Despite having not written Movie Marketing Madness in over two years I still pay quite a bit of attention to what studios are doing to sell their movies to the public. More generally, I’ve watched what kinds of things are getting the attention of the movie press, be they official assets or fan creations.
What I’ve noticed is that reactions are based largely on what the source is. The same piece of artwork could be released by both the studio and by fans, but if it’s from the former it will be a “meh” effort while if it comes from the latter it will be “mindblowingly awesome.” While I think there’s a legitimate case to be made for expecting more out of professionals there are also two other factors at work:
First, fans are simply more inclined to champion other fans. On the one hand this is good and essentially how it should be on a democratized web. “Surfacing the awesome things that wouldn’t normally be seen” was one of the big mantras of the early web, so yay. On the other hand, though, it’s quite clear many times that some artwork is being given a pass – or at least a more generous reception – based simply on its origin. I often see mediocre work celebrated as truly amazing and have no recourse but to assume that it’s being labeled as such just because it comes from “a fan.”
In part this is because even after all this time there’s the assumption that just because someone doesn’t work in the industry they’re “just a fan.” That assumption, though, doesn’t hold water now any more than it did in 2005 (or 1985…or 1955…or any other time) and in fact you would think we’d all be more hip to how people can have talents outside their vocation. I call this “The Myth of the Amateur” in that people believe anyone who, for instance, doesn’t make their living from being an artist is an amateur whose skills are to be marveled at as if a zebra suddenly started singing Italian opera.
This is, of course, nonsense. Anyone can have a multitude of talents that have nothing to do with the one area where they’re making their money. Treating such talents as if they are so mystically amazing because that’s not their job is condescending and irrational and usually a sign that the person providing the praise has but one single talent, not a multitude.
The second reason for the disconnect is that fan art – which comes unencumbered by the “process” that accompanies corporately-produced assets – is free from the constraints of contracts, style guides and other considerations. The freedom that’s on display usually makes whatever committee-produced materials are released pale by comparison. So fan creations have raised the bar on creative expression, a bar that studio-produced material can’t usually clear because they need to make sure the title treatment is using X font and that everyone who’s contractually obligated to have a credit in a certain position is accounted for.
What results is a disconnect in how things are perceived and reacted to. Movie posters are what comes to mind most readily but there are examples in just about every industry’s marketing, at least those industries that are fan-facing and deal with something creative. And that’s both condescending to the wonderful talents who haven’t found a job in the industry they may – MAY – prefer to work in (as if taking a job just because it’s a job never occurred to some people) and demeaning to the talents who turn out the best work they can with the constraints the job they DO have.
It has probably never occurred to some of the people whose sites comment on these sorts of things that there’s a double standard in place. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Let’s ramp down the “ZOMGBBQ” reactions to every kind of cool piece of fan art and let’s judge corporately-produced artwork for what it is, a product of the constraints put around it.