Taking a page from one of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof, this week I’m presenting the winner of the first annual Ithaca College Guest Columnist contest. At the Ithaca College School of Business, I teach entrepreneurism, including classes on planning and managing trade shows – like comic conventions. We also explore the many issues of this unique segment of entertainment business. I invited the students to submit potential With Further Ado columns for Pop Culture Squad, and I was very impressed with their thoughts and writing.
It was hard to select just one, but my first annual guest columnist winner is IC student Anthony Hernandez. Anthony has some smart insights that I’m eager to share with you all. Congrats, Anthony!
I love Star Wars and really enjoy watching the Marvel superhero movies, but that’s about it when it comes to diving into geek culture for me. I never went to any conventions or picked up a comic book out of my own will. I never had any ideas for new content, speculated on the future of any fictional universe, or spent more than $100 on merchandise. I have deep hesitations about immersing myself into the world of geek culture for many reasons and have quite often distanced myself from doing so. While I could list them all, I’ll just mention two and expand on them.
Just a small note, when I say “fans” I’m generally referring to anyone who identifies themselves as a hardcore geek or a related title.
Firstly, fans have been associated with a certain stigma of being extremely obsessive when it comes to their interests; It’s even perceived that they’ would blindly do or buy anything if it has any correlation with their interests.
I just recently watched the Star Wars episode on The Toys That Made Us (a documentary series on Netflix about various toys) that embraced and amplified that type of behavior. Kenner Products, a small toy company, deployed a two-phase plan of satisfying the Star Wars toy market when they decided they could not produce action figures in time for the holidays. The first phase was simply recycling their old products and slapping a Star Wars sticker on it. The second phase is what really stood out to me as unique and dumb from a business perspective. It should have failed.
The second phase consisted of making consumers purchase an empty box with the promise of sending action figures once they had been produced at a greater scale. Surprisingly, it worked. I mean really, how was this successful? How is it that a small toy company that hardly anyone had any confidence in could have pulled this off? It was all due to the consumers’ blind faith and hope that they would receive their Star Wars merchandise.
Now of course, Kenner Products intended no harm with their strategy, but it can be said that they were confident with it because they relied on the fact that the Star Wars label was enough for people to throw money at the company. It almost insinuates and makes the generalization that obsessive fans are mindless. When looking at it from this perspective, who’d want to be part of that community? At the time of purchase, consumers were really spending their money on a promise that their Luke and Leia action figures would come in eventually. All of this fosters up a sort of “we can do whatever we want, and these idiots will pay” attitude amongst producers even though (for obvious reasons) they may not show it.
Also with the action figures, a rocket firing Boba Fett figure was promised as a promotion that would arrive by mail. Many people actively sought out and eagerly awaited this figure. While present day Star Wars fans might not see the problem of wanting a limited Boba Fett figure, you have to keep in mind that Boba Fett’s character had not even made an appearance in the films yet! The only real glimpse that fans got of Boba Fett was during his first appearance in the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special. By this logic, it seemed as if George Lucas didn’t even have to put in much effort to get the fandom hooked on a character. Boba Fett virtually did not exist yet in live action form, yet his was the most sought out action figure all because he looked cool, and he was going to fire a rocket.
Much to the disappointment of fans, when their Boba Fett eventually arrived, he was not fitted with the rocket-firing mechanism due to potential choking hazards. This is when serious desires for a rocket-firing Boba Fett really began to come up. Collectors paid top dollar for anyone who could produce one (one Boba would sell for $20,000 today).
This sort of mindset is one of the reasons why I’d be hesitant to be associated with geek culture. To an outsider like me, fans seem absolutely mindless. Who’d pay $20,000 for a 4-inch plastic toy? The fans who praise content creators and place their complete confidence in them have been at the mercy of said producers emotionally and financially.
Secondly, on top of seeming to drool over anything with a label, fantagonism comes into play. The term “fantagonism” refers to any hostility that fans display towards content creators. In a previous course I took, I was able to explore fantagonism and how it evolved. Even before I knew the term existed, I was well aware of it and it was a main reason why I thought that fans seemed flat out crazy. It steered me away from ever considering myself a geek.
While the relationship between producers and fans certainly has the potential to be beneficial and friendly, it looks to have been mostly antagonistic ever since fans and fandom came into existence. Why is that? It’s no doubt that it’s the fans themselves who are at fault of stirring relations. They feel the absolute need to not only give their opinions on their favorite books, comics, or movies, but also their scathing criticisms. Some even go as far as giving death threats to creators just because they killed off a fan favorite or some wild speculation didn’t come true!
On a lesser scale, some fans of the Skywalker Saga have decided amongst themselves that the new Disney trilogy is “not canon”. Huh? They claim that anyone who doesn’t show a sliver of hate for the sequels or Disney isn’t a real fan. Just because they hated the new movies does not give them the ability to overstep their authority and declare what’s canon. They actively put themselves to war with producers and then get mad when they don’t get their way. Obsessive fans tend to be the loudest, which is probably why I find myself creating these stereotypes and applying them to all geeks.
Needless to say, fans are to blame for the hostile environment in geek culture. At first, it used to be through letters, however with the expansion of the internet and social media, we are beginning to see the fans take on producers directly, almost eliminating the blind following that producers once had. Geeks have never been so dangerously close to producers, and they’re definitely not afraid to show it.
Anthony Hernandez is a sophomore studying Business Management at Ithaca College in New York. While he’s cautious about connecting with other fans, he loves fan objects possibly just as much as they do.