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Perfect Blue and the fallacies of fandom

Perfect Blue presents a hallucinatory puzzle box, that’s at once a disparaging, Hitchcockian exploration of celebrity culture, a look at fragmented identity and the nature of self, and a thesis on the encroachment of digital technology in the nineties techno-boom. Satoshi Kon’s celebrated animated thriller, based loosely on Yoshikazu Takeuchi’s novel, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis, has continued to gather weight since its initial release in 1997 and since his death in 2010. Most prescient, perhaps, was its look at toxic fan culture.

Revisiting nineties properties, particularly those preoccupied with the digital, frames the internet with a strange kind of otherness. There’s a sense of possibility, and a sense of fear, both of which went largely undefined. Some of these speculations have come to pass, be they virtual reality or wearables, but one of the realities of modern internet usage that the decades past failed to predict, was the internet becoming an avenue for abuse and harassment (in Perfect Blue, for example, lead character Mima Kirigoe is sent a threatening fax message). The internet is amorphous and last week’s controversy might not roll over to the next, but some incidents are paradigm shifts, leaving online communities forever altered. Recently, comic book fandom and, by extension, the entire concept of fan culture, has been perturbed, with many cultural commentators saying it’s flawed at best and broken at worst.

Across all pockets of the web, you’d be hard pressed not to have heard at least a passing mention of Devin Faraci’s ‘Fandom is Broken’ piece on Birth.Movies.Death. In it, Faraci used Annie Wilkes, of Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery, to highlight the dark and troublesome relationship that can occur between fan and creator in a pre-internet setting. It also asked what if Annie had had access to the internet – a frightening thought. Faraci had, in fact, dubbed Annie the “Patron Saint of Fandom” as far back as 2012, and she has largely become the unofficial face of fandom’s entitlement and near-constant controversy. In the four years since, with the rise of GamerGate and the vitriolic response to the all-female Ghostbusters, the fetid heart of fandom has continued to putrefy.

Perfect Blue - fallen fishes

Its most recent target is the shock reveal at the end of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, in which the titular Captain, it turned out, had been a double agent for big bad Hydra for his whole life, changing the character’s entire backstory and retconning 75 years of comics history. Though a one panel reveal hardly constitutes the whole story, entitled (or perhaps desperate) fans took to the web like some sort of digital militia. Writer Nick Spencer’s Twitter timeline was saturated with so much hate-filled bile, so awash with death threats, that he had to tap out. It spiralled into an ugly shit-show that has, unfortunately, come to typify internet culture. Fandom may not be “broken”, but it’s certainly in need of some reparation. Like Annie Wilkes, Perfect Blue offers an apt metaphor for the relationship between fan and creator.

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