Veruca Salt Playing Pokemon Go: How I’m Dealing with the Manic Pace of Modern Fandom
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Adam wanted to tell you that he’s just released a brand-spankin’-new book, The Con Season, but was afraid to increase his already out-of-control word count, so I told him I would tell you. We now return you to this month’s edition of Paper Cuts.)
Twitter is a lot of things. It can be a place to get your news, try out your comedy chops or keep tabs on your friends.
As a tool for mass communication the social network is powerful enough to overthrow governments, but its uses can be as simple as some R&R spent hurling anonymous insults to let the world know how terrified you are of women.
But I digress.
For me, and a lot of my other nerd friends, acquaintances, and strangers who I randomly follow: Twitter is a place to talk about movies. And because that’s mostly all I like to do, so is Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
We talk about movies. And books and games and comics and all the other media we enjoy. Or, maybe “enjoy” is no longer the right word for what we do, what I feel the pressure to do.
And that’s because many of us freebase our media with a rapidity that would have been impossible ten years ago.
Recently I logged into Twitter, read down my feed, and found that the typical “what’s new and good?” water-cooler chatter had begun to make me feel… anxious?
Anxious both because there’s too much worthwhile content being released and the conversations surrounding that content are becoming more blink-and-you-missed-it.
Didn’t see The Shallows last week? Too bad, we’re done! We all agree that the shark is big and Blake Lively is pretty. Didn’t get a digital ARC of the latest Joe Hill book? Better use an Audible credit on that ish and listen to it at double-speed so you can catch the hell up before we spoil it for you!
And, yes, I realize that I’m exaggerating, but that’s what it feels like, to me, with the diverse spread of enthusiastic people I choose to follow.
And I’m not claiming that these feelings are universal. And I know they aren’t because I’m aware that I’m an obsessive who finds himself prone to massive attacks of FOMO.* I also don’t mean “anxiety” like I’m blaming anyone for “triggering me” or mean to compare my mild agitation to anyone’s legitimate metal problems. No, what I’m trying to get at is: being a fan is supposed to be FUN. By definition, our hobbies or leisure activities should give us pleasure, and I was getting to the point where keeping up with the ongoing fan dialogue was beginning to feel like a chore.
So here are the two problems facing “plugged-in” fandom, as I see them. They contribute to that anxiety I feel, but aren’t the be all and end all of it. Then at the end of this piece I’m going to share the three-pronged plan I’ve made for myself to reduce that anxiety and make my own fandom fun again.
I Want It Now!
Try as we might to deny it, fandom has a strong history of “big companies trying to tribalize your love of their product and then profit off of that devotion.” And these days—now that “geek culture” is the dominant entertainment culture—that tribalization has become the only way this stuff functions on both a fan and corporate level.
There’s no denying it. When we pull on our black t-shirts (or our more colorful superhero ones) we all become corporate shills to one degree or another. Even us horror fans who tend to worship at the altar of “low budget” fare: lower budgets simply mean bigger profits for the bosses, comrade.
But if you want to take a more optimistic look at the landscape, there are some people working for those corporations working to make true art, even if they have to smuggle it in. And that’s what I believe, and I also believe that by voting with one’s dollars for the good art, you can make the production of good material economically rewarding for the money men.
So, yes, none of that mono-culture stuff bothers me on a philosophical level. If I enjoy myself, I’m cool with diverting entertainment dollars back to the big studios; but there’s one part of this equation that contributes to my fandom anxiety: marketing.
It’s a necessary evil. Believe me, as someone who needs to pimp my own work on the reg (EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe I should have added the link to Adam’s new book, The Con Season, here instead…), I understand why marketing exists. But as we enter a more connected world and traditional media becomes more and more outmoded, marketing has been forced to evolve into something more loud and obnoxious.
