On Fandom and Geek Culture

The internet has always been a place where people can spout their opinions, regardless of whether or not they’re ill-informed. As the internet age developed, millions of people realised that they now had the ability to share their views with the guarantee that at least a few other people would hear them, with the possibility that hundreds or even thousands might see it. It’s easy to feel lost in a world with over 7 billion people all vying for attention, so it’s hardly surprising that so many people jumped at the chance to feel like their voice was being heard.

With the demand ever-increasing, technology has been built around allowing more and more of this, with social media creating a world where people can instantly share their views with others, or contact people who would otherwise be hopelessly out of reach. When the internet was first created, people optimistically thought that the world might get smarter; with all the information you could ever want at your fingertips, surely people would research things, increase their knowledge on a variety of topics or seek out people with opposing views that may challenge their beliefs. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.

People don’t use the internet for information, they use it for entertainment or to find people like themselves. They have an opinion, and they seek out others who feel the same way, to vilify their own beliefs and create a sense of collective-ness. Instead of being a bastion of knowledge, the internet is an echo chamber, where people find the corner that they agree with and stay there. This is true for any number of things, such as politics or religion, but tends to become most noticeable with entertainment, where numbers are higher. Most people watch film and tv, and a lot of people like discussing it. This would be harmless in itself, but online discussion doesn’t work the way it does in real life.

Before we go any further, let’s try to ground all of this in an example. This year, a new Ghostbusters film comes out, and chances are you’ve heard about it, not because it’s being promoted more than any other film, but because there’s a section of the online community that hate it with a fiery passion. They haven’t even seen the film yet, as it hasn’t been released; they just hate it for even existing. Why the reason for all the hate? It takes a little bit of explaining.

The original Ghostbusters came out in the late 80s, and is generally considered to be an absolute classic, especially within ‘Geek’ culture. It had a sequel, which some people love and some people hate, and after many failed attempts at a third film, it seemed like that would be the end of it. That was, until people in Hollywood decided to reignite the franchise (a word that didn’t even really exist in terms of films back when the first Ghostbusters came out). This is nothing new: Hollywood pumps out a lot of films that are sequels, remakes, reboots or re-imaginings, because it’s been proven that audiences will be more likely to see a film if they have some sort of recognition of the property. It may seem like a cynical viewpoint, but it’s perfectly reasonable when you think about it. Going to the cinema is expensive, and going in blind to a new film means you have no idea whether you’re going to enjoy it or not. On the other hand, if you recognise the property (Oh it’s a new Bond movie, oh it’s a superhero movie, oh it’s a remake of that film from the 80s that I liked) you’re a lot more likely to take the chance.

So when a Ghostbusters remake was announced, nobody was really surprised. No-one really expected it to turn out any good, but no one was surprised it was going to be made, as it’s only one film in a line of 80s titles that have been redone. However, this is where things begin to differ. Firstly, it was announced that the film was going to be remade with an all female-cast. Immediately, the anti-feminist brigade came out in full force, choking with rage at something so blasphemous as putting women into a movie that nobody’s really thought about in 20 years. Personally, I don’t care for the original Ghostbusters, and when I heard about the remake I was completely indifferent, but upon hearing the news that the lead roles would be female, I at least thought that it was something different. They weren’t just remaking a film in the hopes that they could make money, they were changing things up in order to create something vaguely original.

So: most people still indifferent, women hating man-babies angry. So far so internet. But then the trailers were released and all hell broke loose.

I’ll state up front that the trailers make the film look poor, and I don’t think saying so makes you a misogynist. You’re allowed to not like a movie, male or female cast. However, things from this point got kind of weird. The levels of vitriol and hatred for the film skyrocketed, to the point where I was amazed people could be so angry about a film at all, let alone one they hadn’t even seen yet. Lets face it, there are plenty of good films with bad trailers out there, and while it’s fair to say that the trailers are all we have to go on (and are a perfectly fine reason to say that you don’t want to see a film), they’re not the be all end all. The film could still be decent, even if it’s not great, but that’s something that’s become unacceptable.

That may have seemed like a big detour, but let’s loop it back around. The internet has created an age where fandom and geek culture has flourished, but things are going downhill very fast. We now live in a world where people pour forth hatred for things as minor as films, and fans of properties are becoming more and more unreasonable. You might just say that the internet has always been this way: people blowing up problems to be far bigger than they are, people whining about things that are pretty trivial. But it’s getting worse. More and more, people are becoming attached to the media they consume, and becoming frighteningly entitled about it. It’s not enough for a film to be average anymore. It’s either great, or it’s a piece of shit that should never have been made in the first place, and why does no-one understand?

Having thought about it for some time, I’ve condensed my thoughts down into a list of things that need to happen before things become too unbearable.

