February 7th, 2013


On Acquisitions and Fandoms

It occurred to me that I never fully gathered my thoughts about Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. People have asked me over the past few months and I've posted in different places like on Facebook and in the diversity thread in the expanded universe part of the forums on theforce.net.

I remember being a kid and discovering Star Wars and being told that my fandom would be a fleeting thing. I think for most kids, fandom is a fleeting thing. Things I used to enjoy when I was younger that I do not obsess over now include My Little Pony, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Firefly (don't get me fucking started.) Fandoms that I will probably stick around in include A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and my mainstay and "gateway drug," Star Wars.

Over time, my relationships with these fandoms have changed. This evolution can kind of be informally encapsulated in this blog at Social Justice League: How to be a fan of problematic things. Over time, things become boring or less relevant or less exciting. You begin to more deeply critique the things you once enjoyed (what the hell, Firefly.)

Back in 2009 during the RaceFail debate, a fan, obsession_inc, coined the following terms: Celebratory fandom, Affirmational fandom, and Transformative fandom

Celebratory fandom is a giant umbrella encompassing both affirmational fandom and transformative fandom. Keeping in mind that we shouldn't be essentialist in our conceptualization of fandom, affirmational fandom is loosely defined as a "creator-sanctioned" realm of fandom that is creator-mediated or at minimum, strongly creator-influenced. There is usually a vertical hierarchy of some sort. Furthermore, these spaces are primarily white and male dominated. Oftentimes these affirmational fandom arenas have some institutional bite [eg. Worldcon, SFWA, Enigma(?)] On the other hand, transformative fandom is a more uh, laissez-faire fandom space that doodles in the margins and can be quite marginalized. These are the fans who subvert, who slashfic, who critique and deconstruct. It's a much more horizontal space (no designated leadership, HQ, or authorial fiat) and is represented more largely by fans who are mostly women and/or people of color, queer, etc. (More here on both these topics.)

This is not to say that a person can't be a part of affirmational fandom in one fandom and then part of transformative fandom in another fandom, or shift between both back and forth or over time, but I do think that fundamentally there is a difference in philosophy and approach to fandom depending on which end of this spectrum you are on.

For example, with Game of Thrones fandom started out very firmly entrenched in affirmational fandom. I posted on creator-endorsed message boards with clear hierarchies and was part of this pretty well organized fan club called the Brotherhood without Banners. Occasionally, people in these communities would say horrifically sexist and racist things. I hung in there, though, because I thought this was what true fans of this book series did. 95% of the time it was great to gush about how cool the books were and share brilliant theories demonstrating my skills at conjecture and reading comprehension. The other 5% of it was reading soul crushing sexist or racist crap. Booping around the forum with a gender-neutral screen name was an interesting experience, too. There is a subtle shift in how people talk to you when they assume you are a white male. I did eventually leave this part of affirmational fandom (thank-effing god, their leader is a racist, sexist, hypocritical asshole), floating around until I rediscovered transformative fandom for Game of Thrones on livejournal (ontd_asoiaf!) and tumblr (if you read the books, I am in love with the biting satire at RobbStarkolypse, spoilers ahoy.) In the realm of transformative fandom I can crack jokes about Samwell's "fat pink mast" without aggravating fanboys who don't like it when people talk about penises or poke fun at George RR Martin for writing slow. Should I chose, I can explore transformative fanwork without being lectured about it. It's nice.

Another example: Avatar fandom. Believe it or not, there are still fans that are extremely upset that M. Night Shyamalan did not get to make a movie sequel. I know this because occasionally I hear from them. This is the hardcore definition of affirmative fandom. They thought the The Last Airbender adaptation was awesome. Why? Because it was part of their franchise and therefore it had to be--and those stinky, stinky not-true fans who complained bitterly about discrimination in casting sank the cruise boat. "You are not a true fan" was lobbed at me an astounding number of times by fans, journalists, and even academics because of the false belief that fandom cannot and does not actually critique and deconstruct (transformative) but only worships and commodifies (affirmative).

I'll always be thankful that Star Wars was my introduction to fandom because it was a fandom that really became galvanized and straddled the middle between affirmative fandom and transformative fandom. Fans radically shifted from heaping glory upon the creator to deluging the creator with critique. (Quite frankly, seeing people dogpile on Jar Jar inoculated me to the idea that anything in fandom could be considered sacrosanct.) As a Star Wars fan in non-Star Wars spheres this actually led to socially awkward situations in fandoms where criticizing the Great Creator is taboo. (Wait, you mean I can't tactfully and haltingly say: "Joss Whedon is clueless in some arenas" because to you he is a brilliant, brilliant man?)

With all that out of the way, how do I feel about Disney buying Star Wars?

1. I own stock in Disney. I bought Disney stock in 2008 prior to the acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm. My skinny retirement account made money off of both of these acquisitions.

2. Star Wars (and Lucasfilm by extension) was biggest independent fandom franchise in the world. There are no other big, independent franchises the size of Star Wars. Now there are none. Most other major fandoms are controlled by studio interests. When they are not, they are shifted in that direction one they get too big by economic forces (fandom is a commodity). (Game of Thrones is a good example.) Lucasfilm was one of the only independent, creator-run studios that could even dream to compete with big media conglomerates.

3. Being independent allowed Lucasfilm to test drive different ideas without studio interference. This happened for better or for worse.

4. Star Wars sucks at diversity. Like seriously. In multiple dimensions. Really bad.

5. When George Lucas tried to make a movie with an all black cast, Hollywood turned him down. Thankfully, his independent studio was able to make it himself. But now that structure that allows for this kind of independent creation via Lucasfilm is gone.

6. Disney sucks at diversity at least as much as Star Wars if not worse. Prince of Persia starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Johnny Depp as Tonto. Weird implicit messaging to kids through Disney Princesses and Marvel. Disney is horrible at diversity.

I'm a "transformative" fan now so I guess even if Disney shits all over Star Wars I can still hang onto the parts I like about it, critique all over the parts I dislike, and maintain a head-shaking sense of humor.

Well, unless they whitewash Boba Fett. If you do that I will fucking cut you.