As I'm sure you're an enjoyer of product and entertainment much like myself, which would you rather see or hear? A movie/comic/album that is exactly what the writer/producer/director/whatever wanted (a.k.a. "artistic integrity") or the same thing over and over again because you know its what you want so that's what you get (a.k.a. "fan service"). No matter what your recreational vice may be, the notions of "artistic integrity" and "fan service" have many pros and cons on both sides.
Which side of the fence do you fall on? Would you rather see or hear something that is what the makers of that product wanted to make, or do you want something that you know you'll like with no surprises? When you go to a restaurant, do you sample the menu or do you order the same thing all the time?
They're smoking blunts, thats why his eyes are so red.
So let's get into it. Here's some examples of artistic integrity and fan service that can be found in my favorite media outlets: Movies, Music and Comics. I'll be showcasing pros and cons of both ideologies. Along the way, hopefully we'll find the answer together.
Part 1: Movies
The success of a movie always comes back to two things. One, how much money did it ultimately make (obviously) and two, what the long-term appeal of the movie is. If a movie is successful, you are almost guaranteed a sequel in todays world. In a way, that's a perfect example of what I mean when I say "fan service." For example, since Saw was such a popular movie, they made six more of them (along with 3 video games, a comic book and even a theme park ride in England) . That's fan service. It's common sense for a movie studio to milk the cow for as long as they can.
At least Cary Elwes was in it...
Because we needed 6 movies about assholes with fast cars. One just wouldn't be enough.
Another obvious franchise to lump into this discussion is Star Wars. I think almost any serious nerd would argue that the original Star Wars trilogy (NOT the versions with the updated graphics) are an excellent story on their own, and that the prequel movies made nearly 20 years later and animated TV shows do nothing but dilute the original story that was told. Perhaps what once stood as a pinnacle of artistic integrity was degenerated into another soulless money-making fan service machine?
Star Wars...now a part of the Disney Empire.
Expect 7 new TV shows, 38 comic book titles, 112 movie spin-offs...
...and a cake decoration.
Samuel L. Jackson is in it?
OF COURSE HE IS.
Another example would be the movie adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. Zack Snyder's version of Watchmen followed Alan Moore's graphic novel closely, yet was so brightly colored and had many awkward scenes (such as the "hallelujah" sex scene) that the movie fell flat. Add in a completely inappropriate soundtrack to go along with unnecessary penis flashes and you've got what is considered to be the bastard child of comic book movies. Is Watchmen an example of artistic integrity gone wild, or fan service gone too far? You decide, as thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Because even gods shave off their pubes.
Let's switch gears and get into some examples of this conundrum in the music world....
Part 2: Music
In my opinion, the music community is where the argument between "artistic integrity" versus "fan service" is felt the most. With a planet full of more bands than food for poor people, and genres that range from hillbilly techno to african death metal, there are many bands that fall into either category.
The Hillbilly Skrillex.
Hey, its the "Time of the Season" to go see The Zombies.
Get it? GET IT?
Trevor Peres of Obituary
I apologize for continuing to bring this album up on my blog, but I just can't help it. If there was ever a better example of artistic integrity biting a band in the ass than Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus album, I still haven't found it. Personally, I like this album. It's grown on me. But when a band is known for being brutal death metal and brutal death metal alone, and they throw an album at you with industrial music peppered throughout a flat-sounding death metal record and you've got a band full of old guys who can't agree on what their band is.
Illud Divinum Insanus
Season of Mist Records (2011)
Check out this interview with Dave Vincent, lead singer and bassist for Morbid Angel, where he answers the interviewer's questions about the negative reaction the Illud album received. You can sense that he wishes it was still 1996, when there was no Youtube or readily available venue for people to vent their hatred for this album. His frustration with the line of questioning becomes quite apparent as it goes on.
David Vincent of Morbid Angel
I think Illud Divinum Insanus is a perfect example of a band throwing a temper tantrum in order to do things the way they wanted to, with little regard for their fanbase. This begs the question...should Morbid Angel have churned out another death metal record instead of trying something new?
Of course, artistic integrity and fan service agree on a more corporate level as well. Let's look at a more commercially-successful band that has sinned on both sides of this comparison. The almighty Iron Maiden.
Bill & Ted's classic misinterpretation of what the "Iron Maiden" was in feudal England.
