“Star Wars Fans” and created identities

Just a little follow-up to my post yesterday:

Being a “fan” is no to a large part a function of identity. However, it is fundamentally different from other forms of identity, such as race, ethnicity, or religion.

For ethnicity, membership is generally obvious and immutable – either you are the descendant of an ethnic group or you are not, with the only grey area being multi-ethnic individuals in some circumstances.

For religion, identity is primarily how one views himself and his alignment with tradition and creed that has been passed down, and so is in most cases not up for negotiation. There is, in religion, a possible withholding of identity for those who do not live according to the precepts of that religion – people that are, say, open apostates or unreformed heretics.

For example, a person is Catholic if he has gone through the baptism and confirmation process; he remains catholic and may call himself such as long as he continues to interact with that tradition, even mildly, but may actually be excommunicated against his will for heresy or other significant things.

When it comes to the fan identity, we have an imitation of religion, but with a set of behavior guidelines that are created anew rather than manifested by prior generations in the form of tradition:

Compare it to a list someone might make to encapsulate the Christian identity:

  • *Acknowledge and publicly proclaim that Christ is the son of God, that he was crucified, and that he rose from the dead on the third day
  • *Goes to church
  • *Gives alms
  • *Prays
  • *Studies the bible

The point of lists like this is to allow the in-group to create a sense of “self” and “other.” While this separation is important in religion, where you are dealing with a life-encapsulating creed that penetrates morality, lifestyle, and politics, it is indeed a very strange thing for a created identity such as “Star Wars Fan.”

Watching Star Wars movies is clearly not enough to create an identity, as that action would encapsulate virtually the entire population of the United States and a large portion of other western countries. Part of creating the sense of “self” and “other” involves making the in-group special in some way.

You end up creating a list of creed requirements in imitation of religion, only they all seem to revolve around consuming products. The fan identity is defined by how much you “love” the franchise by consuming larger portions and varieties of franchise products than the typical person.

If you are disturbed by this, you aren’t the only one. Such an attitude is probably very valuable for the corporation. Disney basically paid 4.5 billion dollars to buy adherents to a religion.

Of course, you can see why they do not appreciate portions of their fanbase rebelling against their soulless, poorly-written corporate fan fiction movies – they want faithful zealots, not people who merely like to watch good movies.

Fan of Star Wars, or just a person who likes good stories? You might like my latest scifi-horror book (sequel coming this year), Voices of the Void. I like to call it “Aliens meets Lovecraft,” but it has its own flavor as well.

Plenty of Guns

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