We no longer have trailers and TV spots bombarding us. No, now we have countdowns to trailer teasers (trailers for trailers!), and we have viral marketing stunts that have to look just enough like original content so that fan sites will pick them up and run them like they’re news, not commercials. We have red band trailers that promise to show you “all the good stuff” (isn’t that’s what the movie’s for?). We have targeted Facebook ads, promoted Tweets, Snapchat filters that turn you into Jared Leto (Kafka couldn’t have imagined a worse fate).
Now. I know that I’m no expert, but all of this achieves, what, exactly? For the casual fan, I imagine this new marketing does its job, makes them aware of a product they may not have known was coming out. But for the people who’re already diehards? At worst the oversaturation annoys them, or they seek out every trailer, international trailer, and clip, and it shows them enough of your product that there’s no novelty left and they no longer want to buy it. And at worst the oversaturation drives these diehards to Veruca Salt-levels of entitlement, where they’re starting fan petitions to quell the “biased” media (no comment on the quality of the movie, but is this really a case of “no such thing as bad publicity?” because it seems pretty bad) or simply so enthusiastic that they’ll steal and disseminate a bootleg version your movie if given half a chance.
As I touched on in my last column, I’m a big believer in word-of-mouth and critical consensus when picking the stuff I want to spend time/money on. I’m the kind of guy who will plug his ears and hum during the coming attractions, if it’s for a movie I’ve already “bought in” for. Getting targeted marketing for a movie a month before its release kind of sours me on the experience of going in fresh.
Late last month I attended a preview screening of Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe. It was before I’d seen any of the trailers or TV spots and I had a great time. Now, half a month later, as an experiment, I’ve been watching every trailer and clip the studio releases. They’ve spoiled the entire movie! People will still probably like the film when they go check it out at the end of this month, but if they were picking up all the breadcrumbs the studio’s been dropping, trying to lead them to the theater, then by the time the credits roll they’re going to feel unfulfilled. And is that the audience member you want to release back out into the world? What are they going to tell their friends? “Eh, it was fine, wait until Netflix, though.” **
Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
I mentioned that I follow a ton of fun, witty people on Twitter. And I also mention that it’s a diverse bunch, not merely diverse in what their avatar thumbnails look like, but diverse in their tastes and interests.
The people I like to hear talk are predominately horror fans, but I also like to think that I contain multitudes, thus I’m also following people who are into foreign film, Broadway shows, sf & fantasy lit, TV, indie publishing (and big NY publishing), stand-up comedy, anime, and video games (fans of those last two can be…problematic, but there are some genuinely non-terrible folks who Tweet about this stuff, too).
And, yes, this is my choice to be following all of these different (and sometimes conflicting) fan dialogues, but remember what I said about my propensity towards FOMO?
Back say, even 16 years ago (a tiny period of time, comparatively, and one where the Internet existed), it took effort to track down these groups. And even more effort to get your hands on the media they were discussing. If you wanted to be checking out the newest indie films that all the magazines (yes, there were magazines and those magazines had utility) were talking about, you better get on a plane or train and get to a festival. If you wanted a certain out-of-print book by an obscure author, you better get those money orders ready (and wait for pre-Amazon Prime shipping) or be willing to sift through ten used book stores.
Now? You can have nearly anything you want, legally, beamed into your eyeballs in seconds. And this isn’t me getting crotchety old man on you (don’t you hate those “Share if you remember” memes on Facebook? What does that prove?). Having access to this stuff is incredible. But, for me, being almost competitive in my fandom, seeing an opportunity to fill gaps in my knowledge as a challenge, this access to every kind of media is exhausting.
And there’s no rational reason for this compulsion. I should not be overcome with a “gotta catch ’em all” mentality when faced with the opportunity to watch 4k transfers of movies that I hadn’t even heard of that morning. And they shouldn’t be on my Amazon wishlist. And yet… here we are, and I’ve just clicked away from writing this column, done a Wikipedia deep-dive on the novels of Wilfreda Fakename and it turns out all her novels have been digitized and are only a couple bucks on Kindle!
So What? You Still Like This Stuff, Right?
