Golden Ages: the Agency of Nostalgic Fandom

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[1] 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.


Works Cited

Derschowitz, Jessica. “Angela Lansbury comments on Beauty and the Beast remake, original’s legacy.” Entertainment Weekly.  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. 

[1]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.


I was hoping that someone would talk about the role of the "angry original viewer/fan." While I am open to change, I just wouldn't see some of my favorite films adapted to modern times. For instance, the Back to the Future franchise or Ferris Bueller's Days Off. I personally, place so much value in these films that it would be impossible for me to enjoy them any other way. I'm not saying that a remake/reboot wouldn't shed light on newer issues or target a group that it didn't before, I just like being apart of something from the beginning. I wear it as a badge of honor.  

Yes, this is exactly what I'm hoping to consider. As I cannot speak to your personal experiences, I'll offer what I hope is a similar case.  Some time ago news circulated that The Craft (1996) was going to be treated to a remake. 

The reaction I heard, largely through social media and from a very particular demographic (30-something white middle class women), was vitriolic; fans of the original film were horrified that a text significant to their juvenile identities was going to be changed, and railed against the value of such a project. Interestingly, the responses weren't just dissatisfaction that the film itself was going to be changed, but a projection onto, and predictions about, the potential new fan base: there was eyerolling, sighs, and a general dismissal of a wave of preteen girls who would find themselves under the spell of social liberation promised in the fantasy of the narrative (pun unashamedly intended). This projected fan base became a subject of derisive superiority, as self-proclaimed fans of the 1996 film quipped with disdain that one should prepare for "a new wave of thirteen-year-old witches." But what this perspective didn't actively acknowledge is that this is precisely the identity upon which the responders were basing their dismissal - that they themselves were once enthusiastic preteens seeking out the same sense of power, and identifying with characters who excused themselves from traditional social structures. This is where I see Shahani’s bottom state, and retrosexuality; in this specific example, the bottom state is that of an adolescent girl, whose body, clothing, movements, sense of security, and identity are all governed by critical patriarchal institutions, leaving her powerless, teaching her shame, and subjecting her to strict regulations. Into this bottom state comes a text that provides a fantasy of liberation, i.e. teenage girls who discover the power to evoke change through witchcraft. As a deviant identity unto itself, the figure of the witch is marginalized and criminalized, but in her potential some read an example of agency, and adopt (or at least identify with) this same identity to experience the autonomy that allows at least the illusion of exception to social regulations. The adult reaction to the remake of the film is, I’d suggest, a policing of these borders, and a desire to preserve this bottom state for that power of exception it offers – “original fans” don’t wish to dilute the identity through an influx of new fandom, and seek to maintain their own control through the exclusion of others. 

Similar responses accompany comic book movie releases, and remakes of cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The fan response to Suicide Squad has been particularly interesting, as it seems to have generated categories of fan identity more firmly rooted in social media than in fandom of the original text(s). 

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