Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Comic-Con and the GOP Primaries

cross-posted from Dagblog

I spent a lot of the summer driving U-Haul trucks instead of blogging, so I didn't keep up with the early Republican jostling. Tonight, I'm going to do something useful with my time, so watching the Republican debate is out of the question. But the New York Times published a great piece about the Republican's political situation three months back. It simply didn't use the words "republican" or politics. It was a piece about movie studios and Comic Con.

Comic-Con, of course, is the country's biggest comic book convention, held in every summer in San Diego. It's an annual Mecca for fans of superheroes, science fiction movie franchises, and fantasy mass media. It's a place for people who can discuss Boba Fett's family history in detail, who have turned their smartphones into startlingly detailed replicas of Captain Kirk's communicator device, and people who not only come dressed as little-known comic book heroes but can sustain detailed arguments about the best alternate version of that character. (In other words, these are my people.) And media companies long ago realized that Comic Con was the best place to roll out new computer games and to promote big summer movies. The relatively small group of hard-core fans (and by "relatively small" I mean a hundred thousand and change) can build enthusiasm and word of mouth for upcoming science-fiction movies and video games, and they turn out to be the classic influential subgroup. Get those hundred-plus-thousand fans revved up, and they will go out and rev up millions of more casual fans across the country. They are the grass-roots activists for mass-media science fiction. They are Hollywood's base.

But it turns out that there can be misfires. The base is not simply a more intense version of the general population; they are, inevitably, distinct from that population. So sometimes movies that seem like perfectly good bets are in fact ruined by a poor reception at Comic-Con, often for reasons that movie executives didn't see coming and that the general movie-going public won't care about. (The Comic-Con fans might have very strong opinions, for example, about which version of the Green Lantern story gets filmed.) So they can kill things that might otherwise be viable. At the same time they can become rapturously excited about movies that ultimately appeal only to very hard-core fans, leading studios to invest tens of millions of dollars in films that then make, say, threes of millions of dollars. The base doesn't just like things more than the average person does. They like different things.

So it is with either political party that becomes enthralled to its activist base. Viable wide-release candidates can get killed off because they have no niche appeal. Niche candidates can be treated like the Next Big Thing by a base that cannot believe that everyone has not been waiting forever for someone Exactly. Like. This! And sooner or later the parties,, like the studios, have to check their guts and ask how big a bet they want to lay on the convention crowd's sense of the world.


Renaissance Girl said...

Um, I believe that *I* can discourse at length about the Fett family tree. Also the perils and payoffs of the Kessel Run.

Doctor Cleveland said...

That's right, RG. And you're my peeps.