The Necessity of Fandom

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Title: The Necessity of Fandom
Creator: James Addams
Date(s): spring 2000
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic:
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The Necessity of Fandom is an essay by James Addams. It was published in Blue Harvest #19 in spring 2000.

Some Topics Discussed

  • commercial marketing of Star Wars and its increasingly lack of soul and quirk
  • fanworks are more complete and interesting
  • copyright and licensing is making official fan products dull and homogeneous

Excerpts

I am seeing a growing trend in fan-produced Star Wars projects. Rough around the edges as they may be, they show more enthusiasm for Star Wars than almost any of the corporately standardized official licensed products I can think of. Have you noticed how large a percentage of the TPM product is fully homogenized with that same black and red packaging, all the same art work, and with none of me cool quirts that might give it any of the sort of charm that the early ANH stuff had? This has been bugging me for the better part of a year, and I am only now just putting my finger on what is wrong with the TPM merchandising - it has no charisma of it's own.
Remember the art on the plastic cups from Coolee stores in 1977? Or the Star Wars Spectacular magazine from Warren publications? Or that cool quintet of posters issued by Coke and Burger Chef in 1978? Or the inconsistent renderings of the droids by the Marvel comics artists? How about that overly dramatic cornball script read by Roscoe Lee Brown on the LP The Story of Star Wars? These products were inconsistent, and yet, they were so cool! In many, many ways, they had more in common with tan-produced projects of 2000 than with the other licensed products of 1977, in that the creators had some freedom, and each endeavor had it's own personality. All of the newer stuff is so... generic... created purely out of corporate greed, and without a modicum of love for Star Wars.
Perhaps we are all feeling this, on a level conscious or sub conscious. Perhaps this is what drives so many of us to create. There are many SW fans who have taken up pen or camera to create their own corner of Star Wars fandom, perhaps to satisfy the need for individualism and variety that the ever more rigid licensing department of Lucasfilm Ltd. is denying us. This creative outpouring comes in the form of 'zines, stories, films toys, web sites, and art. Consider this: the book The Art of Star Wars (1979) shows a gallery of Star Wars movie posters from all over the world. Each is different. Some are very familiar, others are arguably much better than the ones we are familiar with here in the US of A, and some are really weird. But each is different. In January of 2000, I heard that The Official Star Wars Web Site had posted a dozen or so TPM posters from all over the world. I immediately went there, and was dumb struck to find twelve identical posters, with modifications to the TPM logo being the only difference from country to country. We were supposed to find this interesting, I think. This was just about the lamest and most disappointing thing I have ever seen.
It is true that www.sfarwars.com has the right to use Star Wars images, text, sounds, and videos that not one other SW site out there can legally use, and they also obviously have the inside scoop on upcoming SW films and products, as well as access to the vast amounts of artwork in the Lucasfilm Archives. But at the end of the day, there are a dozen fan sites out there that I regularly visit first. Collecting sites like Rebel Scum, The Star Wars Collectors Resource Page, The Star Wars Collectors Archive, and Sir Steve's Guide are thoroughly maintained by a bunch of fellas who really care about collecting. Their databases and news archives are more complete than any other. TheForce.Net, Newsdroid, and some of the other sites out there simply blow the official site away as a news resource, and as a source for stuff you really want to take time to read or download. The same can be said about magazines. The Star Wars Insider may be slick and colorful compared to a little ol' zine like Blue Harvest, but how many of their employees would still work there if asked to do so for free, as Mary Jo and I do for this magazine? All of our writers and artists have contributed their time and effort for free because they love Star Wars, and feel they have something meaningful to contribute to fandom. Do you think the slick and glossy Insider staff feel the same way? And what about the fact that half of their magazine is a catalog for a company which sells things at prices usually higher than normal retail price, yet has none of the overhead of a retail store? Do you think that the people who work at 1-800-TRUEFAN are really 'True Fans'? Of course, the fact that you'll never read an opinion in the Insider goes without saying, and remains the justification for the continuing existence of this very magazine. As does www.starwars.com, the Insider reeks of propaganda and has a press release feel to almost every article, in spite of the occasionally astounding exclusive interviews, previously unpublished pictures, and other great features usually unattainable by peon publishers like us. Ask one of the editors how he really feels about something, and you'll get nothing but a regurgitation of an approved sound byte that you've heard before.
There is a wealth of fan fiction out there too, and a look back at the dark ages of Star Wars fandom (1985-1991) shows that the surviving enclaves of fandom back then were largely made up of fanfic authors, keeping the spirit of the Force alive when no major publishers thought it was financially viable to publish Star Wars books. Obviously, someone wanted to read these stories, and maybe more importantly, I needed to write them.

Reactions and Reviews

James Addams' co-editor, Mary Jo Fox, commented on this essay in the next issue of Blue Harvest:
I read James's editorial "The Necessity Fandom" in BH #19 and thought I'd throw my two credits' worth on the topic.

Aside from working on this zine for 7 years, I have been writing fan fiction for almost a decade and published 6 issues of a fan fiction zine called "Snowfire." I've been to many a fan gathering and have met plenty of people. I can see some truth to what James was saying. For many of us who are what I call "lifestyle" fans, a bi-monthly mag and a few short updates per day on the official web site aren't going to be enough to stave off SW withdrawal until May 2002. When we first started BH there was no official web site or a bi-monthly. For a long time, fan-produced stuff was the only game in town. However, SW fans have always been making their own toys, costumes, props, art-work, and stories. The very first SW fanzine, "Hyperspace," was published in June of 1977. How many of us used to play act our favorite scenes either with our action figures or with our friends? Who can forget the first major "fan film," Hardware Wars? Back in the day, Lucasfilm got tons of fan art, sculptures, and other knicknacks from folks who just wanted to show their appreciation. Today, the kids are bigger and the toys are bigger. Technology has created a real community of fans that hadn't existed before the 1990s. A community creates both a purpose to create and an audience to consume. People have a reason to set up a web site or to make a fan movie, especially when they see others do it. The proliferation of computers, home video cameras, and so forth make it easy for even the not-so-skilled and not-too-rich to jump in there and do something. So mere's a lot more out there than there used to be.

But I think the essential reason behind it all is as true now as it was 23 years ago-a deep love for the films. One of the best things about the SW movies is that they inspire the imagination and they get those wheels turning in our heads. No matter how great the licensed stuff is or how much is out there, we're always going to want to do more. We're driven to do more.