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Old 01-15-2016   #1
Robert Adam Gilmour
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Topic Nominated The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

I made this thread partly for James Sucellus, because of his persistent anti-capitalist rants. I'm surprised I haven't seen him mention franchises, geek culture and the general ways in which I suppose capitalism damages art/entertainment. More than anything else, these things have made me hate capitalism, whether I can fairly blame it is something I'd like to see a discussion of.

I currently lack the patience to write a flowing, ordered piece, so what I tend to do in this situation is just make various points.

- I see a lot of people who identify as "geeks" (something I've never done) who seem to seek out things in terms of franchises. There may be standalone classics in this culture, but whenever I go on science fiction news sites, franchises dominate. It often comes across that geeks feel an obligation to like or at least be familiar with the most popular franchises. Eerily close to fitting into a readymade identity.

With the consumerism comes a fondness for trivia and lousy in-jokes. It would be unfair to say that even the majority of geeks conformed so closely to the stereotype. But I think these expectations between geeks are solidifying.

Perhaps one of the attractions of franchises is the communities built around them. Maybe the internet reinforces this because we no longer have to pay or look very hard to be a part of a fandom?

- My main issue with geek culture is that it seems to largely exist to reinforce its own worship of a relatively small group of selected passions. I'm not sure this would have happened without companies hyping something up then releasing a never ending stream of related hyped up products. Accumulating merchandise that pays tribute to favourite franchises is often a priority far ahead of trying new and unfamiliar stories.
Some people become unbalanced trying to believe in all this hype and justifying buying all this expensive stuff. It certainly made gave me silly fixations and anger.

I have some hope that geek culture can be rehabilitated. For all its social problems, Metal music fandom is a wonderful and dedicated community that truly nurtures the things it loves. You can easily find in-depth reviews of all but the most obscure albums. Its history is respected but there's plenty of bands who strive to be just as good or better than the classic bands.

Geek culture should ideally be a rigorously critical environment with everyone in search of highs. I don't take drugs and I'm not much into food but my personal goal as a fan is finding the best highs and tastes I can and letting others know where to get these expriences.

- I tend to be a bit suspicious of anything with "geek" in the title but I've enjoyed many episodes of Geek's Guide To The Galaxy podcast.

- Geek culture used to support martial arts films. Why did this stop?

- Why do Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and Tarzan persist? (I'm not necessarily against them continuing). How do public domain things like Cthulhu mythos spread within capitalism? How would these things and all the other franchises develop if they were all suddenly in public domain? Would there be many franchises within socialism?

I think people should resist doing adaptations or using pre-existing characters unless they feel they really couldn't express a specific set of ideas properly with a new creation.

I think the shared universe model (a revolving door of multiple creators using characters belonging to a company) is hugely overrated. It looks very deep and exciting from a distance but I feel it has more drawbacks than strengths.

- Intellectual Property farming can't help but create fatigue. I've heard that there will be Marvel, DC and even Star Wars films every year now. I've even heard a few companies say they wanted to follow Marvel's huge multimedia success with as much merchandise as possible, including Universal, who recently announced they wanted to have an inter-connected series of their monster films rebooted as action adventure films.
How can this not be depressing? Will this trend last?

- The first time I entered a Comic shop at age 10 or so, it was like going into a palace of dreams, I was interested in most things in the store. I never imagined I'd have difficulty finding something I wanted in them at my age now.

Reading Previews magazine used to be so exciting but a decade later I found it too infuriating and depressing to continue buying it. The bulk of the magazine is devoted to hyping up franchises and their merchandise. There may be some objects with craft and love put into them but most are shameless collectibles with minimal craft as can be imagined. Objects costing tens or hundreds of dollars, merely so it can sit on a shelf telling you that the person who bought it is a big fan of (x) franchise.

Do the large comic industries in America and Japan owe a large part of their existence to franchises? Most countries don't have much of a comics industry.

- A slight exception to my dislike of franchises made by a changing staff is videogames. The sequels are often refined and improved. If you want more of a certain type of game, you usually have to get the sequels. That's why I had a contuining interest in Castlevania and Zelda. Castlevania is for some fans, to a certain extent replaced by other games (Demon Souls/Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Bloodstained) fulfilling some of the same pleasures but Zelda doesn't have many substitutes for that kind of cosy rural solo quest fantasy.

