Fandoms engage in complex political discourse
Shifts in the political world lead to responses in the realm of fiction. This causation has been one of the pillars of American creativity in fiction since the 20th century; however, American values have been observed closely in recent political times and due to this observation, American pop-culture has experienced shifts of its own. It is difficult to fully gauge what these shifts are without diving into fandoms first. Speaking with the foremost consumers of American media is the best way to observe shifts caused by the political landscape, and Denver Comic Con served as the best place to interact with fandoms.
A primary fandom that seems to be responding to the reevaluation of American norms is the video game community. Video games have consistently found their way into political discourse in the United States—from being blamed for mass shootings to the rise on pornography consumption, politicians consistently point their crosshairs towards these games. Few franchises have responded to the shifts in the American political landscape more strongly than the God of War franchise. James, a Kratos cosplayer who chose not to disclose his last name, pointed to shifts in the American family that the game has commented on. “It’s interesting that conservatives talk about the ‘nuclear family’ like it is the standard family unit,” James said. “But that’s just what they grew up with. That only started in the 1950s, but I feel like family dynamics have shifted a lot since then.”
These shifts are seen in the God of War franchise. “When the series began, Kratos was like every teenager’s dream. He just smashed and killed everything, but now the game is focused on his new role as a single father. He is now so much more than just a killer—he is a role model for his son but also his provider. I feel like this is seen in today’s world a lot.” Indeed, family dynamics have shifted a great deal in recent years. A study from The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science found that, “The share of children living in simple two-biological-parent families (no sibling or parent complexity) declined from 62.7 percent in 1996 to 59.2 percent in 2009.” That is to say that the traditional nuclear family is on the decline in the United States. Kratos is a fictitious embodiment of these shifts in the American political climate.
Video games aren’t the only fandoms responding to shifts in the American climate. Film franchises are making nuanced political statements in response to recent political events. Sterling Bailey, founder of the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization Cap for Kids (Cap is short for Cosplayers Against Pediatric Cancer) discussed the political shifts seen in the Marvel franchise. “Marvel is being careful. They’re making subtle nods towards making political stances, but it is really thought-provoking,” Bailey said. “Civil War was really interesting. You have Captain America, who always stood up for American values, standing in opposition to Tony Stark arguing that the Avengers need to abide by the governments wants. Putting Cap against the morals of the United States was for sure something.” Bailey even pointed towards the costume changes that Cap has gone through throughout the franchise. “Cap has moved away from red, white, and blue to all black suits. He represents the pillar of American values, not necessarily where the country is at now.”
Marvel isn’t the only franchise to have responded to the American political landscape. Star Wars has gone a similar response process. Scott Magerfleisch, commanding officer of the 501st Legion’s Rocky Mountain Garrison (the largest Star Wars-geared volunteering organization on the planet) commented on the ways in which fandoms have been directly affected by the political landscape. “I haven’t seen much of an impact on the franchise itself, but politics are certainly changing what this organization can do,” Magerfleisch said. “Conventions have changed their cosplay rules to be way stricter then they used to. Mass shootings have made it so we can no longer carry things like blasters with our uniforms for instance. We used to bring a rack of blasters from the movie into conventions that people could hold and it was a major hit for us. But last year we had to secure them to the display for the entire convention and now we can’t even bring it with us.” Magerfleisch also noted the ways in which moviegoers have turned on some characters in the franchise. Racial tensions in the United States seem to have seeped their way into fan discourse online. He points towards the toxic online presence directed towards Kelly Marie Tran, the actress that played Rose in the recent Star War installment. “Kelly is the nicest person in the world! Salt of the Earth! But fans said so many hurtful things towards her. She deleted her Instagram account because of it. Can you imagine that? Ultimately, their making more non-white, non-male characters and this should be a good thing for fans. It means more people can do what we do and enjoy our fandom. But people like Kelly have been pushed away from the fandom.”
Ultimately, the political landscape of the United States serves as a main catalyst for change in the world of American fiction. Politics seeps its’ way into all walks of fandom. From the way in which media represents itself and its’ franchises to the ways in which fans themselves engage in discourse with one another. As politics continue to shift, so to will the world of fiction and for better or for worse, this will shift the political nature of America.
To participate in Cap For Kids or the 501st legion, please visit their websites at http://www.capforkids.org/ and http://www.501st.com/mission.php.
MANNING, WENDY D., et al. “Family Complexity among Children in the United States.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 654, 2014, pp. 48–65., www.jstor.org/stable/24541732.