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Another chapter of online media fandom is about to end, fellow media junkies. The beloved website Television Without Pity (TWoP), that had a big hand in creating the TV recapper culture we know and love today, is scheduled to be shut down in April, with its famously boisterous forums following at the end of May. It's an old, familiar story by this point. A media website attracts a loyal, fervent following for a few years, they're acquired by a major company that doesn't really know what to do with them (in this case NBC Universal via their Bravo unit), the original folks responsible for the early success moved on, and the site slowly withered away until the plug was finally pulled.

I wasn't a very consistent visitor to TWoP, but I did visit fairly regularly for a few years. A lot of people did. What drew me to the site wasn't the recaps, which have now become industry standard, but the forums. I have a long history of loving obscure little genre shows that have almost no fandoms to speak of, and no matter how obscure a show was, the TWoP forums could be counted on to have a thread for nearly everything you could think of. Even if it was a single one-season reality show, late night time-filler, or a foreign cult import, if it was airing somewhere on American television, someone on TWoP was talking about it. On the other hand, it was also the only place I regularly found a decent level of discussion going on for shows that didn't really attract traditional media fandoms - the crime procedurals, the family sitcoms, and even news programs.

So the TWoP forums were where I went to look for reactions to new episodes of dubbed late night anime (from viewers who weren't part of the usual anime crowd), "Law & Order: SVU," "Project Runway," and occasionally even "60 Minutes." It was where I went when I first started working my way through older shows, because I could follow along with the archived discussion threads simply by keeping track of when posts were made relative to the original airdates for the episodes I was watching. I always preferred old fashioned message boards to social networking based sites for media discussions for this reason. It was so much easier to find things. And, of course, there were always far fewer technical glitches than with "talkback" style comments like Disquis.

I also appreciated that the participants were mainly casual viewers like me. There were certainly big fandoms on the forums, often with their own separate subforums and subcultures that generated lots of activity, but I tended to stay away from those. Certain media fandoms are notorious for generating drama, and I was always wary of getting too involved with them. I also knew where to find forums and message boards devoted to specific shows, like "Project Runway," but they tended to be more insular and myopic about their particular fandoms. The TWoP crowd could be counted on to be a more laid-back, more eclectic crowd that was interested in a variety of different shows.

Most of the write-ups I've been reading about the end of TWoP have focused on the recaps, naturally, on the snarky, obsessive, yet refreshingly self-aware brand of criticism they helped to popularize. It helped the mainstream to realize that there is an audience for good television writing, and that even the most heinous pieces of pop culture detritus could be good material for serious dissections. There have also been some inches devoted to the site's brushes with fame over the years, as various TV showrunners have dropped by to engage with their audience directly over the years, with mixed results.

The obvious successor to Television Without Pity has been the A.V. Club, which takes a more curated approach to television recaps and reviews, and has also nurtured a great little community. However, it hasn't got quite the same verve or the same breadth of coverage as Television Without Pity. Few media sites do. That's why there are still a significant number of regular users on the site, and they're debating over where to migrate the community next. This is a common occurrence now, fandoms moving from platform to platform and site to site as the internet chugs along.

I can't say I'm going to miss Television Without Pity. Though I had the site bookmarked for ages, I haven't been by in years. I'm far too busy to follow along with message board discussions of the shows I watch anymore. However, in its own way TWoP was an institution, one that gave TV fans a place to be TV fans for well over a solid decade and changed the way a lot of us watch and engage with television.
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I've wanted to do an anime music video (AMV) list for a while now, but I was a little iffy on the logistics. I pretty much exited the wider anime community in 2008, so I'm not aware of what's been going on in the community lately. Still, I've been an AMV fan for years and I have a ton of recommendations. So I figure, what the heck. My picks might have some mileage on them, but they'll still be a good place to start.

All links below lead to AnimeMusicVideos.Org pages. I'm not lnking to the videos directly because AMVs tend to be fairly ephemeral things that can disappear form the usual sharing sites without warning, leaving a trail of broken links in their wake. This archive site at least has all the necessary identifying information to help you track them down elsewhere.

Caffeine Encomium - Has my vote for best AMV ever. "Kodomo no Omocha," or "Kodocha," is a pretty obscure comedy series about a child actress named Sana, who is highly, highly energetic. That's about all you need to know. This is about the simplest kind of AMV there is, just clips set to music. No special effects, no original content, and a very simple concept too, but boy is it effective. And file away the name of the video's creator, Kevin Caldwell, a highly influential figure, who has become something of an in-joke among AMV editors.

Mad World - There are a lot of fast and furious AMVs made with footage from the wild "FLCL" series, full of explosions and fight scenes and all manner of visual craziness. This is not one of those videos. "Mad World" shows off the slow and contemplative side of "FLCL," by setting clips to the Gary Jules song. You can tell an anime is really something special when the show parts are just as good as the fast parts, and that's certainly the case here. Footage of Jules performing is inserted into the video, but not in a showy way, creating this great moody, unique atmosphere.

Trauer - "Wolf's Rain" was not a series I particularly liked. It was gorgeous, but seriously underdeveloped. That's why I was so glad someone took the footage and manipulated it to create this intense, engaging new narrative for the two main characters, that packs way more punch than the original in only a few minutes. The concept is better than the execution - the added effects are pretty rough at some points - but it works. Also, that is a Ramnstein song being used. The AMV community is an international one, and this is not the only foreign entry on this list.

Code Monkey - If I didn't know about the middle-aged office worker sci-fi comedy "Black Heaven" beforehand, I might have mistaken the animation in this video for being totally original, created specifically to illustrate Jonathan Coulton's ode to the lowly programmer, "Code Monkey." The little pop-up bubbles are perfect, the ridiculous product placement is inspired, and all the humor just fits so well. The anime and the song separately are okay, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but put them together and you've really got something special.

Hold Me Now - The appeal of "Princess Tutu" can be hard to explain. It's a charming "magical girl" show that is centered around ballet, opera, and fairy tales. It's certainly cute and sweet, but has some pretty dark and thrilling moments too. "Hold Me Now" manages to capture that in a little over three minutes, though it does spoil a few things that curious viewers probably wouldn't want to know going into the series. But if you have no intention of watching an anime about ballet dancers and talking animals anyway, I definitely recommend giving the video a shot.

Quid Pro Quo - Stretching the definition of AMV a little here, because this one has no music involved. Instead, this video's editor took a chunk of the audio from Kevin Smith's "The Flying Car" short featuring Dante and Randall from "Clerks" and replaced the humdrum visuals with lip-synced clips from the super-homoerotic supernatural fantasy melodrama "Descendants of Darkness." The result is hysterical. The New Jersey counter-jockeys getting replaced with anime pretty boys is already ridiculous, but it just gets wilder and weirder from there.

Faithless - Okay, tradition mandates that I have to have at least one "Neon Genesis Evangelion" video in the mix and at least one featuring the music of Linkin Park, because those are the two go-to sources for a terrifying percentage of young, angsty AMV creators. I'm going with "Faithless" because it's edited very, very well and it gets to the heart of what "Evangelion" is actually about. It's not about the carnage or the destruction or the screwy Biblical references. It's about a group of screwed up kids taking their personal problems with them into life-and-death battles.

Golden Boy Race - You know, sometimes you don't even need a lot of edits to make a good AMV. The most important part really is putting the right clips with the right music. In this case, putting the madcap bicycle race sequence from "Golden Boy" with a German pop singer's cover of Queen's "Bicycle Race" does 90% of the work. I beleive all the editor did was speed up or slow down some of the clips to get them to match the music better. The larger irony here is that "Golden Boy" is one of the most notoriously raunchy anime of its time, which you can't tell at all from the clips.

Somewhere Only We Know - Lots of editors have made videos with clips from Studio Ghibli films, because you can hardly ask for more gorgeous footage. However, it's very easy to lose that very particular, pastoral atmosphere of the films with too many edits or effects or bad music choices. "Somewhere Only We Know" gets the balance just about right, featuring some of the loveliest imagery from "Castle in the Sky," "Princess Mononoke," and "Spirited Away." What's really key here is the pacing, which isn't scared of being languid and laid back and just letting us enjoy the animation.

The Road to Iron Chef - And finally, we close with a very oddball entry. This isn't an AMV, but a special intro video that a couple of AMV editors and artists put together for an "Iron Chef" style editing competition that took place at an Atlanta convention way back 2003. It's the best explanation I've seen of what AMV editors actually do, why they do it, and what the community is like. With lots of references to Homestar Runner, this is definitely dated, but it's still a lot of fun. I especially love that the bulk of the visuals are original, cartoon creations of artist Big Big Truck.
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It's always fascinating to see which initially ignored and panned films manage to endure the test of time to emerge as cult classics a few decades later. There are a heap of early 90s children's films that have become cult favorites, sparking a lot of recent discussion. Barely anyone remembers that "Hook," the 1991 Spielberg fantasy film, was met with mixed and downright hostile reviews. There hardly seems to be a Millennial out there who doesn't love it. Was "The Nightmare Before Christmas" too dark and scary for children, as the LA Time fretted back in 1993? Disney sure doesn't think so these days, with "Nightmare" merchandise now a ubiquitous presence at their stores and parks.

Usually I get why one of these old kids' films has become a perennial, but sometimes I don't. I watched "Hook" as a kid like everyone else, and while I love the score and a few standalone scenes, it's become all to clear to me over the years that the movie is a mess. But still, I can understand the appeal. It's a big budget spectacular, stuffed with action scenes and humor and kid-friendly thrills. It has endlessly repeatable one-liners, and Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman hamming it up with all they've got. The special effects still look pretty good, and the loud, noisy, raucous atmosphere must have been irresistible, for little boys especially. When you're ten, you're not paying attention to things like shoddy plotting and bad characterization.

