Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Or, How I Started Worrying and Learned to Fear Fandom
November 29, 2011 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Drew McWeeny muses at length on Muppets, Avengers, and Life In The Age Of Fanfiction.
posted by gilrain (33 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I should probably have included a blurb, I realize. This is the thrust, but I do recommend reading the whole essay.
What's been truly bizarre, though, is the way the mainstream has slowly headed in the same direction, and without anyone noticing it, we seem to have handed over our entire industry to the creation of fanfiction on a corporate level, and at this point, I'm not sure how we're expecting the pendulum to ever swing back. I know people love to blame Spielberg and Lucas for creating the modern blockbuster age, but at least when they decided to pay tribute to their inspirations, they did so in interesting ways. Spielberg has talked about how his frustrations at hearing that only English filmmakers could direct James Bond movies led to the creation of Indiana Jones, and Lucas was working out his love of Flash Gordon when he created "Star Wars." Those are healthy ways to work through your love of something, and absolutely make sense as important pieces in the creative process. What's scary is how these days, filmmakers wouldn't bother with that last step, the part where you take your inspirations and run them through your own filter. Now, instead, we live in an age where we are simply doing the source material again and again and again, and where original creation seems to be almost frowned upon as a "risk."
posted by gilrain at 2:53 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The comment about kids wanting to "play with" the characters and such they've been given reminds me of what i know about Japanese doinshi, and how people can use the characters in ways that would get you sued and arrested here. I wish we had it like that, with companies more willing to let fans have fun with them, but only a few seem to be even slightly okay with it.

Speaking of the age of fanfic, that's what i feel like the 11th doctor is all about, it feels like fanfic to me. Not a fan of whats been done, but oh well, others seem to love The River Song show. ;)
posted by usagizero at 2:53 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I take issue with the idea that it's fans that have made Hollywood risk-averse. Mostly because I've been hearing complaints about Hollywood's fear of innovation since the ancient days of yore before Ye Internets.
posted by emjaybee at 2:59 PM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like and agree with most of his points (especially about the Muppets being a deft examination of fandom itself, even as it plays with fanfictive conventions) BUT I hope nobody uses the 2009 star trek reboot as a template. That movie was nothing but empty toying with fan and genre tropes--as a movie-thing-itself, it was utter garbage. Let's not get carried away man, Twighlight may be ideal for its fans, but it's still bad. Bad bad bad bad badbadbadbad naughty BAD!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]



I take issue with the idea that it's fans that have made Hollywood risk-averse.


Well, not fans per se but a market-driven mentality in Hollywood, which is increasingly lorded over by big corporations that have tickets to count, bottom lines to calculate and shareholders to answer to. It's interesting that a lot of the recent innovation in TV programming has happened on HBO, which may be owned by Time Warner but has a business model (subscription-funded, not much worry about following the Nielsen ratings) that is not quite as focused on overnight or opening-weekend numbers and the short-term thinking that those figures encourage.
posted by Joey Bagels at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


McWeeny? Nice plume de nom.
posted by Renoroc at 3:14 PM on November 29, 2011


Along the same lines, usagizero, for all the flak that "otaku" get, the entire culture seems to nurture individual creativity in a way that's really inspiring and encouraging. Take Comiket, for example, a large-scale conventions dedicated to the showcasing of home-made comics by amateurs (many of those derivative works like you talk about). Apart from artist's alleys at conventions (which are still, I think, a sideshow rather than the main attraction), is there such an equivalent in North America?
posted by Phire at 3:16 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok, so maybe the people involved in the new Muppets movie should have made something more original... but if Hollywood wants to profit from the Muppets, I'm glad they chose someone who really loves the property and will do it justice. It has 98% on rotten tomatoes, for god's sake. There's room for a Muppets re-boot AND Team America (or something like Strings, if you're looking for Art), thanks.

I also enjoyed Star Trek, which coexists nicely with Moon.

Hollywood has always been focused on the bottom line, and there will always be people who get great movies made, from within or from outside the system.
posted by Huck500 at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2011


Drew McWeeny is Moriarty from Ain't It Cool News, btw.
posted by empath at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always so cute whenever the mainstream arts media thinks they've discovered fanfic. I'm starting to think they don't teach Paradise Lost in school anymore.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2011 [16 favorites]


The comments about how Abrams approached Star Trek resonated with me quite a lot, as I grew up a TOS fan that now appreciates how flexible and durable that formula is: "three best friends and their gang visit amazing places every week."
posted by beaucoupkevin at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is so much wrongheaded thinking in this I barely know where to begin, but one thing jumps out at me more than anything else, and makes it clear that while he knows what fanfiction technically is, he obviously doesn't know anything about the culture that produces it or why.

