Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What Is Canon?

The Atlantic is trying really hard to alienate all of it's nerdy readers, the few that it has, by arguing that fans need to stop focusing on what is, or isn't, canon when their favorite franchise hits the big screen. Their ire is more directly aimed towards Marvel, DC, and Star Wars fans.

Cue the grimace of the fan base at large.

What The Atlantic is trying to promote is that canon doesn't really exist. It never did. It's the heart of the fans that tries to keep the source-code, the history of that fictional universe in check via the canon system. Fans trying to "out-fan" each other, and prove their nerdyness. While showing everyone else that they are not as cool, because they don't know the canon.

"What’s been largely lost over the past decade is the crucial point that these stories are imaginary—they were dreamed up by people, and can be changed, distilled, or subverted by anybody at the drop of a hat. There is no true canonical version of Batman, Superman, Princess Leia, James Kirk, or any other shared characters—only infinite interpretations by an array of creators. Treating them as if they’re carved in stone only reduces them to a flat series of issue numbers, paragraph citations, or official tables. It takes away the joy of personally deciding which version of a character you like, which version of a story you prefer. The truth is that nobody—not the company, not the fans, not even the creator—can dictate the nature of a story to you. Batman v Superman is not canon. Neither is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, or the current Batman run, or the Star Wars novels, or even the films. The only true canon is personal, and it lives inside your head."

I can see the pitchforks being readied. But before you start clamoring for the writer's head, let's take a look at the topic of "canon."

I've seen a number of people refer to canon in the same way as they would with canon law with the Catholic Church. Canon is best referred to as a set of rules that dictate the teachings of that group/corporation/universe. There is typically someone or a set of people that maintain the canon and ensure it's being enforced. In the case of sci-fi and fantasy, typically it's the fans that do this on behalf of the corporation. Why? Because most businesses don't care. Lucasfilm initially didn't and it resulted in a lot of bad content being produced in the early 1980's. When they pulled everything back into their possession, they were able to manage the canon and expanded universe. This is the one part where I feel that The Atlantic's argument falters. Because Lucas had a hand in what was and was not approved, until Disney purchased the company, he had a direct link to saying yes on the canon. And he did! Multiple times throughout the years. A number of us grew up knowing that the Expanded Universe was canon and we're having a hard time letting it go with the changes Disney has made. And they are doing the same thing that Lucas did - by giving a nod of approval on what is and is not canon. So let's let the Star Wars fans be on this one. Some of us are still grieving that Mara Jade is no longer in the fold.

With Marvel and DC, there are so many recreations, spin-offs, and alternate universes of their characters that there is no one canon. It's all canon. One day Superman kills people, the next he could give up superheroing and go work at an animal shelter for the rest of his life. There's so much diversity in the story lines that arguing canon is incredibly difficult. So I get it. Saying that "this is the only Superman that exists" is a big pill to swallow when multiple stories of the caped alien exist that contradict each other.

What do you think of the canon claim? Worth it's weight in salt or just salty?


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