Discover more from Microfascination
What Fans Are "Owed," My Belated Reality TV Phase, Eight Adaptations of Beauty & the Beast, and Internet Ghosts
A few pop culture rabbit holes for your Tuesday
Hey! Welcome to the third issue of Microfascination. Here you’ll find an inquiry, a challenge, an adaptation, and a haunting.
What Do Artists Owe Their Fans?
Late last year, my Spotify Wrapped informed me that my top artist for 2022 was Placebo. They’d been pretty active between releasing their first album in nearly a decade and touring to promote it, so I hopped over to their Twitter feed to check in. I was surprised to find that a bunch of fellow fans were angry at the band.
In short, the band had recently made a request that fans put their phones away for the duration of their shows. “It makes Placebo’s performance so much more difficult,” reads one tweet. “More difficult to connect with you and communicate effectively the emotions of the songs.” I’m not a musician, but especially for a band that came up in the ‘90s this ask makes a kind of sense to me. I imagine there’s a special feeling of communion when you look out from the stage and see a bunch of faces as opposed to their devices. Something that isn’t reproduced online and exists purely in the moment carries its own kind of ephemeral beauty. (Not to mention that several songs on the album they’re touring for are literally about the discomfort of surveillance.)
But some fans were upset. They were paying to be there — quite a lot, in some cases. For many concert-goers, attendance is both less frequent and more fraught as a result of the pandemic and the ongoing Ticketmaster/Live Nation debacle. Gratuitous recording was an understandable complaint, some acquiesced — we’ve all been behind that one person at a show who can’t put down their phone — but surely taking a single picture to commemorate a special night wasn’t that big of a deal. According to fans, the shows were now monitored by security who confronted those with phones and even threw offenders out. The fans said this altered the environment they’d come to expect, giving the shows an aura of hostility and ultimately lessening their enjoyment. As a result, it felt as if a wall had gone up between the band and their audience — or at the very least, the nature of their relationship had shifted.
I think a lot about this question of what fans are “owed.” There seems to be an idea some fans subscribe to wherein a certain level of fame no longer entitles the individual to things like personal privacy or artistic boundaries, which both members of Placebo push back against in their Kerrang interview:
“We led our lives in private and there wasn’t much intrusion, and we certainly didn’t want to parade ourselves on the red carpet. And that continues today.”
In some cases, if an artist tries to assert a certain measure of control — especially when it comes to taking back something that was given freely in the past — the fandom can sour. Those powerful feelings of love can turn quickly to resentment. Even hatred.
It’s an interesting phenomenon and not necessarily a new one, likely exacerbated by the rise of social media and certain advancements in technology. But what does it mean for creators to be constantly accessible across so many platforms? How much of technology’s reach should we as artists allow — and how much of that is even up to us anymore? What is the best way to assert boundaries that fans will appreciate and understand? And how do all of these questions affect the inherent value of the art and our relationship to it — both as fans and as artists?
How Long Can You Live with Yourself by Yourself?
Outside of my enduring love for Season 1 of The Real World and a brief foray into the American Idol universe, I never quite got hooked on a reality show until this year. I think the reality TV you enjoy probably says a lot about who you are — or, at the least, what facet of human behavior you find most interesting. And I am absolutely obsessed with Alone.
The way I see it, Alone is the closest you can get to experiencing what it’s like to be with someone when they’re by themselves. Ten participants are separately dropped in different areas of a remote location with a limited amount of camping gear and their own filming equipment. No team, no camera crew, no neighbors or bystanders — each person self-records the difficult task of their daily survival in total isolation. The person who lasts the longest wins $500,000.
Something fascinating occurs as each season unfolds. It’s as if the longer you watch, the more everything performative about the participants’ personalities and ways of being in the world gets stripped away. Existential questions are magnified by solitude: Why am I here? Why did I choose to do this? What am I trying to prove to myself? And when every distraction is removed and I am well and truly alone — who am I?
At some point during the first season, one participant said something to the effect of: “Everything playing out in my life back at home has been playing out here.” This idea that we can’t escape our problems because we can’t escape ourselves reminded me of an Ethan Hawke monologue from Before Sunrise:
“…usually it’s myself that I wish I could get away from. Seriously, think about this. I have never been anywhere that I haven’t been. I’ve never had a kiss when I wasn’t one of the kissers. I’ve never gone to the movies when I wasn’t there in the audience. I’ve never been out bowling, if I wasn’t there making some stupid joke. I think that’s why so many people hate themselves. Seriously, it’s just they are sick to death of being around themselves.”
It’s funny, I think the winners are the ones who are able to reach a certain level of internal peace with themselves. Which is quite a feat for any of us these days.
Guess Who Watched Eight Adaptations of Beauty & the Beast?