His problem is with well-meaning but ultimately limited and "risk-averse" retreads of beloved franchises. I'm willing to agree with him that this is a problem, but that's as far as I'll go.

What he doesn't understand is that the best fanfiction is the exact opposite of risk-averse when it comes to dealing with its source material. Fanfiction is about shining a flashlight in the unexamined dark corners of a narrative; it's often borne as much from frustration with a story's failures and missed opportunities as it is from enthusiasm over its strengths. Sometimes that frustration is as simple as "I think these two characters had chemistry that their canon depiction didn't do justice to." Sometime's it's much more nuanced and complicated. But the one universal constant in really good fanfiction is thoughtfulness. Good fanfic authors are very often thinking about the material in a more sophisticated and probing way than the creators.

Also, he's falling victim to the fallacy of originality. Originality is greatly overrated. There really are not so very many stories to tell. What matters is not originality of idea, but execution. Whether or not the characters in the story happen to have the same names and similar roles to characters in some other story is merely one implementation detail among many. Being original is much less important than being good.

So while I have some sympathy with the frustration over the ouroboros that is geek entertainment these days, its problem is not that it's too fanfic-y.

Its problem is that it's not fanfic-y enough.
posted by pts at 3:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [28 favorites]


New media journalist discovers remix culture, fails to fully grok it. Film at eleven.


On a more conversational note, I find the article's thesis a bit obvious. I mean, can anyone point to an age in film (or any other art medium for that matter) when this type of thing wasn't going on? We tweak the things we love. It's OK, that's how art works. Yes some copies are merely slight duplicates while others are new offspring. The fact that Hollywood exploits this more often than not doesn't seem to be that new of a trend, but I'm no expert in these matters.

On preview: what pts said.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:34 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is probably unfair of me, considering I have not actually seen either movie, but isn't the plot of The Muppets identical to that of 2002's Disney-Henson production The Country Bears, right down to the protagonist being a bear/puppet raised by humans?
posted by Iridic at 3:35 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The initiator neutron that started this reaction was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was the first fan-driven movie, and everyone thought it would fail and it had its flaws but in the end it made quite a bit of money, and opened some industry eyes to the value of mining the past.

At the time this was unheard of, and even considered a bit crass, but ST:TMP fissioned off a bunch of other ST:whatevers, which kicked off several other genre reboots and ultimately gave us the meltdown that is the modern comic book movie.

Right now the air is thick with radioactive tropes and media officials telling us everything will be OK.
posted by localroger at 3:38 PM on November 29, 2011


It was the first fan-driven movie, and everyone thought it would fail and it had its flaws but in the end it made quite a bit of money, and opened some industry eyes to the value of mining the past.

This is true, but only to a certain point: there was a Star Trek: Phase 2 series in development thanks to fan support and numbers coming in from stations around the country showing that syndication on Trek was beating primetime in many markets. When Star Wars kick-started the sci-fi blockbuster revolution, Paramount executives turned to each other and said "Hey, we've got something with "star" in the name getting developed for TV! Let's make a lot more money with a movie!"

The screenplay for ST:TMP was based heavily on "In Thy Image," the pilot for ST:P2.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 4:00 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the development of ancient myths was born from the same impulse. People like stories with characters they recognize. The door is always open for new characters, but there will always be a place at the fire for the old ones.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:01 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's scary is how these days, filmmakers wouldn't bother with that last step, the part where you take your inspirations and run them through your own filter.

Meh. Things like fanfiction are necessarily run through their creator's own filter, and I don't see where it's a less "healthy" filter than the one where you file the serial numbers off your Flash-Gordon-a-like before you put it out. I've seen fics/remakes/pastiches/etc which are far more original than most "original" films (on preview: pts nailed it.)

The same goes for "I hope more and more filmmakers take that step past the fanfiction that something like "Cabin In The Woods" represents next year, a film that is not just a show-off know-it-all ode to a genre, but also a very new and different expression of that genre." The fact is that most movies aren't a new and different expression of anything, remakes or not. Glancing at today's box-office, one could make the same complaint about Tower Heist, Immortals, J. Edgar, Real Steel, or Jack & Jill, except then it wouldn't be fanfiction's fault. And as Faint of Butt points out, fanfic has been part of the canon for a long, long time... and many great films did not have an "original" script, either. How about The Godfather? Gone With the Wind? The Maltese Falcon? To Kill A Mockingbird? Scarface (either of 'em)? 2001? Even Casablanca was an unstaged play... and that's without even getting into stuff like The Magnificent Seven.