However, the cult status of another 90s kid film that has re-emerged recently has left me scratching my head. Apparently there's a whole generation that has grown up loving the Disney live-action Halloween film "Hocus Pocus," which came out twenty years ago to absolutely dismal reviews. It didn't last long in theaters, though it did make its modest budget back. I remember the movie pretty well, because it was used as convenient holiday time-filler for much of the 90s, particularly on the Disney-owned networks. It also shared a couple of actors - Omri Katz and Jason Marsden - with "Eerie, Indiana," which I was a big fan of. I must have been too old when I watched "Hocus Pocus" for it to get a grip on my affections, because I remember it as a remarkably campy, silly, and all too often awkward children's movie that felt like it had been slapped together out of spare parts.

The witches, played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are clearly the best the movie has to offer, playing a trio of goofy baddies with magnificent costumes, but they're so cartoonish that they never come across as a real threat. Everything is against them in the movie, from the insanely specific circumstances required for their resurrection to their unfamiliarity with the modern world. I know that they're supposed to be comedic figures, keeping it light for the littlest kids and amusing for the grown-ups, but the plot needs them to be at least a little scary by the third act. But good grief, the CGI "Casper" two years later was more intimidating.

The stuff with the teenagers running around, trying to stop them? Pretty dire. The actors aren't bad, but the characters are sketchy and the scenarios are bland. The teen romance was especially bad, and I cringed through a lot of the tin-ear dialogue about virgins and Vinessa Shaw's yabbos. For a movie meant to be safe for the very smallest tots, it's got some weirdly sexual elements in it that make me suspect that "Hocus Pocus" was initially a very different movie. Perhaps a musical of some sort, as this is the only movie directed by Disney regular Kenny Ortega, who made his name as a choreographer, that is not a musical.

I do like some bits and pieces of the movie. The talking cat is great. Doug Jones as a zombie is great. The best sequence is almost certainly when Bette Midler gets to sing "I'll Put a Spell On You," and vamp as only Bette Midler can. But those things aside, I can't work out what it is kids saw in this movie that stuck with them. "Hocus Pocus" looks like every other generic kids' Halloween movie from the same time. The effects are mediocre. The story isn't all that exciting. Were the Sanderson sisters really all that appealing to kids?

Familiarity is the culprit, I suspect. As I previously mentioned, "Hocus Pocus" has been a staple of Disney Halloween programming for years. Kids saw this movie over and over and over, until it became something nostalgic and fondly remembered, the same way that I got hooked on terrible old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the '80s. Young kids really have no sense of whether a movie is good or bad, but they respond well to bright colors and exaggerated characters, which "Hocus Pocus" has plenty of.

So, I suspect the same thing might have happened with any number of other movies if Disney gave them the same treatment. The far superior "The Witches," perhaps, or "The Halloween Tree." But Disney had the rights to "Hocus Pocus," so they played "Hocus Pocus," and twenty years later it's a little scary how many twenty-somethings can quote it verbatim.

Ultimately it's all about distribution.
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A few weeks ago I followed a link to Jon Negroni's PIXAR Theory, which theorizes that all the PIXAR animated films share the same universe. With some convoluted reasoning, he created a timeline that spans centuries and several different civilizations in order to encompass movies as diverse as "Brave" and "Cars 2." Frankly, you could get any two movies to exist in the same universe this way, and I wasn't surprised to find copycats popping up soon after, trying to link all the animated Disney films in a similar fashion, for instance.

This is only the latest example of single universe theory enthusiasts. These are the guys who love treating certain beloved movies and other media as treasure hunts, using little details to show connections between often wildly disparate pieces of media. TV Tropes calls it Canon Welding. One of the most popular is the Quentin Tarantino universe, where all of his films share common elements like the Red Apple cigarette brand, and characters in one film are often related to characters in others. For instance, Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction" and Mr. Blonde from "Reservoir Dogs" are brothers. Tarantino used to talk about making a Vega brothers prequel movie with the two characters that never came to pass. Or there's Donnie "The Bear Jew" Donowitz from "Inglorious Basterds," who is the father of a film producer named Lee Donowitz in "True Romance."

Then there's Dwayne McDuffie's article on the Grand Unification Theory, also known as the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis, that links over two hundred different television shows together through similar logic. At the core of that one is the fact that certain characters like Detective John Munch from "Homicide: Life on the Street" and the "Law & Order" series showed up in other shows like "The X-Files." Two doctors crossed over from hospital show "St. Elsewhere" to "Homicide: Life on the Street" once, linking that show too. "St. Elsewhere" is the important one, because that series ended with the bizarre twist that the whole show had taken place in the mind of an autistic boy named Tommy Westphall. If you count things like shared fake brands and appearances on "The Simpsons" and "South Park," just about everything can be linked. For instance, the most recent episode of "Breaking Bad" revealed Walt rented his van from a company called Lariat Rent-a-Car, where Mulder and Scully would always get their vehicles. Little Tommy Westphall's imagination sure has gotten more violent over the years.

This is all a lot of fun, but ultimately it doesn't amount to much. The point of McDuffie's article was that keeping track of so much continuity beyond a certain point was absurd. It's silly to treat a hard-edged crime drama like "Homicide: Life on the Street" like it exists in the same world as "The X-Files" with its alien conspiracies and supernatural forces. McDuffie was gently poking fun at militant comic book continuity nitpickers, particularly the ones who are up in arms every time a fun crossover decides to toss logic out the window for a few issues so that an unlikely team-up can take place. Putting all the PIXAR movies into a single timeline is pointless, because it doesn't matter whether most of them are connected or not. It's not like Merida from "Brave" and Lightning McQueen from "Cars" are ever going to meet face to face except at one of the Disney theme parks, for the sake of brand synergy.

So why do people keep coming up with these theories? Well, because it's fun. It's a chance to play detective and geek out over your favorite media. It's a way to use all the trivia and minutia collected over the years and put it towards something creative. Creators sometimes encourage this with Easter eggs and hidden messages - spotting the Pizza Planet truck in the latest PIXAR film is something of a tradition now. Also, the concept of single, shared universes hold a lot of appeal. It's nice to think about all your favorite characters from various pieces of media being able to interact in some way. Disney has built two different films around the concept - "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for Golden Age cartoon shorts, and "Wreck-it-Ralph" for video games.

Keeping in mind that they shouldn't be taken too seriously, I enjoy these theories. They do a lot to illuminate the worldbuilding of various media and can spark lots of interesting meta discussions. Looking at all the connections in the Grand Unification Theory, you notice that crossovers between major network shows used to be a much more common ratings stunt, and nobody could turn down a visit from Steve Urkel. And maybe Tarantino's penchant for little connections between his films says something about him as a filmmaker. The man loves his homages, so self-referential touches shouldn't be a surprise.

Not every piece of beloved media needs to be part of a complicated, sprawling universe like "Star Trek" or "Avengers," but it's fun to pretend that they are.
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My laptop decided it was no longer interested in functioning like a rational computing machine a few days ago, requiring me to upgrade my operating system to something more current. In the process I had to move everything off my hard drive, which has around 100 GB of storage capacity, to a spare removable drive that was around 32 GB. I was 20 GB over, and didn't have the time to try any alternate online options. This meant I had to clean house.

As you might expect, video files were responsible for the bulk of the clutter. I have some personal videos, but the real problems is that I have a habit of saving videos from the internet I like, especially when it's not certain that I'll be able to access them again. I've got a pretty big collection of fan-made Anime Music Videos (AMVs) from my otaku days, for instance. There's no formal distribution for these things and creators can disappear off the face of the earth without warning, taking their content with them. Because of the legal gray area these works exist in, a fan-made video posted on Youtube might get suddenly pulled down or rendered unwatchable on without any warning. I've made Youtube playlists to bookmark interesting fan videos, and came back after a few months to find half of the entries removed. There are a couple of dedicated archives devoted to AMVs and fanvids and mash-ups, but these can disappear quickly too. The only way to be sure you'll be able to access to fan-made content whenever you want is to hold on to a copy, just in case.

Of course, I didn't just save fan-made content. I kept a brief four-minute clip from a 2005 episode of "The Daily Show," where one of my old employers made an appearance (incorrectly identified, to our office's amusement). It's currently available through the Comedy Central website, but who knows for how long? The clip is part of a rambling opening monologue, not the kind of content that can be bundled onto home media and sold, as "The Daily Show" has done with some of their other pieces. Viacom could decide at some point that it's not worth their while to keep the eight-year-old clip online, and I'd lose the proof of a near-brush with fame. Lots of other memorable content is ephemeral and often hard to access after the initial broadcasts - commercials, award ceremony clips, idents, news reports, talk show segments, specials, local programming, and more. And there are always those obscurities that never make it to home media, or quickly go out of print. "Mickey Mouse in Vietnam," the famous 1960s underground anti-Vietnam protest cartoon resurfaced online a few months ago after decades of rumors and whispers about who might still have one of the rare prints. Better make a backup copy, before it disappears again.

Then you come to the realization, as I did, that this is hoarding behavior. Most of my fears about losing access to all this content are unfounded. The Internet has done a great job of preserving all sorts of unlikely media bits and pieces, just waiting to be stumbled over and rediscovered again. More and more old movies and shows find their way to some kind of official release every day. With the new prevalence of streaming services, the costs have come down across the board. Many of the long-forgotten shows I watched as a kid are on Netflix and Hulu right now. The fan-created content has also been making plays for increased legitimacy, and it's exceedingly rare that something worthwhile will disappear without a trace forever. In fact, I keep coming across kids sharing older AMVs that have been in circulation for over a decade by now.

So I commenced the long-overdue purge of my hard drive. I dumped the clips I knew I was never going to rewatch. I dumped everything that was high-profile enough that I was confident I'd be able to find them online again, with a little digging. Official music videos, movie trailers, election season parodies, and most of the commercials went into the Trash Bin. Goodbye, epic Blackcurrant Tango advert. So long, "Mickey Mouse in Vietnam." I still kept that "Daily Show" clip, though, and a good chunk of the AMVs - many of them unlabeled or mislabeled to such an extent that reassembling the collection would have been a massive undertaking. In the end I cleared out enough to transfer the rest to the external drive with a lot of room to spare.

