Adi Shankar and the fandom ecosystem

A few nights ago I saw this on FB:

It links to this article about a podcast about celebrity gossip. I didn’t listen to it as I don’t care what Bloom and diCaprio were doing on the weekend. I admit to a certain amount of bemusement about this, because unlike Adi Shankar, I seem to remember that Bloom became a celebrity precisely because of his association with a number of nerd / fan projects — most notably The Lord of the Rings, but also Pirates of the Caribbean and Troy and, of course, the last two Hobbit films. He’s practically the Errol Flynn of his generation. So I didn’t get the offended tone. Legolas has a lot of nerdy fanboys and he’s sold a lot more than toothpaste; he’s made a lot of writers rich. I wondered if Shankar was jealous. Of course, he got a lot of applause in his comments.

Then a day later I saw this. Asked if he was a fan of the series, Shankar said he was, and that this had made the project important to him:

Storytellers like myself are here to preserve our fandom culture and contribute to it so that future generations can enjoy and expand upon it. The harsh truth is the reason I quit the film industry and retreated to YouTube back in 2015 was because the major studios (except Marvel) blatantly didn’t respect fandom. They viewed us as “the pre-existing audience who would show up opening day regardless” and I didn’t want to participate in the massacre of my childhood.  

And it really got me thinking.

Assuming this isn’t a sales pitch, which I might be inclined to be suspicious about, except that Shankar has a long history of developing fan street cred, I absolutely get the desire for artistic integrity. With me, the issue is frequently historical integrity and I’ve been revealing that particular déformation professionelle pretty aggressively lately. My reaction: don’t touch my special thing. Don’t get it dirty. Religious history is definitely a wound of mine. And I also understand the feeling that the powerful players aren’t representing my interests, not just in film, but also in my profession and certainly in government and the economy. The average person in this country is really at the mercy of a lot of Bigs. Big Film is only one of them. And oh, do I know that feeling that the movie industry is expecting me to be there (although: that is my fault. I cooperate. I was the one who paid to see Into the Storm eight times. No one forced me). Moreover, I understand — after a week of watching scores of videos and listening to podcasts — that the Castlevania / gamer fan culture has taken its judgments into its own hands via torrents of information available on youtube and everywhere, and that it sees itself as much more democratic because of this. That’s how I see myself, too, whether it’s true or not: I am commenting on and creating my own product. I try to draw and maintain a line between me and Richard Armitage.

But, with all due respect to Shankar, I think a lot of that is an illusion, probably in my own case as well. Castlevania is still someone’s intellectual property and people can say all they want about it, but there are limits just like for any copyrighted material. The copyright is there to protect earning potential. In that sense, I don’t think that there’s a meaningful difference between Netflix and the big studios in the way that Shankar implies. Yes, I get that Netflix is better at reaching niche markets than the studios are (and the apparent success of Castlevania seems to suggest that, too, although, as always, Netflix never reveals any numbers). But in the end, Netflix wants exactly the same things those studios want: profit, audience, market share. I can’t imagine that, if the second season doesn’t live up to the press it’s getting now, that Netflix won’t drop it in the way they have been dropping other series, probably because the audience is not showing up regardless.

Because they aren’t going to care about the integrity of a fandom that isn’t buying what they’re selling; it just doesn’t happen to be toothpaste. It might be something more like identity, and it bothers me that Shankar doesn’t realize that he’s now implicated in that particular sales project (and at the mercy of it). Shankar may not be participating in the massacre of his childhood, but he’s certainly reselling it for profit. And given the choice between being sold toothpaste and sold pieces of my identity or history, I know which I’d pick.

I don’t think celebrity fandoms are going anywhere, either. There have been cults around celebrities at least since the days of Franz Liszt, even if their modern mediatized form and the exposure of celebrities is different. I also think that the major parties harmed by the celebrity cult are the celebrities, not the rest of us — so they earn and are harmed by the mechanism they use to make the earnings. I don’t see how I’m harmed by it. But if you’re that hostile to celebrities, if you think that the pursuit and observation of their activities is that noxious, then why cast not one but three nerd culture celebrities in your project: McTavish (The Hobbit, Outlander, Preacher, and I don’t know how many video games); James Callis (Battlestar Galactica) as well as Armitage (The Hobbit, Hannibal, Captain America)? Folks with a combined following approaching 350,000 tweeps? OK, maybe Shankar would have been fine with no-name actors (is he on record as praising any of these guys? I’ve forgotten. One of the other people in the project did but not, I think, Shankar), but if he isn’t in control of keeping the celebrities away, then hasn’t he surrendered his artistic integrity?

Maybe I’m bugged because I was hoping we weren’t going to go in the same direction we went with the Hobbit fandom, where so many Hobbit fans were angry that suddenly outsiders were interested in their fandom. Because, yeah, I’m a celebrity fan, and that’s how I am coming to Castlevania. In practice except for a handful of people I’ve talked to, the Armitage and Castlevania fandoms are pretty discreet and the overlap is small, so there hasn’t been any conflict I’ve seen. But even so, I don’t think either of these groups (celebrity fans, or nerdy fans) is superior to the other, and I don’t think that the trend is for one group to extinguish the other, either. Or should be.

But yeah: Mr. Shankar. Here we are, the celebrity fans who are totally ignorant about the features of integrity of Castlevania as a project, and we’re watching your show. And we matter to Netflix, whether you appreciate that or not. Niche market or not.