  1. People need to stop attaching themselves to the things they like. It’s perfectly fine to love a TV show so much that you rewatch it weekly, or love a movie so much that you dress up as your favourite characters and quote it as often as possible. What’s not okay is to identify yourself by said TV show or movie. You are a unique person with characteristics, friends, family and experiences that define you. Stop defining yourself by a TV show or a film; it’s really not healthy. If a choice is made that you disagree with on a TV show you just watch, you may like to get annoyed and discuss it – fine. If, however, the same thing happens on a TV show that defines you, you’ll take the change as a personal insult. People do this constantly: something happens that they don’t like, and they get so angry about it because it’s not what they want. Breaking news: a TV show that you have no involvement in other than watching it owes you jack shit. The creator or people involved in its development can do whatever the hell they want, and that’s a good thing. If TV shows or movies were designed by fans, they would be awful. Chances are that you fell in love with a TV show because of the choices it made in the beginning. If the creators did that much right, give them the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing, and if you really can’t stand it, just move on. Which brings me neatly onto point 2.
  2. If you like something, and someone remakes it or takes it in another direction, it takes nothing away from you. The new Ghostbusters can be the worse film of the decade, but it doesn’t take away a damn thing from the original films. If you love those films, you can still go and rewatch them any time you like. Is it disappointing that they couldn’t recapture the magic? Sure, but it’s not something that’s going to ruin the older stuff, or take away any fond memories you have of watching them. If you don’t want to see something, then vote with your wallet and don’t see it. There’s plenty of bad stuff made every year, and it’s all really easy to avoid, so stop making yourself angry when you don’t have to be.
  3. Threatening people is never okay. Let’s say you’ve been watching a TV show for years, and finally the season finale comes and it’s super disappointing. You are, understandably, disappointed and angry. Something you invested a lot of time in feels worthless because the end payoff didn’t live up to everything else. Despite everything I’ve said above, it’s fair to be annoyed, and want to rant about it online to make sure that you’re not alone. You may even want to message the writer/director’s on social media to voice your disappointment. This is all fair enough, but the amount of people who think just because they’re angry they can spout death threats or say horrible, horrible things to people is absurd. The problem is, the internet gives people the ability to get away with it, and as more and more people notice this, more and more people do it. Stop. A bad TV episode is not worth threatening someone’s life. Saying ‘that’s just the internet’ is basically saying ‘human culture is fucking disgusting, and I’m perfectly content to keep it that way’.
  4. Most things aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. When a film that you’re looking forward to comes out and reviewers say its okay but not great, it’s not the end of the fucking world. Most films or TV shows or whatever are just ‘okay’, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. Also, if you really like something and someone else doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. You still enjoy it, you’re having a good time; who the fuck cares if other people don’t get it? There’s a very wide range between perfect and terrible, which is why aggregate websites for reviews like Rotten Tomatoes use a percentage score as well as just saying good/bad. A film with a score of 49% is not the same as a film with a score of 2%, and every new film that comes out which you have problems with isn’t immediately the worst film ever made. I’ve gone on record saying I didn’t enjoy Batman vs Superman, but I’d be a fool to say it was a terrible film; it was just deeply flawed.

Certain buzz phrases online like ‘this ruined my childhood’ or ‘x or we riot’ may seem harmless and just a bit of fun, but they help create a culture of entitled assholes who expect to get everything they want all the time. The world doesn’t work that way, and just because the internet allows you to scream into the void and actually be heard, doesn’t mean things will change. The world is always going to be filled with things that irritate you, so don’t set yourself up to be as angry as possible. Let shit slide from time to time.

Now, you may be asking… why? Why can’t we get angry if we want to? Why can’t we continue as we are, what harm does it actually do?

The answer is that, ironically, all of this bullshit is making things worse. Great TV shows and films have to take risks. They have to be bold and uncompromising in their vision, otherwise they end up bland and uninteresting. The constant outrage that the internet spews is an incentive for content creators to take less risks. When a writer has a unique ending in mind for his TV show, but then starts to get death threats for killing off a character, he might decide to give a bland ending in order to please the fans, and the rest of us miss out. If a director wants to do something new and cool with an existing property that’s grown stale, but gets shouted down for changing things, she might give up and instead we end up with another bland studio movie that will instantly be forgotten.

The current culture we have online isn’t something in a bubble. It affects the people who are making stuff for us to consume, and everything we say and do has an effect. If we want to get good stuff, we have to be willing to put up with failures, or things that almost worked but didn’t quite, or things that were generally pretty good but could have been better. It’s only by creating a culture where people can try things out that we get to see what does and doesn’t work. The new ghostbusters may be bad, but are you really telling me you’d have preferred them to take absolutely zero chances when making it? Trying to do their utmost to please everybody, by trying absolutely nothing new?

There are a lot of misogynist’s who are hating on this film because it has women in the leads. If you’re not one of them, then simply let this film slide by, and hope that next time it’s better. If not, people will be less inclined to take risks, and then we’re all be doomed to an eternity of things like the Angry Birds movie, and it will be your fault.

/end rant

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