Photo of SDCC from Wikimedia Commons.
2015 truly is the Year of the Nerd: Jurassic Park is making a return, Indiana Jones rumors circulate news-sites, the Terminator is making another comeback, and sci-fi darling Star Wars is being introduced to a new generation of kids everywhere. Reboots and sequels have become a staple of Hollywood, for better or worse. Although movie-goers have begged for more original material, reboots still manage big box office payoffs. If people are complaining, then who is watching?
This isn’t surprising when you think about the level of fan participation in today’s films. Before the 1970s, fandoms were but quiet subcultures scattered throughout society. Fans created fan fiction and developed small clubs to share material with each other, but nothing compared to fan culture’s new clubhouse - The Internet. Today, you can gather with your fellow geeks at conventions, share artwork with each other online, and even communicate directly with creators of the original material on Twitter. If you want two characters to get together badly or one character to return from the dead, you have a good chance that it might happen if you raise enough hell.
Fans Can Achieve Great Things
This direct fan to creator communication has its pros and cons. On one hand, fans can advocate for more diverse material and in return receive more POC and LGBT characters from creators. A perfect example of this is the everlasting #Donald4Spiderman campaign that fans launched in 2010, which resulted in the creation of Brian Michael Bendis' Miles Morales in the Ultimate Marvel series. Also, many fans again requested Donald Glover play Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Fans have also used their powers for good to alert the world to humanitarian issues. The Harry Potter Alliance, a coalition of Harry Potter fans dedicated to tackling societal issues such as unfair labor practices and low literacy rates, uses their numbers and voices for the betterment of society. HPA has been in effect since 2005 and they are still making great strides on these issues.
The Downside of Fandom
On the other hand, one could argue that fan culture can sometimes be the barrier which keeps original material from happening. This year’s Star Wars trailer reeled in over 50 million views on YouTube alone since it premiered in November 2014. If studio execs are seeing that kind of reaction to reboots and sequels, they may feel less inclined to support smaller projects which are harder to advertise. At the end of the day, Hollywood is a business and they're going to do what is most profitable.
Independent comic book artists are also feeling a bit of a hit from fan culture. San Diego Comic Con used to be catered to mainly comic book material but it now exhibits major television and film material as well, making it slightly harder for independent artists to gain attention. People are passing by new artists in an attempt to see the next Marvel film or Doctor Who panel. Writer of the blog ComicBookWife, Denise Dorman, was given flack for her comments on the kind of attendees at San Diego Comic Con. She says,
“It’s the new breed of attendees who are there because someone said it’s cool to be there; they are the ones completely unfamiliar with the comics industry.”
Does this attention back to Hollywood negatively affect lesser known artists? Yes. Should attendees feel bad because they want to see cool new things, or just be there for the sake of being there? Probably not. Does this negatively affect the relationship between independent artists and fan culture? Definitely.
How much sway do fans really have?
This, then, circles back to the question of how much fans have an effect on whether or not new material can be successful. Being a fan today means having a huge influence on how Hollywood operates, whether directly or indirectly. Fans truly make things happen because they help gauge how successful a major project will be. Being a fan also means having a safe space (sometimes) to share material that means something to you on a deeper level. Fan culture can be part of someone’s identity, it can create cross-cultural bridges, and it can sometimes help develop long-lasting friendships.
These are all great facets of being a fan, but perhaps fan culture is something everyone should also remain cognizant of. Perhaps fans should start being more aware of what they’re asking for when they watch the Star Wars trailer for the tenth time instead of sharing the new sci-fi indie film on social media. And perhaps Hollywood big wigs should take more of a risk on lesser known projects.
Either way, we luckily live in a world where fans have the power to make awesome things happen. So the next time you hear about a great sci-fi indie film on Kickstarter, give them 5$ to help make it happen. They just might hold the key to your new favorite character.