Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Collectivism: The Fandom Menace

by Grant Gibbons

Fandom and Individualism

   While being a celebrated manifestation of individualism, fandom—cultures consisting of fans: sci-fi, fantasy, celebrities, sports, etc—represents a portion of society who are in danger of exposure to political and social propaganda. You can find it hidden in today's media; whether it's in a catchy song, or in the dialog of a trusted hero, it has found its way into our daily media consumption. Some media producers have a sort of 'vulcan death grip' on their fans. They produce entertaining content, fans consume, and whatever message was injected in that media is often unknowingly digested by the viewers. And there are A LOT of viewers!

   Going to a Comic Con [1] is enough to see that people are influenced by the media they view. This is a convention where fans of comic-based media gather to see their favorite authors and actors, and they get to show off their home-made costumes—and believe me, thousands of people dress up. For some of these fans, their lives revolve around their sci-fi/fantasy/super-hero passion. Their social circles consist of people with the same taste in entertainment. I have a friend who with other college students even produced their own Star Wars short film, Emergence [2]. In this culture people are drawn into separate groups—the Trekkies [3](or Trekkers, as some prefer to be called), the Star Wars fans [4](there's some debate as to an actual nickname for them), Bronies [5](My Little Pony), Potterheads [6](Harry Potter [6a]), Twihards [7](Twilight), or Ringers [8](Lord of the Rings). Seems innocent enough, but let's go back in time and see past examples of "fandom" going south.

Fandom Defined

   Before any amount of history lesson, I suppose it would be appropriate to properly explain what 'fandom' is. The Collins English Dictionary [9] defenition of fandom [10]:
"the state of being a fan or enthusiast"
The word 'fan' [11] deriving from 'fanatic'—and a fan is someone who is "an enthusiastic devotee" (a Merriam-Webster [12] online dictionary definition) for a person or a thing. You could call a devout Catholic a fan, or a New York Yankees merchandise-collector a fan. By these definitions it will be easy for me to illustrate how "fandom" has been around for centuries.

Fandom and Individualism in their Infancy

   There are many examples of early fanatics. I could refer to ancient Israelites—their religious devotion; the ancient Egyptians and their superstitious obsessions and polytheism; or perhaps I could reference ancient royal menageries, illustrating man's fascination with animals. There's quite a history of man's preoccupation with things. Often people would make collections, like the royal menageries to show their "fandom". People today still collect things [13], still obsess over things, and continue to occupy their time, thoughts, and resources attempting to satisfy this human desire to identify as a distinct personally. Often these fanatical interests influence a person enough to change his/her life-style, but fandom seemed to be a communal thing for a lot of history.

    Individualism came in smaller, more personal packages in times past. In ancient Rome the decoration of burial plots was a way to bring individualistic value to the deceased. A nice little tribute for some. Roman sculptures of the early AD centuries depicted every wrinkle and measured detail of a person, bringing to light how unique each human is. As church art changed in the 4th century, so did the artistic ideal of individualism. It wasn't until the Rennaisance that the ancient Roman humanist/individualist style came back and was propelled forward, never to be forgotten again. I think art in these cases was simply a demonstration of the political and religious values of the society. The 20th century was no exception to this. Art reflected general values, but it also spurred values moving forward.

20th Century Propaganda: the Child of War and Technology

Nazi propaganda promoting the
building of Germany by buying German-made goods.
   Often driving political culture in society is propaganda. In recent history with the advent of greater printing, television, radio, and internet, propaganda has saturated the media. From the classic "Uncle Sam wants YOU for U.S. army" ads to Hitler's German pride posters, the 20th century was soaking with it. As in the examples of Uncle Sam and Hitler, propaganda often uses its leverage to help win wars. People become fans of war culture, idolizing war heroes and romanticizing battle; mission accomplished, the country's battalion is bolstered, and technology helped get us there.

   In these times past, there were powerful leaders in charge of the groups: a prophet, a pharaoh, a dictator, or even a president of the United States. This also hasn't totally changed, but some of today's leaders are hidden behind our entertainment.

   Have you ever seen Frosty Returns [14], a supposed sequel to the 1969 cartoon, Frosty the Snowman?  If there ever was a movie with a ridiculous amount of agenda-driven storyline, IT IS THIS MOVIE! It is dripping with environmentalist propaganda—for children. Even though I'm an environmental advocate to a point, this was embarrassing. The story and entertaining value were compromised at the expense of shoving environmentalist ideals down the throats of the young, unsuspecting viewers. To add credibility, they got famous voice actors to represent the characters, like John Goodman and Jonathan Winters. Fortunately for Frosty, I don't think his personal fan-base was relatively large to begin with.

   Disney, On the other hand, is among the greatest money-making markets on Earth, with a Facebook following of over 50 million people (Frosty the Snowman only almost reaches 650,000... Okay, I suppose that's still a decent following, but not compared to Disney). Disney produces billions of dollars in revenue each year [15] from its merchandise, film, theme parks, and outside companies that it owns(not the least of which being Marvel, a company with its own fan-following). In just about any corner of the world you'll find disney fans with their movies and merchandise.