Inevitably I'll fill up the hard drive again, and I'll have to clean it all out again at some point in the future. But considering how much fun I had this round, going back and revisiting all that content, I'm not too worried about it.
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The big screen adaptation of "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" hit the screens last weekend, and has not been well received, but has lead to some interesting discussions about fanfiction and film. Many reviewers have latched on to the factoid that "Mortal Instruments" had its origins in "Harry Potter" fanfiction, back when author Cassandra Clare went by Cassandra Claire, and made Draco Malfoy the hero of her fanfiction stories. Well, whether they were entirely her stories is debatable, but let's save that for another time.

In "Mortal Instruments" Draco became Jace and Hermione became Clary, much in the same way that "Twilight" heroine Bella became Ana and Edward became Christian in "Fifty Shades of Gray." The new characters are distinct, but the echoes of their origins are hard to escape. I've seen some writers use the video game term "expy" to describe them, short for exported character, where the template of a previous character is used in a new scenario with only superficial changes to create a new one, often filling the same role in the new story. Officers Stephens and Ramirez in "The Dark Knight," for example, are slightly altered versions of Batman universe mainstays, Bullock and Montoya. While expys can become full-fledged, independent characters with a little effort, the term is often used negatively, applied to those characters who are easily recognizable as being a rip-off or a reworking of someone familiar. You'll see the more blatant ones used as cameos or homages, which is when they seem to work best.

No surprise that critics are decrying "Mortal Instruments" for being derivative, many taking the time to tie the film's weaknesses to the fact that its source material was fanfiction, and pointing out all the elements that came from "Harry Potter." I find this unfair for a couple of reasons. First, Hollywood movies have long been guilty of turning out derivative films full of derivative characters. Think of the dependence on certain big name actors who keep playing the same roles over and over again. Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington play minor variations on their most usual movie personas in most of their action movies, only breaking out the real acting chops for Oscar season. Think of all the rom-coms with interchangeable plot complications. Think of all the "Twilight" and "Potter" clones that weren't based on fanfiction. The familiarity was probably a big factor in getting the "Mortal Instruments" movie made in the first place. Studio executives love being able to boil down concepts into references to earlier hits, so "Mortal Instruments" being "Harry Potter" crossed with "Twilight" was almost certainly a selling point. And when they get their hands on more off-the-beaten-path source material, like "The Dark is Rising" or "The Golden Compass," they tend to dumb them down do everything possible to make them look more generic and familiar.

Fanfiction and Hollywood would seem to be a match made in heaven, except that's a misunderstanding of what fanfiction is for. Sure, fanfiction is derivative in that it depends on existing characters and concepts for effectiveness, but it's transformative of these elements rather than slavishly repetitive. The whole idea is that fan stories use the existing characters in ways that the original authors can't or won't. The best fanfiction is often the wildest stuff - deconstructions, subversions. parodies, crossovers, alternate universes, genre experiments, and metatextual commentary. Part of the reason romance fanfiction is so prevalent is because many popular characters come from media that isn't inclined to provide much romance to an audience that can't get enough of it. While "Mortal Instruments" may have its roots in fanfiction, it's not fanfiction. It shed the concept of turning a recognizably villainous character into a hero when it became original fiction, and stopped engaging with the original "Harry Potter" text. Instead, "Mortal Instruments" is better described as yet another in a long line of "Potter" clones.

Mainstream movies, dominated by endless franchises that only allow stories to move forward at an incremental pace, that keep remaking the same properties over and over with only minimal differences, are antithetical to the anarchic creative urges responsible for the best fanfiction. Occasionally Hollywood makes movies that do qualify as fanfiction - "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Oz the Great and Powerful" - but it's only rarely that you find one that really gets the point, like "Inglorious Basterds" or "Cabin in the Woods." A proper "Harry Potter" fanfiction movie would follow the "Potter" kids twenty years in the future trying to deal with middle age problems, or retell events from Luna Lovegood's point of view as a musical satire, or reveal the secret affair that was going on the whole time between Professor McGonagall and Professor Trelawny, or at the very least add a few sex scenes. If "Mortal Instruments" is to be counted as "Harry Potter" fanfiction, it's the worst kind - a boring, uncreative, unchallenging retread of terribly familiar ground.

And with a Mary Sue heroine too. Tsk, tsk.
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I know, I know - it's no use dwelling on would'ves and should'ves and could'ves. However, the timing and circumstances just haven't been right to get me back to San Diego Comic-Con, and considering how exponentially more difficult it has become to get tickets and arrange accommodations for the event, I don't think I'm going back any time soon.

Still, it's fun to fantasize about these things. I worked out a loose schedule of events for myself, as if I had gone to Comic-Con this weekend, and I thought I'd share it with you. First thing you'l notice is that I've purposefully avoided most of the big panels for movies and television shows. The reality is that most of these panels are going to find their way online, and most of the exclusive film clips and bits of marketing will emerge into the public's view all too soon. There were a couple of panels that I waited for hours to see live, and ended up with such poor seats that I would have been better off just waiting to watch them on Youtube. Second thing you'll notice is that the schedule is physically impossible to accomplish, because some of the panels are back to back and everything at Comic-Con has a line to get in. But this is my fantasy schedule, so we'll dispense with such inconvenient details.

So which panels caught my eye this year?

Thursday, July 18th

3:30PM - TV Guide Magazine Celebrates The X-Files' 20th Anniversary: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are going to be there, plus series creator Chris Carter, plus many of the writers including Vince Gilligan, the Morgan brothers, and James Wong. This has all the earmarks of a real event. More importantly, there's going to be a giant crowd of "X-files" fans in attendance, and as "The X-files" was one of my first major fandoms, it would be a chance to geek out among my own kind.

4:30PM - Geeks Get Published-and Paid!: This is relevant to my interests! I may not want to write books right now, but maybe someday in the future I might manage to cobble something together that people would actually pay to read. And the biggest hurdles are always how get published, find an agent, etc. This panel purports to have the answers, and is using geek authors as presenters.

7:15PM - A New Generation of Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation: As much as I love what these guys have produced and what they stand for, I've never been to a Spike and Mike screening before and I would gladly take the chance to remedy that. Alternately, the "Tournament of Nerds Show" running at the same time sounds fun.

8:30PM - Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Sing-Along: I didn't even like "Dr. Horrible" all that much, but a sing-along screening sounds like a blast.

Friday

10:30AM - Writing for TV: From First Draft to Getting Staffed: I love behind the scenes stuff, and I love hearing how writers and artists work. And frankly, I will take any tips on writing that I can get. So this kind of panel has way more interest for me that the kind where the actors show up with preview clips. Alternates: "Inside The Big Bang Theory Writers' Room," and "The Art of the Cliffhanger."

12:15PM - Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World: Since places for meta discussion of fandom have been pretty scarce, this sounds like an opportunity for a good conversation.

3:00PM - U.S. Pop Culture Abroad: Among other things, they promise to address what makes an American property successful overseas, and that's a question that has a lot of different ramifications for all corners of media. The panelists here look especially promising, including people looking at the question from a business as well as a creative perspective.

4:00PM - ASIFA-Hollywood's State of the Industry: ASIFA is the International Animated Film Society, the non-profit group that puts on the Annies every year, runs outreach programs, and maintains its own archives. And they're always great for an insider's take on what's going on in animation. Alternate: "Motion Picture and Television Illustrators of the Art Directors Guild."

5:45PM - Making Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary: There are a lot of tempting things going on in the 5PM and 6PM hours, but Disney geek that I am, I cannot pass up an opportunity to see animators Andreas Deja and James Baxter and producer Don Hahn reminisce about one of my favorite Renaissance Disney films. Alternate: "International Association of Media Tie-in Writers: Scribe Awards," because tie-ins are fascinating and I think I've read the work of every author listed to appear.

7:45PM - Your Opinion Sucks! Rotten Tomatoes Critics vs. Fans: A movie critics' panel! Where I may have the chance to vent my spleen at Ben Lyons! Yes! Alternates: "Worst Cartoons Ever!" for the chance to meet animation historian Jerry Beck, and "Drew Struzan: The Man Behind the Poster." The magic words are "poster giveaway."

Saturday

10:00AM - Comic-Con How-To: Writing Your Superhero Novel - I didn't realize there was such a thing as a superhero novel, outside of tie-ins, but now I'm curious to know more. And as previously established, I'll take any writing pointers I can get.

2:00PM - Art Lessons from Great Illustrators: Arthur Rackham: I love Arthur Rackham's work. I have a print of one of his watercolors hanging in my house right now, and this sounds like a great little art lecture to sit through.

3:15PM - Vertigo: The Sandman 25th Anniversary and Beyond! Neil Gaiman is always a great speaker to see and I'm a big "Sandman" fan. Gaiman and Vertigo have promised new "Sandman" content in the future, and I'd love to get an early peek. Alternate: Pinky and the Brain 20th Anniversary Voice Reunion, because I still spontaneously hum their theme song regularly.

4:30PM - Poppin' Some Tags: There are a couple of panels devoted to Hollywood costume designers, which makes sense considering the highly visible cosplay element at the con. This is the one that fits best into my schedule. Again, I have no experience with costuming, but I love hearing professional artists talking about their work. And the panel is moderated by Ron Perlman too.

6:00PM - Dissecting Brands: How Do You Know What Makes Batman Batman? Another panel that sounds like it could provide a potentially fascinating conversation, as branding has become a major part of how the industry functions. Notably, the a VP of IP Development from Hasbro is one of the four panelists. Alternates: Batman: The Animated Series Turns 21 and Financing Your Dream: Kickstarter Fundraising

7:30PM - Angry Asian Media Makers: I used to be a regular reader of the Angry Asian Guy blog, and still do my best to ceck in every now and again. So I feel it would be proper to show a little solidarity with my fellow Asian-American geeks. Alternate: ComiKev 2013: Kevin Smith Uses His Mouth on You in Hall H, because who doesn't love Kevin Smith in Comic-Con mode.

Sunday

11:15AM - Breaking Bad: As we go into Sunday, the programming gets more kid-oriented, so the big panels start getting more attractive. "Breaking Bad" is the one big show that I've been looking forward to the most all year, and I'd love a preview.

12:30PM - BBC America's Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: This is the kind of panel that's sure to be so packed, I'd be better off watching at home. But then, I'd miss all the fans, and the "Doctor Who" fans are a legendary bunch that are best experienced in person. Plus, I'm honestly curious as to how they're going to spin Matt Smith's imminenet departure.

