Monday, July 9, 2018

Fan-Made Content Doesn't Have to be Bad

In this digital era of ours, people can create and share information and art like never before.  Unfortunately, a lot of it is terrible.

Some purposefully and masterfully so.

Those familiar with the term "fanart" or "fanfiction" know that these types of media often face derision from "real" "professionals."  This is something I myself have had a lot of struggles with.  Fanfiction is fun and easy to write and I enjoy it.  (Shameless plug: here's a sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise!)  But I'm loathe to admit that to a mixed audience because of the stigma attached to it.

The thing is, fan content isn't all terrible.  For some people, this is merely a way to exercise a talent.  Like a marathon runner going to the gym and hitting an elliptical bike.  It's low-impact, it's easy, it's a good way to stay in shape.

I am strongly against gate-keeping of most types because I think it's just a shitty attitude to have.  Also because, years ago, I met someone at a party who had the nerve to ask me if I was "really" into Iron Man or "just" into Robert Downey, Jr.  Which is unfair as a) they are not mutually exclusive (RDJ happens to be a great actor, and I loved him in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and b) how can you not be "really" into Iron Man?

Name three of his albums!

But one area of gatekeeping I myself have been guilty of is scoffing at anyone who is "writing a book."  That's because so many people, especially in college, say they're writing a book when what they mean is, they have an idea for a book and maybe created and titled a Word document.  As a fairly prolific writer myself, this really rustles my jimmies, because when I tell people I wrote a book, I mean I actually wrote a book.  In fact I write about one a year.  (Shameless plug: here's the same sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise from before!) Yet I find myself embarrassed to share them because they're often based on pre-existing franchises or use licensed characters.

That being said, I'm coming around to the idea that we should judge things based on their merit.

While terrible fanart and fanfictions abound, Marvel has no shortage of incredibly talented fans who produce all sorts of amazing art and work.

And it's not limited just to digital media.

Although I'm going to tell you right now that there is porn of every conceivable pairing in the Marvel universe at this point.
Credit to alby_mangroves

There's costuming...

...and animation (look no further than Hishe's How It Should Have Ended series, which gets tons of credit for the Marvel-inspired logo alone) and cakes...

...and event creation and grassroots PR.  Fans have cheerfully made their own promos for no other reason than they enjoyed doing it. It's so common there's even a name for it: fan labor.

Let's not forget Hawkeye was the most anticipated character of Infinity War, and he wasn't even in it.
The Marvel hype machine is an unstoppable Juggernaut.

A good example of this sort of promo work includes the creation of the subreddit /r/ThanosDidNothingWrong, a forum that takes its name from the Hitler Did Nothing Wrong memeThis subreddit hit headlines today with their event entitled "The Snappening," during which they banned half the subreddit in a tribute to Thanos's destruction of half the universe in Infinity War.  Seriously, it was covered by Newsweek.

༼ つ ◕_ ◕ ༽つ give ban ༼ つ ◕_ ◕ ༽つ

This meme is a thing now.

Watching Banos kick half of a forum off for the sole purpose of referencing a movie was a surreal moment for me.  And not just because the total number banned was over 350,000.  It was surreal to see nearly a million people get involved in what should have been a trivial and childish stunt, but instead brought together a huge number of people who proceeded to use the momentum to generate even more brain children from it.

 Fanart or not, some of the fan content generated is legit as hell.

"The Last Shwarma"

From shirts... tattoos... photos of installation pieces... the ubiquitous meme.

I made this and got my aunt to unironically share it on FaceBook.

Google the Winter Soldier "plums" meme if you want to fall down an Internet rabbit hole.

Even the directors and actor who played Banos Thanos got in on the fun.

 And some of the fan art is so good, it gets mistaken for the real thing, such as the above fan art cover, which was based on the Iron Man 3 movie posters (not vice versa).

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm happy to see the ways in which life imitates art.  Since the beginning of the Marvel movie franchise ten years ago, people have begun building real-life Iron Man suits.  Fiction inspires people to do great things.  And gatekeeping shit by asking people whether or not they're "real fans" doesn't benefit anybody.  In my opinion, the Marvel movies are one example of a media adaption that made said media more accessible to more people, and in doing so, opened the doors for a lot of talented artists (illustrators, writers, costumers, actors, comedians, et cetera) to hone their craft using a pre-existing template.

Sure, there's plenty of really terrible fanart and fanfiction out there, it should all be judged on its own merit.  Because there's so much good fanart and fanfiction, and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water here.  There is plenty of work that is truly phenomenal, and some of it frankly outshines the original source material.  Fan work helps mythologies to grow and evolve; after all, before the era of copyright law, people happily paid tribute to established entities in stories, art, music, and other compositions.  This is the whole basis of folk lore.  Fanfiction, then, is the digital media era's version of that.

Although it's been around longer than the internet.

With the rich mythology already established, people get a little kickstart for their work, and I think that's a good thing.  (Obviously, of course, I am biased in a big way.  Shameless plug #3: please read my sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise!)

And Marvel is just one example of a single franchise.  I haven't even touched on other fandoms, like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or Pokemon or any of the other various medias that capture people's hearts and minds.

I think that in the modern era, fandoms often take the place of organized religion.  (See "Mormonism," above.)  After all, they provide a sense of community; they often deliver a message and provide guidelines on societal expectations; they offer people a sense of morality and justice and hope; and they often have the words and images to express what we cannot.  At least, not until they give us their voice.

I hope more people find that fan creations and the fruits of fan labor are a springboard for their natural talent, and that others can forgive the initial lack of creativity for the end product, which often surpasses the original.

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