Monday, March 17, 2008

Is there a difference between canon and canon?

As long as the topic's been brought up, we may as well go at it in depth.

Lately I am of the opinion that canon, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you are a fan of a TV, movie, or other media series that makes even the slightest effort to maintain internal consistency, you know what I mean. (You wouldn't be reading this if you weren't.) Nothing is perfect, and some things in any series are going to seem less realistic than others. When you see these less-realistic things, you cringe and grit your teeth, but you move on because the other 98% of the series still keeps up that illusion of reality. This "less real" stuff is what in this fandom is called off-canon canon. It's like a difficult member of the family: that person is still family, so you need to figure out how to deal with him/her/it, then live with your choice no matter what everyone else does.

Fanfic, then. Is Daria fanfic that treats the less-realistic events of the series as fact really fanfic? Of course it is. The author makes the call as to what sort of reality is going into the tale. Authors automatically have this right. The only true yardstick for determining if a tale is fanfic is this: Is it a story that has a connection to the series, at least in your mind? If the answer is yes, then the tale is fanfic. No quibbles. Respecting the intent of the creator is not the point. The creator is done with the work. It is the audience's turn to create and reflect back what was seen. Many interpretations of a work are possible. No two people see the same Mona Lisa.

Let's take a non-Daria example that I remember from my childhood: My Three Sons.

I used to watch the original episodes of this show before it went into reruns on Nick at Night. It was a family-oriented sitcom about a widower named Steve Douglas, played by Fred MacMurray, who worked in the aerospace industry. He had three sons and a male housekeeper, and the show was simply about their daily life, struggles, and minor adventures. I watched it all the time as a kid. (I can still hear the saxophone music from the opening credits in my head.) It was a very warm, very engaging, and more-or-less realistic show.

So, in January 1967, in the show's seventh season (it ran for twelve, I think), there was an episode called, "You Saw a What?" I watched it when I was in sixth grade. The youngest son, a geeky kid with glasses named Ernie, went out camping or hiking or something, and he saw a flying saucer. He came back and told everyone, but they didn't believe him. (Like, duh.) Then he went back out, saw it again, and took pictures of it. He gave the film to his father, who had it developed at his company's lab—and quickly got himself contacted by officers of the United States Air Force, in person. The flying saucer was real, but it was USAF property and rated Top Secret. It went off course, ending up where it wasn't supposed to be, and that was how Ernie saw it. It wasn't from Mars; it was from the U.S.A.

Now came the problem: The USAF desperately wanted the whole event hushed up. The Cold War was on, and the saucer was a vital defense project. Leaking any word of it was seen as dangerous in the extreme to national security. However, Ernie was scheduled to go on local TV and talk about seeing the saucer; he was already a hit in the newspapers, even without the photos (which had quietly been seized by the USAF). Dad had to sit down with Ernie and talk about this problem, man to man, as people often did on TV shows in the 1960s.

Ernie thought it over and took the hard way out. He got on TV and made it appear that he was just making everything up. He opened himself to the ridicule of his classmates, and there was a fairly striking scene of Ernie walking through the halls of his school the next day, being taunted and mocked by the other children. He knew what he had seen, but he decided not to tell anyone the truth in order to protect his country. His brothers never even knew. But his dad supported him completely throughout that bad time, and he pulled through. He had to be satisfied with knowing that he had done The Right Thing.

Back to the original point: Was this episode in canon? If I was into the My Three Sons fanfic thing and I wanted to write a sequel to this story, linking the USAF-UFO to the supposed Roswell crash (per the movie Independence Day), would that story be "in canon"? This curious episode was by no means completely out of place on this series. A couple years earlier was an episode in which a circus lion escaped and got into the Douglas house, hiding in the attic. Would the UFO episode then be "realistic" enough for fanfic?

Well, is there any comparable event in actual history by which one could measure the reality of this event? Let's see, I remember the time when the USAF dropped a hydrogen bomb on a family home in South Carolina. It was a goofy accident, perfectly understandable, the sort of thing that used to happen all the time and occasionally still does. It couldn't be kept a secret because, well, it landed on someone's home and destroyed it. Everybody laughs about it nowadays.

But it really happened.

The UFO story isn't so weird after all, especially since the US government used to try to make flying saucers for real. So, would a story about Ernie's UFO be "canon-worthy"?

Everyone makes their own call. If someone writes a story about Metalmouth, the insane high-school shop teacher from "Legends of the Mall" who left his steel dentures on the door handle of Helen Morgendorffer's SUV, then I guess that's canon, if it doesn't violate anything else about the show as presented.

And blooming crutches and wormholes in Chinese restaurants are canon, too. Party on.


jtranser said...

Why not call such stories "loose canon"? As far as I'm concerned, open it all up. H.P. Lovecraft open his universe to all comers eventually. And such great fantasy writers like Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long and Robert E. Howard responded with their own additions. The process continues to this day with such writers as Brian Lumley, David Conyers and Ramsey Cambell, as well as artists and comic and manga artists like Mike Mignola, H.R.Giger, Junji Ito and Kentaroh Yano. As I said, open it up and keep it going. Cause that's how it all grows.

The Angst Guy said...

Stephen King has some stories connected to the Cthulhu Mythos. "The Sun Dog" is one of them.

"Loose canon." I like that. 8)

Barbara Y said...

Fandom writes what it wants. Is there anything in Star Trek canon that supports a sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock? (We won't discuss Starsky & Hutch; I've seen the outtakes.)

cincgold said...

"Is there anything in Star Trek canon that supports a sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock?"

No, but you can always get around that with "hurt/comfort" stories -- one character is horribly injured, and the other has to do something to bring that character back to health. In Star Trek slash, it always involved Kirk and Spock alone on some deserted planet during pon farr season, and if Spock doesn't have sex with someone...he'll die!

(Note: Upchuck has used this excuse several times, to no avail.)

Raven Nightshade said...

A similar situation arises a lot in anime. When a series gets ahead of the manga it's based on, fillers appear.

Sailor Moon is the most widely recognized example. There's an entire filler arc, about 13 episodes with characters you never see again, attacks you never see again, and plots that are never referenced later in the series.

Is there fanfiction of it? Yes.
Do some people consider that story arc part of canon? Yes, but not everyone.

So, yeah, "Loose Canon" is a good term for it. "Ignorable Canon" works too.

the bug guy said...

I thought I left a comment here yesterday...

Yeah, loose canon fits. After all, it describes a lot of us anyway. :)