The emotional response garnered by announcements of film remakes and reboots is a fixture of social media, as ardent fans of books, film, comics and games often react with vitriol against directors and producers who declare intentions to remake or reinvent familiar narratives. Angela Lansbury’s critical response to the remaking of Beauty and the Beast stands as a strong example of the emotional response of fans at large, her language echoing the terse befuddlement of consumers who prize original productions and “don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I can’t understand what they’re going to do with it that will be better than what we’ve already done” (Derschowitz). As Lansbury’s appraisal articulates, there is a social tendency to prize original productions, to which a cultural currency is attached for originality, vision, or simply being the first, and an ethos of fandom is established through the (at times militant) dedication to “original” material. In response to this month’s survey question of motivated reaction and pedagogy, I propose a reading of this fan ethos through the lens of Nishant Shahani’s Queer Retrosexualities, and argue that fandom of once-marginalized material stands as a “bottom state,” and that the subsequent rejection of remakes that works to popularize this material is a disidentification with the newly-popular that seeks to preserve an agency of “otherness” once found in the adoration of the socially unaccepted.
I suggest that the ardent devotion of original fandom comes from the same space of shame and disidentification as Shahani’s “bottom state” of mid-century queerdom.Using Stockton’s “embrace of debasement” from Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame, Shahani asks “how a return to a decade when the stigma of shame marks queers can be generative and reparative” (19). Relying on Edelman’s advocacy of “an embrace of negativity that refuses the pull towards affirmation or the attachment of social meaning to queerness” (21), Shahani promises to examine “the seductive and communal pleasures in embracing a moment when queerness appeared to challenge the very foundations of the social order” (21) – a reclamation of the pejorative which becomes a source of agency through its own rejection of that social order.
The bottom state for comics fans, by way of example, is the historical moment when their fandom is a subject of public derision, and thus their dedication is performed through their preference for the material over larger social acceptability. Prior to the cultural saturation of the present market the archetype of the comics fan is one of social inferiority, as illustrated by the “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons. Despite his espoused intelligence and advanced degrees, the forty-five-year-old comics shop proprietor is a subject of ridicule in his 1991 introduction, represented as morbidly-obese in poorly-fitting clothes, whose superiority complex alienates members of the community. He is the “basement dweller” made cartoon, designed to dislike. And yet in his sense of superiority fans see (and perhaps identify with) a kind of agency: he is a figure excused from social mores, successfully indulging his primary interests as a business owner, and liberated from the restrictions of social anxiety. This agency in the present is challenged as comic material becomes more popular, shifts to reflect contemporary tastes and expectations, and thus the landscape of fandom becomes dramatically altered. It is this alteration against which fans rail, and this autonomous agency they seek to reclaim through their defense of a “bottom state” of geeky fandom, bolstering their defenses against an invasion of mainstream culture and the social regulation it brings.
Derschowitz, Jessica. “Angela Lansbury comments on Beauty and the Beast remake, original’s legacy.” Entertainment Weekly. EW.com. 22 Nov 2016. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
Shahani, Nishant. “Introduction: Theorizing Queer Retrosexualities.” Queer Retrosexualities: The Politics of Reparative Return. Lanham: LeHigh University Press, 2012. Print. 1-36.
I define “marginalized material” as comics, cult classics, or other materials whose cultural value is not recognized at its moment of production, or whose fandom elicits critical social response.