It seems like every time I check the news, theirs a fresh batch of updates from the latest fandom outrage cycle, demanding that Creator X be branded a traitor to the I.P. and paraded through the virtual town square for supposedly defiling Franchise Y.
In those cases involving truly heinous acts, I’m pretty sure I’ll join the mob. I know great angry mob songs. But when it comes to fandom outrage, it’s usually aimed at something pretty banal- like the last season of Dexter, or Battlestar Galactica. Or, you know, all of Lost.
I have a chart here in my office, dedazzled with strings and thumbtacks (Dexter Style!) that I hope will help me keep track of all of this.
But, I’m going to get this out of the way first- That thing you love? It doesn’t owe you a damned thing.
That show, movie, comic, or game that you love? That’s not yours. That’s the creators (and the money behind them). You just came along for the ride. You might have even invested some time, energy, of money in your appreciation of that production, but that’s on you. I’m sure they appreciate your support, though.
Now that the more excitable portion of the internet has run off to concoct their newest, most brilliant attack strategy to take this site down, we can have a reasonable talk.
Friends, fandom is out of control. We’re literally awash in an embarrassment of riches, and we’re gnashing our big, scary teeth and rolling our huge, frightening eyes with every new pretty that’s offered up to us.
A new trilogy of Star Wars movies is right here, thrilling an entire generation of kids in a galaxy far, far away.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters right freaking now, wrapping up a 22 movie long saga that showed us characters a lot of us never thought we would see so perfectly realized.
Just the other night, I watched a dragon set an entire city on fire. It was horrific (as it should be), but the D&D nerd in me nearly exploded.
And yet, each and every one of those franchises is being ripped to shreds, rendered into a tasteless emulsion that’s hard to stomach. We’ve become so accustomed to this brave new world of entertainment that we’ve forgotten the often horrible entertainment landscape we had to endure before the Geek inherited the earth. Do you want to go back to Trial of the Incredible Hulk territory?
I was born in 1969. My earliest entertainment memories are of watching Speed Racer and the classic Star Trek on channel 13 in Los Angeles, California. As I grew older, my genre entertainment options expanded with Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, and yes, The Incredible Hulk.
But here’s the sad reality, friends. A lot of that stuff doesn’t hold up right now. The stories are often laughable morality tales, or even worse, wholesale commercials to sell toys. It wasn’t always high art. Hell, it was hardly ever art to begin with.
But, viewed through Nostalgia Vision, even my Mr. Spock helmet seems like the coolest thing ever created.
I could be a cranky old man and say that it’s all the internet’s fault, and that we live in these echo chambers now that allow us to exchange information (good and bad) so rapidly that we barely have time to form our own opinions. Sure, that’s probably part of the problem, but it goes deeper than that.
We also live in a day and age where just about anyone can have a platform to tell the masses why they should adore (or abhor) whatever they want. I’m living proof of that, and even a little guilty of using that platform to cast damnation and hellfire on Highlander 2.
If I had used online outrage to gauge whether or not I should watch Star Trek: Discovery, I would have missed out on the show’s second season, which offered up some of the most incredible Trek ever made. But you wouldn’t know it from the online community. All you see is the torches and pitchforks.
Germain Lussier at io9 talks about another hazard facing fandom currently, and that’s our nearly zealous need to try and figure out what everything means before we even see the finished product:
Minutes after the title for Star Wars: Episode IX was announced last month, I read a theory somewhere of what “The Rise of Skywalker” could mean. The theory, which has since widely spread, is that “Skywalker” in this sense may no longer be referring to a specific bloodline, family, or individual. It suggests that with “The Last Jedi” having arrived in the galaxy, a new order of galaxy peacekeepers who use the Force would rise, and Rey would name them “Skywalkers.”
Now, on the surface, that’s a pretty cool theory. But Lussier goes on to dissect the dangers of the over-speculation that modern fandom is addicted to right now:
To willingly acknowledge a movie not meeting my expectations could end up hurting my enjoyment of the film was a true lightbulb moment because the concept alone opens up a Pandora’s box of issues. Of course, the first one that came to mind was the people who had a similar experience with The Last Jedi.Now…I kind of get it. They’d lived for two years with The Force Awakens, reading theories about who Rey was, who Snoke was, and walked into The Last Jedi with pretty defined opinions about what they wanted to see.
Every single time a new trailer drops for Brand X Geek Thing, I am bombarded with questions from fans wanting to know what I think something in that trailer is. My answer anymore? “Let’s wait and see”. Drives a lot of people nuts, but I’m convinced that the Speculation Superhighway is a route fraught with potential frustration.
The most ironic thing about our obsession with endless speculation is that it’s a seed that was planted by those companies that brought us these properties to begin with. Long before we had Rey, Kylo, Finn, or even the prequel trilogy, we had the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
Starting in 1979 with Brian Daley’s The Han Solo Adventures, the Expanded Universe really rose to prominence with fans when Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy launched an assault on the New York Times bestseller list that lasted for years. Fans were transfixed, publishers took note, and a whole new era of stories kicked off in that Galaxy far, far away.
The problem is, though, that none of that amazing new material was, as the fans say, canon:
Gospel, or canon as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelizations. These works spin out of George Lucas’ original stories, the rest are written by other writers. However, between us, we’ve read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history—with many off-shoots, variations and tangents—like any other well-developed mythology.
Lucas Licensing’s Allan Kausch and Sue Rostoni in 1994
So, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion and change, they were faced with a long-brewing dilemma- what to do with the Expanded Universe. Some of it was fantastic, and the decision was made to incorporate the best elements into canon, like when Dave Filoni brought Grand Admiral Thrawn in as the primary villain for Star Wars: Rebels. What worked was slotted in where it could be, but the -ahem- weaker elements (Courtship of Princess Leai cough cough) can be considered pleasant fan fiction.