2:00PM - 25 Years of the Disney Afternoon: The Continuing Legacy: As a child of the 80s and 90s and a Disney fan, a "Disney Afternoon" panel is irresistable. The "Disney Afternoon" programming has become one of those obscure corners of Disneyana now, barely acknowledged by official channels. And that's probably why the panel is taking place at Comic-Con an not the D23 convention. Alternate: Community: Celebrating the Fans

3:00PM - History of Disney Pins: The Tradition of Disney Pin Trading and Collecting: Most of the toy and collectors' panels don't have much appeal to me, but I ran into some of these pin-trading guys during my last trip to Disneyland, and I am curious as to what the culture is all about.

4:00PM - Everything You Wanted to Know About Live Action Role Playing... But Were Too Embarrassed to Ask: I think that title is self-explanatory. And bonus points for the Woody Allen reference. Alternate: Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule

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The first trailer for the second "Hobbit" movie was released last week, confirming some of my worst fears. I wasn't too happy with the first installment, "An Unexpected Journey," and now "The Desolation of Smaug" looks like it has many of the same problems. There are going to be appearances by characters who weren't in the book, including Legolas from "Lord of the Rings," and an entirely invented female warrior elf, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily. Minor character Radagast the Brown, who was my least favorite part of the last film, is back for another round. This means more subplots and digressions and attention taken away from the once straightforward quest story of Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves. Even the brief appearance of Smaug the Dragon at the end of the trailer wasn't enough to erase my doubts.

I find myself anticipating a day, probably late in 2015 after all the "Hobbit" movies have been released on home media, when some enterprising Tolkein fan will be able to take the trilogy and edit out all the extraneous, invented content, all the fanservice, and all the indulgences, and carve out a tight, lean, faithful adaptation of the "Hobbit" that will only take a fraction of the time to watch. In short, I want a fan edit, defined by Wikipedia as "a version of a film modified by a viewer, that removes, reorders, or adds material in order to create a new interpretation of the source material." Copyright law prevents legal distribution of these creations, of course, but fan edits have become quite popular in recent years, particularly the efforts of several enterprising fans who have tried to improve the notorious "Star Wars" prequels. One of the earliest and most famous fan edits is a trimmed down version of "The Phantom Menace," known as "The Phantom Edit" that was passed around Hollywood in the early 2000s, created by an anonymous editor who was eventually revealed to be Mike J. Nichols. Now there's a thriving community of fan editors, who have produced alternate versions of everything from "Austin Powers" to "Eyes Wide Shut."

With the growing popularity of video editing software and remix activities like vidding and mashup videos, fan edits feel like a logical extension of the same creative impulse. There are so many films out there that cause consternation among films fans, particularly the most impassioned ones who spot all the little errors and mistakes, and can't help but wish that they could just go in themselves and fix things. Or those who disagree with how a beloved media property has been adapted, and want to mitigate what they perceive to be unfortunate damage. Or those who just want to have some fun and see if they can reintegrate all the deleted scenes from their favorite comedy back into the movie. After all, who hasn't wished they could fix the ending to "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" or that there was a version of "Blade Runner" or "Legend" that just gave you all the footage from all the different cuts? The biggest fan editors are professional directors, of course. George Lucas coming back after twenty years to tinker with the original "Star Wars" trilogy provided the example for many of these fan editors to follow.

Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" franchise has already been targeted by fan editors, of course. "The Two Towers" in particular has always had its detractors, who weren't happy with some of the departures Jackson made from the original novel. I never found these differences distracting enough to impact my enjoyment of this movie, but the "Hobbit" film is a different matter. In my review, I pointed out that it felt like we were watching an Extended Edition cut of the film, with all the extra material that would only be of interest to hardcore fans left in. I was sure there was a good version of "The Hobbit" somewhere in there. Since we already had the Extended Edition, I wondered if Jackson might considering doing a more stripped down, faithful cut as an extra on DVD sets. Instead, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Edition" is going to be released on home media later this year with an extra 20-25 minutes of footage, and I can't imagine how much more of a slog the film is going to be with even more unnecessary material crammed in.

Fan edits haven't really caught on in the mainstream, but I can imagine them getting more traction if we see more situations like "The Hobbit," where these movies are getting padded out to the point where it's seriously affecting their watchability. I really hope I'm wrong abut "The Desolation of Smaug," and the third "Hobbit" film, "There and Back Again." But if I'm not, I can see myself resorting to fan edits in order to revisit these films in the future - as a new way to just skip ahead to the good stuff.
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I figured that after "50 Shades of Gray" became a success, we'd get more attempts to monetize fanfiction, but I didn't see this latest one coming. Kindle and Amazon Publishing announced today that they're going to offer a service called Kindle Worlds, that will publish fanfiction for certain licensed properties. Submissions will be vetted to ensure that they follow a set of content guidelines (no erotica, no crossovers, etc.) and that they measure up to some baseline of quality. Authors won't get to retain the rights to their work, but they will get a cut of royalties, either 20 or 35% depending on the length of the story. It's a smaller percentage than they would for get for self-publishing original material through Amazon, where the cut is around 70%.

Still, the idea of making any money at all through writing amateur fanfiction is a big change in how the fan community has traditionally operated. It used to be a cardinal rule that you never, ever monetized fanfiction, because that would be stepping on the toes of the original content creators, and their right to create derivative works like sequels and spinoffs. Now three Warner Brothers television shows aimed at young women, "Vampire Diaries," "Gossip Girl," and "Pretty Little Liars" are the first franchises to grant licenses to create legal fanfiction for sale though the Kindle Worlds platform. There have been officially sanctioned fanfiction and other fanworks for quite a few different properties over the years, particularly for contests, but this is the first time I've heard of anyone granting permission to go try and make a profit with them.

Now, is this a good thing for fandom? As always, it's very hard to say. The big worry is that if Amazon and Kindle do make money with this service, they'll have a better argument that non-licensed fanfic is infringing, and be more motivated take steps to shut down everyone else's fanfiction that isn't being written for profit. The worst case scenario is that your "Vampire Diaries" fanfiction, posted on Tumblr or Archive of Our Own, becomes viewed as a competing product, and suddenly there's going to be a real incentive to end the benign neglect that has allowed the fanfiction community to flourish online over the years. However, the argument can be made that it's in the best interest of the properties involved to keep turning a blind eye. Fanworks essentially operate as free advertising, and they're a part of the fandom experience that has become much more visible and accepted over the years. Also, enforcement has always been notoriously difficult, and risks alienating fans.

Fanfiction writers aren't the only ones who are going to be affected. A couple of years ago, I remember there was a notorious published author who would write up these spectacular, hyperbolic tirades against the existence of fanfiction. Lots of people poked fun at him, especially since his name was on several tie-in novels for television shows. Tie-in novels and fanfiction are essentially the same thing, except that tie-in novels are licensed and they're written by professionals. If Amazon and Kindle can start making money off of work that's being generated by amateurs, and get away with paying them less, where does that leave the pros? A lot of notable science-fiction writers depend on the money from tie-ins to keep them going during lean periods. Is the market for this kind of work still going to exist after legal fanfiction? The delineation between fanfic and pro-fic is going to get even blurrier.

Of course, this is all assuming that Kindle Worlds is going to take off, which is not certain at all. Fanfiction has been around for a long, long, time, and the readership is used to getting it for free. The culture around it has often been strongly anti-commercial, and that may be difficult to change. Personally, I can't imagine paying for fanfiction, especially the kind of safe, friendly fanfiction that Amazon and Kindle seem to be the most interested in. I prefer all the subversive, weirdo, boundary-crossing stuff that would never make it into print in a million years. As far as I'm concerned, that's the appeal of these amateur stories.

I may be the exception though. The nature of media fandom has changed considerably since I first got involved, over a decade ago. Fanfiction is slowly but surely becoming more legitimate content, and eventually people are going to find ways to use it to make money. Kindle Worlds may not be successful, but it's a pretty bold idea. Unlike past efforts, such as the short-lived for-profit Fanlib Archive, Amazon and Kindle are actively addressing some of those thorny legal issues and they're willing to share a piece of the revenues too. I never thought I'd ever see this happen.

Kindle Worlds launches in June.
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Big news over the weekend. Yahoo has announced a deal to acquire social networking site Tumblr for over a billion dollars. They see it as a great new platform for selling ad space, a move that is probably going to make its core user base unhappy, including a significant chunk of media fans who use it to share various contributions. However, I'm fairly ambivalent towards this news because I never got into Tumblr, though not for the lack of trying.

I think I may have fallen victim to a generation gap of sorts. When I was really active in media fandoms, the major activity was fanfiction, and the bulk of fandom interaction was centered around message boards, mailing lists, private sites, and finally some of the social networking platforms, specifically Livejournal. I migrated from one platform to another over the years without many problems. Then, a couple of years back, we saw a major shift from Livejournal to Tumblr, where the fanwork became more graphics based, centering around artwork, memes, icons, gifs, and videos. Tumblr, classified as a microblogger site, was great for sharing this kind of content, but I found it difficult to hold any kind of conversation there, and I couldn't make heads or tails of the navigation. Tumblr is closer to Pinterest or Twitter than a traditional blog, and it's all about finding similar content through various tags. While you can leave comments on individual items or posts, these can be difficult to follow from one to the next, and usually requires digging through a lot of links.

I think the appeal of Tumblr is that it's quick and simple to use, and participation is easy. A significant amount of user activity amounts to "reblogging," posting interesting items to your feed that other people have uploaded to Tumblr, the way people use Pinterest boards. This is easier to do with simpler fanworks like pictures than it is with multi-chapter fanfiction or long, involved, analytical discussions about the character development on "Doctor Who." A couple of months back, someone commented on my blog that I ought to be using Tumblr, because I'd get a much bigger audience that way. However, I don't think that Tumblr is a good fit for me, because my contributions are almost entirely text-based, and many of my posts run over a thousand words apiece. Tumblr is better suited for smaller, bite-sized chunks of text information, like quotes and snippets of chatlogs. There are plenty of other places and spaces online for the kind of fandom activities I prefer, the reviews and meta, which is why I've decided to stick to Blogger and Dreamwidth. I think if I were to use Tumblr, it would be similar to how I use Twitter. I'd just post links to my blog entries.

