Actually, we mostly agree on this issue so calling this a “Vs” article is probably branding at this point or lack of a better article title. “BW Agrees But…” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. So since I won’t be going over the whole thing consider this a bonus Article Link and read the /Film commentary first. It’s from contributor Andrew Todd, discussing how the Marvel fandom and Disney fandom have been very vocal and protective of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like I said I mostly agree with him.
I’m on record being in favor of fans but not fandoms. Fandoms have a habit of being insular and niche hipsters or something. They’re like those movies or TV episodes you see where a stranger comes to town, and the townsfolk there hate strangers and want to get rid of them as soon as possible to keep their town “safe” from the outsiders. I see this mostly in anime fandoms but it’s a problem in every media genre and format out there right now. It’s why comics are now only available in a few places compared to being all over the place in their heyday. Then you have the subfandoms, arguing over who is best girl or who would win in a fight and heaven forbid you choose the wrong side because clearly you aren’t a “true fan”. However, since I’m saying “mostly agree” that must mean that Mr. Todd and I have a few differences of opinion. The “Vs” in the title has to make sense somehow right? Otherwise this WOULD be just a Morning Article Link.
(Sidebar: I want to smack every person who has ever seriously used the expression “true fan” upside the head. Preferably with the guy who legit used the term “fake geek girl” for any girl who ranks higher than a five in attractiveness, like all of “our” women need to be plain or ugly and not look like the hot girls in our media. That’s a level of psychotherapy I cannot offer. Then again there are plenty of “plain” women I find very attractive so I’m not the guy to ask.)
It’s natural to seek out people who share our interests. Those are the people with whom we’re most likely to get along. But after a point, tribalisation becomes a negative force: when supporting your tribe comes at the expense of other tribes. We see that everywhere, from fandom to global politics. And this year has seen a dramatic and disturbing spike in pop-culture tribalisation – largely centred around the company that needs it least.
I copy/pasted so any spelling errors are on the article, like “centred”. Unless these are all British spellings and I know a few of them are. Granted I’ve made mistakes that spellcheck couldn’t understand but I talk about alien planets and fake metals as written by people with unusual names without the benefit of an editor. Oh, and we’ve definitely seen that politics lately where we can’t agree to disagree because we immediately assume whomever doesn’t agree with us is a threat to humanity or something. However, it didn’t start there. It didn’t even start with media fandoms. I’d blame sports but those rivalries were still tame compared to how fandoms operate today in geek culture and nothing outdoes politics. Politics have somehow invaded geek culture without the same level of pushback as sports because we see comics, video games, and animation as somehow lesser and won’t waste energy defending our town from the outsiders we should be worried about.
Fandom rivalries have existed forever. Star Wars vs Star Trek has more or less come to an equilibrium, with most fans admitting that they like both, to some degree. The Marvel/DC rivalry has been around for decades, though it’s become much more visibly unpleasant since the birth of the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. Now that superheroes are a dominant global cultural force, and not a niche for enthusiasts, the scale and fury of these rivalries has escalated to at-times horrifying levels.
I’d say it predates the movieverses. I think it started when the comic companies’ personal rivalries became more personal when their respective publishers at the time decided to get vicious with each other, ending the cross-company crossovers DC and Marvel used to do. They were no longer on friendly terms and it was only a matter of time before the Red Sox/Yankees level rivalry began. (One good thing about not working in the public sector is getting away from that feud during Baseball season. Especially since I don’t follow sports.)
The first feud was the smallest. Emerging around the similarly-timed releases of two female-led sci-fi actioners, it saw Marvel fans banding around Captain Marvel, and another, amorphous group supporting Alita: Battle Angel as an “alternative”. Irrespective of the relative merits of the two films, there was a lot of bad-faith thinking involved. The larger fan battle concerned the ideologies of each film: specifically, the fact that internet misogynists hated Captain Marvel’s feminist story beats, while Alita didn’t really address gender at all. Genuine Alita fans were swept up in the mix too, but many key campaign drivers had crusaded against Captain Marvel from its announcement. Now that both films are out on home video, the “fight” continues to this day.
Wait, if they’re misogynists WHY would they support Alita and not Captain Marvel? Because Alita’s a cyborg? I’ve seen women who thought Captain Marvel was terrible because it lacked the character growth and hero’s journey of Alita: Battle Angel. I haven’t seen either movie but apparently Alita learns and grows as a person while Carol is just told she’s superawesome and it was the men that held her back, and then she lets the shapeshifters go free because apparently only the Kree are evil. Ask any Marvel comic fan though and they know the Skrull are just as evil as the Kree are. There were no good guys in that war. It’s like Skeletor versus Hordak. Whoever wins the universe is still in trouble.
