The Fan HierarchyThe Dark Herald
I’ve frequently heard the claim that superhero movies are dead or dying. That they have worn out their welcome. This is usually being said by people who were never interested in them in the first place; like film critics.
However, superhero movies have been around since 1978 when young Gen-Xers were first made to believe a man could fly. It’s frequently stated that these franchises go in cycles, but this really isn’t the case.
What happens, (and it happens every time), is that the franchise in question leaves its fandom behind. The apathy starts when the franchise in question thinks it can do without the fans at the top of the fandom hierarchy.
Last week there was a study released by the web platform, Fandom, and much to my surprise it turned out to be worth reading.
Fandom.com is a site that owns a bunch of other sites like Screenrants and lets fans build Wikis about their own fandoms.
The study surveyed 5,000 fans ranging from Late Zoomer to Early Gen X. The findings were intriguing. Most people just divide the fanbase between Casuals and Superfans. Certainly, Disney did and it has been a fountain of fail for them.
Turns out there is a lot more to it than that.
The Advocates: They are the core fan base, described as “deeply invested in the IP,” so much so that it’s “part of who they are.” They are most likely to watch content within the first few days of its release. Some franchises with a high number of Advocates include Marvel, “Rick and Morty,” “Harry Potter,” DC, “Star Wars,” and “Stranger Things.”
The Intentionalists: These fans — which on average make up the largest segment of a franchise’s fan base — are more discerning, influenced by marketing and strong reviews (not anymore), storytelling themes, and actors and filmmakers behind the projects. They’ll most likely watch within the first two weeks. Franchises with a high number of Intentionalists include “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Game of Thrones” and “Only Murders in the Building.”
The Culturists: They are “heavily influenced by the buzz” surrounding a popular release, and see watching as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, as well as the larger cultural conversation. They’ll most likely watch within the first month. Franchises with a high number of Culturalists include “Chicago Fire,” “Ted Lasso,” “True Detective,” “The Challenge” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
The Flirt: As the name implies, these are the dabblers, who are most interested in entertainment they can “come in and out of” and “will allow them to find common ground with others around them.” They’ll most likely watch when they have the time. Franchises with a large number of Flirts include a large number of legacy shows like “The Office,” “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “Gilmore Girls, “South Park” and “Friends,” as well as reality shows like “The Bachelor” and “Real Housewives.”
In 2016 Disney began aggressively pursuing Flirts and Culturists. While also spurning the Intentionalists and assuming the Advocates would tolerate any level of abuse and remain loyal to the franchise.
What Disney missed completely is that while the Advocates are indeed so invested in the franchise that it is part of their identity, their identity is NOT adjustable to the whims of producers. The Advocates will stick with a franchise long past the point where the Intentionalists jumped ship and swam to another franchise. “I know it’s garbage but if I don’t see Solo, they will stop making Star Wars completely and so long as they are still making it, Star Wars, it might get better.” Once they leave, it’s over. Just look at Andor’s in-the-basement numbers.
The Star Wars Intentionalists like me were deeply offended by the deliberate destruction of Luke Skywalker and were the first to knock Tatooine’s dust from our heels.
The Advocates like Doomcock for example have been sticking around demanding that Disney retcon the Reyloverse away. But Obi-Wan Kenobi broke their hope. It simply isn’t going to get any better and their sense of identity is no longer tied up to the franchise. They aren’t coming back. Star Wars fandom is dead.
The big takeaway here is that without the Advocates and Intentionalists there will be absolutely no buzz around a franchise. Hate watching really doesn’t count.
Look at Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The Tolkien Advocates are long established and incredibly loyal BUT you have to get over a very high bar before they will accept your project as Tolkien canonical. Just dressing up like an elf won’t do it. The Tolkien Advocates are very difficult for Hollywood to deal with because their intellect has to be both engaged and courted.
The Tolkien Advocates were divided over Peter Jackson, but there were enough of them on board that the Intentionalists took a serious interest. The Intentionalists read the books and were more likely to engage in a discussion about which of the cartoons was better than the Advocates. However, there were enough Advocates that were nuts over Jackson that the Intentionalists were convinced, and that interest level is what drove the Culturalists, then finally the Flirts.
Big takeaway, your franchise’s Intentionalists are the thing that will take you from a niche market to a mega-franchise. But the Intentionalists don’t show up in the first place without a solid base layer of Advocates telling them, “Dude you gotta see this!”
Marvel isn’t in as bad a position as Star Wars…yet. They didn’t spurn the Intentionalists, they are just easing them out, replacing the actors whose portrayals they liked with actresses whose roles have left them unengaged and disinterested. The Marvel Advocates have been sticking around because the comics trained them to temporarily tolerate major shifts in canon, secure in the knowledge that after “the normies buy issue #1 of the reboot, Peter Parker is going to go back to being Spiderman.”
The problem there is Kevin Feige has absolutely no intention of shifting away from the Woke characters that he has created. Yes, Kevin thinks he’s a “creative” now. Since Chapek is gone, any pressure to change them back has been removed.
A bigger problem is Marvel brand fatigue by the Culturalists and Flirts. When the MCU first started with Ironman, Captain America, and Thor. You had three entry points and you didn’t have to watch all of them to understand everything that was going on. You didn’t really need to see the first Avengers movie either.
But from Infinity War onward, the MSheU has been so interconnected that fans were required to watch everything to stay up to date with everything. Which meant being lectured during Falcon and the Winter Solider, and openly insulted by She-Hulk. Marvel TV is dead. The movies still have some life in them but it won’t last. The Advocates are beginning to accept the reality of the situation and have started drifting away.
DC is in fundamentally better shape on that score. You didn’t have to watch a single episode of Batwoman to understand everything that went on with Peacemaker. If you were watching Peacemaker and got curious as to how he got shot, you could go back to watch The Suicide Squad but it wasn’t required, you certainly didn’t have to watch anything else with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in it, and trust me you wouldn’t want to.
There haven’t been enough movies in the DCU proper to wear out its fanbase.
The DCU’s real issue has been Warner’s horrendous mismanagement. The only broad-scoped plan they had in place was trying to outdo Disney in the Woke department.
However, the DSheU had a stake driven through its heart before it could rise from the grave.
As a franchise, DC has the healthiest fundamentals in Hollywood at the moment. The Advocates have little to complain about compared to Marvel. The Intentionalists haven’t been mortally offended or insulted unless they were watching Batwoman. Its only real problem now is a dearth of Culturalists and disinterest by the Flirts because it’s not the in-thing (not yet anyway).
The unhealthiest franchise out there right now is Doctor Who. The reason it is so unhealthy was that it was attractive to Intentionalists who were also hardcore Woke. While these fans were genuinely interested in Doctor Who, they also felt it could be improved by being much more explicitly political. Moreover, if you weren’t explicitly political you weren’t a real Doctor Who fan. The most important thing to this small but incredibly loud subset of Intentionalists was that the Doctor be regenerated as a woman.
Harry Potter is a reasonably healthy franchise. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that twenty-year-old book, is STILL in the top 100 in the Kindle store. Rowling handed herself a major headache with her fandom when she retconned Dumbledore into being canonically gay. On the basis of that the Wokeites decided they were in charge of Hogwarts. She managed to extricate herself by noticing that men who claim to be women are still biologically male no matter what surgery they have done to them. The Wokeites tried to throw her out of the fandom she created but she refused to go, so they did.
There might be a lesson to be learned in that somewhere.
Okay, I’m done here.