A look at entrenched fandom and a call for a return to optimism.
Last week, my good friend Drew McWeeny wrote a long and wonderful piece about the state of fan culture. His big question: if nerds have inherited pop culture, thus winning a great war for mainstream dominance, why are they still so angry?
What it comes down to, if I dare to summarize Drew’s much larger (and decidedly smart) conclusion, is that even though “nerd culture” has won the war, everyone who was raised to feel marginalized for liking comic books or other nerdy things still carries with them an entrenched mentality. It’s always “us” against “them,” an endless battle to protect the things we love from the people (real or imagined) who would do it harm. Attack becomes the default method of discourse.
This is what leads people like this guy ‐ James from Cinemassacre ‐ to put out an early video “review” of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters movie in which he talks at length about why he refuses to see and review the new film:
If you skipped the video, don’t worry, I’ll sum it up for you: because James feels that the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie is an untouchable classic, he’s not going to see the new one. In fact, he goes as far as to encourage others to avoid seeing it so that Sony Pictures, the studio behind the franchise, can be punished for desecrating sacred ground.
Now, you might think, “How does this guy expect to be taken seriously as a film reviewer if he’s prejudging a film months in advance and refusing to see it?” That’s a good point. But this really isn’t about James the critic. It’s about James the fan and his very soul. It’s about the evolution of what Drew was talking about when he explored the entrenchment of nerds around the properties they love. It’s an attitude that loses sight of how we became the people we are: by bravely discovering those things that others ignored. Do you think James has ever walked into a comic book shop and spent hours digging for some book he’d never heard of before? Is it possible that some of those VHS movies behind him were bought sight-unseen, later found to be enjoyable movies? At one point in his life ‐ prior to digging into a position that is both shortsighted (and tragically sexist, regardless of his intentions) ‐ James probably looked at entertainment with an open mind.
There will always be a certain level of cynicism that comes along with being a critic (or reviewer or YouTube ranter), but there’s a depth of the cynical ladder to which we should never sink. We should never write a movie off before we’ve seen it. That is a sign of someone who has lost that openness that made them a nerd in the first place.
Since we’re on the subject, we should also be open to consuming and discussing those things we love. Or as Drew puts it:
I like being able to have one of those long rambling nerd debates about something super nerdy. That’s not what online discourse seems to be, though. Instead, there is an ugly aggression that feels like it is not about anybody’s individual reaction to the film.
Remember the old days, those early teenage years, when your pop culture diet was all about discovering something then discussing it with friends at the school lunch table? It was an exciting, positive moment in an otherwise punishing social existence. As adults, we’ve lost a lot of that with life experience. Skepticism naturally creeps in and steals away that wide-eyed optimism. But we have to be smart. It’s one thing to have healthy skepticism and quite another to make a 6-minute YouTube video about how you’re not going to see the new entry in a franchise that means so much to you. If this is something done to garner attention, congratulations, you win. But if this really is a deeply held belief of Ghostbusters fans around the web ‐ something I fear is true ‐ then I’m legitimately worried about you. Whether or not this new Ghostbusters movie is good is irrelevant. That you can’t hold enough optimism ‐ or hold back enough of your skepticism ‐ to give it a chance is destressing.
Like many fiery topics on the Internet, it reeks of something else. It has the pungent aroma of sexism. Is that where you want to be, as a human, the person firing off tweets like this at female journalists:
Is this the company you want to keep?
Regardless of my feelings about the new Ghostbusters movie (I love the original and am looking forward to giving the new one a fair shake), I don’t ever want to be like the guy who sent the above tweet. I don’t want to live in his neighborhood and I don’t want to sit at his lunch table.
For James, the resident Ghostbusters cynic, that’s where you’re sitting right now. With the sexist morons who flash-voted to make the new Ghostbusters trailer the most disliked movie trailer in the history of YouTube. You’re letting the groupthink get you. You’ve become part this evil nerd establishment that hates as they’ve been hated, bullies as they’ve been bullied, and lacks all the optimism that we all once shared.
I hope James changes his mind about Ghostbusters 2016. If he loves the original as much as he claims, he should give it a chance. Because without the optimism to discover new things, he never would have ended up where he is now. I know I wouldn’t have.
If we lose that spirit, the community of nerds falls apart, torn asunder by lines in the sand. And then we are truly lost.
So why am I buying two tickets to Ghostbusters on July 15? Because I still believe that people like James can be the people they once were, the kind of person who seeks inspiration and opens their heart to all varieties of pop culture. Also, I’m tired of that kind of overly cynical, hateful prejudgment. I’ve been there before and I don’t ever want to go back. That kind of entrenched mentality is a virus for nerd culture. I’m not going to let it win. I’d rather see optimism and hope prevail.