How can we be better at ‘fandom’? A look back at 2019

A lot happened in geek pop culture in 2019 — and I mean A LOT.

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” TV series ended.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe wrapped up approximately 10 years and 20 films worth of storytelling with “Avengers: Endgame,” which earned a jaw-dropping $2.8 billion worldwide.

Disney launched its new streaming service, Disney+, and everyone — even non-Star Wars fans — was obsessed with “Baby Yoda.”

Finally, Lucasfilm brought an end to the Skywalker saga with “The Rise of Skywalker,” which contained some controversial plot twists that still have fans debating.

With so much epic stuff packed into one single year, you’d think that 2019 was a great time to be a geek. And it genuinely was — I really can’t complain about a year that featured so many big moments in my favorite franchises.

However, my experience in some of these fandoms wasn’t always positive, and 2019 saw the continuation of some troubling trends within fan culture. Toxicity and negativity are two buzzwords used a lot in reference to online fandom behavior lately, and discussions within several major fandoms (you know who you are) got rather heated.

(Yes, I’m looking at you, Star Wars and Game of Thrones.)

Although 2020 may be a little quieter, now that we’re not all in suspense over how certain franchises like Game of Thrones and the Skywalker saga will end, the start of a new year is a great time for us as geeks to do a little reflecting. What went wrong in 2019, and how can we be better as a community going forward?

Who owns the story?

Whenever you end a long-running franchise like Game of Thrones or the Skywalker saga, a little controversy is, perhaps, inevitable. Not everyone is going to agree on how a story should wrap up. Honestly, I’m a little surprised that “Avengers: Endgame” wasn’t more controversial; still, the reasons why that may or may not be the case are probably beyond the scope of this particular blog.

What matters is that a lot of fans felt very, VERY strongly about how the final season of Game of Thrones and Star Wars: Episode IX ended, and those feelings were not always expressed in healthy ways.

While it’s 100% okay to have a negative reaction to a film, it’s not okay to use your personal reaction as an excuse to lash out at either creators or other fans.

Although I really loved “The Rise of Skywalker,” I was a little disappointed with the final episodes of Game of Thrones. BUT…watching these episodes and hearing about the controversy afterwards was a good opportunity to remind myself that it wasn’t my story to tell.

As a consumer of media, I’m not owed a certain ending to a story. I can hope for things and theorize about possible plot twists, but the story ultimately doesn’t belong to me. Fan entitlement can lead to a lot of frustrations and hurt feelings.

Instead of tweeting that J.J. Abrams should go to jail because he made a version of Episode IX you did not like (and yes, this is a real-life example I saw!), a much better use of your time is allowing your disappointment in a fictional medium to inspire deeper discussion. Analyze why a film may not have worked for you. Be critical, but don’t let that negativity morph into an ugly hatred that fuels bad behavior.

And, if a franchise doesn’t bring you joy anymore, it’s okay to peacefully let it go.

Step away from the computer screen

Online fandom spaces like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. aren’t inherently bad. If you’re like me, you might be the geekiest geek in your immediate social circle, and if you’re looking for other super-enthusiasts to interact with, it’s easy to find them online.

I’m part of a number of online groups for people who are really passionate about Star Wars. It’s fun to chat online with people who love Star Wars as much as I do, and dig into all the minute details about our favorite characters and stories.

That being said, sometimes it’s healthy to step away from the computer screen and seek out face-to-face interactions with other fans.

When we get into a heated discussion online, it’s easy to type hurtful comments, because you can’t see the other person’s immediate reaction. Online communication often feels more impersonal, and we’re “empowered” to type things we’d probably never dare to say in person.

It’s also far too tempting to create insulated groups online with other people who share the exact same opinions as you. Soon a discussion group on Twitter can become an echo chamber, and there’s no diversity of thought or conversation.

A great way to get out of your comfort zone is to go to a comic con type event. Last year, I went to Star Wars Celebration in Chicago all by myself, and I had the most amazing time. I was a little worried, based on how negative online Star Wars fandom can get, but when everyone was hanging out in person, we all seemed to be on our best behavior.

I personally believe that as a geek, your fandom experience shouldn’t happen entirely online. Sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with someone who doesn’t necessarily agree with you, and try to see the topic from their perspective. Challenge your own opinions, and practice how to disagree respectfully.

Sometimes, it’s good for all of us to log off Twitter and Facebook, and interact on a more personal level.

Diversify your interests

If you’ve read my blogs in the past, then you’ve probably gotten the idea that I really, REALLY love Star Wars. But, I don’t think it’s healthy (in any area of life, really) to just focus on one thing. Sometimes I get caught up in all the Star Wars fandom drama, and it’s nice to engage with a different franchise, one I enjoy but am not as invested in.

As geeks, we can get a little possessive and territorial when it comes to our favorite franchises. So sometimes, it’s a good idea to mix things up a little.

Watch a variety of movies. Read a wide range of books. Don’t just focus on one franchise or genre. Challenge yourself to step outside your pop culture comfort zone, and check out something completely different from your long-time favorites. You might discover something new and wonderful!

I know we’re already into February, and it’s a little late to make a “New Year’s Resolution,” but my goal this year is to be a better geek, and to be more purposeful in how I interact with fandom. I want to challenge myself to watch a wider range of movies and TV, and I also want to dig even deeper into these stories and ponder why they work — or don’t work — for me personally.

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The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the Story Geeks podcast. [Listen Here: AppleStitcherPodbean]