- Am I being a bit unfair to geek culture?

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Old 01-16-2016   #2
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

James's persistent anti-capitalist rants are the sign of a good upbringing and basic personal integrity. Geek culture is a false idea of community mediated by corporations. Now that capitalism has conquered all available space, it has moved onto conquering time, and so the past is marketed to the present, achieving total stagnation. Profit margins maximized with reliable franchises. Let's all watch Star Wars and feel a part of something once again. Artistic innovation replaced with curation. So-called "genres" are a convenient way to stop thinking - just mix and match conventions for easy marketability. The Weird is the New Noir.
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Old 01-16-2016   #3
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

All this seems completely accurate to me, even down to heavy metal fandom having a more solid community.

"As the Director of one of the five greatest museums in our Eastern States has more than once remarked to me, From the Stone Age until now, what a decline!" - Ananda Coomaraswamy
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Old 01-16-2016   #4
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

Most geeks I know are fans of corporations meeting their expectations (with said expectations having been predetermined by these corporations) rather than artists or art challenging their expectations. I know people who gained personal enjoyment when Star Wars broke box office records and the amount of money Disney stood to make was revealed. Personally, I found the latest Star Wars film to be a box ticking exercise in living up to its own trailer, reminding people what the previous Star Wars films were like and not doing anything controversial.

I don't sneer at all people who like some corporate stage-managed stuff, as I think corporations through their power have managed to get hold of many, many talented people. In terms of superhero movies, I'm bored by Marvel's throwaway fluff, but I love Tim Burton's two Batman films and think Suicide Squad may be good. My own TLO avatars recently have been from Korean girl group pop music, in which the general message is one of rampant consumerism, though I suppose I would argue there's something somewhat somewhat socially transgressive about a man being a fan of these things, as I'm not really supposed to be and have sought them out.

My issue isn't that people like this corporate stuff. It's that people exclusively like the stuff they're initially told to like without looking outside that sphere at all, so they aren't receiving artistic nourishment outside of the most beige level. It's fine to enjoy some Hollywood blockbuster films, but people should be looking to always stretch themselves in terms of the art they consume. My biggest grievance with humanity in general is that few people take time to really think about what they like and why they like it, when to me these are hugely important questions that reveal much of the soul.

'I believe in what the Germans term Ehrfurcht: reverence for things one cannot understand.'
― Robert Aickman, An Essay

Last edited by James; 01-16-2016 at 01:48 PM.. Reason: Awkward typo.
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Old 01-16-2016   #5
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

Quote Originally Posted by James Sucellus View Post
My issue isn't that people like this corporate stuff. It's that people exclusively like the stuff they're initially told to like without looking outside that sphere at all, so they aren't receiving artistic nourishment outside of the most beige level. It's fine to enjoy some Hollywood blockbuster films, but people should be looking to always stretch themselves in terms of the art they consume. My biggest grievance with humanity in general is that few people take time to really think about what they like and why they like it, when to me these are hugely important questions that reveal much of the soul.
I couldn't agree more.

The times people have called me a snob for suggesting we watch a foreign film for once (for instance), I point out that they are the ones who are limiting what they watch (consume, etc.) - I'll watch anything they will and more. The main difference being that now I've sampled enough of a diversity of things to see how unsatisfying the crowd-pleasers usually are.

"As the Director of one of the five greatest museums in our Eastern States has more than once remarked to me, From the Stone Age until now, what a decline!" - Ananda Coomaraswamy
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Old 01-16-2016   #6
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

Watchmen Movie Bearbrick | Walyou

I can't remember what price this was originally but this was one of the loudest alarm bells I ever saw that things were getting really screwed up.
The Star Trek pizza cutter being a top selling item in Previews magazine was another.
There's also a Watchmen toaster.

Here's more
Geek Culture | Walyou

There was a time when I wanted to go into big geek culture forums and challenge people about this stuff but I just didn't have the time or patience. Who does? Even if someone managed a very pleasant tone and did their best not to anger anybody, you'd probably still be harassed for this.
Why have Batman writers been sent death threats? Why did some people who given Lord Of The Rings a less than perfect score get death threats.

