Two of the biggest controversies in movies and TV this year have involved two of our most storied and celebrated franchises: Ghostbusters and Star Trek.
The Ghostbusters issue is pretty simple: A reboot movie with an all-female cast featuring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones is coming out in July and people are downright furious that it even exists, let alone features a cast like that.
The Star Trek issue is a bit more complicated: A group of fans raised more than a million dollars to produce their own professional quality Star Trek fan film called Star Trek: Axanar, and CBS is suing the production for copyright infringement. Recently, the fire started to burn hotter when CBS released a list of incredibly strict guidelines for fans to follow when making a Star Trek fan film, which only enraged fans further as the "greedy, lecherous, ungrateful" studio keeps doing everything it can to alienate and lose its fans.
While thinking about the Axanar situation, it occurred to me that it was related to the Ghostbusters situation in a very specific and controversial manner. There is one identical reason for the issue with both franchises and the lately angry people who love them so much.
That reason is "fan entitlement."
Let's examine what that term means for a minute. Have you ever met a fan of something that was absolutely enraged at what the owners and creators of that something had recently done to it? So enraged that they were convinced that they had the correct answer of what SHOULD be done because they clearly respected and understood the source material better than the actual owners and creators did and said owners and creators OWED it to the fans to get it "right?" Would this person do their very best to argue this point and then when you raise a valid counterpoint, immediately shoot you down with an insult, a proclamation that you don't know what you are talking about or question how much of a fan of the something you really were?
That in a nutshell, is an example of fan entitlement.
There are Ghostbusters fans who are convinced that it is a perfect franchise the way it is and should never be rebooted, especially with a cast that doesn't feature any of the original lead actors in the lead roles. To suggest even rebooting it is heresy and an actual reboot is the height of disrespect and insult to those fans, who are highly offended that anyone would dare make a new version of their favorite movie that is built for a completely different generation of audience.
Now look, some of these fans are misogynists and hate the fact that its an all-woman primary cast, but largely the reason the Ghostbusters reboot trailer became the most down-voted YouTube video of all-time stems from the people offended that a reboot of the movie is even coming out. Yes, there are plenty of people that actually don't like the trailer and hate on the movie because they think it looks bad, but that's not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the people who feel utterly betrayed and consider the world to be coming to an end because the Ghostbusters reboot is coming soon.
In fact, those Ghostbusters fans feel just as if not more betrayed than the Star Trek fans who consider themselves long suffering for at least seven years now and were looking forward to Axanar, giving them a chance to watch "real" Star Trek instead of the "Abrams-verse" disasters since 2009. Now with Axanar under legal fire from CBS and the new rules for fan films being released, that offended, betrayed Trekkie is livid at CBS and Paramount because in his or her mind, there hasn't been good Star Trek in so long and the studio has gone to hell and a hand basket and cannot be trusted with the franchise anymore, so the fan films will have to suffice because no one understands and accept the franchise more than the fans.
While that last part can be considered relatively true, this aura of fan entitlement, the notion that the studios should obey the fans' wishes in their entirety because they know what's good for the franchise, is unrealistic, intolerant and incredibly short-sighted, and it all comes down to the subject of ownership. CBS and Paramount own the rights to Star Trek and therefore can legally do what they wish with the franchise at any point, and the objective of the studios is not to placate and appease the long time fans of the franchise with every new movie or show. No, the goal is to make money from it, because it is a business that is seeking profit and cannot survive without it, and if profit means squashing a fan film crew for making a feature-length movie with characters and vehicles owned by the business, then that is what is going to happen and no fan is owed anything from that. We never have been owed anything from these companies.
The same can be said for Ghostbusters easily. If Sony thinks making a reboot of a highly successful franchise with modern actresses and the director of Bridesmaids(Paul Feig) is going to sell well to younger audiences that may not have even been thought of when the original movie came out, then that is what they are going to do and they have every right to do it because the property is theirs and they have a business to run.
I understand where fans can be upset about both situations, I really do. If you grew up with the original Ghostbusters or the prime universe Star Trek shows and movies, then what is happening now is a culture shock for you, because it's not being made for you or your audience anymore, at least not in terms of its aim. These studios are out to make money though, and they are within their rights to do with the intellectual property as they see fit. Not everyone that is angry about the Axanar situation is fed up with Star Trek and the direction it has taken in the last seven years, but a number of people are and feel that since the Original Series was brought back a decade after it was cancelled because a huge group of fans called for it to come back, that fans should always be regarded highly in whatever business decision is made for the franchise. Same goes for Ghostbusters and the fans who flocked to see it in 1984 and have kept it relevant ever since.
The problem with that line of thinking is that there is no regard given to the new audience, at least not in terms of what they may want to see or gravitate toward. It's easier to just reason that whatever was good enough for the old geese to have fun with is more than good enough for the young gander to enjoy, even if it's not what they gravitate toward naturally. To reboot it and make it more accessible to those younger people is "dumbing it down" and "neutering" it so that "stupid millenials" will actually get it.
The only thing that I pity the Axanar producers about is the work they've already put into their movie. Raising money, casting, visual effects work and other critical components to the movie likely took a lot of long hours and extra effort to make happen, and now the CBS lawyers have sent it into oblivion. That sucks, it really does. That being said, you run that risk when you make a movie using a franchise that you don't own the rights to in the first place. It would be nice if CBS didn't care and had more relaxed standards and ideas about Star Trek fan films, but the reality is that they don't and they're not wrong for it. They may look bad and it could cause a decent-decent sized PR headache for Star Trek in general, about the same as an all-female cast featuring two polarizing comedians in McCarthy and Wiig for Ghostbusters, but in the end both studios are banking on the fans that don't know about either of these controversies, or they know and don't care, and just want to see a movie that will entertain their young and modern minds for a couple of hours.