Monday, April 9, 2012

The Avengers Project

Marvel's The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, is premiering this May 4. Reading the facts out like that doesn't quite encompass the enthusiasm the fan community has for this film. The Avengers is more than the latest release of a popular property: it's the convergence of six already beloved-characters and one beloved director. It's crossover fan fiction written by one of the strongest, most popular writers in contemporary science fiction. This means that it draws a lot of people. And those people create the fan fiction and fan art that many of us love.

This film, like most things, got me thinking about how fans relate to one another and to their favorite characters. I've come up with two questions to ask the audience. They should test the waters of fandom and media consumption exactly as those reactions are happening. One of the great things about fandom studies is how immediate and contemporary it is. This article will be active  until the release of The Avengers on May 4 . My first question is, although about an experience not all fans will share, directed at the film experience as a whole. The second question introduces a special interest in feminism. Answers to both will be tallied after the movie is released. My ultimate goal is to produce a publishable paper on the subject of fan opinions about notable subjects related to The Avengers. All participants who are quoted in the final work will be contacted and credited, unless they wish to remain anonymous.

And, because this is all about superheroes, the end goal is to have fun.

This afternoon I discovered that select theaters in the United States were showing "premiere marathons" of Marvel movies before The Avengers is released. They will air all the movies that show the origin stories of the Avengers characters, ending at the stroke of midnight when the new film is released. That sounds awesome. It also sounds like a great opportunity to go a little deeper into the workings of the fan experience. Because here's the question: what exactly is the appeal of a marathon of chronologically connected films? What is unique about a movie-going experience designed to familiarize or re-familiarize viewers with the history of a fictional universe?

 Question 1. Do you think it makes the world and characters of the Avengers more 'real' to see the movies consecutively?

A preview clip recently released for The Avengers featured the character Black Widow wearing a low-cut dress and tights and fighting three men while tied to a chair. Whedon is known for the variety and strength of women in his shows and movies, but that doesn't mean they aren't going to be showing off the bodies of the actresses who portray them. Black Widow is the sole female in a cast of six, and although some versions of the mythology give her cybernetic enhancements, she has no super powers. Her wrist-mounted weapons are called the "Widow's Kiss", a name which draws specific attention to her gender. Some fans love her, some ignore her, and some have difficulty seeing her as a character at all instead of the token beautiful woman of the film. There's a lot of talk about what is and is not empowering or appropriate for female characters. One viewpoint says that characters should be role models and weak ones can encourage weakness in viewers; another that characters are people before they are examples and should have flaws.

Question 2:  With the understanding that the above clip is taken out of context, is Black Widow's portrayal empowering? Should it be?

Thanks to everybody who participates in this fan studies project. It's sure to mutate a bit along the way, so suggestions on ways to modulate or focus the questions are also awesome.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, growing up, I wasn't much for comic book heroes. I always thought they were weird and didn't really like the whole thing. But recently, I have been watching a lot of the new movies that have been coming out, and the movies give the characters so much depth and complexity, that it's really hard to not be interested in them.

    So after watching some of the previous movies, despite never being a huge superhero kind of person, I am really excited about the Avengers movie. It's going to be really awesome.