To write off Captain Marvel‘s critics as women-hating anti-feminists as the only reason Alita: Battle Angel (roughly adapted from the Japanese manga and anime series) got support outside of anime fans who were just happy one anime adaptation at least acted like they understood the source material (the director and producer are fans) is rather insulting. People had legitimate gripes against the Marvel adaptation and saw the Japanese adaptation as the better example of how to write a strong female hero. Debate the actual points, don’t just write them off. Otherwise, you’re kind of adding to the very problem you’re rallying against. I however don’t care which is better. Both have their merits and weaknesses and if I end up not liking Captain Marvel it won’t have any impact of how I see Alita: Battle Angel when I get to that movie or vice versa. I don’t even compare sequels to the previous movies beyond “does it do a good job continuing the story”, which is one of my problems with The Last Jedi.
I don’t think it helped that the marketing for Captain Marvel seemed to work against white men, especially comments by Brie Larson that seemed to indicate she didn’t want to talk to anyone who was a straight white male and didn’t care about what they thought of the film. She was antagonistic from the start, which already worked against her even from non-sexists and even women who don’t hate males. Alita sold itself on its story while Captain Marvel sold itself on feminism. Also we all know the real reason the movie exists was to ensure the Shazam! movie didn’t even think about giving Billy Batson his proper superhero name despite being based on Billy Batson 52, the punk who let life win rather than pre-52 Billy who kept a positive attitude no matter what, thus proving himself worthy….and I’m off-topic, aren’t I? Moving on.
The second feud was the biggest, most-publicised, and probably the dumbest. The all-time worldwide box office title is a coveted one, and for over twenty years it’s been held by one James Cameron film (Titanic) or another (Avatar). Hence, it was inevitable that Avengers: Endgame, the (temporary) conclusion to a run of over twenty blockbusters, would make a bid for first place. That bid ended up being more cynical than imagined, with Disney re-upping Endgame’s theatre count months after release as its worldwide gross began to close in on Avatar’s. It was a clear implicit indication for fans to push towards the #1 spot, and fans took up the mantle in great numbers, shelling out for repeat screenings solely to push the box-office numbers up. Ultimately, the ploy was successful
Um…yeah, that’s really kind of stupid. I mean, I understand why it happened but it’s still dumb. Avengers: Endgame even re-released the movie with new footage, which means they get something of an asterisk unless Cameron pulled that as well. If the movie was popular enough to stay in theaters or call for a re-release as is then fine. Otherwise you could make the case that The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Tim Curry has more claim than either movie since that still gets run now and then for its fans. (I don’t know why but I don’t understand the film to begin with and I’m not convinced seeing it would help since I know the story.) My point is I know superhero fans (because this has not translated to comic sales) wanting to lay claim to #1 but it’s kind of weak when they have to cheat to do it. What is this, pro wrestling? Kevin Feige smacks James Cameron with a folding chair and calls it a victory?
Todd says it’s a moot point now that Disney owns 20th Century Fox and thus both movies, but it’s a genre and IP war, not a movie studio war. The superhero genre has been looked down upon for years by movie studios, the general public (I point you again to Bill Maher’s attacks on superheroes and comics right down to belittling Stan Lee’s passing), and the science fiction community, where most superheroes easily fall into the banner of. I don’t think it’s Disney versus Fox but superheroes gaining acceptance in science fiction. They just cheated to do it and I don’t see it helping. Like Todd says, if box office equaled quality “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be hailed as one of the 100 greatest movies ever made”, and that’s not a world I want to live in. And Transformers fans hear it worse than superhero fans because they’re based on toys.
The final, ongoing fan-led battle is even more insane, concerning as it does corporate politics well above fans’ paygrade. The break between Disney and Sony over Spider-Man film rights has been documented copiously but poorly; countless articles have speculated over the details of the fracture, few capturing the fullness of what actually went down. From available information, the two principal causes were Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige’s lack of time for Sony-held IP amidst a new slate of MCU films, and Disney’s demands for a 50/50 revenue split on future Spider-Man films (up from 5% in the initial deal).
I haven’t been following this one because dodging spoilers from Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home has been an increasingly losing battle as it is. I’ve already had things spoiled for me because I don’t have the money to see the movie and still have yet to see Infinity War. However, I think the reason MCU fans are unhappy about Sony taking Spidey out of the MCU isn’t just that they see Sony as the bad guy even if they aren’t. It is a misplaced anger granted, like when the TV stations are trying to bilk the cable and satellite providers out of more money and go to the public to convince them their provider is the greedy monster here. And then you see your bill go up because the provider has to pay for the new fee somehow and they’re not taking a hit in their profits whether they can afford to or not. Making a profit isn’t enough, you need to have ALL the money these days, which is not good capitalism but that’s a whole other discussion.