Like many popular metal bands of the 1980's with egotistical lead singers who got too big for their britches, Iron Maiden suffered through the 1990's with a terrible lead singer replacement in the form of Blaze Bayley. I remember interviews with bassist Steve Harris in 1995 (from Hit Parader magazine), talking about how the band had wanted a singer with a deeper voice so they could go in "a new direction" away from what was done with Dickinson. What they got instead was a singer even more monotone than their first singer, Paul Di'Anno. The difference being...Paul Di'Anno was awesome. Blaze Bayley, not so much. If you want proof, take a look at this clip from Iron Maiden's first major tour with Blaze. Talk about butchering a classic...
"Number of the Beast" (live 1995)
Blaze Bayley didn't sing many songs from the Bruce Dickinson era of the band, as he clearly couldn't hit those high notes. The songs that Iron Maiden recorded with Bayley were a bit slower (and boring), as if the monotone sound coming from Bayley's vocal chords took the energy out of everyone else in the band. Despite this, Iron Maiden stuck it out with Blaze Bayley for nearly 6 years, despite cries from the fans to get back with Bruce Dickinson.
Then, in 1999 the fans got exactly what they wanted. Iron Maiden reunited with Bruce Dickinson and have been touring ever since. Since the reunion, they've released 4 albums in classic Maiden fashion. They haven't played anything live from the Blaze Bayley era in years. Is Iron Maiden doing exactly what the fans want? Are they now an example of fan service done right?
The Final Frontier
EMI Records (2010)
Let's switch gears once again to my final favorite outlet for entertainment...the wonderful world of comics. Believe me, there's plenty of fan service and notions of artistic integrity all over the comic book world. Let's look at a few.
Part 3: Comics
Again, I apologize if I get a bit nerdy in this section, as I'm sure I'll be making references to things that only a select few will know about. When it comes to comics, it can't be helped. If you want to be one of us, you have to do your homework!
Robin talks like a bitch, he gets smacked like a bitch.
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended it's 7-year run on TV, the story continued in comics.
Seasons 8 & 9 can be found through Dark Horse Comics if you give a shit.
The only time Marvel & DC worked well together.
The best way I can sum it up without spoiling anything is that the DC heroes tend to be more revered and looked up to, whereas Marvel heroes are more flawed and tend to be hated or feared. DC heroes have museums built in their honor and maintain fortresses of solitude or bat-caves, while Marvel heroes deal with mutant racism and social issues. DC is set more in its own universe (with cities such as Metropolis, Gotham City, etc.), with Marvel being based in "our" world (New York, Manhattan, etc.).
In the DC Universe, The Flash gets a museum.
If he was a Marvel Universe character, he'd be hated as a mutant.
Either way, The Flash sucks. "Ohhhh I can run fast!" Fuck off.
So now that we've looked at another example of fan service done right, lets look at an example of artistic integrity gone foul. Even though Grant Morrison is one of my favorite writers in the comic book world, his mega-event story Final Crisis for DC Comics was one of the worst goddamned things I've ever read, and it's entirely due to Morrison having free rein on this story. Morrison took absolutely no regard for the rest of what was going on in the DC Universe at the time, and wrote a story that was so jarring and abstract that it's still argued about today.
Seven Soldiers sold roughly 30,000 copies as it was coming out monthly, whereas Final Crisis was selling around the 80,000 mark. This means that more than 50% of the people reading Final Crisis were completely lost from the get-go.
It would have been nice if these characters showed up in more than 10 panels of the story.
So has anyone reading this blog come across an answer? IS there an answer? What's worse, artistic integrity or fan service? Clearly, both can achieve great success or go completely off the rails. In the end, I don't think there is an answer. It all just comes down to what you like. Personal preference is IMPOSSIBLE to define. If it was, then there would be a reason why I can listen to Ray Charles and Skinny Puppy in the same sitting.
In my mind, fan service is ok if it pulls people in and makes a new fan along the way. It's bad when it's just a money-grubbing, corporate-driven nightmare. Artistic integrity is good when artists can truly express themselves and attain worldwide acclaim because of it. It's bad when a person's ego drives them to no longer listen to reason.
I hope you enjoyed this entry. Maybe you learned a thing or two along the way, and had a random thought or two pop in your head as a result of reading this. That's about all I ever expect.
Until next time, bow me out Bruce!
"The Number of the Beast"
The Number of the Beast
EMI Records (1982)
*done the right way!*