Unfortunately, that backfired in a huge way when the new trilogy hit. Fans raised on several decades of Luke Asskicker balked at the scared, failed hermit that Rey found on Ahch-To. Some were so incensed by this departure from their Luke that they failed to see the very real, very human portrait of heartbreaking humanity that Mark Hamill and Rian Johnson brought to the screen together.
We know what happened next. There is a certain element of Star Wars fandom that has become so incensed with The Last Jedi that they’ve proudly become literal outcasts in the fandom, shouting down their fellow fans for liking a take on Star Wars that didn’t gel with the fan fiction they were accustomed to.
They’re even threatening to boycott Episode IX, which is just fine. Some are even going as far as to insist that J.J. Abrams will “fix” what they hated in The Last Jedi, not accepting for even a moment that Abrams was part of the episode VIII writer’s room.
And still, I think The Rise of Skywalker will do just fine without changing a thing. Star Wars doesn’t owe us fans anything.
The same thing happened with Game of Thrones during its final two seasons- despite pulling some truly epic, never before seen fantasy on the screen in epic, eye melting glory, fans have been quick to dissect every single gaff, plot device, or character choice. It’s almost like they know the characters better than the writers who have shepherded the show through 8 years medieval-style political horror.
In “The Bells”, we see Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) embrace her destiny and flambe most of the population of Kings Landing. It was just about the most glorious villain reveal I’ve ever seen, but to many Game of Thrones fans, that was an affront to the Dany they had created in their minds, denying that her character’s evolution to mass murderer was too sudden, or perhaps out of character- even though it had been telegraphed since the first season.
Dany faced a crossroads, and chose to slaughter the Younglings at the tem… oh, wrong villain turn.
Same reaction, though.
Now, thousands of fans have signed a petition demanding that HBO produce a different version of season 8, with different writers, ignoring two things: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been at the helm from the beginning, and the sudden, jarring transition in character arcs was most likely the result of having to line the characters up with George R.R. Martin’s pre-ordained destiny.
Trying to deny Benioff and Weiss the conclusion to the series they created and produced because the ending doesn’t feel right to you is a fool’s errand. Those two writers, as well as Martin himself, owe you nothing.
I can’t wait to see the collective head explosions occurring when Denioff and Weiss’ Star Wars movies come out.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t speak up when your show, game, or movie crosses a line. After years of portraying sexual assault as a plot device on Game of Thrones, fans spoke out, and the writers behind the show took note. That’s positive change from positive action, and it works. Complaining because something is abhorrent is just fine. Complaining because you don’t like something is a whole other story.
There is no amount of fan equity that you can invest in a franchise that gives you any say over how that property pans out. You can either continue to invest your time and energy into it, accepting that it’s not going to work out the way you want it to, or you could simply walk away. I dare, nay, double dog dare everyone that hated “The Bells” to skip the finale of Game of Thrones entirely.
This lesson pops up again with Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. A certain portion of the interwebs had taken offense at some over-inflated slight visited upon their dignity by Brie Larson, and that small, incredibly loud coterie set about trying to destroy Captain Marvel at the box office. When that effort failed (Captain Marvel made some money, yo), some of that smug, entitled group set out to spoil Endgame as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, hoping to derail that film’s popularity.
The sheer arrogance of deciding that Marvel, as a studio, owes you anything because you don’t like an actor is absurd.
Last I checked, Endgame is the second most successful movie of all time, a statement that will be dated by the end of this month. The producers behind the Marvel movies have one job to do- make the movie they set out to make. Our jobs, as fans, consumers, what have you- is to either show up or stay home.
It’s an odd time to be a fan of just about any property right now. If you say you’re really into DC films, some wise-ass is going to tell you how awful whatever movie you like is. You can’t gush about Game of Thrones without someone telling you how poor they thought the writing was. And for those of us that have been loving Star Wars movies for decades, please. Give us a break. We’ve been hearing how bad whatever movie just came out since Phantom Menace came out. It’s getting really old.
Really, really old.
Give it some time. Breath. Have a cup of Sleepy Time Tea. Let that fandom rest for a spell.
Seriously, we don’t even let our fandom breath anymore. There’s hardly any time to reflect after watching a movie before being barraged by what your entire friends list thought of it. That echo chamber is so deafening, so pervasive, that I already know what most people’s arguments against a movie, show, or comic are going to be.
I’ve heard it all before. And not just a few times, either. It’s almost a script at times. I’ve already predicted a good number of the comments on this article, which I have preserved in a hermetically sealed envelope, and they’ve been kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch since noon today. (Apologies to Johnny Carson)
My wife’s grandmother had a saying that I took to heart, especially regarding fandom. Whenever she saw something that I was into, she always wanted to check it out. Sometimes, she got a kick out of it, but others, not so much. If she didn’t get why I liked it, she would smile, pat my arm, and say these four words:
“It isn’t for me.”
It’s just that simple, friends. If you don’t like something, maybe it isn’t for you. But I bet you there are a ton of people that it worked perfectly well for, and some might have even loved it. Instead of gnashing our big, terrible teeth and rolling our huge, horrifying eyes, just move on. It wasn’t for you.
Save that energy for the real evils of the world. That’s the stuff the rest of us are trying to shut off for a few hours at a time. The world can be dark, and full of terrors. We should help each other celebrate those things that make it a brighter, happier place.
And whatever you do, don’t expect the creators to change their project for you. They don’t owe you a damned thing.