I feel I'm just similar enough to these people that I genuinely care about them. I did have a fanboy stage, it wasn't nearly the worst, I did buy several pointless collectibles and wanted more at a time, I did have silly devotions.

There is a criticism of older comics fans that these supposedly more mature fans often have a similar worship for creators. I had this phase too. I was a Steve Ditko nut, it was mostly glorious, and I still love a lot of his work, but the problem was that I was in denial about the quality of a lot of his lesser work.
I bought loads of those ultra expensive Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives books that reproduced his art in a way that ruins it (keep in mind that the art was usually the only good thing about these comics), I was in denial about this too because I had spent so much money. How could I admit that I had spent hundreds on something so disapponting? So I deluded myself and kept going, feeling my better judgement gnawing the back of my mind.

After a person spends thousands on a passion that secretly isn't satisfying them as much as they'd like, they need more hype and delusions to keep themselves from fully realising how much time and money they've lost.

Some might joke that they're spending money on things they really don't need but I think the joke helps them keep themselves away from how unfunny this situation is.

When someone suggests to them that they've lost a large part of their life to a mostly senseless devotion, it's understandable that some would feel their sanity was under attack and react in fury.
I'm sure there are plenty of superhero fans who buy lots of comics that they genuinely enjoy and that's totally fine. But so many can't see the pure consumerism.

It makes me sad that there are so many kids who genuinely enjoyed this or that story that belonged to a franchise and could have kept seeking similar thrills in other things (be they stories, games, images, music, whatever) but just became a collector of franchises.

Justin, I really like genres. I feel no problem calling myself a weird fiction fan, a fantasy fan, a speculative fiction fan, a goth fan, a prog rock fan, abnormally busty natural fan etc.

Genre groupings can be very useful for communities, the peril of them is taking them too seriously, feeling you have to be familiar with every example of a favourite genre, policing them too much and taking certain definitions of them as set in sacred stone. I love lots of goth music but I don't feel I have to get into all the old or new bands if they don't attract me, I don't have to care about everywhere the genre goes.

I made this thread because I love exploring this very very loose genre of stuff
research into Ethereal Goth and Dreampop (and other stuff for fans of early 4AD and Projekt)

I used to call myself a horror fan but I recently realised I enjoy relatively little within it. So now I'd say I'm a dark fantasy, fantasy or Weird fan. It isn't the totality of what I am but it fairly accurately sums up a huge amount of my interests. I think the whole Vandermeer genre curation of weird fiction helped a lot of people better explore their interests.
Genres should evolve and fragment, have different stages documented.

Chuck Eddy's book Stairway To Hell has a highly personal and eccentric definition of metal and I like when genre groupings become that personal.

This has problems, but I don't think I'd prefer book categories being just fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books, guides or even just having a "books" category and nothing more.

Honestly I don't feel like I do challenge myself much, I know what I'm more likely to enjoy and there's so much of it, I don't feel like I need to try radically different things very often. I honestly regret trying so many arthouse canon films and alt comix hits on the basis of their critical acclaim, I like very few of them and I knew that would probably be the case beforehand.

My interests are just varied enough that I'm sure I could fruitfully explore them a long time before I need to try alcohol, swing music, mustard, swimming, hand gliding, rock climbing, dancing and all sorts of things I'll probably never do.
I don't think eclectic challenges on a regular basis is a good idea unless you've been incredibly narrow in the past.

I'm all about "I love this thing, where can I find more things with these qualities?". Genre grouping can hook you up to more.


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Old 01-16-2016   #7
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
The times people have called me a snob for suggesting we watch a foreign film for once (for instance), I point out that they are the ones who are limiting what they watch (consume, etc.) - I'll watch anything they will and more. The main difference being that now I've sampled enough of a diversity of things to see how unsatisfying the crowd-pleasers usually are.
It's amazing how many people act as if all the good stuff must be made in countries that mostly speak English and are not India.
People say this about literary fiction readers too, apart from a select group of foreign superstars.

