Sunday, 27 November 2011

Everyone's A Fan Now

Once upon a time, you’d have to go to a fan gathering or convention to hear people speaking Fan. It’s the way that they talked when they were such big fans of something they speak with the faux authority of actually being involved in the subject rather than just a fan of it. There’s a lexicon that used to be exclusively used by fans which included phrases like “season”, “character arc”, “Plot development” and so on. Regular people never talked like that; the most they might observe in those legendary water cooler moments of old was that a TV programme or film was “great” or “crap”

Not any more. Nowadays everyone speaks Fan. You hear people who’ve never worn a Klingon mask or screamed at David Tennant talking about “season five”. They discuss story arcs like you can buy them at Tescos. It’s spread to other genres too; now people compare the merits of the plots and characters of seasons 3 and 4 of Doc Martin or Spooks for example. Even James Bond, the perennially unchanging spy now apparently luxuriates in a character arc.

Why has this happened? You can blame (if blame is something we should attach to this) the programme makers and the spate of behind the scenes items on TV and, especially on DVD. Interviews now talk of these matters in a way they never used to. In an age when we are told privacy is an untenable concept, people want to know everything. Secrets are only there to be discovered.

Thanks to Special Features, we now know all the nuts and bolts of film and television production.
Whereas once only dedicated fans talked about things like “scene sync” and “CSO” much to the bewilderment of anyone else, these days everybody knows about “motion capture” and “CGI”. 

The natural progression of this has been an explosion in amateur things; much of it posted on the likes of You Tube because armed with the knowledge of production, thousands of people think they can make their own programmes. Meanwhile television is full of programmes whose outcome can be directly influenced by us when we vote. Calls may well be considerably higher from some providers but that doesn’t stop millions calling to save their favourite contestant being evicted from the house, kitchen, stage, jungle or ballroom. Or even to vote for their favourite building. Asparagus Academy and Strictly Plumbing can only be a heartbeat away.

It has been said, rather wisely, that every generation gets the entertainment it deserves and if we are either making it or voting to influence it, then that has never been truer. Fandom as a concept means little now because everybody is part of it but that creates a level of expectation that few endeavours can satisfy. Look at the speed with which Downton Abbey went from 2010’s huge new hit to 2011’s disappointment. That is Fan stuff through and through; what the music press used to refer to as the “build ‘em up and knock ‘em down syndrome”.

We can never go back, partly because technology won’t allow us, but mainly because people now expect to directly influence the entertainment they receive.  The days when inside knowledge and analytical opinion were the exclusive province of fandom has gone forever.

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