Fandom Über Alles
Writing in Salon, after receiving poison pen letters for his warmish review of Star Wars: Über Alles, Andrew O’Hehir notes something that I’ve long found weird about the dynamics of fandom:
Why is it important to fans of a hugely popular movie, which has already dominated the entertainment media for weeks and will surely wind up among the top-grossing releases of all time, that no one disagrees with them or adopts a more detached perspective? Why are dissenters from a mass-culture wave phenomenon like “The Force Awakens” or the “Avengers” and “Dark Knight” movies so often subjected to venom and name-calling, as if they had simultaneously run over someone’s dog, spat on a wounded veteran and begun a conversation by loudly saying, “Not to be racist, but …”?
As O’Hehir points out, there is a strange cultural assumption that simply not embracing a popular event film (say the horrific The Avengers) is an attack on those who swim with the tide, marking one out as an insufferable snob somewhere between Andy Warhol and the Duchess de Guermantes, when, in reality, snobs have no power or significance in contemporary culture anymore:
Despite the total global victory of ComiCon-style pop culture on all fronts – which happened years or decades ago, at this point – the last ghostly vestiges of the old, defeated high culture still linger on the margins of the battlefield, wearing pince-nez and translucent cardigans and murmuring in disapproval. Victory was total, yes, but not yet totalitarian. Fans of space operas and comic-book movies and other dominant popcorn genres in film and TV can dimly remember, or think they can remember, a not-so-distant past when “culture” was the province of severe-looking Susan Sontag people out of New Yorker cartoons who looked down on them and viewed everything they loved with contempt.
But, those days are long past, if they ever existed. By the early 80s, Pauline Kael was already recording that the “kiddie matinee” had fully taken over the movie theaters and nascent multiplexes. The most successful movies released in theaters are aimed first and foremost at teenage boys with some hopeful appeal to less important demographics, such as adults and women. While there are plenty of great films and directors today, the heyday of the “art houses” in which directors like Bergman or Fellini were at least sufficiently well-known to parody, has passed. Similarly, the modern equivalent of a “literary event” would be the release of a new Harry Potter or Twilight book; aimed primarily at children but strangely appealing to adults looking to escape adulthood for a few hours.
In other words, so-called “high culture” is the true guilty pleasure in the digital age, the sort of strange taste that social misfits keep to themselves for fear of swimming against the tide. The geeks rule the cultural roost and, as plenty of silicon valley employees discovered long ago, more than a few geeks are aspiring bullies at heart.