Spider-Man is arguably Marvel’s flagship character. Most of their TV shows have been with Spider-Man. He’s the hero most people think of when they think of Marvel Comics no matter how badly Wolverine looks at how Batman overtook Superman and wants to have the same victory. Seeing the bigger Marvel properties like the X-Men and Fantastic Four mishandled by Fox (especially the FF, who has not had a single good movie in all four attempts and yes I’m counting the Roger Corman trash fire), plus how the last three Sony-produced live-action Spider-Man films were not well-received by Spider-Fans and seeing him sucked out of the MCU even with the huge lore changes and Peter being the only one who even remotely resembles his comic counterpart is seen as a wrong that must be corrected. Spider-Man 3 may have had Venom forced on Sam Raini but having Sandman pull a Tim Burton’s Joker by making him responsible for Uncle Ben’s death was a mistake as well. I haven’t seen it or either Amazing Spider-Man movie but I don’t hear good things about either of them and having a good Spidey film, lore errors and all, is what the fans are worried about losing even after Into The Spider-Verse won so many people over.
So thanks to the Fox acquisition by Disney, an opening is seen for the X-crowd and the Fantastic Four finally coming home to Marvel’s movieverse like they are in the comicsverse, complete with the FF returning to the comicsverse and the main Marvel comics universe, so to lose Spider-Man doesn’t sit well with fans. However, people I follow are coming around to the possibility that Disney wanting more of a share is a jerk move on their part, though it makes partial sense if they’re working on the lion’s share of the movie, but if Sony is then they don’t even have that excuse. They also don’t want to see Spidey join Sony’s Venomverse when Venom is supposed to be part of the Spider-Verse, not the other way around. Venom doesn’t exist without Spider-Man since the symbiote started as Peter’s “new costume”. Sony may not be the villain in the boardroom but they are seen as the villain in the theater and that’s all fans care about.
While the Disney/Sony break could at least cause visible consequences for fans, the overwhelming fan hatred towards Sony is sickening to watch, given the often objectively evil behaviour of Disney. Disney has gobbled up other massive corporations, now eclipsing all the other majors in terms of IP popularity and market saturation. In Disney’s releasing ideology, blockbuster tentpoles aren’t just a high priority, but the only priority. It’s taken that approach and applied it to cinemas, too, which are strongarmed into contracts to carry Disney product exclusively for long periods, at the expense of other material, lest they lose the rights to screen the Mouse House’s much-sought-after blockbusters.
If that’s really going on then Walt would be sick hearing it. It’s not like Disney has been getting good press lately. One of Disney’s nieces exposed the terrible conditions for the staff at I think Disney World and other moves made by them lately has not earn them any positive press either. The only ones really excited about Disney taking Fox were the Marvel fans who wanted to see all the Marvel characters in the shared movie universe like they are in the comics. They’ve also called for Marvel and Star Wars themed worlds in future Kingdom Hearts games so they can run around those worlds with a Keyblade, although I do wonder why we have yet to have a Spider-Ham/Darkwing Duck crossover. (Although my worry is that it would be the wacky cartoon version and not the original Peter Porker persona. How’s that for alteration, kids?) That’s just our obsession with seeing our favorite fictions crossover with each other. Disney also isn’t making friends with the Star Wars fandom starting when they canceled the Expanded Universe fans knew for years in favor of their own version, relegating the original to “legends” status, plus the issues with the movies themselves. It’s not like Disney is getting away with murder here. It’s just the Marvel fans want all their favorite neighbors back in the same neighborhood, which may be making them blind to Disney’s backstage antics with Sony, which admittedly it shouldn’t.
Disney does not care about fans, except insofar as they provide revenue and loyalty (i.e. revenue on an ongoing basis). Pledging loyalty to Disney is not just bizarre; it’s anti-consumer and even anti-democratic. A behemoth like Disney has not only the power to profoundly restrict available entertainment options; it also has the ability to affect laws so it can continue to do so more efficiently and with greater dividends for its shareholders. The family-friendly branding is just that: branding.
He forgot to mention what they’ve done to the legal side of public domain, although I’m guessing that’s what he’s referring to with “affect laws”.
Fans are no longer fans of stories or characters; they’re fans of corporations and brands. Disney has cultivated brand loyalty for nearly a century: Disney wholly invented the myth of ritual lemming suicide in its 1958 documentary White Wilderness, and so high was public trust in the company that the myth persists to this day
I don’t think fans are necessarily as blind as he thinks. All they care about is Spidey with his comic friends even if the lore is screwed up thanks to licensing shenanigans as well as getting the Richards clan and Professor X’s proteges where they “belong”. It’s a loyalty to the characters, the same loyalty that has gotten an increasing number of longtime comic fans angry at what Marvel Comics has been doing lately to them. It’s the creators that no longer care about stories and characters because they only have an interest in the basest of concepts rather than come up with their own ideas and promote them. The problems isn’t a lack of love for the characters. If anything it is their blind loyalty to the characters (and admittedly the brands) that have caused the fandom to make some huge mistakes while even fans with their eyes open find cause to get angry enough to turn green. Or grey or whatever color he is now.
Then again, fandoms tend to cause problems, especially for the fans. Fans are awesome though and will fight for what they love. They just aren’t jerks about it like the fandom. Usually.