Who Comes With Summer

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Title: Who Comes With Summer
Creator: Jeff Johnston
Date(s): July 1979
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic:
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Who Comes With Summer is a meta essay about eofandom, underground fandom, corporation and profit, and the birth of Star Wars fandom. It is by Jeff Johnston and was originally published in Alderaan #5 and later quoted by him in Comlink #35.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpt

The summer of 1977 gave me the opportunity to see something that most people are not fortunate enough to witness. I experienced the birth of a new fandom. That's when Star Wars fandom opened its bright new eyes -and crawled its few first steps on its own. As fandoms go, SW fandom is not big and may yet be a bit feeble, but seeing it develop from an "insiders" viewpoint is something I might not experience again...

One of the first early criticisms of Star Wars fandom that I heard was that it never had the chance to develop on its own. Star Wars fandom, the critics claimed, was more a public relations' hype than it was a true fandom. This "hype" or contrived event was allegedly all prepared by Twentieth Century Fox Corporation and the other SW companies, and the fans had little, if anything, to do with the original formation. Looking back upon the formation of Star Wars fandom I can say that this was not the case. Fandoms are not formed by companies. I will concede that a company, a corporation or other mundane organization could encourage the beginning of a fandom, but they cannot create a fandom. You cannot say "I will create a fandom today," and then go ahead and do it... Such fans create a fandom spontaneously when the proper chemistry exists. There was a certain magic to Star Wars that created the ranks of fans, who in turn, created the fandom. Twentieth Century could not have come up with a prefab fandom for SW unless there was a potential there all along. The fact that Twentieth Century had plans for a Star Wars club so early on shows to me that someone in the corporation had remarkable insight. And don't be so sure that they only had the intention of realizing more money from capitalizing on the fans. Of course, as a company that is in business they do hope to make a profit...but not on fan clubs. Twentieth Century Fox does not need fan clubs to bring in money. For a corporation that deals in megabucks daily, a fan club is penny-ante stuff. And if Star Wars has such fan potential to create an instant product market then they didn't have to waste effort dealing with Star Wars fandom. In case you haven't noticed, fandoms are a non-commercial market. We don't buy commercial items because we produce our own material, which is more closely geared to our tastes, and many times of a higher quality than commercial markets can ever hope to achieve because commercial markets are mass audiences. If Twentieth Century wanted to make money from fandom then they would be wiser to sell the license for the fan club to someone else and then sit back, take the money, and let them worry about the trivial details. The money and effort the corporation has put toward fandom may count toward a lot of solid PR, but will never give them a hefty return on their dollar. Twentieth Century cannot be accused of setting up a prefab fandom with money in their eyes. They can, however, be accused of caring enough about their product to get involved in something so small and seemingly insignificant that most other big picture companies wouldn't touch it. Paramount should have cared so much. One of the fascinating aspects of the first few months of limbo that SW fandom went through was the development of the Star Wars "underground."

An "underground" is hard to define really. To the whole of the actual fans of Star Wars who exist throughout the world, Star Wars fandom in general might appear to be an underground of sorts. But within SW fandom there is an underground. It is a nebulous thing at best and you may be a part of it and not know it. As I define the underground in fandom, it is any information or activity that could not be discussed or exchanged except between a select few people. The underground goes about its secretive ways through phone conversations, letters and face-to-face meetings between fans. Oddly enough, it was this underground fandom which sprung up almost immediately after Star Wars was released before any of the formal lines of communication could be set up for the "real" fandom. I had always assumed that the underground took longer to get started. Not so. Scarcely had the applause died down from the first screening of the film in some cities when fans were on their phones talking about trading cassette recordings of the film, or doing X-rated Han pictures. And within a month anyone who had kept their ears open knew somebody who had a friend, who knew somebody with contacts with those people who stole those 6,000 slides... And there was talk of someone who purloined a whole 70-mm copy of the film somewhere, and someone else was selling videotapes in Betamax format for $200 a copy. Of course, much of this was unsubstantiated or bloated rumor, but by the time the first major Star Wars fanzine hit town the fans were knee-deep in more fannish activity than I could list here. The speed the underground had getting started can be attributed to the fact that the people who started SW fandom were already members of other fandoms. The lines of communication between the fans were already established. It took as long for that first underground communication as it takes to dial a phone or send a letter in the mail. Officially, Star Wars fandom could not be said to exist until the first major zine appeared, bringing together the works of a number of fans for a larger audience."