Initially it bothered me when Tumblr became so popular, and the Livejournal and Dreamwidth-based fandoms started to shrink. Sure, the blogs weren't the best places to have good discussions about media, but at least they were pretty good about attracting a significant number of likeminded fans to the same places, so they were worth keeping an eye on. The problem was, or course, that these little communities became insular very quickly, and there were high barriers to entry. If you didn't have a good grasp of writing or you weren't good at socializing, it was difficult to get involved. Tumblr removes or significantly lowers a lot of these barriers. You can follow the tags instead of specific users or carefully delineated communities, and you don't have to interact much in order to be an active user. The kind of Tumblr content that is the most popular often involves remixing or manipulation of existing media, activities that seem to be easier for younger fans to pick up. Tumblr is made for a different kind of media fan than the ones who prefers the older blogging sites, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Anything that keeps the fandom world going should be supported in my book.

I am a little bit worried about the Yahoo acquisition having an impact on the Tumblr fandom community. It's not the ads, but the potential changes in management and oversight of the content that may have the most negative impact. Fandom is notoriously anti-commercial because of the difficult IP issues that monetization usually brings up. Changes in ownership were among the major reasons that Livejournal and Delicious fandom user bases both fell apart. If the Tumblr-based fans move on, though, as fans inevitably do, my guess is that they're going to pick another microblogging service, since that's kind of interaction this group is used to now. Or they could pick something radically different. Even the people most heavily involved in fandom have no idea where fandom is going. That's what makes it so exciting to follow.
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"Supernatural" is one of those genre shows that has been recommended to me a few times, because it's similar to other things I watch. I've seen a couple of episodes, but I wasn't impressed. I like plenty of the people who work on the show, particularly showrunner Ben Edlund, but I've decided it's just not for me. But maybe I would have been willing to give the show more of a chance if it weren't for the horrible, horrible reputation of the "Supernatural" fandom. I'm not talking about the randy fanfiction and the wonky photomanipulated fanart, which pretty par for the course for most media fandoms these days. No, I'm talking about the stalkers and the inappropriate fan encounters and the disturbingly large group of deluded nutters who insist that some of the happily married actors are in sham relationships. I'm talking about the very real death threats. And within the fandom itself is a long history of vicious infighting, spectacular overreaction to perceived slights, and drama queens gone haywire. I'm surprised MTV hasn't built a reality show around these people yet.

Now I fully understand that 95% of the people who watch and enjoy "Supernatural" aren't involved in its fandom, and 95% of those who are involved don't act like this. There are plenty of self-aware, reasonable "Supernatural" fans who are just as horrified with the extreme behavior and entitlement of the fandom fringe as anyone watching from the outside. I was a part of various media fandoms for a long time, and I've had my experiences with the crazies. I think everyone has. They exist in pretty much every group built around a common interest, be it sports or politics or your religion of choice. The problem with the media fandom fringe is that the general fandom is pretty far out there on the continuum of acceptable activities already. There are still plenty of people who think the Comic-Con cosplayers are all freaks, and as much as I truly sympathize with the Bronies, I couldn't watch the trailer for their new documentary without getting a major dose of second-hand embarrassment. So the crazy tends to get magnified. And unfortunately for the sane "Supernantural" fans, they're inevitably going to be lumped together with the real nuts.

At this point I should talk about Becky, the "Supernatural" character who the writers added to the show as a commentary on their unusually avid fanbase. In the show, the main characters' adventures have been novelized in a popular book series, and Becky is their biggest fan. She runs an internet fan site, writes incestuous fanfiction of the two main characters, and is portrayed as an overzealous oddball. Compared to the portrayals of other fictional media fans we've seen in shows like "The Big Bang Theory" and "Community," she's much more extreme. She's not a bad person, but she can be trouble. "Supernatural" fans are generally split about the existence and treatment of Becky, but the meta commentary and light mockery that the show uses her for are fairly tame. Nonetheless, she's a good reflection of how the "Supernatural" creators view a particular section of their fandom. And thanks to her multiple appearances on the show, it's how much of their audience views that section of fandom too. And it's contributing to a pretty unflattering protrait of certain female internet-based media fans overall.

Of course this isn't fair, but it's important to remember that fandom isn't just the fans, but the interactions and the relationships of the fans as a group. As well meaning as all the participants may be, you can still end up with toxic fandoms that fight about everything, that make you choose sides in silly disputes, and that take themselves much, much too seriously. Especially online, normally socially unacceptable behavior is tolerated more, or can even be reinforced, so there's often a lack of awareness about crossing lines. Genre shows like "Supernatural" will attract a lot of kids and people who aren't very well socialized, who retreat into media as an escape. It's not rare at all to find that the fans who display the most extreme obsessive behavior do so as an expression of deeper personal problems. These are the people who tend to be the loudest and most visible in fandom conversations, who attract all the attention. These are the people who everyone in fandom knows, if only for their notoriety.

And that's how the fringe can take over, and normal, unassuming fans ends up on the sidelines, wondering if they really want to be associated with so much insanity. The fringe is not a new problem, of course. There have been extreme fans around for ages, inspiring restraining orders, sleepless nights, and Stephen King's "Misery." The dynamics of these big organized fandoms, however, and how they interact with that fringe, are still changing and evolving. And thanks to the internet, that process is a lot more visible. It's been fascinating to watch fandoms like "Harry Potter" self-police and oust troublemakers, and "My Little Pony" fight against being unfairly branded as a bunch of perverts and nogoodniks. As for "Supernatural," they remain the fandom that other fandoms point to as the worst case scenario, the cautionary tale of what happens if you get too carried away with being a fan.
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Of all the mid-season television offerings that are premiering over the next two months, there was one in particular that caught my eye. The CW will be premiering "Cult" on February 19th, a mystery drama about a series of disappearances that are tied to the fandom of a popular television show. Creator Rockne S. O'Bannon, veteran of many science-fiction programs, claims that he came up with idea while working on "Farscape," which had a healthy and boisterous fanbase back in the early 2000s. So far most of the press coverage has been focusing on the twists and turns of the development of "Cult," which was originally slated to air on the WB network before the merger, and resurrected six years later after some retooling.

At the center of "Cult" is a popular television crime series, also titled "Cult," which follows the efforts of a detective, Kelly Collins (Alona Tal), to take down a charismatic cult leader, Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper). The show has a fanatical following that searches for clues to its mysteries in a manner that recalls the devotees of "Lost" trying to make sense of those bizarre early seasons. One of these "Cult" fans is Nate Sefton (James Pizzinato), who becomes paranoid that someone is out to get him. After Nate disappears, his reporter brother Jeff (Matt Davis), recruits "Cult" production assistant Skye (Jessica Lucas) to help him investigate the extreme "Cult" fandom to find out what's going on. The show within a show promises meta in abundance, and plenty of opportunities to jab at show biz conventions.

By all indications, the portrayal of the fandom experience is not going to be too positive. That's fine, because fandom has its unsavory side like everything else, but my worry is that "Cult" is going to demonize obsessive fans in a way that's not really fair to them. I've been a participant in media fandoms for well over a decade now, and worked some minor events and autograph lines in my time. I've heard plenty of the horror stories and the seen some of the crazy stuff up close. You've got the usual stalkers and conspiracy theorists, especially in the fandoms with photogenic actors like "Supernatural" or "Twilight." Occasionally you've got the scammers who will exploit fan goodwill to make a profit. "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" had a couple of these when they were at their height. Fan conventions always seem to be a never-ending source of drama, frequently an excuse for reckless behavior. And then there are the seemingly normal folks who just lose their goddamned minds if you put them within a certain distance of their favorite star or creative genius.

Over the years there have been enough bad incidents and general negativity associated with crazy fans that they've given fandom a bad reputation. Individual fans may be singled out for praise if they draw nice fan art or manage to convert their porny fanfiction into a surprise bestseller, but fandom as a whole tends to be viewed with suspicion and wariness by Hollywood and by proxy, everybody else. While it's true that there are those fans that completely lose perspective and truly deserve to be called fanatics, by and large fandom is pretty harmless. It's just a bunch of bored nerds and geeks finding common ground through media. Not very sexy at all. Even when there is a fringe element, it's mostly composed of young, undersocialized kids with deeper problems fueling their bad behavior, and they usually come off as more pitiable than threatening. Next to rioting sports fans and religious zealots, there's no comparison. Of course, from the point of view of the objects of their devotion, media fans probably look much less benign.

The idea of "Cult," the show within a show, spawning a real cult is not such a silly idea in a world where Scientology exists, but it smacks of a certain degree of vanity. Has an television show really managed to fuel dangerous fanaticism? I can think of a few notable nutters who happened to be fans of certain shows or movies or video games, but nothing as organized or as dogmatic as what "Cult," the CW show, seems to be leaning towards. No, the grand conspiracies and puzzle games of a show like "Cult" have almost no basis in reality. They're just a new spin on the common procedural formula. And I expect that it's going to have its work cut out for it trying to attract a real audience, trying to sell a convoluted gimmick like this.

What I'm interested in is what "Cult" will say about the love-hate relationship between creators and fans. Thanks to the internet and social media, the two sides are edging closer than ever before, with some notable instances of friction. So how much responsibility does the creator of "Cult" have if his work inspires so much fanaticism? How about the media in general? These are questions that I don't expect "Cult" will be in hurry to answer, but they're the ones I think will have to be answered eventually if "Cult" wants to honestly explore the phenomenon of media fandom. After all, what's a fandom without the object of its affections?
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Last week there were some eyebrows raised at the announcement that Penguin Press was going to publish a popular fanfiction story, "Loving the Band," written about the UK boy band One Direction, by a sixteen-year-old named Emily Baker. It'll have to go through some revisions first, specifically scrubbing all references to One Direction or its band members, a practice known in fanfiction circles as "filing off the serial numbers." The most famous example of this is, E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey," which started off as "Twilight" fanfiction featuring Edward and Bella. There have been rumors of other deals in the works, so it seems like we have the beginnings of a trend here.

