A Game of Owns

I see these pictures on a screen
And they become a part of me;
I own them now, in some strange way:
The whole thing is a mystery

And yet, though they be mine in heart,
When all is said, and done, and through,
I cannot change that world at all,
Nor tell its authors what

To do


I occasionally read reports of the following kind:

[A’s] are upset with [B] because of how [C] turned out. “We’ve started a petition,” said a representative of [A’s], “We want to have a redo of [C]. So far, however, [B] has not responded.”

If this doesn’t look familiar, try any of the following formulations

  • A = Game of Thrones fans; B = HBO; C = The final season
  • A = Star Wars fans; B = Disney; C = The Last Jedi
  • A = Harry Potter fans; B = J.K. Rowling; C = Her retroactive changes to the Harry Potter story
  • A = Tolkien fanatics; B = Peter Jackson; C = The Hobbit trilogy

… you get the idea. In each case, people who take in the material feel they own it more than the people who have created, or currently have the right to create, the material.

Anyone who spends time with small children knows that we all have an innate tendency to assume everything belongs to us, unless forcibly reminded otherwise. I think we are supposed to know better as adults; alas, we do not.

Now, just in case people think this phenomenon is limited to the somewhat geeked out group of things I listed above, let’s take an even more extreme case: sports fans, who seem to feel simultaneously that they own the teams they cheer for, and that they are actually on those teams.

I live in a part of the United States where college football is king. I noticed, years ago, the tendency of people, in talking about teams to use the word “we”. As in, “we need to run the ball more, we need to control the clock,” and so on. I assumed, at first, that these people were graduates of the colleges whose teams they included themselves on; that turned out to almost never be true. These people cheered for teams to such a degree, they felt like they were part of them… on the field… wearing shoulder pads and helmets, I guess.

Some of that, the teams invite, calling their fans delusional things like “The twelfth man”. But, in fact, the players on the field and their coaches and staff are the team. Everyone else is a fan. They are not on the team, nor do they own it.

The standard reply from people, in any situation where it is pointed out to people that they don’t own movies, or teams, or fictional characters, or whatever, is “well I pay my money to watch or read,” which is kind of an extreme version of the “customer is always right” argument. For me, I find customers to frequently be wrong, none more often than I am myself. So I don’t find this line of argument convincing.

On the other hand, fan fiction seems very defensible to me: you know you don’t own these characters, but it feels like you do, so you do a bit of playing with it. That seems healthy.

In the end, we all have only so much in the way of time and resources to spend on anything. If you aren’t enjoying the way a TV show, or sports team, or movie series is going, feel free to divert your time and money to those whose work brings you more joy or speaks to you more closely. Bad box office will change things a lot faster than petitions ever could.

TOMORROW’S NEWS TODAY:

No Talent For Certainty readers are upset with Owen because of how his essay “A Game of Owns” turned out. “We’ve started a petition,” said a representative of NTFC fans. “We want to have a redo of this essay, preferably without verbs. So far, however, Owen has not responded.”

Hey, it could happen.

4 thoughts on “A Game of Owns

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