Question Authority

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Title: Question Authority
Creator: Jeanine Hennig, Samia Martz, and Mary Urhausen
Date(s): December 1985
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic:
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Question Authority is a meta essay by Jeanine Hennig, Samia Martz, and Mary Urhausen.

It was published in Southern Enclave #10 and is online here.

It starts with the line "Lucasfilm doesn't give a damn for its fans" and was written in response to the three authors' recent experience as panelists at the Labor Day weekend LoneStarCon, the 1985 alternative Worldcon held in Austin, Texas. The panel was entitled "Whose Fandom Is It, Anyway?" On the panel were Maureen Garrett, Carolyn Cooper, Samia Martz and Jeanine Hennig.

Some Excerpts

As you might have guessed, we're angry. So, we're going to toss the glove in earnest. Lucasfilm does a lot of pretending. They say that they're the only organization that gives a flying flip for their f ans. True, on the surface. They have organized a fan club, they allow (!!!) fanzines to be published, they do nifty slide presentations and, from all we've heard, are glad to give the fans a tour if they happen to find the workshop and show up on the doorstep. All of this looks nice, and is nice. But we're not talking about appearances -- we're talking about attitude. And that word hits the nail right on the head. Like we said earlier, the organization does a lot of pretending. They offer the meat to the dog, then slap him when he gets too close. As zine editors and fans, we've seen signs of this before. It just seemed to hit home to see the attitudes expressed up close, on a panel and to hear some of the members of the audience AGREE!
Item One. "I hope they'll grow out of it." Fanzines are viewed by Lucasfilm's representatives as a childhood toy. The zines are a stepping stone, nothing more, and should be abandoned after one gets good enough to go "pro". That isn't fair. There are some zine folk who don't WANT to go pro does that make their work any less? And what of those who are working to go pro, or have done so, yet still like to read and write for zines?
Item Two: "Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery; it can be grounds for a legal suit." This subject has been done to death, and we don't want to get into it, really. But it does come up with every involvement with Lucasfilm. Marian Zimmer Bradley once said that she was ecstatic that others wanted to play in her world. What a wonderful attitude to have! What are these people afraid of? George Lucas has created a marvelous world. We do not deny that, nor can we take that accomplishment away from him even if we wanted to. But, obviously, someone thinks that we want to. Well, if you don't listen, you don't hear...
Item Three: "My way is the Only Right and True Way." That doesn't work in life, much less in fantasy. This is very similar to Item Two, really an offshoot. And it disturbs us that Lucasfilm's representatives have such an outlook from an organization that used to work to PROMOTE creativity...
Item Four: "When you milk the cow for three years without breeding her again, the milk gets pretty thin." There is a firmly shut door on future adventures of SW, except for children's shows. Lucas may or may not get around to writing other movies for SW. Adult fandom is dying, and they don't seem to give a damn. No books are going to be released. Outside of zine fandom, which is kept alive by STORIES and FUTURE ADVENTURES, the thing is bleeding slowly, with no hope for transfusion. You might ask why we care. Sometimes we wonder ourselves you can only be beaten down so many times. But it is hard to see something that you loved die without anyone trying to save it. Books saved Trek fandom...
Item Five; "We have no money." When we asked about future rereleases, the reply was that there was no money to subsidize such a venture. The final showings of JEDI didn't make money. We're not surprised, as few people knew they were even OUT last time they showed. Call us childish, but this "no money" thing is just a BIT hard to swallow.
Item Six: "We are here, high on our success. We don't need you anymore." Hey, didn't fans put them there? We can take 'em down...
Item Seven: "Question Authority." Yes, that's what we were told at the end of the panel. Speaking of biting one's nose off to spite one's face... Come on. guys! Question authority? I thought that's what we were doing.

Reactions and Reviews

A tip of the Malkin hat to Jenni, Samia and Mary for having the courage to publish their Question Authority guest editorial. That's exactly what GL says to do, but when we do, he doesn't like it. How else can this be interpreted but as a slap in the faces of his greatest fans? I mean it when I say his greatest fans, too. I personally have nothing but admiration for the man who overcame all kinds of problems to become a famous movie director and producer and creator of SW. But, my admiration ends at the point where he throws that admiration back in our faces and treats us like brainless deviants—unimportant brainless deviants at that! After all. what have we fen ever done but give him tons of free publicity? As I've said before, the man could do with a good lo-o-ong discussion with Gene Roddenberry. [1]
...That's how I felt all along. it goes before and beyond the "Flap" of a few years back. The Official Fan Club exists to control the audience. Fandom, as we know it, is a portion of the audience that does not want to be controlled, can't be controlled, in fact, and that worries Lucas.[2]
I read it with interest and a little sadness. It appears that Lucasfilm's representatives are somewhat devoid of the human spirit that characterizes the SW saga and captured the hearts of fans worldwide. A pity George doesn't exert some of the control he seems fond of maintaining upon his company representatives. After all, he is the man who wrote Leia's immortal words, "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." Someone should perhaps explain to Lucasfilm that the same holds true for fans as well as star systems, and the condescending attitude toward fanzines and those responsible for keeping them alive plus dire warnings of lawsuits does nothing to endear to it those who made the saga such a success--indeed, the saga is bigger than the man who created it, in the sense that Lucasfilm no longer has much rigid control over it as it would like! And maybe that's putting my finger right on the sore spot... [3]
What do fans want from Lucasfilm? "Fans" I define here narrowly as "people engaged in active, fanzine-oriented SW random." "Respect" is not specific enough. What is an acceptable demonstration of respect, if it isn't being demonstrated now? What do fans want to see in the newsletter? There are lots of complaints about what everyone doesn't like, but seldom any positive suggestions. My own biases, and probably my position as well, are well known. First, I don't think Lucasfilm disrespects fans, though it doesn't always understand media fandom. Second, there are at most 1,000 SW fans in the sense defined above (and that's stretching it), and a combined attendance of less than 25,000 at all the SF cons Lucasfilm sends representatives to during the year, while the SW fan club has 250,000 or so members. It is naive at best and arrogant at worst to expect Lucasfilm to cater to us. STAR WARS does not exist for the benefit of SW fandom; fandom is secondary to SW. To suggest that George Lucas must make more SW movies, whether or not he wants to, just so that SW fandom will continue, is, to be blunt, to attempt to hold him creatively hostage to the desires of a thousand or so people. [4]
"Question Authority" was very thought-provoking. Point well taken. Not that it would do much good, but has a copy of the editorial been sent to Lucasfilm? [5]
I just want to comment on your questions about the Lone Star Con panel with Maureen Garrett, since I was there. (As far as I know, no one got this on tape, did they?) Subsequent events, with the resignation of Ms. Garrett and the virtual dissolution of the OSWFC tend to bear out our conclusions on Lucasfilm and the fans. But I do wish to clarify that at no time did anyone attack Maureen personally. I'm sure she did feel on the defensive, however, since most of the fans were none-too-tactful in voicing their complaints about the way SW fans are treated by the hands that should be feeding them. (Kind of a case of being slapped by the hand that feeds you?) A lack of goodwill was noticeable—on both sides. [6]

References

  1. from Southern Enclave #11
  2. from Southern Enclave #11
  3. from Southern Enclave] #11
  4. from Southern Enclave] #11
  5. from Southern Enclave #11
  6. from Southern Enclave #12