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Old 01-16-2016   #8
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

Robert, yeah, I like genres as well, though I prefer it when the artist exploring the genre does something new or interesting with it, obviously. I kind of prefer the Grant Morrison approach to Pop Surrealism, which involves the juxtaposition of the familiar with elements that are unfamiliar to it (such as with his Arkham Asylum graphic novel, in which he took the superhero/Batman tropes and mixed it up with Jungian depth psychology, the Crowley Thoth tarot, and so forth). A good recent example of this formula (which I myself have employed many times) would be the TV show Hannibal, which takes the familiar example of the TV police procedural and perverts it with a sort of Lynchian fever dream surrealism, if you will. It can be fun, playing with tropes and distorting them through one's own individual prism.

I think my biggest problem with geek culture is just the rampant merchandising involved. I think after awhile the deluge of product just kind of cheapens the original vision or something. I mean, there's just so much worthless, pointless Star Wars merchandise out there, and the same goes for stuff like Lord of the Rings. It's kind of sad in the case of the latter, because I do think that Tolkien was trying to earth or channel a very personal vision, and it obviously meant a lot to him, but the end result is just a dismal mire of action figures, comic books, and other gewgaws and consumerist bric-a-brac. Middle-Earth may have started as a verdant rainforest of the imagination but now it's been bulldozed into a strip mall.

I will admit though to being a big Game of Thrones fan, ha ha. Though even that is starting to fall prey to pointless merchandise, the most recent example being the official adult coloring book.

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Old 01-16-2016   #9
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

This subject is really hard to talk about because it makes me angry, it's very easy to make unfair generalizations (I probably did above).

I've seen plenty of people throw around the word "commodity/commodify" in a really unconvincing way and I was always resistant to typical left-wing buzzword strewn rants, to the degree I unfairly dismissed many complaints about capitalism when I was a bit younger (but there's still plenty of bull#### claims about it, like "people only like using taboo words in lyrics because capitalism told them to").

I really wish there was a good documentary that could really draw people in without getting defensive. This is too important to just want to insult people who completely buy into the franchise thing.

Even if someone just follows one ongoing dramatic comic series and only that, there's often a lot of unrealistic expectations about there being a regular stream of huge exciting changes but still staying the same enough and needing it to perpetually continue.

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Old 01-17-2016   #10
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Re: The scourge of science fiction/fantasy/horror franchises and geek culture?

I don't think geek culture actually is centered around reverence for a few highly promoted, big-budget scifi/fantasy/superhero franchises as much as the media portrayal of it is, because geeks are too varied. there's weird fiction geeks who love the old/obscure/difficult-to-find stuff that someone with a heap of Cthulhu toys might not have heard of, history geeks, politics geeks, so many little tribes and niches of geekness that have nothing to do with these marketing- and merchandise-heavy franchises.

these franchises do well for a few reasons. Big marketing budgets to promote the newest iterations to younger generations is one of them. Deep roots that go back into one of the geek tribes and predate all the flashy new stuff is another, as the older geeks can talk it up to the younger members of their group and get them more interested than any flashy advertising ever could. I think the biggest part of their success is widespread appeal - all the geek tribes come together for a new Marvel or Star Wars movie (to love it, hate it, argue about it, etc) right alongside all the non-geeks.

to address some of the points from the original post directly...
  • shared universes are nothing new. Marvel, DC, and Star Trek have been doing it for ages.
  • the varied tribes of geekdom converge for heroic action stories. Martial Arts movies were the best represtantion of this at the movies for a time, but currently it is superhero movies. the martial arts movie geeks are still out there if you go looking for them, though, and the martial arts movies are still getting made, they just don't have Disney-level marketing budgets
  • I've gone to the same comic shop as an adult i did as a 10 year old - from what i can see they sell the same sorts of things they did 20+ years ago. the difference is me - my interests overall have expanded to include more things beyond the comic shop, and my budget is such that the expensive merchandise isn't as interesting to me. I don't think any of this indicates a change in the quality of products being made so much as a change in my interests.
  • I don't know about Japan, but the American comics industry is heavily franchise-based. there are lots of little independent companies/titles, but the big money makers are Marvel (a subsidary of Disney) and DC (a subsidary of Warner Brothers). Marvel and DC both relied very much on their respective shared universes, with many different monthly titles happening within the same world, allowing for teamups and crossovers and the like. They've both always had that revolving door of creators generating new content with existing characters/settings going back to the 1960s and earlier.
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