athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Recently, I've had several conversations with different people about franchise fiction, why it becomes popular, and why so many franchises develop followings and fandoms far out of proportion to their literary merit (at least as perceived by the arbiters of such intangibles).

Since it's been a while since this (or any other) topic has come up in this venue, let's review (and rename, and renumber) Snark's Athelind's Laws of Fanfic Transformative Works:

  1. Athelind's First Law of Transformative Works:

    • A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

      • Corollary: Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market (see TV Tropes: Running the Asylum).

  2. Athelind's Second Law of Transformative Works:

    • The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.


Analysis:

Phineas & Ferb is a very good show, at least as good as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Both shows are smart, snappy, extol virtues of creativity, cooperation, diversity and enthusiasm without being pandering or insulting, and are packed full of Parental Bonus humor.  They have fluid, slick animation and simple, crisp, geometric character design (P&F's creative team have gone on record as saying that the distinctive designs of the cast were intended to make them easy for young fans to draw).

And yet, while Phineas & Ferb has a following, it doesn't have a fandom with the same level of ... devotion ... as the Bronies.*  I will note that it also doesn't really have a premise that lends itself gracefully to fan-made characters;  a neighborhood full of eccentric grade-schoolers with a penchant for Mad Science is entertaining to watch, but adding one more quirky personality to that particular mix isn't something that excites the imagination.  Sure, it would be a blast to be nine years old and live on the same block as the Flynn-Fletchers, but nobody fantasizes about being Elmyra to Pinkie and the Brain.**

This supports the Second Law: Given two shows of approximately equal quality, I submit that the factor that makes one attract a hard-core fandom is how readily one can inject one's self or one's own creations into its milieu.

Harry Potter, My Little Pony, Star Trek, superhero comics ... They're all setting with a "sandbox" quality to them.  They have or imply Loads and Loads of Characters, and lend themselves to letting you be one of those thousands.

People write Monk fanfics, but they don't drop personal alter-egos or original characters into the Monk milieu unless they're Mary Suing. I love Babylon 5, but it has a finite story arc all centered around a particular cadre of Important People. People don't make their own imaginary Earthforce vessels like they do Federation starships.

I think the two purest distillations of "Milieus You Can Become A Part Of" are Furry Fandom, which has actually dispensed with ANY central narrative or setting and revolves primarily around the fandom's own self-created personae more than any particular commercial work ... and superhero comics, where the entire process has long been a matter of dropping a creator's own ideas and alter-egos into the larger setting.


* It's hard to think of many fandoms as devout as the Bronies.  Not even the Beatles, and they were more popular than ... well, they were pretty popular.
** Almost nobody.


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