Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Corporatisation of stories and the fandoms of antiquity

I read an essay today discussing how modern fandoms are now broken because the wall between creator and audience has been worn away by social media.
Fandom is Broken: Controversies and entitlement shine a light on a deeply troubling side of fandom. By Devin Faraci.
There is so much to enjoy in this essay and is well worth reading. It addresses issues in today's society regarding our interaction with stories, addressing phenomenon such as fan fiction, audience expectations and "ownership" of stories, and the reception of characters over time, such as the selling of rights and how comics have been taken over by new writers. If you have any interest in the analysis of modern pop culture it is well worth a read.
I love to reflect on the cultural aspects of antiquity as the pop culture of its time, so when I read Devin's statement:
"fandom has been pressuring creators at least since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes over the side of Reichenbach Falls, and who knows how audience reactions helped mold the telling of ancient Greek myths. "
I immediately returned to the idea that the playwrights and mythographers of ancient Greece and Rome were writing fan fiction. It is a fun way to look at the past, but the discussion about how stories today are "corporatised" seems to fit better. Homer is dead, but the Trojan cycle was (and is) constantly reimagined for new audiences. We only have hints about how the audience responded to the changes introduced by the new authors; the few claims regarding which plays won at festivals, or reports of booing in the theatre. By comparison, all you need to do today is log into social media to see the howls of disgust or plaudits for the latest movie, TV show, or comic.
This "corporatisation" has had a huge impact on how the audience views their relationship with stories today. As Devin puts it:
"The corporatized nature of the stories we consume has led fans - already having a hard time understanding the idea of an artist's vision - to assume almost total ownership of the stuff they love. And I use that word ownership in a very specific sense - these people see themselves as consumers as much as they see themselves as fans."
This idea of consumption has made me reconsider the evidence for pop culture in antiquity. What if we were to look at the material relating to mythology from antiquity through the fandom lens?
Mythological stories feature on pots, in wall decoration choices, in homewares. Visit any museum featuring a collection from the classical world and you will constantly see references to Greek myths. We often see this material as a reflection of the importance of these stories as religion, but often the images featured don't reflect religious practice.
But by looking at this material through the lens of fandom, we see consumption.
Why did someone choose that pot? Why that lamp? Why that wall decoration? This associated story had to mean something to consumer.
We live in a "post geek closet world" (as Jim Butcher puts it) and "geeks" no longer have to justify their consumerist decisions. Entire companies have evolved to reap the benefits of this market. When we impose this concept back on antiquity, we no longer need to address the difference between religion as practiced and mythology as presented in material culture. In fact, Pompeii starts looking like an entire community was ordering in bulk from the ancient equivalent of ThinkGeek.
Some people might consider this a poor methodology with which to view the past, but I would like you to consider this comparison. The modern pop culture consumerist can recognise an entire back story in one symbol. Batman's black bat on yellow, Captain America's shield, the various house emblems from Game of Thrones. Compare these Zeus' eagle, Hera's peacock, Athena's owl. There are a lot of correlations between the consumerist past and the consumerist present. Perhaps we need to consider that "pop culture" is not that new a phenomenon, and start reimagining the past a little more in the image of today.