I’m a regular reader of Dorothy Gambrell’s webcomic Cat and Girl, but her April 9th strip caught my particular attention.
The text is a riff on William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Specifically, it’s a spin on Mark Antony’s famous eulogy of Caesar in Act III. The play covers the last days of Julius Caesar’s Rome, how he was murdered and the ultimate downfall of his conspirators. The first two acts of the play set up how Caius Cassius has instilled a great fear among public officials that Caesar is planning to turn the Roman republic into a monarchy. Marcus Brutus, a close confidante of Caesar’s, is also convinced and joins among the senators who stab Caesar to death. Brutus then proceeds to explain his actions to a large crowd, and convinces them how killing Caesar was honorable and for the good of Rome.
This is where Antony’s famous speech comes in. He starts by essentially saying that Brutus is an honorable man and if what he said about Caesar was true, then he was entirely justified in his actions. Oh, except Caesar’s great ambitions raised the overall status of Rome, so that was good. And except that Caesar empathized with his countrymen, no matter what their stature, so that was kind of nice of him. And then there was the time — no, wait, three times — that Rome offered him the crown and he refused; that was pretty noble. Say, didn’t everybody think he was pretty cool until Brutus started his mud-slinging?
The way the speech is often presented, Antony’s repeated “Brutus is an honorable man” refrain becomes more and more satiric as the speech goes on. By the end, Antony’s won the crowd over and shown that Brutus does not at all resemble an honorable man. But, as one of the onlookers portends, things could get even uglier.
Back to Gambrell’s comic.
Cat’s oratory is obviously about fandom, not Julius Caesar. The clear analogy one draws is that fandom is dead. But how can Gambrell claim that, when there are conventions for fans almost every weekend? How can she argue that when so many people spend their hard-earned money on comic books and t-shirts and statues? When they spend their precious little free time watching episodes and movies they’ve seen often enough to memorize dialogue from?
It’s worth pointing out that Gambrell’s speech here is patterned in its entirety from Shakespeare’s. And that is significant because she deliberately omits any passages that are comparable to the familiar “Brutus is an honorable man” line. If she’s saying fandom is dead, she’s intentionally avoiding saying who its killer is. Which is interesting in that, as noted above, that is ALSO the portion of the Antony’s speech that changes in tone and meaning, in turn changing the tone and meaning of the speech as a whole.
The reference to network executives and copyright lawyers points to how they have, in many cases, halted fan activities, legally preventing them for expressing their enthusiasm as they’d like. But that’s cool because fandom provided friendship and that’s all it really meant to do. And even though journalists would sometimes mock fans, that was okay because fandom was stronger than a few verbal barbs. Gambrell is using a similar tactic of backing into the argument for fandom’s continued existence from a polar opposite viewpoint.
Yes, the convention scene is crowded with large corporations blatantly trying to shill their latest movie or TV show or whatever. The quaint, homemade costumes of old have been replaced by elaborate and ornate pieces of fashion that earn some people a nice living. But that’s not the point. The point is those positive attributes Cat cites: friendship, faith, love…
Gambrell is speaking to those critics who’ve claimed shows like Comic-Con have been overrun by Hollywood. While there is indeed a larger commercial presence at those events, the core of fandom itself is in the emotional connections we have with the other people in it. Our ambitions, whether we openly acknowledge them or not, are largely to just be a part of a good group of folks. You’re welcome to attend the toga party, but that’s not where fandom is; your heart is in there with the real fandom.