Hard-core few cause disquiet

The interests of Hollywood and the journalists who cover the town seldom converge, but the two have much in common regarding their unease toward zealots like the most ardent “Twilight” fans: Studios want their money and news websites want their clicks — but they generally scare the hell out of us.

Discomfort with such groups and the simultaneous desire to exploit their ardor could be witnessed, with unintentional hilarity, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, where the Calendar section featured a lengthy piece about those dangerously “addicted” to “Twilight” — right alongside a breathless full-page spread catering to “Twi-hards and the uninitiated alike.” But, you know, only in moderation, of course.

Jaded websites with business orientations occasionally acknowledge featuring properties like “Twilight” or “True Blood” for the sure-fire traffic boost they yield. Even more mainstream operations — unable to resist the lure of colorful oddities and pop culture — are understandably drawn to a “‘Twilight’ tent city” consisting of crazed acolytes anticipating a movie premiere.

Still, the growing importance of Comic-Con — due for its next edition of Hall-H hysteria in July — has also produced an inevitable backlash, essentially questioning whether such folks can be trusted. They might be harmless, but for those pragmatically viewing these diversions as a livelihood, there’s something not quite right about a 36-year-old woman sleeping outdoors (by choice) in an embroidered “Team Edward” shirt, or a middle-aged man who has invested in authentic Klingon costumes for the entire family.

In the past I’ve identified a phenomenon best described as the “Comic-Con false positive,” where fans go crazy for a movie like “Watchmen” at the convention, only to see the project fizzle once exposed to the wider world. The New York Times’ Michael Cieply recently registered a similar point, recalling the tepid reaction to “Avatar” and “Toy Story 3″ in San Diego a year ago, compared to enthusiasm for the western misfire “Jonah Hex,” a comicbook adaptation.

The ritual “does not make a lot of sense,” he concluded, “because Hollywood’s relationship with Comic-Con’s denizens is inherently flawed.”

That’s certainly a nagging concern in studio and media circles, though one suspects there’s an element of wishful thinking wrapped up in the premise — as in, no more pilgrimages to spend weekends embedded with those who take entertainment pastimes to sometimes-alarming extremes, a la the 31-year-old accountant quoted saying that “Twilight” occupied her mind “to the point where I couldn’t function.”

As is so often true, understanding the dynamic between the most boisterous (and easily lampooned) fans and mainstream success requires a bit more nuance than that.

Few big-budget movies or primetime series can survive on a fanatical niche crowd alone — a scenario we’ve seen play out time and again in television, leaving crestfallen viewers wondering how ABC could abandon “Defying Gravity” in mid-orbit or CBS could drive a stake into its vampire romance “Moonlight.”

Yet the point of appealing to such fans isn’t as a proxy for the world at large. They are, almost by definition, unrepresentative of others who might see the next “Harry Potter” but would never dream of showing up at midnight in full Hogwarts regalia to stand in line for the books or movies.

Where such consumers have value, ultimately, is signaling whether producers have captured the essence of what made a property popular in the eyes of those who love it the most. Sometimes, that can be misleading. In other situations, however — “The Dark Knight” comes to mind — approbation from fans reflects that the material has been treated in the most advantageous way possible.

So while fans loving a movie or series can register bogus reassurance of broader appeal, having them hate it — and the “Avatar” example doesn’t really apply, since nobody had seen the movie — doesn’t bode well for connecting with the masses. That’s why Marvel was wise to tap Jeph Loeb — a veteran of both comics and television — to bridge that gap by heading its new TV arm.

The chasm between most moviegoers and the darkest corners of “Twi-hard” mania is mercifully vast. In today’s fragmented media, such undying love nevertheless represents the kind of potent force that tends to create strange — but necessary — bedfellows.

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