Unless you’ve been living under a rock¹, you must have heard of Squid Game. It was everywhere to a degree that even I noticed it². Or you know what? Replace Squid Game with a title of another series with all episodes immediately available to watch. It’s there for one hot second only to be gone in the next, another one taking its place, ready to be binge-watched and immediately forgotten.
This is something I’ve been thinking about (and discussing with friends) for a while now. Before I delve deeper into the matter, I’d like to reiterate these are only my observations. I’m not a scientist, culture studies weren’t my focus at university, but I remember what TV series and fandoms looked like before the streaming era³, so I thought why the hell not try to put it into words.
And so, here we are.
One of my best friends is a Trekkie. Her tumblr, like any other person’s, is a collection of reblogs, a great deal of it being Star Trek posts. There was a explosion of gifsets from the latest series, but it didn’t last long. Sooner rather than later she was back to the older series and movies. And it’s not like she didn’t like the new show! On the contrary: she loves it dearly, but somehow the blogs she follows post mostly about the olden days.
Meanwhile, I’m not a Trekkie. I’m a Star Wars and Stargate fan. Stargate, being dormant for years, isn’t a useful example, but Star Wars is⁴. I was amazed that the mouse decided to release The Mandalorian on a weekly basis rather than all at once, but it was a fantastic choice. All of a sudden, there was an influx of people interacting with the franchise. There were theories, new merch, new fascinating characters, new story that finally felt like the old Star Wars. And most of all, there was a build of anticipation leading to the climax—the kind of anticipation you can’t obtain in a series that’s available to watch in one go.
Do you remember Game of Thrones and the hype around it⁵? My gods, for years every Monday morning at work consisted of my co-workers huddling together and discussing everything there was to discuss about the new episode. Take Stranger Things as an example of a different viewing model. Yes, there was some degree of hype. Yes, they were discussing it for some time—I think it might have been about 2-3 weeks?—and then, silence. It was as if the series never existed.
I see this pattern often on twitter and tumblr. Something blows up, consumes everyone’s attention, and then it’s gone after a laughably short period of time only to be replaced by something newer, shinier, different.
On the other hand, you’ve got still thriving fandoms of shows years, sometimes decades old. When you take their age into consideration, they’re not that inventive or ground-breaking. On the contrary, I’d say: there are so many filler episodes sometimes, which from a storytelling perspective serve only to showcase the growing bond between characters and show the world at large. Stories structured like that presented to an audience used to binge-watching everything they can get their hands on would probably fail. Hell, I’m convinced The Mandalorian didn’t solely because it’s Star Wars.
All this rambling brings me to my main point, which is: the gradual build-up and continuous engagement with a book/TV series/films create fan communities. Series with all episodes available at once may result in hype, but it blows out too fast to result in a lasting fandom.
It’s the emotional engagement, I think. As story progresses over time, you get attached to it. You start wondering what happens next, start counting days until the next episode (mid-season hiatus, amirite 🙃), and moreover—especially if you happen to encounter other fans—you form an even greater emotional connection in the fandom’s echo chamber. But it needs time and constant nourishment to form. Without them, there’s a momentary burst of hype that doesn’t prevail.
Is there a point in all of that? I admit, I’ve got no idea. However, I do think we have to put conscious effort in not letting something we love fade into obscurity if we want to see it thrive in attention and its fans’ affection, especially when there are so many new shows constantly popping up everywhere. I also think that the streaming model instead of weekly releases is harmful, even though it fits perfectly into the current trend of more, faster, constantly, MOAR.
It does take an audience to keep a thing going.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And thank you for reading my ramblings 😅
¹ Please don’t think I’m looking down on people who don’t follow modern media. I don’t. Everything I know comes through osmosis on the internet. And gods know you’ll have trouble finding someone who lives under a rock as big as mine.
² Noticed doesn’t equal watched. The easiest way to ensure I won’t watch something is for it to be everywhere. I’m petty like that.
³ With the lovely addition of being a few years behind with every show and movie, because this is what growing up in Eastern Europe in the 90s before widely accessible internet was like.
⁴ Episodes 7-9 aren’t Star Wars. They’re Disney’s very expensive fanfic that doesn’t even make sense, therefore I pretend they don’t exist and the Expanded Universe hasn’t been retconned. I’m not taking criticism at the time. Or ever.
⁵ Before it self-destructed and imploded, that is. Lol. That was one hell of a dumpsterfire to watch. It should be taught everywhere as what not to do with a story, be it your own or something you’re adapting from one medium into another.