Yeah, of course, but over the past few months I’ve tried a number of things to help me enjoy the things I consume a little more.
I’ve become a horror movie and fiction sommelier, wafting that carnage in through my nose and enjoying it in tiny, grateful sips, then carefully presenting the way I talk about that material publicly. And here’s the thing: I consume just as many movies and books, maybe even more because of all the time I save hemming and hawing about what I should be focusing on (you know the feeling: you get stuck on that Netflix carousel and watch posters and descriptions fly by, never actually settling on one).
- Trailers can go to hell—I work, then I work some more (writing). So when I get a spare minute I’d rather spend it reading or watching something I’ll enjoy, not being advertised to. It’s been a slow process, probably over a year or so now, but I almost never watch trailers now. Oh sure, if I’m at a theater and a couple play (and they’re for movies I have no particular interest in), I don’t tuck my head between my knees. But I’ve found that going into the movies I want to see, unspoiled, has made things exponentially more enjoyable.
- Talk about the things I like, bury the ones I don’t in a deep dark hole, and keep some things just for me—Talking about a movie or book can be just as enriching as the experience of watching or reading it. But feeling like you have to log every thought you have on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Letterboxd, so that there is “public record” of your opinions, is a new phenomena, and not one that gives me a particular amount of pleasure if I feel like I’m required to do it.
But the thing is: I’m not required, none of us are. Neither do I need to tell the world about the 40 minutes of that VOD horror movie I just watched and how it was the worst. And neither do I need to share everything I consume; some opinions can just be for myself or the people who are in the room with me, having a more intimate experience. I’ve especially gotten this way with my reading. I know so many authors personally that when I have nice things to say, I share them, but otherwise my reading time is sacred and personal and at its best when it’s a book by an author who’s dead or I haven’t ever been in the same room with.
This seems like common sense, but as someone who’s recently begun filming themselves talking about movies and books (please subscribe, oh God what have I become!?), I’ve realized that I need to draw this line. Public opinions are great, but you’re never going to boil down all of your subjective, quirky, nuanced views into 140 characters or a 10 minute unrehearsed YouTube ramble. And trying stresses me out, so I no longer try. I just post what I want when the fancy strikes and I feel a lot better about it.
- Acknowledge that good art doesn’t have an expiration date—Kind of related to #2. Last week I was watching aforementioned garbage VOD movie (after attempting a not-great new-to-Netflix movie, neither of which I finished, because life’s too short), I was at a loss for what I’d talk about in that week’s video. I looked to my shelf of discs, found something I wanted to watch, and then stopped myself by thinking: “This is a movie from 1984 and this reissue of it came out last February. The fan dialogue has passed it by: I can’t watch this and vlog about it. No one will care.” That is an INSANE thought to have. And I’m glad that I recognized that it was insane, because I watched that movie, talked about it, then had a wonderful discussion with my internet pals about it.
Again not limiting the discussion to WHAT’S HOT RIGHT THIS INSTANT, seems like common sense but it wasn’t common sense to my uncommonly neurotic senses, so maybe me articulating it in print (whoa, 2,500 words of print, the editor’s going to be pissed)(EDITOR’S NOTE: I prefer “peeved” over “pissed”), we can all help each other enjoy our hobbies more.
Look, I’m not really sure if the above article is going to apply to all of you, or even the majority of you. And I also get that it’s only tangentially “horror” related. Next month will be a fun, explicitly horror listicle: I promise.
But, also: I don’t see your name on the banner, buddy. 🙂
Have a good one,
* The fear of missing out, something we didn’t even have a term for last year. So next time you’re slagging off millennials: at least they came up with that acronym. What have you done, old man?
** Or worse, either through enthusiasm or apathy they decide to steal this product they’ve gone full-Veruca over. And no, I don’t say “torrent” because “steal” is the more precise word.
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. He studied English and film at Boston University. His books include Mercy House, Video Night, The Summer Job, and Tribesmen. He has an oft-neglected website and tweets as @Adam_Cesare.