Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Commodifying Your Fantasy Life

A few weeks ago at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Chicago, I got to hear the organizers of the Walker Stalker Con -- a fan convention for The Walking Dead (2010-- ) -- and Heroes and Villains -- a fan convention for fans of superhero movies, tv shows, and comics -- give a talk. The event was supported by the Comics Studies group, of which I am a part, and the Fan Studies group, of which I am not a part. The con organizers were lovely people, and they talked mostly about the Walker Stalker convention and its fan base, which, interestingly enough, has a high proportion of survivors of domestic abuse, as well as people who are still suffering domestic abuse, cancer survivors, and people with disabilities. The organizers go out of their way to accomodate the people with disabilities, so they don't have to spend so long on line to meet the stars of The Walking Dead they came to see. For a fee, the stars give their fans an autograph, and far a larger fee, they give them a photo-op.

Now, the stars aren't as rich and spoiled as you think they might be, although the convention organizers make it a point to put them up at nice hotels and feed them well. They are very sweet people and they go out of their way to be kind to certain fans who touch their hearts. Many of these stars will not have much of a career, or at least not as lucrative a career, once The Walking Dead ends. They're making a killing, not a living. These convention appearances are all part of the retirement plan. And despite how cynical you want to be, no, I personally don't have a problem with grown-ass men and women cosplaying like ten-year-olds, nor do I have a problem with grown-ass men and women writing about and teaching pop culture. (I do have some problem with people in graduate school literature programs who don't think Tolstoy or Whitman are ever worth their time, as well as a larger culture that treats reading Thomas Hardy as homework. And I say that as someone who spends ninety percent of his professional life writing and teaching about comics, movies, and cartoons. But that's another story.) I don't have a problem with people who have suffered horrible traumas or who are not treated by the society at large with the dignity they deserve finding solace in works of pop culture. I'm no different. I got as much from Peter Parker at age 10 as I got from Pierre Bezukhov at 15. And, hell, I get as much from Peter Parker at age 36 as I do from Proust and Whitman.

But...I mean...aren't you at least a little creeped out by the spectacle of people, mostly women, who have suffered domestic violence lining up at conventions and paying a good amount of cash to someone who plays a glamorized, likely less interesting version of them on television? Domestic violence affects people at all levels of the income scale, but financial constraints make it difficult for many women to escape their abusers. As for the cancer survivors, well, ACA is great and all, but cancer still eats into a lot of people's life savings, houses, cars, and grocery money.

This is where the small-s, small-font socialist comes out in me, the guy who wishes fantasies weren't commodified, the guy who's glad that Leaves of Grass is in the public domain.

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