Inside the pop-culture bubble

It’s a good time to be a geek!

Superhero films and Stars Wars are topping the box office, high-end toys and merch are being made for the adult collectors, pop-culture conventions are popping up everywhere (well almost), and the things we grew up with are being served up to us with a piping hot side of nostalgia.

At some point in the last 15 years or so marketing execs noticed “Oh yeah, geeks have money now!”

Being catered to for the things we love and enjoy, having it go mainstream and feeling like the stuff we were made to feel bad for liking once upon a time is now accepted by the greater community is a wonderful feeling. Of course your mileage may vary and seeing logos and characters’ faces being slapped on any old bit of pointless product may be a bit much (although not new), it’s a positive step forward for everyone.

Having said that, not everyone has experienced this contrast in pop-culture fandom. Some folks have recently come to the fandoms because of the mainstream attention, others have grown up with all this being “normal”. And I think that’s actually kind of cool because why would you want people to ever feel what it was like “in the trenches” when being bullied about your geeky interests was the norm?

Because “it builds character”? Nah fuck that noise!

I don’t always subscribe to the “back in my day” sentiments, especially not with this because regardless of the experiences growing up a “geek” there is a problematic lack of perspective that I’ve noticed more and more.

There are recent examples of fans being somewhat short-sighted shall we say about geeky stuff.

Entitlement
Of course your mileage may vary but I loved The Last Jedi and just cannot get my head around the over-the-top criticisms as though we saw two different films. The negativity about this film was astonishingly toxic and made you not want to be a fan if this is how they behaved.

The biggest and most nonsensical criticism was that the film “wasn’t made for fans”, which puzzled me because I saw it as a direct message to the fans. I read it was a course correction after the problematic prequels as well as addressing the folks that had issue with things like a new female lead, or how the Force is “supposed” to work, etc

But thanks to this video I now see it as a love letter to fans and I highly recommend you check it out.

But even without that insight (not all of it I agree with but appreciate it highly), the idea that it isn’t made for fans is a ludicrous one. I mean why the hell does it need to be? Wouldn’t it be a good idea for it to be made for everyone? Not just from a money-making sense but also because that’s how the original trilogy would have been made… to appeal to a wide audience!

There is a danger of jogging on the spot if it were only made for the dyed-in-the-wool fanatics the way Rogue One was with nothing but shallow pandering and indulging in bad fan-fiction wish fulfilment. Moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning everything that came before it but sometimes the goal posts aren’t as narrow as you once thought.

This also led to another one of my personal favourites: the fandom pissing contest.

by Ariel Olivetti
by Ariel Olivetti

It’s an old one but more and more fans would justify their negative criticism with how long they’ve been a fan for, that they were at the very first screenings of the original trilogy, their 501st membership, how often they troop, so on and so forth. Some are even passively aggressively showing off their toy collections just to compensate for their insecurities.

But none of this matters one fucking bit.

Let’s put it this way: You have fan #1 who was maybe 10 years old then the original Star Wars came out and they saw it in the cinema. Bought the toys and have been following it ever since.

Fan #2 was born later and their first Star Wars experience was Return of the Jedi in cinemas. They too started collecting the toys and have enjoyed Star Wars ever since.

Now, who’s the bigger fan?

What if there’s fan #3 who actually came in during the prequels because they weren’t born during the time of the original films and only learned about those thanks to DVD. What if #3 grew up later and was able to afford the holy grail of Star Wars toys throwing a crapload of money at a missile-firing Boba Fett (that was never ever released to the public with firing mechanism). Does that make them a bigger, more dedicated fan because they were willing or able to sacrifice more for that toy?

See, years of experience is good when it comes to applying for a job but you can’t use this sort of reasoning to justify shitty opinions or bolster your self worth. You start to delude yourself into thinking you’re owed something by those behind the scenes.

Perspective
The second recent thing to highlight this bubble was in reaction to Oz Comic-Con pulling out of Perth and Adelaide. I’m not referring to the anger and outrage by fans at the decision. I’m talking about those defending the decision and the condescension towards those angry fans.

Perth and Adelaide fans were accused to not showing enough support (i.e. not SPENDING enough money) at these events to justify remaining and that we needed to do more, put in more effort, to travel more to show just how much we support them. All this completely ignoring the fact that those making the accusations still benefit from the con being in their own backyard.

Not only that many of them have been receiving perks from organisers for years, free entry, special access, media passes, VIP treatment. Some even making extra cash from alternate sources like Patreon and the like with no next of kin to support or mortgage to pay off.

Yes, I’m laying it on a bit thick there but it was just amazingly naive and short-sighted of many of these people to point the figure at the very people who miss out on the very thing they still have. It was reminiscent of the young ‘property moguls’ declaring how simple buying a new home can be if only you gave up your pointless spending… all the while their success actually came from having rich parents.

Smashed avvo anyone?

Fame
There is something absolutely intoxicating about being in the limelight.

