Here is another attempt at this entry, which crashed near the end this morning. Sigh, technology. I’m pretty sure this was better the first time. Not a fan of weebly blogger right now.

A documentary debuted at the SXSW music festival called The People vs George Lucas, about Lucas’ complicated relationship with his fans. This is often portrayed as fundamentally being about rabid fans who feel betrayed by how BAD the newer films were. However, it’s not necessarily that simple. One also has to take into account the sense of ownership these fans feel over this franchise. The creators of the film solicited fan creations for inclusion in this documentary and received over 700 submissions.

I just had my pop culture class read Henry Jenkins' (from MIT), “Quentin’s Tarantino’s Star Wars” from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008) which better shows how complex these tensions are, and how they characterize the evolving relationship between active fandoms, media companies, and new media. Jenkins’ focus on this chapter is on the activity of Star Wars fans, whose love for this specific cultural creation leads them to create their own homages and parodies to engage with their beloved world. Thanks to accessible technology and the internet, fans are then able to collaborate and share their creations with one another. This leads to massive and powerful fan communities that weren’t so visible when the first Star Wars movies came out. It is changing the way audiences and their participation are understood in a world where much of popular culture is owned and distributed by huge media companies.

As Jenkins says, “popular culture is what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into folk culture” (136). He sees the homogeneity and control of mass culture (in which cultural products are mass produced by huge companies and consumers have little ability to give feedback beyond buying or not buying) as being complicated by new media, in which consumers are taking advantage of the possibilities to play with content (reminiscent of folk culture, in which people created their own culture). Yet those who actually legally own these creations often have to figure out how to relate to fans. They can be prohibitionist, says Jenkins, and shut down fan creativity so that they can tightly control their brand, or they can be collaborationist- engage fans’ enthusiasm, often within boundaries. This latter approach is less traditional for companies, but arguably much smarter for companies dealing with this new breed of fan.

The lines between amateur and professional content are also rather blurry, as excellent amateur efforts have the potential to enter the mainstream. After all, George Lucas himself was once a student filmmaker. We might not get the next George Lucas if young fans find the possibilities of playing with culture shut down to them.

I hope that the film will be out on DVD if I teach this article again- I think my students often don’t get how big fandoms can be, or how they can influence the mainstream if they’re not part of them themselves. Which BC students often aren't, or at least they don't want to admit to it, since there's definitely a perception of them as "freaks, geeks and dorks" even though the geeks may be taking over.

An interview with the creator of The People vs George Lucas at Salon here.

Also speaking of fan geeks reaching critical mass, PAXeast, a gamers’ convention, was in Boston this past weekend, which explains people dressed up as various characters around town.

Leave a Reply.