, and retrosexuality; in this specific example, the bottom state is that of an adolescent girl, whose body, clothing, movements, sense of security, and identity are all governed by critical patriarchal institutions, leaving her powerless, teaching her shame, and subjecting her to strict regulations. Into this bottom state comes a text that provides a fantasy of liberation, i.e. teenage girls who discover the power to evoke change through witchcraft. As a deviant identity unto itself, the figure of the witch is marginalized and criminalized, but in her potential some read an example of agency, and adopt (or at least identify with) this same identity to experience the autonomy that allows at least the illusion of exception to social regulations. The adult reaction to the remake of the film is, I’d suggest, a policing of these borders, and a desire to preserve this bottom state for that power of exception it offers – “original fans” don’t wish to dilute the identity through an influx of new fandom, and seek to maintain their own control through the exclusion of others.
Similar responses accompany comic book movie releases, and remakes of cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The fan response to Suicide Squad has been particularly interesting, as it seems to have generated categories of fan identity more firmly rooted in social media than in fandom of the original text(s).
By chance, I saw your post after talking to a undergraduates about Wide Sargasso Sea and how it calls the happy domesticity of Jane Eyre into question - which is exactly the process that you describe with pre-internet authors responding to other authors' work to fill in gaps in the original and shift parts that are no longer relevant.
It is true that it an overt hierarchy exists between fan writing and published writing exists today, however it is also important to note that the most disenfranchised groups prior to the 20th century would not necessarily have literacy to write, nor the social capital to be published. This points to something implied in your post, which is that prior to the internet, it took a number of years or decades for a response to one work by another - perhaps a reading public that would hve generated responses in a short duration did not exist in the same way. What is different now is the simultaneous self-publishing of many divergent responses, immediately following the publication of the original. Sometimes industries (such as the film and game industries) would even give active fans or fan groups material prior to official release so they can generate hype. This brings me to the part of the survey question that asks about generational studies of fandom - what do we consider a generation today, and how can we define cycles of cultural production when things are happening so fast? (This article describes a phenomenon in China where generations have been divided by decade because post-1970s China has developed so quickly)
I would hesitate to say that prior to the 20th century, changes didn't happen as quickly as today, since we are biased to perceive our time as richly textured, and history as a foregone conclusion neatly divided into eras. Your call to study fan culture aside from franchises is an important one. What fan studies seems to be interested in at the core is networks of meaning making - thus it would be possible (at a stretch) to view social groups that we don't think of as fandoms through the lens of fan studies - for example, returning customer of a particular craftsman, or illiterate Medieval pilgrims as fans of their religion (after all, "fan" does come from "fanatic").
My favorite black hole of the internet, is where you find the different names that fans have created for these type of relationships. For example, JohnLock or Wincest. Fans create these "ships" (or relationships), and will defend it at all means, they may even go down with their ship. So I find it totally believable that there are fans who will continue to read into the subtext of the show, even when told by many that it is not possible. I do find it interesting that the creator of Sherlock are toying with their emotions, could it be their way for engaging their audience and forcing them to come back for more?
I was hoping that someone would talk about the role of the "angry original viewer/fan." While I am open to change, I just wouldn't see some of my favorite films adapted to modern times. For instance, the Back to the Future franchise or Ferris Bueller's Days Off. I personally, place so much value in these films that it would be impossible for me to enjoy them any other way. I'm not saying that a remake/reboot wouldn't shed light on newer issues or target a group that it didn't before, I just like being apart of something from the beginning. I wear it as a badge of honor.