If the opening of Jaws scarred me as a kid, then the library scene in Disney’s 1991 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast had precisely the opposite effect. Recently I watched Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of the same story and found myself wondering how my life might’ve been different if I’d seen this version as a girl and somehow missed the other.
I’m interested in adaptation in general, all the ways a single story might be honored, subverted, or destroyed depending on whose hands it’s in. So just for fun, I thought I’d watch a few more. I found the experience similar to listening to a variety of covers of the same song — some you’ll like more than others, and occasionally one will serve as a portal to a creator you might never have discovered otherwise.
La belle et la bête (1946): The one that started it all! I think if I’d seen this as a kid, I probably would’ve believed in magic. Cocteau brings the household objects to life in an otherworldly and irreproducible manner; every moment shimmers with atmospheric beauty. The scene that features Belle walking down the candlelit hall lives in my brain rent-free forever.
Panna a netvor (1978): I love the way director Juraj Herz leaned into the horror elements of the story. The castle is overgrown and swampy; Beast is far more avian than leonine. Every shot looks like a painting. Somehow both a nightmare and a dream at once.
Beauty and the Beast (1991): Disney’s adaptation hardly needs an introduction, as it was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. (Cue Guillermo del Toro saying “Animation is cinema!”) I hadn’t seen this one since childhood and was pretty moved by my rewatch — the ballroom scene really is beautiful. Truly a gem of the Disney Renaissance.
No Such Thing (2001): Poor critical reception for this one, so as a frequent fan of panned cult classics I totally fell in love with it. When Beauty receives word that her fiancé was killed by a monster, she goes on a quest to uncover the truth. Turns out Beast is a grumpy, alcoholic immortal with horns and a death wish. No Such Thing probably strays furthest from the source material, but I don’t count that as a mark against it.
Beastly (2011): The inevitable YA spin! In this modern update, Beast is confined to a New York apartment instead of a castle; his transformation skips the fur and opts instead for scars and tattoos. A real time capsule of its era — Mary-Kate Olsen plays the enchantress (her final film to date, unless you count the Bergdorf doc) and I even spotted a pre-Fifty Shades Dakota Johnson in the supporting cast.
La Belle et la Bête (2014): This one employs a structure reminiscent of The Princess Bride, as the story of Beauty and the Beast is relayed to two children. Interestingly, Beast is a widower in this adaptation and we get quite a lot of flashback about his previous relationship — shades of Rebecca here. (And, for what it’s worth, a gorgeous setting.)
Beauty and the Beast (2017): It doesn’t surprise me that Bill Condon, who gave us the last two movies in the Twilight franchise, was tapped to direct Disney’s live-action update of their original adaptation — especially considering that one possible interpretation of Twilight is “What if Beauty wanted to become the Beast?” (Here’s the updated iconic library scene.)
Belle (2021): I’m a big fan of Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children (although WHEW ready your tear ducts for that one), so I was excited to watch his animated virtual reality take on this story. It’s a high school twist like Beastly, brimming with visual beauty. (Here’s a cool video showcasing the more overt elements of Disney homage.) Ultimately an interesting exploration of the construction of virtual identity, which isn’t something I expected from any take on Beauty and the Beast!
Assorted Hauntings of the Internet: A Reading List
I had an essay published in Trampset a few days ago about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, a chilling techno-nightmare that remains one of my all-time favorite horror movies. I love the way he depicts the internet as a portal that opens onto something human beings don’t totally understand, which wreaks havoc on our emotions and can even destroy us in the end. The fact that it came out in 2001 kinda blows my mind — Kurosawa seems to have understood the potential negative effects of the internet years before the rest of us.
My “Selected Google Searches” series is pretty much just a distillation of personal internet rabbit holes around the films I love; I take a bunch of notes around the story’s themes and see what materializes as connective tissue. During the writing process, I come across plenty of interesting things that don’t necessarily make their way into the final draft, so I thought I’d share a little of that supplementary reading with you here:
The writer Vauhini Vara’s poignant exploration of grief through conversations with AI for The Believer. An interesting BBC article about the encroaching Internet of Things and “ghost traffic.” If you’re like me, a fun source for future rabbit holes: Wikipedia’s massive list of internet phenomena. This great chronicle of the internet’s haunted history — starring the myth of Pokémon’s Lavender Town Syndrome and other digital urban legends — in Huck Magazine. And Wikihow’s funny yet eerie how-to guide for seeing ghosts (complete with pictures, of course).
In addition to that Pulse essay, I have a short story about a musician and the casualties of fame out this month in Vast Chasm. (They put me in their crossword puzzle!) Also have a couple interviews in the works that I’m really looking forward to sharing in the coming months.
Thanks for reading; see you in February!