There have been varied reactions to this, some outraged, some despondent, but almost all negative. The biggest complaint has been that these publishers are just chasing after the next popular thing, looking for stories from the biggest, most hyped-up fandoms of the moment in the Young Adult sphere to exploit. They're not interested in promoting real talent, but the writers with the ability to attract a rabid audience of young women. Also, they're not asking the authors to write something new and original, but choosing to publish something that has already attracted attention and been well-received by the target readers, piggy-backing off the success of the source media itself. Would "Fifty Shades of Grey" have taken off if the original fanfiction story, "Master of the Universe," hadn't already been popular with the "Twilight" crowd? Would Penguin be interested in "Loving the Band" if that band wasn't One Direction? Sure they change the names of all the characters before going to press for legal reasons, but there's an understanding with the fans that nothing substantive is different. It's such a blatant cash-grab and such a terribly cynical one. What's really worrisome is how easily publishers could seize on this as a new model to churn out cheap new money-makers.

Many members of the fanfiction community aren't happy either, because the young writers getting all the attention don't write particularly good examples of fanfiction in the first place. Looking over the summary of "Love the Band," it breaks almost all the cardinal rules of good fanfiction. The main character is original, a "Mary Sue" self-insert who becomes the focal point of a love triangle with two members of the band. She exists primarily for wish fulfillment purposes. Being able to "file off the serial numbers" generally means that the author has written something either so generic or so far removed from their chosen fandom, the use of existing characters doesn't actually affect the story. The point of fanfiction is exploring the existing universe in a way that the canon work doesn't allow for. So if you've written a "Doctor Who" fanfiction where you could replace the time-traveling alien adventurer with someone from the cast of "Glee" without having to rework significant amounts of the plot, you're probably doing something wrong.

Then again, I do see a positive side to this. I've remarked before that the first rule of fanfiction is that you don't make money off of fanfiction, but there has been a growing pressure to find some way of monetizing the huge, diverse, fanfiction universe. I think some of the old rules are starting to change. The danger of fanfiction being shut down for copyright violations isn't as great anymore, because it's become more visible and acceptable to the mainstream public over these last few years. Sure, it still gets no respect, but at least it's out in the open and people have a better idea of what it is and who's participating in it. That doesn't mean there isn't still some stigma, since fanfiction is in a legal gray area, there are no quality controls, and a lot of people simply don't understand the idea of writing for fun. However, if fanfiction is seen as a sort of training ground for burgeoning writers, and a potential source of new material to exploit, that gives the publishers a financial incentive to let the community exist on its own terms.

As for more trashy fanfiction being published as legitimate books, well, it honestly doesn't bother me much. I remember a lot of equally poor YA books when I was younger, the sort of trendy, weightless fluff designed to appeal to a certain kind of girl who wouldn't read anything else. Remember "Sweet Valley High"? Or if you liked the kinkier stuff, remember V.C. Andrews? And then of course there are the official tie-in novels written for much of the same media that the fanfiction is written for. Why shouldn't fanfiction share shelf space with the books that would technically be counted as fanfiction if the author hadn't been paid by the license holders?

I should note that there has been a small, but persistent group of "Twilight" fanfiction writers trying to follow in E.L. James' footsteps, self-publishing their "Twilight" fanfiction with the names swapped out, in hopes of attracting similar attention. They've been dismissed as craven opportunists by many in the fanfiction community, and I'm not inclined to disagree, but their emergence is indicative of changing attitudes. Fanfiction and pro-fiction are edging closer together. I can imagine some nightmare scenarios where the lawyers get involved, but if they can figure out how to coexist, it may be to the benefit of both sides.
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There are so many reasons to love Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time." It's a traditionally animated cartoon series that takes place in a free-form, abstract fantasy world called The Land of Ooo. It operates by kid logic, so mountains can be alive and have feelings, your best friend can be a dog that changes sizes at will, and there are lots of different princesses who are mostly really cool, except for the Lumpy Space Princess, who is kind of a drag. The animation is old school, and I mean rubber-hose limbs, Looney Toons cartoon physics, squash-and-stretch old school. Character designs are simple, but have the energy and spirit of children's drawings. Our heroes, Finn the human (Jeremy Shada) and Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), are mainly concern themselves with having awesome adventures, but often find themselves getting into difficult moral conundrums that require creative thinking to resolve. The stories are smartly written, bursting with weird and wonderful ideas, and it's no wonder "Adventure Time" has attracted such a passionate fanbase.

Over the past few weeks I've watched several episodes at random to familiarize myself with the show, along with a lot of clips. I liked them all, more or less, but there was only one episode where everything really clicked for me, and I found myself really getting attached to the characters. And wouldn't you know it, that was the infamous "Fionna and Cake" episode, where the characters appear as gender-swapped versions of themselves for that single episode only. Now Finn's a perfectly fine hero kid, but the second I laid eyes on Fionna, the kind of rough-and-tumble girl they used to call a tomboy who was "all about swords," I wanted to see more of her. Her design appealed to me – Fionna is pretty much just Finn with a shock of blonde hair and a hippier torso. This means she's refreshingly free of traditionally feminine visual indicators, even the ones people don't really think about like clothing and choice of weapons. And she gets to come to the rescue of the prince that she might kinda have a crush on, voiced by Neil Patrick Harris. And do battle with the evil Ice Queen who is always trapping people in blocks of ice. And, in the end, Fionna decides for herself that she's not really interested in dating anybody just yet and would prefer to remain focused on adventuring. Alas, in the closing moments it's revealed that the whole episode has been fanfiction written by Finn's regular enemy, the Ice King (Tom Kenny).

So now I'm stuck, a newly minted fan of a version of "Adventure Time" that really doesn't really exist aside from one very special episode, and the promise of another sometime in the nonspecific future. The only way to get more of Fionna and Cake is to delve into fandom content, which is always a tricky prospect, especially for kids' shows. Then again, Fionna and Cake only exist in the first place because one of the artists on the show, Natasha Allegri, posted a bunch of unofficial drawings and comics featuring the pair on her Tumblr. The reaction was so positive, that the "Adventure Time" creators decided to incorporate them into the show itself, which makes it one of those incredibly rare times when something fan-created became part of actual canon. Many, many "Adventure Time" fans have embraced Fionna and Cake, so there's no lack of interest in their further adventures. I've seen plenty of fanart featuring Fionna around, along with abundant cosplay photos. And it just brings up again that Cartoon Network has been pretty bad about putting out shows with female protagonists in recent years, even though they've been called out on this so many times.

But back to "Adventure Time." The more episodes I watched, the more apparent it became that it really was only that one Fionna and Cake episode that I had connected with. Watching Finn and Jake on their adventures is okay, but I'd much rather be watching their girl (and cat) versions, and I can never quite make myself put those feelings aside. I do appreciate everything that "Adventure Time" has managed to accomplish, but I just can't seem to enjoy it on its own terms now. This is a very odd relationship to have with a cartoon, and I'm not sure how to fix this. I'm not sure that I can fix this.

This has been one of my weirder adventures in media, but I guess that's kind of appropriate in this case.
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This is going to be one of the more self-indulgent posts, as it deals with some of my personal experiences in media fandom, and I doubt it'll be all that interesting to anyone who isn't familiar with fanworks – that odd little niche of media fans that writes fanfiction and draws fanart and edits together video mash-ups and so forth. These are fun and – in my opinion – perfectly harmless activities that unfortunately exist in a rather gray area of intellectual property law, so I've avoided writing about them too often. And until now, I haven't said much about my own dabbling in fanworks. You see, up until about eighteen months ago, I wrote fanfiction. A lot of it.

Now I wasn't some starry-eyed wannabe writer who thought any of her stories were anything special, or would lead to becoming the next J.K. Rowling. I was writing mostly as a form of stress relief. My most prolific period was when I was in a serious rut, very bored, lonely, unfulfilled, and altogether unhappy. So I wrote crummy romance stories about characters in TV shows by the dozens, typing out wish-fulfillment scenarios and what-ifs. I write for a living, but nothing creative or fun. The fanfiction stories were a great outlet. They were mostly terrible, and I took great care in anonymizing every pseudonym they were posted under, but for a while it was fun to play author. There's an audience for everything out there, no matter how obscure. If you have even the slightest amount of competence and creativity, someone out there will read your stuff. I never became a BNF (big name fan), but I did attract a few regulars, and I liked being part of the wild, weird fanfiction community.

After a couple of years, though, I lost interest. My output dropped, my tolerance for the endless drama of fandom culture decreased, and I steadily turned my attention to other activities. Real life got better. I started writing this blog, which I found a more rewarding and versatile channel for my media interests. The real kicker though, was that I wrote The Big One, the fanfiction story that put me directly in the spotlight for the first time. I'm not going to identify the real title, because it's still online and I prefer, like George Costanza, to keep certain activities in different worlds, as far away from each other as possible. When I decided to drop fanfiction writing for good, I went ahead and deleted just about everything I had ever posted, over a hundred different stories posted over the course of about four years. I send saved copies to anyone who asks for them, but I wasn't comfortable leaving them online any longer. Except The Big One.

Despite being written for a very obscure old media fandom, The Big One has been read by hundreds of people. I've received dozens of comments and E-mails about it, almost all of them gushing and emotional. People have posted recommendations for it everywhere. They're still posting recommendations, over a year and a half since I first put it online. The latest one from a few weeks ago claimed that the story had changed her life. A link to it popped up in an online lesson plan from a private school last year. Someone turned it into an audio podfic, with permission. Readers told me they'd printed The Big One out and saved it. They told me they were truly touched and grateful that I had written it. They told me that it mattered.

And I said you're welcome and I was happy that they had liked it, but frankly the attention spooked me. I thought the story was pretty good and was gratified that people liked it, but I knew it was amateur work. I knew it wasn't nearly as good as the people putting it on a pedestal were saying that it was. Call me a cynic, but I know my own limitations. And being around that kind of praise and being subject to that kind of hype is a little dangerous. It's much too easy to fall for that kind of easy adoration, to take it too seriously. I wasn't interested in that, and I decided at that point that I'd gotten just about all I was ever going to get out of being in that corner of fandom. So I quit.

