Saturday, March 23, 2013

Media Is What You Make It

There's a very interesting practice in media known as the "retcon" which alters history as you know it into something you basically don't know. For example, the Koopalings have always been considered Bowser's children. This was official, by the way. However, since their recent revival Mr. Miyamoto has gone on the record as stating that the Koopalings are not Bowser's children, but are simply Koopa fanatics who will do any and everything that Bowser orders them too.

The majority of fans just kind of said "Okay, whatever you want" and gave it no more thought. I, on the other hand, refuse to accept that the Koopalings are anything but Bowser's children. I was raised being told that they were his children, I'd written theories about the origins of his children, and I watched cartoons that told me they were his children. By all accounts the Koopalings are, in my mind, Bowser's children.

Well, all this got me thinking about something. What actually determines a character's canon? It would be really easy to argue that the canon is whatever the copyright holder says it is. After all, the work is technically their property--their intellectual property--so it's up to them to determine what happens with it. That's all well and good, but it actually isn't true. It's one thing if you want to take everything the copyright holder spews at face value, sure. You can do that, and I know a large majority of the people do. But, and here's the awesome thing about fiction, that's not the only accurate way to look at it.

At some point in the future these items will leave their copyright behind. They will become the material of the public domain, for public consumption and regurgitation in whatever capacity the public deems fit. To some extent, this process is accelerated and already under way by the enormous fan communities which create fan art and fan fiction. Now here's the thing about all of this: it means that this material will eventually enter a realm not all that different from what constitutes folklore. What is considered canon will be what the majority of the population believe about that particular subject. This is why vampires are now fancy Broker-inspired aristocrats and not rotting diseased corpses. The majority of the population has decided that vampires are well-spoken, attractive creatures with a terrible curse hanging over their shoulders. That is what is considered canon.

So the reality of the situation is that the copyright holder actually has no right to tell the public what is and is not true. This is the wonderful thing about ideas, which intellectual property is, no doubt. Ideas are things which should be shared and received, and which will then morph into whatever the audience decides. If the audience decides that the Koopalings are Bowser's children, then two hundred years from now when the Super Mario property is no longer under copyright, people will look back and read about these stories and maybe create their own stories just like we do with other ancient ideas, and they will consider the Koopalings to be Bowser's children.

I guess the moral here is not to get hung up on fiction simply because what someone chooses to believe about it doesn't jive well with what Nintendo or any other corporate master says is the truth about their property. There's something like 500 different versions of Snow White. Pick your favorite one, and help yourself to it. But don't force your understanding of that one story into other people's lives. If they want to take it willingly, that's fine. Don't force it.

Media really is whatever you make of it.

And while I'm on the topic of Snow White, as far as I'm concerned the stories about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Snow White and Rose Red feature the same Snow White character, and Rose Red is her princess sister who has been missing in action for far too long.

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