08 October 2011

Fan =/= Collaborator =/= Publicist =/= Martyr

I grew up in a Christian home. I not only went to church regularly and attended CCD (think Sunday School meets summer camp), but even volunteered as an altar server for many years. Of course, I'd be lying if those facts didn't come with the respective qualifiers: Whether I wanted to or not, which made up some of the worst social experiences of my childhood, and primarily because it looked like fun. Suffice it to say, I don't consider myself Catholic anymore. I still believe in God, but there were a few elements to the system (the Fan Club, as Marilyn Manson calls it) I could never quite get past, and not the typical "A-Ha! I'm on to you." ones like, "Why doesn't the Bible mention dinosaurs?" or, "Where did Cain find a wife?" Instead, they were more basic and fundamental.

The first is unconditional love. I mean, I get it, I guess, but I just find myself really uncomfortable with the idea. I would just rather earn it like anything else worth having. There's a little more to it than that, but we'll leave it there as the second item is the important one.

The second is martyrdom. There's nothing wrong with standing up for something you believe in, but expecting something in return to the point of demonizing people who don't reciprocate just doesn't sit well with me. Whatever happened to kindness being its own reward?

While this doubt had lingered in my mind for many years, it was a chain e-mail I got for Easter that, though meant to inspire and compel, really only served to highlight what I'd come to perceive as a self-deluded absurdity. You probably know the one, about the theology professor who offers donuts to his students and for each one he gives, whether they accept it or not, his star student has to do x number of push-ups, "So (name) can/not have a donut."

A better example is the opening scene of the Frank Oz film Housesitter, wherein architect Newton Davis (played by Steve Martin) presents an entire house as an engagement gift to his sweetheart, only for her to say, "No." This may or may not have been based on the tragic life story of Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian sculptor who built Coral Castle to impress his betrothed after she left him at the altar.

It's all about expectations, and how your expectations of others should never play a role in your intentions.

When did "OMG, HOW I LOVE WHAT MY FANS DO FOR MEEEEE!" go from being a simple nicety to a litmus test for determining greed and authenticity? It's probably a little sad that the event that actually got me thinking about all this and digging up memories of my past and my religious views was Nintendo shutting down a fan-made, feature-length film based on the Legend of Zelda franchise (then again, I learned more about faith from Legend and Time Bandits than most any time spent in church, so it's not completely grabbing at straws). Called The Hero of Time, the film was produced entirely by volunteers over a period of four years. It was shown at a few film festivals and eventually uploaded to Dailymotion. Nintendo filed a cease & desist notice in 2009, but allowed the film to remain online until the end of the year.

As you might imagine, fans were outraged at Nintendo, with many forums and message boards bustling with outcries along the lines of, "How dare you! They're just fans who love the games so much. Who the Hell are you guys to crush their artistic spirit? George Lucas would never--" and so on and so forth. In all, the people the least bitter about the whole affair (at least, publicly) were the filmmakers themselves:

We understand Nintendo’s right to protect its characters and trademarks and understand how in order to keep their property unspoiled by fan’s interpretation of the franchise, Nintendo needs to protect itself — even from fan-works with good intentions.

In the time since, the group has developed two new projects, both of them original IPs. It begs the question of whether or not these new projects would be receiving as much attention as they are were it not for the icebreaker that was Hero of Time. It's a classic dilemma that artists face, how do they get noticed without risking alienating people with an unfamiliar property? On that note, if the team behind Hero of Time had approached Nintendo for permission in the first place, and Nintendo declined, what would they have done? Would they have simply gone ahead and only shown the film as a kind of demo reel to entice potential investors in their original projects? Follow up to that, would they have even considered carrying on with their original projects? I'd like to think they would, but somehow I can't fully subscribe to that notion.

The relationship between artists and their fans is a very complex one, existing in a kind of Schroedinger's Cat/Double Slit state of limbo where no one wants to peg down the barriers and limits of the relationship as doing so would undo it altogether. It's like that couple that has been together for years, but never talks about marriage, only to break up the moment the topic comes up and they realize they have different ideas about matrimony, even though they'd been living the dream fine and dandy up until then. It's as if the fans hate to be told that they're just fans in the eyes of their idols, albeit they'd be hard-pressed to lay down their credentials to the contrary. Even the "free advertising" or "good publicity" arguments don't hold up. On a satirical note, if you'd never heard of the Legend of Zelda and Hero of Time was not only your introduction, but the driving force that led you to give the games a try, then tell me, what's Mars like?

This sort of "Who's doing the bigger favor for who?" debate can really go on for days, even years (and have, in many circles), and while I'm all for keeping the debate open and giving equal consideration to all points from both parties, I wish we could get past the sticking points of expectations and entitlements as far as the fans go. To those fans who get riled up when some derived work they've invested in is shut down by the original creators, I understand your frustration, but what do you honestly expect? Lastly, to prove I'm not condemning your actions, I'll offer up an alternative in the form of an observation:

George Lucas is a fan of Akira Kurosawa, but Kurosawa never made a science fiction film.

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