On the transience of modern media, an observation

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.

Of fandoms and fun

Or lack thereof.

A few days ago, inspired by a tweet that briefly crossed my timeline, on my fandom-oriented account I posted this:

Fandoms are supposed to be fun. If they become tedious, stressful, or frustrating, it might be a good idea to reconsider the level of involvement you’re comfortable with, or take a step back and look back towards what brought you to it in the first place. It shouldn’t be a chore.

A pretty obvious thing, isn’t it? Should be, at least; or so I hoped. Imagine my surprise when that tweet had gone viral within the first 12 hours, and snowballed from there. As of 25th of September, its stats are these:

Those numbers are wild (to me at least, which I know is subjective), but they’re not the point of this post. What matters about them is with how many people that tweet resonated. 496 quote retweets, and all of them are along the lines of “This!”, “A reminder for myself”, etc, etc. That, the level of engagement with that tweet, and the post that had inspired me to write it made me realise that what I considered a thing so obvious that it shouldn’t be said, in fact isn’t.

Which brings me to the point, and that is: fandoms and fun—and lack thereof.

We all know how it starts. We watch a show or a film, read a book, see a theatre play. Some we forget, others stir something in us to the point of looking for more: art, transformative fiction, a sense of belonging to a community that comes with interacting with fans loving the same thing we do. Some of us create, others passively consume, and both sides are equally important in order to make a thriving, supportive fandom.

(Let’s pretend for a moment that antis don’t exist; ’tis neither the place nor time for that particular can of worms.)

What prompted that tweet of mine was a post from a content creator, it’s my own perspective as well, and so this will be the focus of my musings. Please keep in mind that I’m writing about my own experiences and attitude towards engagement in fandoms, and by no means do I assume it’s universal for everyone (as my tweet proved, actually). Well then, we’re good? Let’s go.

So you like something. A show, a book, it doesn’t matter. For the sake of this post, let’s call it The Thing, and you – The Creator. The Thing brings you so much joy that at some point you decide to create something for it. You start drawing fanart or writing fanfics, and it brings you joy as well. If you share it with others, it may bring them joy as well, which is fantastic. The feeling of mutual screaming in joy over The Thing—it’s truly amazing.

When does it stop? And why?

I’ve seen so many people apologise for being unable to participate in all days of fandom events (or at all). I’ve seen people drowning under a bunch of stories in progress and real life responsibilities. I’ve seen Creators grinding out work after work until nothing’s left in them but burnout and distaste towards The Thing that once made them happy. As someone who suffers from and is currently getting help with occupational burnout, I know perfectly well how horrible that feeling is. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would do this willingly to themselves.

Fiction can serve as means of escapism. This is perfectly fine; it’s one of the roles stories have always had. But when The Thing stops being fun and slowly morphs into an obligation, something has clearly gone wrong. When, at the end of the day, you take a step into the current fandom of your choice and everything you see brings you frustration, why do you keep doing it? It’s one thing to debate and analyse, to discuss The Thing under a critical lens with someone who approaches it with the same level of maturity. It’s something else altogether if there’s a wall between you, over which your words can’t go but theirs do, and they are so warped that you produce hundreds upon hundreds of words of analysis the other party will never care about. The wise and obvious way to approach this matter would be to mute and/or block keywords, tags, and people that have soured your experience. I know that hate-reading is a thing, but damn if it isn’t an exhausting one.

You can like The Thing and never venture past that. It’s fine. You can like The Thing and create fanworks and/or meta for it, and that’s also fine. It still brings you satisfaction. But when a hobby and a cool way of spending your precious free time turns into something closer to yet another job wearing you out, that satisfaction is clearly gone. And if it is, what’s left to keep you interested?

The limit of the engagement with The Thing and its fandom before it becomes a chore clearly differs for everyone. Sometimes, it’s difficult to put The Thing behind us; at other times it happens on its own when the fire goes out. But pushing for interactions and continuous creation when the mere thought of it makes you nauseous, is simply, at its core, harmful. Keeping up with what doesn’t appeal to you anymore perpetuates the cycle of frustration. And there’s so much frustration we deal with in our everyday life that adding more can’t be a good idea.

It’s all right to step aside. It’s all right to look at what you used to love and realise you no longer do. It’s all right to realise you might still do but participating in the fandom of The Thing at large may not be a good idea. And it’s fine. The Fandom may be just you and The Thing, because at the end of the day, the most important aspect of it is that you have fun, that you have something that helps you unwind. The Thing isn’t a job. The Thing is there to bring you joy. Never forget that.