Originality -- at least when naively defined as the opposite of fanfiction -- is a red herring, one which has very little to do with quality or creativity.
posted by grey_sw at 4:06 PM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Iridic: "This is probably unfair of me, considering I have not actually seen either movie, but isn't the plot of The Muppets identical to that of 2002's Disney-Henson production The Country Bears, right down to the protagonist being a bear/puppet raised by humans?"

That's actually the point he was making. Finally The Country Bears fanfic community is getting the mass media attention it deserves. About time.

Honestly, though, everything that I understand as good about fan fiction (as has been detailed already by others here) is what The Muppets gets right. I have no idea if it's a good movie or not*, but if you've got an idealized version of the Muppets kicking around in your head, waitiing for a big screen reunion, the movie as released is pretty spot on.

* I think it is, but I may have blinders. My opinion on such matters should also be viewed through the spectrum that I think The Great Muppet Caper is actually the uber-Muppet movie, but again, this might have a lot to do with age and timing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:22 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Over thanksgiving, the family medievalist talked about spending class teaching "Canterbury tales self-insert fanfic."

This is nothing new. Star Wars and Indiana Jones came out alongside Flash Gordon AND James Bond films, not to mention new versions of Superman, Batman, and Star Trek. All of these had various levels of "fan service."

Every generation of Hollywood has done Hamlet, The Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, and Dracula off the top of my head. And that's not including the paint-by-numbers stories like the Star-Crossed Lovers, The War Drama, The Action Film, and The Odd-Couple Comedy which were produced on a yearly basis. We get a Santa on the order of every three years. In about a decade, John Wayne did a half-dozen Westerns and a half-dozen WWII ace movies. The commercial success of the talkies was based on recycling Broadway, then Hollywood recycled their earlier musicals for material. Take a look at the sheer volume of films that Porter, Mercer, and Gershwin were associated with during Hollywood's "Golden Years." (A period also characterized by wholesale adaptations of best-selling novels.)

Meanwhile, I see a fair number of transformative homages. The Coen Brothers did a brilliant job with True Grit. J. J. Abrams' Super 8 paid homage to ET while rejecting Spielberg's romantic views of childhood and aliens as spiritual beings. But those are exceptions to the rule, and Hollywood has banked on recycling and appropriating ideas since the Edison days.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is probably unfair of me, considering I have not actually seen either movie, but isn't the plot of The Muppets identical to that of 2002's Disney-Henson production The Country Bears, right down to the protagonist being a bear/puppet raised by humans?

Shit somebody better tell Hans Christian Andersen that "The Ugly Duckling" is just a rip-off of The Country Bears before there's trouble
posted by mightygodking at 4:45 PM on November 29, 2011


"I know people love to blame Spielberg and Lucas for creating the modern blockbuster age, but at least when they decided to pay tribute to their inspirations, they did so in interesting ways. Spielberg has talked about how his frustrations at hearing that only English filmmakers could direct James Bond movies led to the creation of Indiana Jones, and Lucas was working out his love of Flash Gordon when he created 'Star Wars.' Those are healthy ways to work through your love of something, and absolutely make sense as important pieces in the creative process. What's scary is how these days, filmmakers wouldn't bother with that last step, the part where you take your inspirations and run them through your own filter."

For what it's worth, this was exactly why Kill Bill is crap. Tarantino took the sub-genres he loved and barely repurposed them for his quasi-epic.

Feh. Again, I say feh.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:07 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's been truly bizarre, though, is the way the mainstream has slowly headed in the same direction, and without anyone noticing it...

Tons of people have noticed it. Star Wars rather quickly became worse then fan fiction in it's narrative. The new Doctor Who has largely been written on the toilet and it shows. Thor was so mind bogglingly horrible people who love horrible movies couldn't stomach it. There's a lot of great stuff out there as well, and it does well too, but it takes a certain level of competency to produce it and when you can broadcast nonsense like Doctor Who and be popular, it will continue to be just as awful.
posted by juiceCake at 5:28 PM on November 29, 2011


If "originality" describes works that are not derivative, then it has never existed.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


All these tropes have happened before, and all thse tropes will happen again

OH FUCK I DID IT TO BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
posted by localroger at 5:56 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The link in that article to the new Muppet movie's original ending now makes me kind of retroactively disappointed in the ending they filmed. I much prefer it to what was filmed, from Statler and Waldorf redeeming themselves to Tex-as-anti-Walter having his laughter quite literally knocked loose by Gonzo.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:26 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Movies from fanfic? Awesome!

