Searching for the Spirit

I like to consider myself a fan. I want to think of myself as an early adopter. I think the closest I can come to being ‘hipster’ was the fact I liked Norah Jones before she became popular. Then at some point, I stopped paying attention to the top 40 and listened to what I wanted to listen to whether or not anyone else liked it. This means I listen to a huge variety of different things depending on my mood and my nerves. It is the same for the television I watch. If I can’t get into the idea of the story, then I’m not going to watch it or read it. It is hugely important to remember that people in general only pick up a book when they are lonely or bored. (They’re more likely to turn to the television first now a days.)

But I still find it interesting the trends in what people are watching versus what they aren’t watching. What is big in the fan sphere?

Fans do crazy things, especially fans who create derivative works. They are willing to push the boundaries more than publishing houses and television shows because fan works are in a way the ultimate wish fulfillment. What does the fan want to see? Crossovers, Alternate Universes, pairings that no creator would put together. They take what is the comfort of the familiar, what they love, and push the boundaries of it until they find something they enjoy. (I’m talking in the most general of terms here because concrete examples could fill blog upon blog post. That’s not what this blog is about.) And the great thing about fans is they like to talk, in the safety of their computer screen. So while there will be fans who cannot understand the appeal of X, there will be another 100 fans who will try to explain it to them. (Even if it is impossible because no matter how much you explain, they just aren’t going to “get it.”)

These are things I have personally seen talked about openly in general fandom spaces.

People want happy stories. Gone are the days of the nitty gritty Christopher Nolan Batman film. The fan wants to be entertained. They want humor. They want a happy ending. They want to feel hope that there is good in the world. Brutal violence, especially against women, is not acceptable. Dark washed out color palettes are passé. People want Guardians of the Galaxy. Not Batman, but Starlord. Happy stories in fandom are called fluff or waff (warm and fuzzy feelings.) Fluff is a huge thing in fandom circles. This crosses through every age group. Teenagers want fluff because they want relief from the pressure of school and the idea that the hero gets their love interest. Adults want relief from the pressures of holding a job and paying builds and to feel safe and secure even if it is just a story. Happy stories help the reader feel like they aren’t alone. There are others out there that want the same things they do, desire the same type of companionship they want with the type of people they desire. (And there are fluffy stories out there for every taste imaginable.)

Fans love new mixes. They want to see the story pushed beyond what we are currently being given. Fans are the masters of the crossover. A huge fan phenomena within the last few years was called Superwholock, where they took the worlds of Supernatural, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes and mashed them together. If I was to read this I would expect time travelling, demon fighting protagonists who solve mysteries with quirky companions. (Whether or not this was actually what it was, I don’t know.) Comic books have been doing this sort of thing for years, creating alternate universes where characters are vampires or zombies. In fact, one of the major Marvel characters is Cable, a time travelling mutant soldier. Fans are ready for something different than “he or she is a supernatural creature that solves crime in a universe filled with every other supernatural creature.”

I’m not saying that genres like “they solve crime” or urban fantasy as such are going to go away. I’m saying fans want something different to read that is beyond that. They want adventures. They want comedy. They want family style stories. They want to see genres mixing in new and exciting ways.

A trend that has been extremely interesting to me lately is that characters can’t be flat cardboard cut outs anymore. You can’t hang clothes on them and call it good. The shows that are extremely popular have rich and dynamic characters, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men. Shows like the early seasons of Leverage that focus so much on the plot versus developing the characters wouldn’t survive in today’s environment. The staying power of Supernatural can be both attributed to plot (guys fight monsters) and to the fascination fans have with the characters of Sam, Dean and Castiel. Characters need to be fleshed out, given weaknesses and flaws.

Another interesting trend is that fans want women in roles that were previously filled by men. Fans want female doctors, scientists, police officers, action heroes. Mad Max: Fury Road got a lot of chatter because there was a female character playing the action stoic. Jurassic World brings up that there is a desire for the female archaeologist adventure type beyond Lara Croft. Video game companies that do not include a female player option get roundly called out by fans. This is a reflection of the world around. Since, World War 2 females have gone into the work force. They are out there doing things that men do every day. There are female fighter pilots, female scientists, female construction workers, female welders. It is ridiculous to ignore half of a gender dynamic. Females want to be more than mothers, wives and girlfriends. They have more stories to tell. Stories that are currently being told with men as the protagonists.

There is also a cry for diversity. Fans want to see heroes and protagonists like them. Some mean the race of the characters, others mean the sexual orientation. The scales are tipping away from the majority of Caucasian and towards African, Hispanic and Asian. There are more and more people in America being born of two races. Fans want their media to reflect that. American Girl dolls got it. MMORPGs get it. Star Stable has twelve different faces and skin types for girls to choose from. Hollywood is starting to get it. But it is more than just casting an African American man to play the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four. You see, they want to see their stories on the screen. They don’t necessarily want Hollywood to take what is a white role in comic canon and change it so it is now the role for an African American. They want to see the canonical stories of black heroes make it to the big screen, characters like Storm, the Black Panther, Falcon, Cloak (of Cloak and Dagger duo.) They are disappointed that Marvel chose again to do the story of Peter Parker rather than the story of Miles Morales in yet another Spiderman reboot. The stories that involve sexual orientation need to step beyond the ‘homosexual tragedy’ to reflect the changing times.

Of course, by adding more diversity to a story, there is a huge risk because there will always be an accusation of ‘not doing it right.’ However, if we don’t take that step and learn from any sorts of mistakes that we make, there is no way to learn how to do it ‘correctly’ or whether or not we need to learn to ignore that criticism.

These are the trends I’ve noticed. These are the cries of dissatisfaction waiting to be filled. To me, these are the ‘spirit of the times.’

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  1. What is the next big thing? | Ginny O.

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