Anghus Houvouras on fandom in the age of social media…
The internet has ruined everything. It has given us a window into the soul of humanity and the view is pretty damn depressing. Like all great technical innovations, people have found out how to exploit this potentially amazing resource into a method of control. Elections are swayed, discourse is destroyed and the very concept of truth and reality become skewed.
But worst of all, it has completely ruined cinematic discussions.
I used to love talking about movies. You might have gleaned that from twenty years of writing about movies and occasional attempts at making them. Discussing movies was just as much fun as watching them. The internet provided me a connection to other film fans from around the world. I logged countless hours on movie bulletin boards, forums and chat rooms discussing whatever film or TV show was capturing the cultural zeitgeist. Somewhere along the way social media was introduced and the infinite discussion was reduced to quick, concentrated comedy that could fit in a tweet or a short Facebook post.
Lengthy conversations in chat rooms were reduced to bite-sized commentary on social media. The discussion became truncated. People had to reduce their thoughts and concentrate their comments into bite-sized chunks. The serving size for sharing your opinions became smaller and smaller.
Right around the time people started abandoning MySpace for Facebook, Iron Man came out and the great age of geek cinema began. Fans of comic books and superheroes began a decade of wish fulfillment with movies and TV shows featuring their favorite characters. The most popular movies and some of the most popular TV shows were being pulled from the pages of comic books. What had once been an occasional drip soon became a downpour. Comic Cons went from fan events to studio sponsored, headline grabbing hype machines.
Geek entertainment becomes the driving force for blockbuster cinema. Disney, realizing that the future was franchise based buys Marvel and Lucasfilm and decide to step on the gas. More movies and TV shows are engineered towards geek culture. A cottage industry erupts with an endless array of reaction videos and comments for every single trailer, teaser, commercial, baseless rumor and clickbait column written about Star Wars, Marvel, Bond, The Fast and the Furious, Pixar, etc, etc.
There are more conversations happening around Spider-Man no longer being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than fires in the Amazon, caged children at the Mexican Border or the startling number of homeless people in the greater Los Angeles area.
We are living in what should be the golden age for fantasy, comic book and science fiction lovers. Where almost every single genre itch you have can be scratched. Disney’s D23 conference announced so many geek-friendly products that I swear I heard Chris Hardwick having an orgasm eighteen states away. We have an $80 million Swamp Thing TV series. Amazon adapted Garth Ennis’ The Boys into a TV series and didn’t sand down the sharp edges. Marvel just got back the X-Men and the Fantastic Four AND are making a comic book horror movie. Avengers: Endgame was almost three straight hours of fan service in an earnest love letter to those who hold these mediocre movies in such high regard.
And what have we done with that gift?
It should be a joyous time where fans enjoy this feast of geek-friendly films and shows and share a fraction of that joy with the world. A celebration, if you will. Unfortunately, it’s turned into something twisted and gross. A weird sense of entitlement that has infected those who think of themselves as ‘fans’. Who believe this current cultural state is not only something they want, but deserve. They use words like ‘passion’ and ‘love’, but they seem to misunderstand their definition.
I saw a tweet in my Twitter feed this past week which said: “Hey WB. You can start to promote Birds of Prey now.” There’s so much to unpack in this glib little package. It reads like someone walking into a restaurant, seeing Warner Bros. at a table enjoying their lunch, then walks over uninvited to demand to see a trailer for the new Birds of Prey movie while they pause from chewing their Monte Cristo sandwich to ask “Do I know you?”.
I’m sure if you asked the author of the tweet, he would tell you that he’s excited about seeing a Birds of Prey trailer, and eventually the finished film. But that ‘love’ doesn’t translate. What comes out is a product of entitlement. “Where’s the Birds of Prey trailer, assholes?” This is what the internet has allowed film fans to become: A bunch of entitled crybabies constantly griping. Instead of “I can’t wait to see a Birds of Prey trailer” you get GIMME GIMME GIMME.
Even more embarrassing are the fans who get ridiculously worked up over something like Disney deciding to walk away from their partnership with Sony for more MCU-connected Spider-Man movies. This incident has made people pushing for The Snyder Cut of Justice League sound like a high-school a capella group. Fans ridiculously overreacted. Then they decided to double down on the ridiculousness with an idea to storm Sony headquarters dressed as Spider-Man until they make a new deal with Marvel/Disney.
What is wrong with these people? How does anyone invest this much energy and free time into pointless endeavors and discussions over a movie? This is what you care about? This is the hill you’re willing to die on? Watching supposedly grown-ass adults and celebrities ask a corporation to give up the film rights to a multi-billion dollar franchise because they want their favorite characters to play together might be the most pathetic thing I’ve seen this year. And I watched the last season of Game of Thrones.
Speaking of… the same kind of ‘fans’ were at San Diego Comic-Con booing the panel over what most people perceived to be a poorly staged final season of their favorite show. They were actually trying to make entertainers feel bad for being part of something they didn’t like. It’s not so much the booing that bothers me as much as the idea that there are ‘fans’ who believe that they have the power to make someone feel bad for their artistic endeavor. That’s the sad byproduct of the internet in the world of cinematic discussion: it makes people think that their reaction is relevant and that toxic words have power.
The other chilling side effect is watching this unsettling cultural nationalism people have for their franchises. DC movie fanatics tear down Marvel movies. The cult of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are waiving box office receipts like a badge of honor proving their superiority. So much of what you see on social media isn’t people celebrating what they love but using the medium like a megaphone to shout down everything they deem as being worthless.
To me, the idea of fans getting enraged over a failed business arrangement between Sony and Disney is odd. The fact that the internet is so tapped into the world of film that we now know the minute the contracts aren’t signed. That there are people who claim to ‘love’ Spider-Man so much that the thought of the character not being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes an emotional toll. That its just been barely a month since the last Spider-Man movie came out and we’re already talking about business dealings around the next Spider-Man movie.
It feels like there’s no longer a day when someone isn’t talking about Marvel, DC or Star Wars. The current state of fandom is manic. We are getting more than we ever wanted and many act as though all these geek movies and shows aren’t gifts we should be thankful for but a God-given right.
And that, my friends, is disappointing.