By and large, franchises aren't perceived as art. Yet, in the ethos of fan culture, many perceive themselves to be the sacred gatekeepers of their favorite franchises. In reality, it's not that serious.
Through the black magic of Twitter and the open comment section of Rotten Tomatoes (RIP), fans become more than mere critics; they become self-appointed co-creators.
In the feedback loop created by Comic-Con, fan conventions, and the cacophonous online blogging community, franchises have practically started crowd-sourcing their scripts. Juggernauts like Marvel or Star Wars keep an ear to the ground for what fans want to see next (read as: what will reap the most profits), but, as AV Club notes, "Fan service has gotten almost too good of a rap as it has worked its way into mainstream film, often with considerable skill." The nature of fan entitlement lies in the bizarre, pseudo-intimate exchanges between creators and consumers.
While the Internet is a toxic wasteland where strange life forms occasionally cling to each other for survival, targeted hate is often a sign of fan entitlement at its most toxic. Before Captain Marvel earned a record-breaking $1 billion in the box office, a flood of Rotten Tomatoes reviewers attempted to cancel the Brie Larson flick with negative reviews before the film was even released. The backlash was flagged as a misogynist response to Larson being an outspoken female superhero. Commenters attempted the same sabotage in 2018 against Black Panther's all-black cast, and the year before that against the female-lead in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As Birth.Movies.Death critiqued, "These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art."
But, by and large, franchises aren't perceived as art. To casual consumers, they're escapist fodder; to creators, they're capitalist endeavors (or, to many writers, they're a way to barely eke out a living). Yet, in the ethos of fan culture, many perceive themselves to be the gatekeepers of their favorite franchises. After all, fan experiences are only becoming more immersive, from interactive Harry Potter amusement parks to bars with Game of Thrones or Doctor Who themes. You can fill your bedroom with Funko Pops, live tweet while watching your favorite series and attend fan conventions on the weekends. Between merchandise and social events, pop culture is always trying to get personal. For some, it becomes private, fervent, and ideological, at which point fandom isn't just about loving a character and the fictional world they inhabit; it becomes a belief system.
In response, real creators are paying attention to fan posts, rants, and questions. Avengers director Joe Russo's live-streamed Q&As through Instagram features, stars like Chadwick Boseman log in to answer fans' questions live on Facebook, and Shazam's Zachary Levi live-streamed himself scolding the trolls who attacked Brie Larson on Captain Marvel's Rotten Tomatoes page. Entertainment media isn't just interacting with a screen anymore, as fans unify to find their voice and creators listen to what the public wants.
But so far, that's resulted in pandering to fandoms' lowest common denominators. Franchises resort to recycling profitable hits, leading to this record-breaking year for reboots. Major studios like Disney are literally banking on 90s kids' nostalgia and the latest CGI technology to dazzle movie-goers with live-action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King. Meanwhile, adaptations of beloved books to film target established fans of post-apocalyptic worlds and love stories featuring dying teens.
To be fair, fan service has also given Hollywood incentive to develop projects with more inclusive representation. As one screenwriter describes: "Before fan conventions became mainstream events, before social media, it was a simpler time. For minorities, crappier times. For example, LGBT+ kids who lived in tough environments didn't have such easy access to a safe space online, like they do now. Fan platforms have made it so much better for many people who now know they're not alone." Would Marvel have produced its megahits Black Panther and Captain Marvel were it not for woke™ Twitter? Possibly. Public sentiment is certainly driving the studio's development of its first LGBTQ+ superhero for its 2020 release The Eternals.
On the other hand, plenty of fans are still dissatisfied–and loudly so. Disney's Frozen 2 doesn't look like it's actualizing the Tumblr-driven movement to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, and Harry Potter fans aren't shy about perceiving racist or sexist undertones in the Fantastic Beasts series. That's not to mention the Potterheads who are perpetually vexed by J.K. Rowling shoe-horning minority representation into her series. And while some praise Marvel's development of an LGBTQ+ hero, others' intolerance has already generated a petition demanding that the studio kill the project so as to "not indoctrinate children with homosexual ideology."
At best, fan service incentivizes Hollywood to be more representative of diverse identities. At worst, entitled fans hijack the creative process of filmmakers, inject culture war politics into escapist entertainment, and ruin all that is good and precious about mindless consumption of media, including Jason Momoa's bare chest.
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