Dec 29 2010

The Long Dark Fandom of the Soul

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I am not sure what happened this Christmas, but Santa delivered a load of downers to some of my favorite geeks. As we round on 2011 a few voices are speaking to us and I suspect that fandom is going to reach critical mass this year.

Javier Grillo-Marxwatch has written a piece for IO9 that details how he went cold turkey on George Lucas' epic and what it did to his mind. He laments that the industry is stealing ideas "from the same two-hour movie and it has to stop. There just isn't enough meat on the carcass."  I can't say I disagree.

Patton Oswalt wrote a piece for Wired that is bound to ruffle a few feathers (like this guy's). He claims we are "on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever." He's not exactly wrong.  I think he's overstating it and his essay devolves into absurdity towards the end.  But the moment between a creation and the inevitable remix is shortening.  

The Director of the The Core made a statement at a recent symposium on Physics in Science that "he believes there is no reason why film makers should shy away from including good science, so long as it is not to the detriment of the story."(source) So even those of us who laugh at bad science in movies are now percieved as somehow wrong.

Back in July, Techland lamented that Comic-Con was killing nerd culture "in a broad and systemic and probably permanent way. Nerd culture is a counter-culture, and counter-cultures can die; in fact if there's one thing late-stage capitalism is good at, it's co-opting and killing counter-cultures. Viz. punk, the 60's, etc."

For my take on all of this I suspect that the root of it is probably the VCR.  Before the late 70s if you wanted to see a program on TV that you missed, you'd have to wait for it to be re-run. If you missed the re-run you'd have to wait for it to be re-broadcast either in syndication or on a special at some unknown point in the future. 

The cool movies and shows were ephemeral.  Comics were alittle better, you could save and trade them but they, too, got lost, thrown out, or sold and unless you knew exactly where to look they could be practically impossible to find. If you didn't enjoy them when you had them you would never enjoy them again.

Toys, lunchboxes, posters of Farrah, stickers, baseball cards.  These things transitioned through our lives and didn't stay except for a few much-treasured items.  Fore every person saved their childhoods thousands of others experienced theirs as temporary. But in the late 70s the home VCR changed things subtly. 

You could now rent or even BUY a move rather than see it in a theatre.  Rahter than miss a show you'd tape it. And suddenly there was a way to preserve the moment.  And once preserved it could be traded, shared and spread.

This is when toys began to have tie-ins.  When comics started to have movies (Superman anyone?) and Star Wars proved how lucrative tie-in marketing could be. For thirty years nobody has had to miss anything. And now with everyone being as connected as they are you can be sure that someone will have it to share. 

The world feeds on nostalgia becsue back then was a time when we had to extract every iota of enjoyment from a thing while we had it and so it tasted better, looked brighter, and touched us deeper.  The reason that the entertainment machine turns like it does is that it tugs at those strains of memory for its enjoyment and letsus remember how we felt rather than have to give us new things to feel. 

So I think that the few folks crying that fandom is on its final breath and that the nerds are diluting themselves into the culture are probably onto something.  But it will be a long time before all of us are dead and there are no memories left to tug on.

I think that new generations will learn to love just as hard on the things that they find in dusty corners and forgotten places.  They will cherish the hand-made and the virtually forgotten.  And it will be through their eyes that we, the ones who had to make do with the fleeting, will find that the things that last are the things that matter and not the things we remember.