Bring up the word “canon” to nerds about a show/book/movie about a movie they love, you better make sure you have enough time on your hands for the dissertation you are about to receive. Canon will start nerd fights, ruin nerd friendships, and cause dizzying headaches.
First, let’s start with the definition
noun can·on \ˈka-nən\
Definition of canon
- 1a: a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
- 2[Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin, from Latin, model]: the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine
- 3[Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, standard]a: an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture b : the authentic works of a writer c : a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works <the canon of great literature>
- 4a: an accepted principle or rule b : a criterion or standard of judgment c : a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms
“Canon.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed April 13, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/canon.
While 3 and 4 are really what we are talking about here, don’t think for a second that some people don’t look at canon as falling under one and two.
Let’s look at a more specific example of canon. Star Wars used to have a large canon. Now for most people, that would mean six movies. But for others, it means novels, comics, role-playing games, etc. Then Disney bought Star Wars and called all of that, besides the movies, and called all those works Star Wars Legends. Now canon refers to the seven movies, the animated series Clone Wars and Rebels, the Marvel comic books, and basically anything else that is star wars related that has a Disney logo located on it. (Warning: link goes to an article from Nov 2015 so a lot has been added to it since then).
I never tried to keep up with the old Star Wars canon. It was too sprawling by the time I had disposable income. Yet, this has changed with Disney buying it, and not because I’m a nut for Disney. Cristina, who is the bigger Star Wars fan, started watching Clone Wars. I watched some of them, but not all. I did start watching Rebels with her. She collects the Marvel comics, so now I read them. In other words, I’m there at the beginning of a fictional universe that I can keep track of, so I probably will be able to cite canon when it comes to Star Wars. The hard part keeping up with is the books.
But Star Wars isn’t the only thing that has a canon. Pretty much any sci-fi and fantasy works have gatekeepers who keep track of canon. In some cases, this seems impossible to me, such as with Doctor Who. In other cases, like Game of Thrones, you might have two different versions of canon, with the books being one set and the TV show another. The Tolkein family have kept a tight control of canon on Middle Earth.
Canon is serious business for some. Most of the time I can take or leave it if the work can stand up on its own. Yet, sometimes it bothers me. For instance, in Marvel’s Civil War comic, Peter Parker reveals that his SpiderMan to the entire war. Later, after the war is over and when Skrulls have impersonated some superheroes, the Avengers demand to know his identity, which he reveals as Peter Parker. Unless I missed some mind erasing plot that affected all of the avengers (imposters or not), that was a flaw of not following canon. (I have been warned not to read One More Day which retcons Spidey’s story, so I haven’t. That might also explain it).
The most annoying thing to me about canon is that it creates gatekeepers. Gatekeepers take it upon themselves to decide if you are a true fan or not. Example: “Oh you have only started watching the NEW Doctor Who? I can’t consider you a real fan unless you started with William Hartnell.” That’s baloney (I would use a stronger word but this is a G-rated blog). It makes fandom exclusive instead of inclusive. I have never understood this philosophy in any art form. My favorite band never sold a lot of records. Some other fans like that in that the band feels like they belong to them. I don’t like it, because they are my favorite band and everyone should listen to them. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but instead of guarding the gate, these self-titled gatekeepers should be evangelizing their favorite shows, books, movies, bands, etc. Explain to new fans how deep the passion for the work can go.
It is also ok to correct false theories. This isnt gatekeeping. Some people are more knowledgable about certain canons. This is ok. This is what civil societies do: they defer to the experts on certain subjects.
And if they don’t want to keep up with the entire canon? That’s fine as well. Can you be a true Star Wars fan and only have seen the seven movies? Certainly.
Be your own nerd. Follow your own fandoms as far as you want to go.
I wrote this blog a while back. Then Captain America #1 was released.
The ugly side of gatekeepers came up with Captain America #1. It was released the same day as DC’s Rebirth. In my opinion, DC created a much worse violation of canon, even if I’m excited that they did it. It makes me want to read more DC. That same day, Captain America was released in which one panel Capt says “Hail Hydra” made the gatekeepers come out with more than pitchforks. The writer, Nick Spencer, received numerous death threats. A former Captain America writer, who had not worked with the character in over five years, received death threats. We can all agree that this is not ok. Yet, it happens too often. There are death threats about the new Ghostsbusters movie because it will ruin the idea that original one is a perfect movie. First, it is not. Second, it hasn’t even been released! We truly don’t know if it is good or bad.
Around the same time, two articles were written about fans being entitled. Both make good points. Both state how fandom in the internet age has led to some fans becoming overzealous. Well, more accurately, the internet has allowed for more overzealous fans to be heard. Artists have always received hate mail. What both articles worry about is that artists will become afraid to write the stories they want to write for fear of fan retribution. I think that there is an idea to that, but not as one that is as strong as they think. Death threats need to be taken seriously, but I can’t forsee writers writing only bland stories that a small minority of fans will buy. We do live in a capitalistic society.
What I disagreed with both articles is the inclusion of fans wanting Else to be gay with the angry people’s wants. The first I read of the movement to make Else gay, came from a gay friend’s facebook feed. He also stated it was not a good move because her sexuality had nothing to do with the story. It would be forced. He is right. Unless the sequel revolves around her having a romance, then her sexuality, or anyone else’s for that matter, doesn’t belong in the story.
However, fans asking for certain things like more gay characters is not entitlement. Lumping them in with the fans that are gatekeepers makes the authors gatekeepers. What people are really asking for when they want to see Else as a homosexual or a romance between Bucky and Steve Rogers is inclusion. They want to see characters that they see in real live. Death threats because an author had Capt saying “Hail Hydra” and that anger that Ghostbusters is being remade, with women no less, is exclusion. One article says people demanding how fiction goes is a dangerous idea. Apperently they never heard of focus groups and advanced screening. Big studio movies follow their whims all the time. By stating that, they also invalidate their own criticisms unless they are so elitist that they didn’t include their reviews in the scope of their statements. Threatening people is a totally different story, but calling for more inclusion, in my mind, can’t be a bad thing. Again, if people don’t like how someone tells the story, then they don’t have to read or see it.
Gatekeeping, either way, is bad for art. Authors don’t work in a bubble. They are part of a process, one in which the reader plays a vital role. Now, art can’t be totally demand driven; it’s one of the few areas where supply side is more important. Yet, writers often write about what they know. Readers often read to find out what they don’t know. When readers are being vocal about including something, they are informing the writers that their world in stories is not the same world we live in. Sometimes it is not bad for writers to know this. Totally dismissing readers is as much of mistake as readers demanding stories be told in a certain way. If you don’t like the stories you are reading, move on. Better yet, tell it yourself. Either way, tear down the gates.
Now, I do agree with the idea that hating something because it doesn’t live up to your wishes is anti-art, especially if you are hating it sight unseen. I haven’t read Captain America nor have I seen Ghostbusters, so I don’t have an opinion on them yet. I personally don’t like that Steve Rogers is Captain America when we have Sam Wilson as Captain America, but that’s a different story.
However, I eventually will read it. If I love it or am intrigued, I’ll read issue number 2 and maybe even write a review. If I don’t, I’ll move on to something else.
What I won’t do, is be a gatekeeper.