For those that enjoy positive attention it can do all sorts of things to your head. It can boost your self-esteem, it can motivate you to keep going, and it can affect your mood. But like alcohol if you don’t know how to handle it then it can lead to all sorts of trouble.

It seems as though I address this every year but there always seems to be someone that falls for their own hype. They get a taste of the attention and they go off half-cocked making a mess of things in order to capture the high. They’ll produce any old work because they’re chasing trends and going with whatever is popular at the moment, they’ll pester bigger names to work with them so they can utilise that person’s name to reach a wider audience, they’ll step on those that once helped and supported them to get to where they are, and they’ll forget about the very community that made it all possible for them to be where they are today.

I’ve seen too many people, my friends, get hurt and brushed aside because of fame-mongers like this. And yet they keep popping up doing the same thing and no one seems to recognise this until they are the ones being stomped on like another rung on the ladder.

If I’m honest it’s easy to find oneself feeling that way. It happens to all of us… even myself.

But the end result is either you notice you’re doing something wrong and you reassess your actions and attitudes or your continue down the path of your own “success” until you implode. Trust me, people like this are usually responsible for their own downfall.

In the grand scheme of things they’re just another self-centred parasite but within the bubble of these communities they delude themselves into thinking they’re the top of the pile too blind to see how they actually got there.

High School Drama
Like any collected group of people you have imaginary hierarchies, cliques, and people trying their hardest to be at the top of rankings for whatever reason they feel justified by. You have the popular folk, the bullies, the people who are just getting by, and those miscellaneous who don’t quite fit anywhere.

But of course, as human nature dictates, there will always be someone who doesn’t think things through or doesn’t care about anyone else and causes trouble ruining it for everyone.

In small fan communities such as Adelaide, when something happens in one corner news of it spreads like a venereal disease at a swingers party. But because it doesn’t have far to travel it all seems worse or more common than it actually is.

The comparisons to high school aren’t without merit, it’s just that it’s often used to invoke an image of juvenile behaviour when in reality almost every large group is structured and operates in a similar fashion. In broad strokes, you’re all brought together for a single reason and you may not get along with certain personalities. Nothing about that is childish or juvenile, it just is what it is.

But here’s something to keep an eye on for next time: I guarantee you, that it’s never the troublemakers that get accused of being juvenile for their actions. It’s always the rest of the group that report and spread the gossip that make them feel like they’re “back in high school”. That’s the part they object to and I reckon there’s something demented about that.

 

I’ve covered all these things before, in some cases multiple times. But these are all partial symptoms of this bubble I mentioned earlier.

And it’s of our own creation too purely because of how we like to process information in our heads. We categorise and compartmentalise for easy access and cataloguing. That’s a cosplayer, that’s a non cosplayer, that’s a Star Wars fan, that’s a Star Trek fan, he does armour, she does sexy costumes, and so on.

That categorisation is where the US vs THEM mentality comes from. Going back to the “it’s not made for fans” bullshit, what sort of person spends money and effort going to the cinema to watch something they’re not a fan of? Geez, I wonder how many “non-fans” were at the midnight screenings of The Last Jedi that made it near impossible to move around?

Our experiences also affect the existence of this bubble. If your formative years were full of these pop-culture conventions, if most of your friends were made at such places, if you live and surround yourself with those that organise these events then you’re whole existence has been about this closed system. That’s all you know, that’s what you’re basing your knowledge and experiences on.

And while I did say the structure of these bubbles or closed systems are similar throughout life, their cultures can be different in subtle or drastic ways. Imagine studying all your life and then going out into “the real world” and not knowing how to do anything because study didn’t actually prepare you for that.

But it extends a little deeper than that. The categorisation that we all do in our own heads can come from something not everyone has the fortitude of using to it’s fullest potential: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to recognise and be considerate of what another person is feeling or experiencing (even on an intellectual level). Now some people have a limited range on their empathy like a bad wi-fi signal and others are completely bereft of it. Both these scenarios are problematic because it then determines whether or not that person’s actions well help, harm, or even affect others.

When you criticise a working family of four for not spending enough at conventions while you live at home making extra money off of Patreon, when you slag off a cosplayer for showing confidence in their body and appearance, when you criticise political correctness for the effort in more diversity in media as if it’s a bad thing, or when you turn your back on the very people who supported you and made you who you are, that’s all because you lack the empathy to understand how your actions hurt others.

The pop culture bubble exists because we make it exist. Despite how much we celebrate the propagation of all things geeky, flooding the mainstream and accessing everybody, we still put up those walls because we still maintain the US vs THEM mentality. Some groups still have ideas of membership engrained in their core for so many years that they struggle to separate it from how it works in the real world.

And I get it, it’s tough to reconcile that attitude sometimes when you have only ever known one way all your life or even if your entire career is limited to all things pop-culture but being able to recognise that other people exist too and want to join in the fun is the first step to opening up that bubble for all to enjoy.

Here endeth the sermon.

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