Looking back, it was the right thing to do. Toward the end of my fanfiction writing stint I was mostly writing out of habit. Once I stopped, I was never hit with the urge to go back to it. I took down all the other stories I had written and rarely hear a peep about them. I left The Big One up because I worried that taking away access might upset some people. Now, I'm not so sure. Fandom has a short memory, and there's always the next, nicely-formatted piece of melodramatic fannish indulgence for people to get worked up over. There's always the next newbie author looking for a creative outlet, willing to put in the time and effort.

I got a lot of good writing practice and good times from fanfiction, but in the end it wasn't something I was ever entirely comfortable with, and I knew when it was time to stop. I'm glad I got to go out on a high note, though, that I got a little taste of being internet famous. But honestly I think I'd rather be known for this blog than being the author of The Big One.
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One of the first posts I wrote for this blog, a little over two years ago, asked "Where did all the once ubiquitous 'Casablanca' parodies go?" And I concluded that the seminal 1942 film had hit its cultural expiration date sometime in the 80s, and not enough media consumers were familiar with it any longer for "Casablanca" parodies to have an audience. Time marches on, and popular culture marches with it. You're hot one day and forgotten the next. And that's all I could think about when I was watching Teddie Films' Gotye parody, titled "The 'Star Wars' That I Used to Know.” Despite the fact that the "Star Wars" franchise is still very much alive and well with the "Clone Wars" and the 3D re-releases, and parts of the fandom are still as rabid as ever, I can't help feeling that the beloved tradition of "Star Wars" parodies is starting to get a little long in the tooth.

Now I love these movies as much as anyone, and I've happily watched the evolution of the "Star Wars" parodies from "Spaceballs" and the "Saturday Night Live" spoofs all the way up to the recent "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy" versions. And then there are the fan films, from "Hardware Wars" to "Chad Vader," that really exploded in the early 2000s when online video distribution took off and niche audiences had their day. And then there was the whole saga of "Fanboys," the endlessly delayed and reworked 2009 feature film about a group of high school friends who break into Skywalker Ranch to see "The Phantom Menace" early. "Star Wars" remains a huge cultural force, and the loving parodies it has generated over the years is a testament to its longevity and impact. However, when you look at some of the most recent ones coming out of fandom, there has been a noticeable shift.

As of this year, the original "Star Wars" is thirty-five years old. And at least as far back as 2006, in "Clerks II," "Star Wars" fans have been in a noteable funk. The original fanboys and fangirls are getting older and they've watched their beloved trilogy supplanted in the pop culture firmament by other franchises, like "Lord of the Rings," and perhaps compromised by the existence of the "Star Wars" prequels. There has been a strain of melancholia running through much of the fandom and its output as a result. "The 'Star Wars' That I Used to Know” is not just nostalgia for the days when being a "Star Wars" fan was simpler, but also an acknowledgement of the clear generational divide. Watching it, I tried to think of the last time I'd seen any "Star Wars" parody or homage that had really evoked the first 1977 movie, instead of sticking Darth Vader in a supermarket or trading on all the baggage of being in the "Star Wars" fandom. There are even a couple of fan films about the woes of making "Star Wars" fan films now.

And then I thought about the last time I saw a "Jaws" parody or a "Godfather" parody, or even a decent reference to "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial." These are all movies that a lot of people remember and get nostalgic about, but the American culture is pretty much done with them. They're too iconic to be rebooted, nobody wants more sequels - witness the disgust at the existence of "Raging Bull II: Continuing the Story of Jake LaMotta" - and that's fine. The original "Star Wars," for all its popularity, is on the same track, and the ones who really love it recognize that. Sure, the franchise will probably be able to keep perpetuating itself for years with more spin-offs and tie-ins and merchandise, but the spark isn't there anymore. You don't see too many fan films about the prequels, and there's very little of the original trilogy left to talk about that a thousand other fans haven't covered over the past three decades. So lately there's been a lot of meta, and a lot of what should probably be called "expanded universe" material.

I take it as a sign that "Star Wars" is on its way out at last. I believe that it will always be a classic of American cinema, like "The Wizard of Oz," like "Gone With the Wind," but its time is passing quickly. Unless something really big happens in the next few years, like a full reboot of the movies or if that live action television series makes it to air, that's it for cultural relevancy, and all the parodies and homages and spoofs along with it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

But we'll always have "George Lucas in Love."

Here's looking at you, kid.
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Well, somebody finally did it. An enterprising Spider-man fan named Louis Plamondon edited together all the footage from all the different trailers and commercials and other previews for "The Amazing Spider-man" into a 25-minute short version of the movie. This was to prove the point that marketing for blockbusters has gotten out of hand, and the studios are releasing way too much spoiler-laden footage in advance that ends up negatively impacting the actual experience of watching the film. I haven't seen the video myself, as Sony was quick to quash most of the copies online, and I actually would like to be able to watch "The Amazing Spider-man" with some of the mystery intact.

However, as reported by Variety, Plamodon's mini-epic contained about ten minutes of the finished film according to Sony (Note that only ten minutes or ten percent of the running time of a film, whichever is shorter, is the maximum allowed to be shown in a nontheatrical medium prior to the film’s theatrical release under Academy Award eligibility rules). The rest is a mix of unfinished scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, b-roll, repeated footage, and padding. Still, the fact that you could piece together a coherent narrative out of all the released clips is pretty telling. It's not just not the amount of footage that we're seeing, but so many of the best shots and sequences, repeated ad nauseum in so many different bits of promotional material. This is going to be a great discussion piece for copyright law classes for years, as the message of the video is inextricably tied to its length and the amount and variety of footage it contains.

Of course spoilerific trailers detailing exactly what happens in a movie have been around forever, and I understand why the marketers frequently want to oversell movies so zealously. I've mentioned before that my significant other responded very poorly to the first "Amazing Spider-Man" trailer from last year, but after seeing a couple of the subsequent ones and the commercials, he's slowly come around. A Spider-man reboot has been a very hard sell for many viewers, me included, who think that Sony should have waited a couple more years for the memory of the Sam Raimi "Spider-man" films with Toby Maguire to fade a little more. In such cases, showing off the good parts can make a difference in the mind of a doubtful moviegoer. However, when you've already been convinced to see a movie, and you're actually anticipating it, oversaturation can have very negative effects.

It was only after I saw "Prometheus" that I finally went and watched some of those later trailers. I'm glad I kept my distance, because they do show a little too much. A lot of the film's best shots and sequences work so much better if you don't have any foreknowledge of them, and I can see how some elements may have misled viewers to expect something different from what the movie actually delivered. Of course all advertisements deal in false hype to some extent, but "Prometheus" was one of those cases where I think they went too far. Some "Alien" fanboys got worked up into such a lather, and were then so disappointed when they got to the theaters, it "Prometheus" helped become one of the most divisive and polarizing films of the summer. Good grief, does anyone else remember when the "Alien" movies were just big dumb action/horror flicks?

And then of course, there's "The Dark Knight Rises" coming up. I have this growing dread that the film is not going to live up to these crazy expectations that some fans have for it, and the fallout is going to get ugly, maybe even worse than saw for "Prometheus." "Dark Knight Rises" doesn't even need all the trailers and the marketing, which there's plenty of, in order to reach saturation levels. The fans are doing it by themselves. I've come across multiple articles making the case that one of the new characters is secretly Robin, even though director Christopher Nolan has stated repeatedly that Robin won't appear in his Batman universe. Like with "Prometheus," there are fans who are doggedly trying to piece all the details of the plot together from previews and interviews. Reams of analysis are being written about bits of footage totally without context. It's getting a little scary, to be honest.

It's nice to know that there are other fans out there who have had enough, who don't want to be inundated by all this information, and are getting fed up with the over-aggressive sales pitches and having to hide from marketing campaigns. The irony is that I love trailers. I thought the first "Prometheus" teaser was brilliant, but I didn't watch any of the others for fear of ruining the movie for myself. And I've been sitting through many previews lately with my eyes screwed shut, thinking back to the days when I used to look forward to the coming attractions.
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Filmschoolrejects was offering invitations to Letterboxd, the new movie watching social networking site for film fans. They were plugging it pretty enthusiastically, so I figured I'd give it a look, and asked for a beta invitation. I'm always looking for new movie sites to help me organize my film watching activity, since I'm one of those people who go through a ton of movies. Currently, I only keep a very informal film journal with basic identifying information for each film I watch, plus a line or two of notes. I don't keep track of the specific dates I watched anything, which turned out to be a bit of a problem when I started inputting my recent watch history into Letterboxd.

You can use the Letterboxd interface for several different things, but one of the major functions is creating a film diary. Fortunately, most of the movies I was watching were through Hulu, since I'm in the middle of another one of my Criterion Collection benders, so the Hulu service had kept track of all the movies I'd watched in the last month. Also, I use the movie checklist site Icheckmovies, which I update fairly regularly, so between those two sites and my own records I was able to work out the schedule of what which movies I'd watched on which days during the month of June. It was gratifying to note that the Letterboxd database recognized every single film I inputted, including several older French and Japanese films, even though I had to try alternate titles in a few cases.

I like the user interface, which represents individual movies using icons of their movie posters. This makes for nifty looking displays of lists, recently watched movies, and other data arrangements. However, I did run into a couple of cases with the older and upcoming films where posters were not available, leaving only a sad-looking transparent icon with the film's title as a placeholder. Also, for some lengthy lists, like when you're searching for films by director, it would help to have a more condensed list view available. Navigation isn't very intuitive and takes some effort to sort out. For instance, the top menu has a tab for "Films," which takes you into a list of new films to browse. To get to the films that you've told Letterboxd you've watched, you have to go to your own user menu and select the "Films" option listed there. Only then can you access your film diary and ratings from the next sub=menu that comes up on that page.

