Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Makes A Franchise Enduring? Uniforms

Marc Bernadin argues that shows with uniforms (military or otherwise) permit fans to easily identify with them, and thus aids the endurance of a franchise:
Just one thing separates Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Firefly from Lost, The X-Files, and Buffy.[...]

The bond that unites fans is the shared experience: the idea that a common passion offers a rally point for community. Humans, by nature, flock together — on teams, in the workplace, as families — and a uniform is the most demonstrative display of that community.

Not only does a uniform allow for on-sight verification of a fellow fan, it can also serve as something of a totem with which one can access the story itself. It'd be foolish to posit that there wasn't some element of fantasy at work, that by donning a Viper pilot uniform the wearer isn't trying just a little to be part of the grand Battlestar mythos. The fans don't want to be William Adama or James T. Kirk or Captain Tightpants — it's not about pretending to be someone, it's about wanting to belong to something.

It's an interesting hypothesis, although there have been many shows that had uniforms, but have not endured (e.g. Space: Above and Beyond, Exosquad, Xena). I am, however, at a loss to think of any science fiction or related franchise that did not uniforms, yet has maintained a strong fanbase over time.

Do you agree with Bernadin's hypothesis? Why or why not?


Anonymous said...

It's pretty persuasive, but I wonder if it puts the cart before the horse. Fans want to adopt something they can share with other fans. Often it's clothes, but it might be a catchphrase (Seinfeld), or an attitude (The Big Lebowski?)

Then there's steampunk. Is that a cross-franchise fandom? The clothes and aesthetics are central, but there's an ethos too. Or maybe steampunk is a different thing.

John said...

Well, few genres outside of science fiction offer uniforms. As for steampunk, I suspect that part of the appeal is that it's as much a visual art as a genre. It gives people the ability to create something identifying with their hands.

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