Who’s buying the fear the celebrity industry is allegedly selling? It’s not me. It’s not us. I think it’s Shankar. And I’d love to know — if his ecosystem is so strong and self-confident — why on earth that would be the case.

~ by Servetus on July 14, 2017.

10 Responses to “Adi Shankar and the fandom ecosystem”

  1. Good points. The celebrity culture, if anything, is getting stronger. You can now make a living becoming a beauty star on YouTube, with all the young girls wanting to be like the “star”and buy the “toothpaste” she’s selling.
    I’m not sure either how he can think that the Castlevania series is just by fans for fans. I mean, Warren Ellis is a comic book nerd but not a Castlevania gamer nerd. And there seems to be agreement that it was written so that non-gamers could understand the story without having played. Some of the gamers are saying that there are not enough nods to the games themselves (music, wall chickens, etc). So it would seem to me that there was a deliberate attempt to have a wide audience, knowing that the original fandom would watch anyway. As you say, Netflix and others involved want to make money and not be limited to just one (or two) fandoms.

    • I mean, even the youtuber who just rambles for three minutes in excitement after seeing the series (and I watched a lot of that this week) wants an audience. There’s a weird tension in fandom (it’s not just him) between the impulse towards purity and the impulse toward growth (another similarity to religion). On the one hand — “we’re going to take over the world and eliminate everything we don’t like and we’ll be big enough that we don’t need this nonsense.” On the other, “only the initiate really understands our allegiances / don’t sell my childhood.”

  2. it seems like any time a book/game is made into film (whether that be live action or animation) there is this push & pull. a large number of fans are so excited for the film to be made, though critical about how it should be done, that they fight for it to be recognized by the masses. but then once it starts being recognized, they get very possessive and want to retreat back to a place where only the ‘true’ fans reside (this scenario applies to individual celebrity fandoms as well). you can’t have it both ways. when you send it out into the world to be appreciated and enjoyed by ‘non-fans/newbies’ then you’re also opening it up to be critiqued and marketed; that’s just how the industry works. I’m not saying I’m above this mindset, I do it too, wanting my treasures kept safe. but really, it’s kind of like money, “you can’t take it with you”. share it with others. that is why stories are written, after all.

    • This is well put and it made me realize that this is pushing my buttons in another area of my life — the sort of competitive oneupsmanship in a particular subfield of my academic specialty is exactly like this. We have all these spectacular things to study — we want to share them! Oh, wait, no we don’t, because then other people will have access to them. It’s maddening. I hadn’t realized the parallel until you put it this way.

  3. I read the VF piece, and G-d help me, listened to part of the podcast, so I can see where Shanker was so critical of this particular piece by a media outlet like Vanity Fair – I’m just not sure that his comparison of Nerd Culture to celebrity culture is valid because Nerd culture seems to me to apply to a multitude of genres where I think fandoms overlap extensively, all of which come under Nerd culture. Additionally, there’s more meat, detail, history, canon, lore, in Nerd Culture that allows more media and more fans to engage in more critical and intellectual discussions and promotions – as we saw with Castlevania. OTOH, celebrity fandoms are interested in one individual, where some of those puff pieces/gossippy articles are of interest and get discussed, but they’re not the main focus of the discussion and sharing in this much smaller group. Even if one thinks of celebrity fandom as a more general celebrity adoration ( i.e. any and all celebrity gossip is of interest), it lacks that meat and content that allows for better and more diverse discussion and sharing.
    But what does he mean when he says media is selling fear? Toothpaste, I understand.

    • I do think a lot of people who are into celebrity fandom follow more than one celebrity, but I don’t disagree with your characterization and I think this is another reason that Nerd Culture isn’t going to replace celebrity fandom — and we actually had conflicts about this in our own situation; there was one particular Armitage fan who was also a “nerd” and she could not accept that celebrity fans discussed a lot of things that Nerd Culture fans considered absolutely off limits. Participation in nerd culture really demands a different kind of attention to the object of study.

      re: toothpaste, I think these days it’s probably more cosmetic dentistry they’re selling; but fear? Yeah. I can’t say I feel that that has ever been what I’m being sold. I don’t know, maybe some anxiety, if I were following a female celebrity or something. Fear or not being up to date? [shrugs] Maybe he liked how the phrase sounded.

      • I agree about the different kind of attention. Over the last year I became an observer ( lurker?) in the Game of Thrones fandom, listening to podcasts of many hours lengths, reading stuff, etc ( never read the books, but follow the dual sites that cover books as well as TV show) and the level of detail, knowledge, theories, – the whole thing has been thoroughly enjoyable. Imagine hundreds of programs, blogposts, reviews etc., that give the same sort of analysis as only a handful of posts on a Richard Armitage series episode who film. There is so much content and they’re not critical of close scrutiny that we sometimes get panned for.

        • I’ve sometimes wondered if my “problem” insofar as I have one is that I’m a nerd fan personality in a celebrity fandom. I totally get that for a lot of people celebrity fandom is more casual, or they don’t understand why anyone spends so much time thinking about something. That’s fine. This just is the way I am; I’ve always been this way. But there are enough people occupied at an intense level in the Armitage fandom that there are still people to talk to.

  4. LOL, case in point, here’s a link to a 4chan discussion that is angry inter alia because people who never played the games are praising it. Interesting for other reasons, too.

    http://boards.4chan.org/co/thread/93877238/netflix-castlevania-sucks

  5. More, re: fear and toothpaste: https://heavymag.com.au/interview-adi-shankar-castlevania/

    This is a little better, in that he articulates a position that celebrities are third party endorsers.

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