Same Old, Same Old

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-10-18 21:00:00 No comments

Media Gray Goo - Steven Savage

... doing the same thing keeps giving power to the same group of people and companies (usually Disney these days). We’re letting people own vast chunks of our culture, and the inevitable battles between “do it good and interesting” and “give me the gray goo I expect” are exhausting. Besides, we know in the end that the big companies are going to play it safe – and safe isn’t always the best thing for the culture. ...

Imagine a media culture with few to no dominant media properties. Imagine things actually ending for a change, and excellent media being rerun or reread instead of being extended. Imagine not having cultural space taken up by gray goo, but more, smaller things. ... Imagine fandom as more interlinked preferences than A Big Thing.

Steve's talking about something pretty familiar here. Mainstream culture is samey and repetitive; all the interesting stuff in on the fringes. It's his last sentence quoted there I want to zoom in on.

Some time ago I said something vaguely analogous to this. Canon and fandom (high and low) seem to be better when they're about processes and methods of sharing things than artifacts or hierarchies. Why we like something, or how we like it, is far more important than what specific things we like.

We don't tend to do a lot of sharing or building accord in this way, though. Most of that work tends to be done by individual fans working in a self-appointedly analytical vein. It's not a habit that fans as such get into, but they seem like the best sorts of people to cultivate it.

Sometimes I imagine we can cultivate this by way of exercises. Get together a slew of people who have divergent and vibrant interests, sit in a circle, start with one person, and have that person talk about some specific aspect of a specific thing that gets their attention. ("The reason I like Emma: A Victorian Romance is the attention to detail.") Then the next person picks up from that thread. ("Something I like that has attention to detail... but here's what else I like about it, the fact that it is a deeply humane story.") And on to the next person. ("The thing I like that has a humane element...")

One effect of this tenor of discussion is that it puts things on a more even playing field. It allows the lesser-known things to sit side-by-side in the same breath with things everyone knows, and maybe sparks a little more curiosity about such things.

That said, I suspect things like this can only go so far. At the end of the day, most of us, even most of us who are fans, are not diplomats of culture; we're consumers of it. Some fans, and some creators, self-consciously cultivate an attitude of ambassadorship or diplomacy, but that's not a guarantee they are good at it or effective; sometimes they just come off as loudmouths with no tact.

I think the thing to aim for is not a world where there are no dominant media properties, as Steve suggests, but where the dominance of any one particular thing, the fact that everyone is aware of it and partakes in it, is simply not that important. That is, it's something we're all conscious of, but we also are in the habit of making room for other things in our lives.

Those of us who are best equipped to get into that habit are fans, but how many fans are really interested in this problem, versus just getting more of what they already think they love? Some, I guess. Enough for many interesting things to flourish on the margins and in the corners, which if you ask me is where this stuff is most at home.

The point, I guess, is not to make weird things mainstream, but to make mainstream things less automatically the center of attention, and to find ways of letting other people share in that directly without feeling left out.

Tags: fandom popular culture