3 Factors Contributing to Backlash Culture

Another article addressing fandom vs. art. Here I’d argue there’s more nuance to the anti-Ghostbusters fervor. It’s certainly part sexism–geekdom, up until the mid-90’s, had been a boys club. JK Rowling is due no small amount of credit for evening out the geeky playing field over the past 20 years. A new influx of females into a once not only all male arena but an arena of males who also infamously do not interact with the female gender is bound to create friction. Note this fear is actually of “mainstream” females, who have increasingly embraced genre entertainment. There were always girls, to some degree, in geek culture. But now there are ones who wear makeup, are thin as rails, cosplay the way cheerleaders dress at Halloween, and have the full range of social skills. There’s an inherent distrust on the part of the male geek of these kinds of people. The jocks are Captain America fans, too, now, but no geek boy is going to pull the muscular guy in the Superman costume’s card. They’re inherently afraid of overtly masculine men.

This leads to the second factor: the gentrification of nerd culture. The “mainstreaming” of nerd culture can be paralleled pretty readily with the patterns of gentrification. The influx of neurotypicals into what was once a safe haven for the atypical can be likened to middle-class kids touring impoverished areas as their own private rumspringa. Gentrification often leads to the ironic situation where the minority being pushed out, whatever that may be, attacks another, newer minority as opposed to focusing their anger on the actual invading force. See the attacks on gays in New Orleans’s Marigny/Bywater neighborhoods instead of attacks on Yuppies, and the anger at immigrants when poor whites are displaced from their jobs by corporations they allowed to buy whole towns.

Finally, the last factor is the manufactured backlash as part of reverse marketing psychology. This isn’t being talked about widely, but then current marketing strategies that are obvious once you notice them are effective because no one’s mentioning them. Working up an internet backlash is the best marketing tool on social media. There are several ways to do it. You can just hone in on one racist or sexist tweet against your product and pretend it’s a movement. Boom! Instant backlash-backlash that far outweighs the initial controversy and your film/toy/whatever is trending for the next six months. If there isn’t a tweet, a fake account can be made in seconds. If you want it to happen more organically, one can simply edit the US trailers poorly so as to make your film look less funny than it is. Either way, complaints are lumped into an -ist category, and anyone against that will fight them, all of this regardless of the film’s quality. Spite is a strong impulse. Also, one could, say, continuously chop up their films into hot messes and release better cuts on video, ensuring sales on the backend. If I know this, the marketing firms know this.

The internet, its economic ramifications on the entertainment industries, and the conversion of news media into an entertainment industry in the post-9/11 world has elevated opinion to the level of fact, fan fiction to the level of the licensed remake, and otherwise faded the divide between us and authority. This is good in a way. Like punk rock, indie rock, alternative rock, the blues, hip-hop, etc in music, the independent film movements over the years, and the initial, pre-Disney explosion of Marvel Studios, it takes art back to its roots and out of the exclusive hands of elite corporate shills. At the same time, it has its drawbacks. When it comes to art, the audience doesn’t know what it wants until it gets it. If it starts to dictate content, the pool becomes just as stagnant as when a corporate entity is in charge. All food becomes junk food when customer satisfaction is all that matters. Art for art’s sake is masturbation. There must be a balance between audience, artist, experimentation, and to a certain extent, business. Audiences like to be challenged, they just don’t know they do, just as children run from what they fear and simultaneously love to be scared.

But… If you aren’t doing something original anyway, what’s the difference? If all you have to offer is a product, the audience will rightfully take ownership. The lack of involvement from the original artists in the Ghostbusters film is the most important aspect. Announcing their cameos and tacit approval helped a little, but they weren’t creating it. A sequel is to continue the work. A remake, reboot, prequel, etc. is a bit more of an erasure of the original work and carries an implicit “we are improving on the original” in its DNA, even if unintended. Without the original artists’ involvement, it instantly changes states in the consumer’s mind. Now, it is a product, and products, like shampoo or a Burger King meal or a Toyota Camry, are custom-order. In a capitalist society, we collect products and display them around ourselves to represent our individual identities–increasingly nebulous things in the Internet Age. I want my car red, my burger with no lettuce, my shampoo moisturizing, and my Superman films happier than my Batman films.

TV is currently where video art is being made. Stranger Things can be criticized as a one giant homage, but so can the films its homaging–all slices of life that called back to the B-horror, science fiction, and 50’s childhoods of their creators, now in turn being called back to by a show set in their heyday–but is still its own intellectual property. Other Netflix and cable programs can be said to be roughly the same percentage of adaptations to new material and so-called “adult” drama or video literature as film was 20 years ago. Visual art has moved from the short story phase into the novel phase, and it’s not going back.

As far as restoring balance to the film as an artistic, if still predominantly commercial medium, there’s only one way out I can see. If you produce consistently satisfying art and stay true to the source in spirit if not in letter, then the audience eventually surrenders. Notice no one bitch about James Gunn’s changes to Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Russo Brothers’ alterations to Winter Soldier and Civil War storylines. Sure, there are some sticklers as there always will be, but for the most part, they’ve gone over like the original Lord of the Rings films. Faithful where appropriate, altered to make better films and to make real artistic statements as films. Warner Brothers, meanwhile, gets eviscerated for making admittedly horribly edited films, but I’d argue mostly for not respecting the spirit of the source materials while simultaneously having nothing to say. That makes you a product, and we are far less forgiving of those mistakes.