I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers, but I loved this review by Andrew O’Hehir. I think O’Hehir’s take on the dynamics of comic book fans and the broader culture are exactly right.
at what point is the triumph of comic-book culture sufficient? Those one-time comic-book pariahs are now the dominant force in pop-culture entertainment, and their works are deemed to be not just big but also relevant and important…. It’s a neat little postmodern trick, actually, to simultaneously position this movie as the most central pop-culture event of 2012 and insist on some kind of edgy, outsider status that renders any and all detractors as pipe-smoking William F. Buckley squares, defending a nonexistent Establishment.
Predictably, some of O’Hehir’s commenters take great offense to his review, and equally predictably one calls for his firing. I expect passionate disagreement, and I look forward to reading some in the comments. But I do think that there’s a huge tension between the commercial dominance of comic books, sci-fi, and video games and the continued efforts of fans to assert that they are an oppressed minority. I’ve been working this beat for awhile. (Here’s the kinder version, here’s the inflammatory screed version.) One of the virtues of O’Hehir’s review is that he demonstrates how this notion of “bias” against these genres (which is another way to say “different tastes”) actually results in worse media for genre fans; the bar is set so low, in order to appease the all-powerful comic book fanbase, that mediocrity gets celebrated like it’s greatness.
When I look at the broad culture of “fandom”– sci-fi fans, video game fans, comic book fans, etc.– I see a disturbing familiarity with the Tea Party. Both groups enjoy great power and cultural prominence; both commonly make complaints about oppression that simply cannot withstand scrutiny; and crucially, both seem far more invested in being recognized as marginalized and oppressed than in being freed from their supposed marginalization and oppression.
There’s no liberal media. There’s no throngs of community activists holding the Tea Party down. There’s no conspiracy between NPR and ACORN to steal their guns, take their money, and give away their jobs. But if such things existed, I do believe that most Tea Partiers wouldn’t change it if they could. They seem to take such great satisfaction, even identity, from the notion of their exclusion and oppression.
The stakes here are, luckily, much lower. But the dynamic, to me, is the same, and it’s equally unhealthy when it comes to genre fiction fans. The question that O’Hehir asks– how much commercial triumph is sufficient?– is not merely a rhetorical one. I’ve never heard an adequate explanation from fans of comic books or sci-fi what they would take as victory. Our pop culture is flooded with products aimed at them, our Internet commentary is chock full of analysis of those products, and our mainstream press now spends far more time considering video games than opera or ballet or theater. If what people are looking for is recognition from “high culture,” then they’re bound to unhappiness; there is no such thing anymore, if there ever was.
But then, maybe being bound to unhappiness is the point.