Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Avengers Survey Results!

Today, we'll take a look at the results of The Avengers Rokeach Values Survey after two weeks. For those of you interested in results from prior surveys, there's a summary post here, which discusses the last major survey of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom (by Claudia Rebaza) and summarizes the results of the Rokeach Values Survey on that series in 2010.

Let's start with the question of who you are...
Over 300 people took the survey on what they thought the values of Whedon's blockbuster were, with more than 2000 unique visitors to the site. What's interesting is that more than 700 people took the Buffy the Vampire Slayer survey, with roughly equivalent number of page views. There were many more comments written for the series too. The Avengers may have been #1 at the box office, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains #1 in fan commitment.

But we have many series and films still to go, so take the survey on The Cabin in the Woods, and check in later today for the survey for Angel.

Most of the page views came from Whedonesque, with about 200 coming from Google Reader. As with the prior survey, it's fair to say that we've mostly measured the opinions of the Whedonesque Avengers viewer.

Prior surveys have found an international fandom for Whedon; that worked out well for him with The Avengers, didn't it? Claudia Rebaza's demographic survey found about 1/3 of her respondents came from outside the US and we duplicated that result with the 2010 Buffy survey having 31 percent coming from outside the US. This time? It's again about 1/3 of the page views coming from outside the US, with The Avengers online fandom coming from, in order, UK (about 15%), Canada (~7%), and China (~3%), with under a 100 page views from each of Australia, Germany, Russia, Sweden, France, and Brazil.

As a media studies professor, I'm more interested in is getting some indication of how the "Bring Your Own Subtext" principle that Whedon asked of his Buffy audiences applies across all his works. The networks and studios get much more demographics info than we could ever gather. The intersection of audience demographics, cognition, and popular culture is really the purview of my peers in communications studies and marketing. You and I are more interested in the diversity of subtexts that online fans brought to The Avengers and other Whedonesque works, right?

What are the values you perceive in The Avengers?
For you, this film celebrated enlightened individualism, meritocracy, and national security:

First, what's interesting here is that while you felt that courage, helpfulness, competence, and freedom were frequently valued by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, national security was rarely a value.

A few of you expressed some ambivalence about the national security value, suggesting it was global rather than national and that the need for heroes itself suggests flaws in the military status quo. The stats back up the perception reflected in those comments, as national security's "always" values was the only one of the group to be below 50%. (Myself, I regard the film as American, despite its global distribution and the Black Widow's back story. The source material is American comic books, the actors known for their English-language movies, its shooting locations were mostly New Mexico and Ohio, the planetary invasion's in the US...)

Two regarded Tony Stark and Bruce Banner being key to understanding how the film represented the values of being helpful and working for others' welfare. One remarked that Bruce seemed to have learned this lesson between Hulk 2 and The Avengers. Two comments disagreed on Tony, with one noting the impact of Coulson's death on him while the other described him as the exception that proves the rule, "missing the mark greatly."   

With the value of freedom, independence, and free choice, there was much consensus, with two posters noting Loki's psychic abuse of Hawkeye a noted example. One of you described how the film promoted the value of courage of your beliefs through the thinly-veiled reference to the Holocaust between Loki and the old man, while another poster noted that "I think that sometimes courage gets confused with brashness or fearlessness." One respondent provided an essay on this topic, writing:

"Absolutely. Captain America had all but let go of his patriotism (symbolized by his costume), thinking it "old-fashioned" (read: not relevant), but Coulson told him that sometimes people need a little old-fashioned. And when Cap saw Coulson die because he believed in everything the Avengers (and, I would argue, in particular, Cap) represent, it showed him how much concepts of good, justice, honor and patriotism meant to the man. And in the end, when that woman remembers how Captain America saved her, he sees the symbol he has become and how important that is, even in a more cynical age (maybe even moreso). Tony Stark didn't really know what he believed in, other than that it was pretty awesome being Iron Man (and a "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist"). But Coulson's sacrifice for the greater good got him to dig deep within himself and find the hero at his core, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice himself to save others. Thor had to find the courage to join a group of humans and fight his own brother, whom he loves, to save the world. And Bruce Banner has to stop running from the Hulk, whom he fears so much that he attempted suicide to get away from him, and embrace him, using him as a tool for good. Coulson sacrificed himself because he believed in the Avengers. Even Nick Fury defied the top brass and tried to stop the planes from nuking Manhattan because he believed it to be wrong. I'm sure he could have been in a lot of trouble for that (but he won't be, because he's Samuel L. Jackson and he'll do whatever the hell he likes, thank you very much!)."

Three respondents found the values of capability, competence, and effectiveness to be the point of the movie, mentioning Black Widow in particular.

What values aren't in The Avengers?
For you, this film was unconcerned with depicting the values of cleanliness, mature love, salvation, and financial assistance:

In the survey on the values in Buffy, salvation was one of two qualities on which there was absolutely no agreement. Cleanliness was no more central in The Avengers than in Buffy, while mature love and tangible assistance were more portrayed in the series.

With salvation, one poster remarked that Whedon's well-known position on organized religions and God made this an interesting question, while another took the affirmative stance with a quote from the film: "There's a lot of blood in my ledger." Posters were mostly amused and confused by the question about cleanliness, remarking on the swath of destruction the superheroes leave, how clean they keep their labs, and whether the carrier was sufficiently shiny to count. Respondents commented that the primary function of SHIELD was to provide tangible assistance to the heroes.

The two comments on mature love both dissented from the survey results. One wrote that "while it occupied little screen time, it was fully on display in the single represented couple: Pepper Potts and Tony Stark" Another praised how "Black Widow and Hawkeye were intimate but not romantic or sexually involved."

Where did you have significant disagreement?
Personal assistance was the primary area of disagreement among respondents, with inner harmony showing significant dissent on its frequency.

Two posters quoted the film when it came to errands and transportation: "Coulson!" and "Better clinch up, Legolas." One commenter noted that Bruce Banner/Hulk was the poster child for how the film represents inner conflict as making us human.

Since this post might start to try your patience if it went longer, we'll post the values that were frequently represented, sometimes represented, and rarely represented later this week.


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