Monday, June 13, 2005

Serenity for the masses?

I hate the peer-pressure psychology of newspaper movie ads. It seems like every film wants to proclaim itself "number one" at something (usually based on opening weekend box office grosses). I've seen "the #1 Movie in America," "#1 Romance," "#1 Comedy," "#1 Romantic Comedy," and so on. If it doesn't sound patently ridiculous, the marketing department will use it. And pretty soon, I'm sure they'll cross that line, too, and we'll start seeing things like "#1 Lowbrow Comedy Featuring Incontinent Talking Animals!"

Anyway. The clear implication of these ads is: "Everyone else saw this movie. So should you." If this sort of advertising works, then it seems likely that the corollary is also true: that most people will not knowingly choose an unpopular option. That is to say, if you ask your average man on the street to choose Cola A (preferred by 90% of Americans) or Cola B (preferred by only 10%), and with all other factors being equal, he'll pick Cola A, the more popular choice, because he wants to be in the majority, regardless of his actual, personal preference.

It really scares me that the mob mentality could be so strong, and people so willing-- in fact, wanting-- to be sheep, that conformity can be valued as the highest virtue, above individual taste or judgment.

Okay, okay, I'm getting to the point. Continuing with the A/B Cola example: we're given that Mr. Average will always choose the more popular option because he wants to be in the majority. We can restate this as "Mr. Average will never choose the less popular option, because he does not want to be in the minority."

My point is this: Firefly fans are the minority. We may number in the tens of thousands, but that's still less than one percent of all Americans. And we are, to be blunt, weird. We dress up in costumes. We go to conventions. We discuss how to throw conversion parties, for ghod sake. Normal people don't do all this for a canceled TV show. Hell, normal people don't ever do this!

So I'm afraid that the Mr. and Mrs. Averages of these great United States of America will not go out and see Serenity this September-- that they will, in fact, refuse to see it because of its strong association with fandom, which newspapers around the country are playing up due to the preview screenings. I'm concerned that average American moviegoers will hear about all the weirdos carrying on about Serenity, and think, "I certainly don't want to be associated with that bunch of freaks or anything they like. I'd rather go see a nice, normal, safe, mainstream movie, which all my friends and coworkers will approve of. Like Into the Blue!"

My pessimistic view is that Serenity, like most other science fiction movies, will not have overwhelming mass market appeal. It's too quirky to appeal to a complete nonfan. Unlike Terminator 2 or Independence Day or The Matrix (which were really just action movies anyway), Serenity is not set in the present day; it doesn't have many familiar elements to help 20th-century folk get a handle on the story. And that's likely to alienate some people. No pun intended.
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