Individualists FANning the Flames of Collectivism

   Living in a world (or at least a country) that glorifies individualism, we go to all sorts of measures to proclaim our uniqueness. This is particularly true through social media. We spend times on the various platforms declaring what we "like". Our distinct personalities emerge as our interests pile up in a curation of show-and-tell.

   Like I said in my introductory video, I'm a Disney fan, maybe not as much as the above couple, but I feel like that makes me unique, because I'm my own kind of Disney fan. I pick and choose what I like from Disney's seemingly endless universe of things to enjoy. When I saw Disney's Frozen, and felt that it had hidden agendas, I realized that by identifying myself as a "Disney fan", I was increasing the likelihood of me eating whatever Disney fed me—whether or not it was "nutritious". So I've decided to moderate my love for this company, this company that pretty well embodies my childhood… I suppose it's easier said than done. I've decided that the absolute fan approach has its dangers. Without moderation, I could easily see some of my personal ideals being trumped by values of Hollywood filmmakers. For an individual, I'm starting to feel I've submitted myself to a collectivist group, subliminally run by Steven Spielberg [16] and John Lasseter [17].

   While these media producers dictate what we see when we watch their media, ironically, an opposite principle plays into this . Fans of film, literature, and music can have an influence on what producers put in media. Because of social media (and again, thanks to ideals of individualism so present in our culture), many producers connect more personally with fans and seek their input. Producers don't always give way to consumer requests, as is apparent in the recent issue involving many Captain America protesting with the hashtag #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend; but some producers confess their fans have played a role in making production choices(Jill Slattery [18]). Certainly it would be vital for the main fans to be appeased at times—it's not good to bite the hand that feeds you! This is interesting because then it becomes a democratic-collectivist group, where everyone can weigh in on the artistic decisions in a movie. In this way, I suppose we can choose what we want to see in movies, assuming we can properly influence producers, but they still make the decisions and we're still influenced by their media, so personal moderation must prevail.

In Defense

photo cred: Christopher Michael
   I can tell I need to defend the "Hollywood" people a little bit. It's true that there are many filmmakers with good intentions, who aren't out to subliminally induct us all into a "save the penguins [19]" regime. I suppose it could be said that there isn't a movie that doesn't promote SOME ideal; perhaps my point is that there are certain ideals that should and shouldn't be presented, which illustrates my next point.
   I also believe that not all movie propaganda is bad. There are many producers who intentionally write story-lines with messages of kindness, integrity, family unity, and peace, to name a few. Even Frozen, with what I perceive as intentional propaganda, does have a direct message of charitable-familial love triumphing in the end. This I think can be a good use of influential content creation. Which I would encourage filmmakers to continue in artistic and meaningful ways.

   In the end, there is only a little defense that can protect us from this negative propaganda influence in the media—unless of course, you get rid of all computers, devices, and TVs in your home, that would be a sure-fire defense! But beyond militant abstinence as a protection, you can be selective about what reaches you. When you choose to attach yourself to a sect of fandom here are a couple of things you can do as a safeguard:

Become a Film Critic

    Carolyn Pirtle [20], Assistant Director of Liturgical Studies at Notre Dame University, is a self-proclaimed expert of movie viewing/critiquing. She revealed to me how she judges media, as we've corresponded via email. She says she judges movies upon their artistic quality—writing, acting, scoring, photography, etc... She removes herself from the content of the movie, so she can interpret deeper meanings in the films, and not get caught up in sequences—thus remaining unaffected by the more distracting elements of film. So first is to create a set of standards by which you consume entertainment, and be a film critic.

Don't Worship Idols

   There is another principle that will help you reject underlying agendas in media. It is to allow yourself some disconnect from your fandom. Being critical of movies is a step toward this, but for me it requires being a critique of Disney as company, or any company I'm a fan of, and recognizing that these are not perfect companies. Like Captain America said "There's only one God… and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that". In other words, you may find it wise not to worship the object of your fandom—they're imperfect products made by imperfect people.


    Congratulations, you've made it to the end of my blog-post! By now, you should feel like Frodo at the base of Mount Doom, about to destroy the ring. Hopefully you've learned something along the journey as well! Let me just wrap this up for you, and I promise Gollum won't come running to bite of any apendages here!

   Monitoring fandom will protect our individualism by safeguarding us from negative influences hidden in the media. Filmmakers, book authors, and graphic artists are the rhetorical geniuses of our day—they know how to persuade us—so we must be equipped against their tactics. If we're too endeared to their products and online content, we may fall prey to their intentions to guide us to agree with their political and social views. I believe it's a problem that's not apparent, but very present. We can only fix it by carefully selecting what we view, how we view it, and promoting positive messages in place of the negative.



















17. http://john lasseter imdb




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