[sits back and waits for Hollywood producer to call about Thundarr the Barbarian-Alien crossover epic.]
posted by hot_monster at 6:58 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like Moffat's Who well enough (well, inconsistently well enough; see my rants on here on the sexism in the last season). But the audio dramas are loads better in terms of writing. I don't know why the BBC can't get the audio drama writers to write for the show or something.

pts is right, though. I suspect many of these writers suffer from slavish love for the characters--worse than the original authors, even. And to write well, you have to be a bit of a bastard to your characters.

At the time this was unheard of, and even considered a bit crass, but ST:TMP fissioned off a bunch of other ST:whatevers, which kicked off several other genre reboots and ultimately gave us the meltdown that is the modern comic book movie.

TMP wasn't a reboot, but a continuation. It's a fundamentally different thing--actually what Who is doing, even now--and I suspect much more complex. Rather than treating your characters like archetypes, you have to treat them as people, and let the passage of time have an impact on them. You have to let them be mortal, rather than rehashing the same stories over and over again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


TMP wasn't a reboot, but a continuation. It's a fundamentally different thing--actually what Who is doing, even now--and I suspect much more complex. Rather than treating your characters like archetypes, you have to treat them as people, and let the passage of time have an impact on them. You have to let them be mortal, rather than rehashing the same stories over and over again.

You know, that's one of the things I like about Star Trek II and Star Trek VI: they're both about aging. Jim Kirk celebrates his fiftieth birthday at the beginning of The Wrath Of Khan. He became captain of the Enterprise at 30 and was now an Admiral again, working behind a desk until his past comes back to bite him in the ass. Very few franchises ever acknowledge that their characters age, and in this movie he not only hits the half-century mark, he finally meets his son, a grown man in his mid-twenties. On top of that, he has to defeat an enemy he thought he'd taken care of twenty years ago. Oh, and also, he loses his oldest friend in the end. It's space opera done right, that movie.

It's not as thematically laden (and doesn't hold up to subsequent relaunches nearly as well thanks to some plotholes a mile wide,) but Star Trek VI hinges on Kirk being a man in his sixties who's stubborn and has to deal with a galaxy changing around him, a man who (literally) has to make way for The Next Generation. I think his signoff in that movie is the main reason his return in Generations has always bothered me. (I mean, besides the fact that Generations is a tremendous waste of talent and technology.)
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:32 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Phone> Take Comiket, for example, a large-scale conventions dedicated to the showcasing of home-made comics by amateurs (many of those derivative works like you talk about). Apart from artist's alleys at conventions (which are still, I think, a sideshow rather than the main attraction), is there such an equivalent in North America?

Furry cons.

The "dealer's room" in a furry con is full of amateurs and semi-pros hawking their wares directly to the fans, doing art right there, and taking commissions. The "artist's alley" is basically where you end up if you're too slow on the draw to score a table in the dealer's room. The furthest you get away from this is the occasional table manned by a small press, rather than a solo creator and her assistant if she's lucky.
posted by egypturnash at 9:59 PM on November 29, 2011


Also, my thoughts upon seeing the article title: "geeze, another Avengers movie? Didn't the one with Sean Connerey tank?"

I was disappointed to see he meant the superhero group. *sadface*
posted by egypturnash at 10:01 PM on November 29, 2011


We can only hope that Marvel's Avengers movie will have scenes as sublime as this.
posted by twirlip at 12:00 AM on November 30, 2011



I have mixed emotions about this. I've been a fan-fic writer even before I knew what it was. (Star Trek is THE gateway drug!)

What's fun about fan fiction is that you can bend the characters to your will. I'd like to think that I'm one of those thoughtful writers that pts talks about. I'm probably just a shipper though.

Oddly enough, my own love story reads like a cheesy fan fiction, but I digress.

I saw The Muppet Movie over the weekend and while I enjoyed it, I also think that there were some major flaws in it. It dragged at times, there were cop outs (abbreviated gathering of the clan...if The Blues Brothers could devote an hour to getting the bank back together, The Muppets could do a bit more than MONTAGE!) and the music was sub-par. Not a memorable song in the whole film.

One of the flaws of Fan Fiction is that we love the characters so much that we coddle them story-wise. Everything has to come out okay at the end or else we feel unfulfilled. Like we went into a 7-11 for a slurpee and the machine was broken so we settled for a popsicle. So one author's attempts to breathe life into a tired story arc, can actually backfire and leave the audience feeling like they missed something.

It's a thin line, and it's getting thinner.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older "You can imagine the effect of feeling that if you...  |  When you're the 44th largest u... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments