Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Hype quickens the blood of fans and stirs their hearts. Hype also withers their souls and makes them despair for the future of their favorites. Hype is somehow aqua vitae and bitter poison at the same time.
The culture industries need their fans to be at least happy enough to keep participating. The relationship is inherently insecure because the fan demands some change. After all, the fan cannot watch the exact same thing over and over again. The next issue, the upcoming sequel, or the next series must give the audience something a little bit new, but not so new that it drives them away.
Viewed in the most cynical light, conventions are the places in which the industry woos the fan. They are the splashy date that convinces the fan to stick with their true love and not be stolen away by the next shiny thing that passes by. Conventions become ideal ways to launch hype. The larger the venue, the more important the hype must be.
This weekend, the New York Comic Con was the latest hype launching platform. As I read the news from afar, I was struck by how some of it made me quite happy and some did not.
For example, the release of a new trailer for the upcoming Picard series made me downright giddy. Star Trek fans already knew that their beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation would be returning to the small screen. There is already much goodwill for star Patrick Stewart, who seems to do no wrong. The trailer showed a few more scenes that previously revealed. And it shows us that Picard would reunite with some of our other favorite characters from the show.
But the real excitement hit for me with the release date. The series will drop on CBS All-Access on Jan. 23, 2020. In just a few months it would finally be happening! And I promptly fulfilled the duty that Paramount and CBS truly wanted me to do, spreading the trailer out on social media. I was a responsible link in the hype chain.
And yet, other news from the same convention left me a bit underwhelmed. Marvel Comics showed the new costume for Thor at its panel on Friday. And I can say that I reacted with a definitive “meh”. The debut was part of the promotion for a new creative team on the comic book after the departure of a successful writer who had put in many years developing a truly epic run for the Asgardian god of thunder.
The costume is not wrong, per se. It’s just not right either. Thor has been given darker vestments, with a kind of star field design to them. His legendary helmet is gone too, replaced by a thin black diadem on his brow. Now, I am by no means an accomplished artist. I’m sure I could not create a Thor costume. But there’s something about this that is so unappealing and the crown looks like a unibrow to me.
And here’s the weird thing. Just from that image, I’m re-thinking whether I want to keep reading Thor’s comic. I’ve been happily consuming these fantastic Norse adventures for years. I even got more excited when Jane Foster took over the role of Thor. One little costume change and now I want out?
How fickle we fans are. How strange hype must be.