When you add a film that you've watched, a little window pops up giving you the option to note the date you watched it, whether you want to put it in your favorites list, what rating out of five stars it should get, what tags you'd like to create for it, and there's also some handy text space for a review or notes. It's all very thoughtfully conceived and easy to use, but after I pressed save and clicked away to another part of the site, it took me a very long time to figure out how to get back to that little window again. Click on a title in any of your lists or recently watched streams, and it takes you to the main information page for the film, not the page where you input data. Don't add a date, and a film won't show up on several of your "watched films" pages at all, until you go back and fix it.

Now Letterboxd is supposed to be a social network, and the site wants you to interact with the other users. They encourage you to "follow" other people, to "like" and comment on each others' reviews of movies, and to send out invitations to the site to your friends (I've still got all three of mine, if anyone would like them). However what the site is missing, which is also what I think other sites like Icheckmovies are sorely missing, are groups and forums. Yes, I know that forums are hard work because they need moderating and oversight, but I'm not seeing many spaces on Letterboxd for users to really get geeky with each other and have discussions about movies that would extend beyond one-on-one conversations. And that's the biggest thing I'd really like out of a new movie site right now, especially one that's billing itself as a social networking movie site.

Of course, the Letterboxd is still in beta so there's still plenty of time for some of these issues to be worked out. I think it could turn out to be pretty valuable tool for organizing your film watching experience, but as with all of these movie sites, your experience really all depends on how much effort you're willing to put into it. I'll keep up my new little film journal on the site for a while, and see what develops. But for now, I think Letterboxd is very much a work in progress.
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There's a Slate article that was posted yesterday about Before Watchmen, a series of prequel comics about the origins of the major players in Alan Moore's "Watchmen" universe. Alan Moore has made it clear that he does not approve of this, and while some fans are rejecting the new stories sight unseen, most have been fairly ambivalent. Everyone agrees that the move is a cash grab by DC, meant to capitalize on the higher profile of "Watchmen" after the recent movie version. Not many particularly care.

What caught my eye were the comments about fanfiction, first comparing a "Before Watchmen" cover image to "fan fiction detritus," and then suggesting that fanfiction was a more suitable avenue for this brand of derivative works than the "official" comics, and noting that Moore essentially wrote fanfiction himself with "Lost Girls." Cue multiple comments in the discussion section arguing the proper use of the term fanfiction, which I'm not going to reiterate here, because I've already had that argument and written those posts. Instead, I'm going to try to answer the question nobody quite managed to ask here - what makes a derivative work, a piece of intellectual property based off of a previous piece of intellectual property, a legitimate extension of the original? Where is the border between the canon work and the fanfiction? And what is the mechanism for granting that authority?

Well, you start with the original author first as the prime authority on their own work. If J.K. Rowling says that Dumbledore is gay, even though it was never stated anywhere in the "Harry Potter" books, then Dumbledore is gay. If she decides to anoint a new author to continue the adventures of the Potter kids, her word carries more weight than anyone else's. Film and television series, which are more collaborative mediums, often depend on a creator incorporating the work of others. There are only a handful television creators, for instance, who will write every episode of a show themselves, but if they retain creative oversight over the finished product, the show is still considered their work to a large degree.

However, you can't call something a derivative work until the original author is out of the picture. These days that's very common, as many creators of popular media don't have the rights to their creations. Legally, whoever controls the rights to the property controls the official canon, the right to add or change a story as their see fit. So DC can hire other creative talent to write "Before Watchmen" comics without paying any attention to the wishes of Alan Moore. When Bryan Singer made "Superman Returns," he chose to ignore the third and fourth theatrical "Superman" films and pick up the story after "Superman II," with Warner Bros' backing. In the case of comic book characters, they’re often passed around between so many different writers and artists, each making their own contribution, it’s hard to say who really was really the primary creator.

When most people think of fan fiction, they think of the amateur stories passed around online by hobbyists. However, what professional writers do when they work in one of these existing universes isn't any different, except for the money and the legalities. They're using existing characters and concepts to tell new stories. However, what the money and the legalities give them is immediate legitimacy because they also get the right to profit by the work's association with he original. Anything written for profit is taken more seriously than the stuff written for fun and self-indulgence, and the involvement of whoever is holding the rights, even if it's as licensor for a bad tie-in novel, will at least give the appearance of oversight. Something "official" suggests that there's quality control at work somewhere, that there is a protective gatekeeper acting in the best interest of your favorite franchise, Of course, most of the time it's really about exploiting a piece of IP to the fullest extent possible. Do you really think most "Spider-man" fans are all that excited about the new reboot?

Now when the rights holder and the original author clash over the canon, who wins? It depends in each case. J.K. Rowling’s reputation is such that she’d easily win out in the court of public opinion over any company that managed to wrest the “Potter” rights away from her, and try to launch additional sequels with a different writer. Her writing is so integral to those books, she is irreplaceable. However, there's hardly any fuss when Marvel plays musical chairs with the writers and directors of its "Avengers" universe movies, or make decisions about their content that any previous creative talent would disagree with. In the television world, fans raised a fuss when Dan Harmon was fired from "Community," but nobody blinked an eye when "Whitney" got a new showrunner.

The final arbiter is really the audience. They're the ones who draw a lot of the lines between what is considered canon and what isn't, who will challenge the authority of the people who control a beloved media property, and sometimes even the original authors. They're the ones who ignore lesser movie sequels, who pretend that "After MASH" and the third season of "Gargoyles" never happened, and are quick to remind you that Han Solo shot first, despite what George Lucas thinks. No amount of hype or marketing was enough to convince them that George Lazenby was meant to be James Bond, or that Halle Berry was Catwoman. The fans are the ones who care the most about what is and isn't canon, so it makes sense that they often have the most say over the matter in the end.

There are very few instances of something originating purely from the fans being incorporated into canon, because the amateurs and the professionals exist in separate universes to everyone's benefit. but it does happen once in a while. There's Derpy from the "My Little Pony" cartoon, "Figwit" in "Lord of the Rings," and Lt Uhura's first name. And of course that's not counting the number of fans who ended up writing for "Dr. Who" or "Batman" or "Star Trek" officially, with all the money and the legalities. You'll hear writers for many of these properties touting fan credentials these days, and for good reason. If the original author is out of the picture, and the motives of the rights holders are suspect, sometimes a derivative work can still be good and worthwhile if the new creator is significantly invested in it.

In the case of "Before Watchman," DC did one thing right. They put some of their best talent on the project, including J. Michael Straczynski and Brian Azzarello. You can argue that DC is disrespecting Alan Moore and that they're only doing this for the money, but nobody can say whether or not the miniseries are actually going to be any good. If the quality is up to par, and they're accepted by the fans, they'll become a part of the "Watchmen" canon whether Moore likes it or not. And if they're terrible, then the fans will reject them, like the "Psycho" sequels no one remembers, or "The Blues Brothers 2000," and we can all move on.
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It's hard to escape a sense of schadenfreude. Hey young male demographic, you've spent the last half decade paying to see Michael Bay trash the "Transformers" franchise into oblivion, turning those moronic movies into some of the biggest Hollywood moneymakers ever. And now that Bay thinks he can do no wrong, you get to watch him trash a franchise you guys actually care about!

Yes, Nickelodeon has acquired the rights to the "Ninja Turtles," and has decided to put Michael Bay in charge of rebooting it as a feature film. It's almost comical how badly he's getting off on the wrong foot here. The title of the franchise is "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." That's four things that are non-negotiable. And what does Bay want to do? Make the Ninja Turtles aliens. Aliens?! Sure, I guess it doesn't make that much difference if your anthropomorphic reptiles are from an alien race instead of the product of some laboratory's discarded mutagentic ooze. I've already seen some apologists posting up perfectly well-reasoned defenses of the alien angle as a legitimate artistic decision. Besides, why can't the Ninja Turtles be both mutants and aliens at the same time?

I'll tell you why. Because, they're the frickin' "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I have no idea where the hell Michael Bay got this alien idea from. It adds a totally unnecessary level of complication to an origin story that every 80s and 90s kid knows by heart. Existing Turtles fans should be especially worried because this is really the first substantive thing that Michael Bay has said about the new reboot. Who knows what else he might be considering? April O'Neil is almost certainly going to get sexed up, because this is Michael Bay we're talking about. But what about Shredder and Splinter? If aliens are on the table, why not robots? Or zombies? Or robot zombies? Are the Ninja Turtles even going to be turtles by the time he's through with them? Oh, wait a minute. If they're aliens then technically they're not turtles anymore.

Michael Bay is no doubt confused about the amount of negativity he's getting right now. After all, he thoroughly mangled the Transformers universe and didn't get nearly this amount of heat for it, at least not so quickly. However, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a much bigger and more well-known property than "Transformers." The first generation "Transformers" cartoon and toys were only around for about five years back in the 80s, and the subsequent reboots and reworkings have often been radically different. The Turtles however, had a Saturday morning cartoon that ran for ten straight seasons, from 1987 all the way until 1996. And concurrently, there were the three popular live action films of the early 90s. As the older sister of a younger brother who grew up during those years, the Turtles were inescapable. I still occasionally find myself humming "Turtle Power" from the first movie's soundtrack.

So I'm not the least bit surprised that they're still around. A second animated series ran for seven years through most of the 2000s, and a third is in development. There was a short-lived and much reviled live action series in the late 90s, but a 2007 CGI animated movie, "TMNT," did very well at the box office. And maybe that's the first mistake that Michael Bay made here. Why would you want to reimagine or reboot a franchise that for all intents and purposes is still going strong? And frankly, I don't see the "Ninja Turtles" story as being a very good basis for a blockbuster movie franchise like "Transformers" anyway. I have no beef with the Turtles, but they never worked that well in live action. I don't think modern kids are going to go for the old character suits, and if the Turtles are going to be CGI effects, maybe the whole film should just be animated.

Right now, though, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the online skirmishes between Michael Bay and the "Ninja Turtles" fandom. Some of the reactions so far have been very entertaining, and it's been nice to see some of the talent from the older Turtles media popping up to add their two cents. Personally, I don't think Michael Bay has ever had any business being anywhere near a kid-centric property, and hopefully this experience will convince him to steer clear in the future. Messing with people's childhood favorites is a dangerous business, especially a franchise that has as many fans as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
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