"The buzzsaw of fandom"

Read to the end for a real good Tumblr thread

At What Point Do We Give Up On Star Wars Fans?

Earlier this week, Moses Ingram, a black actor who plays the character Reva in the new Disney+ show Obi-Wan Kenobi, shared, in an Instagram story, screenshots of the racist harassment and abuse she’s been receiving on social media. This isn’t the first time a Star Wars actor of color has been the target of an online hate movement. Both John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran have opened up publicly about the intense abuse they received from Star Wars fans.

Following Ingram’s Instagram story, digital media outlets, other actors, and the more progressive wing of the fanbase raced to support the actor and make it clear that racism was not welcome in the Star Wars fandom. Series lead and executive producer Ewan McGregor even released a video through the official Star Wars Twitter account expressing how disappointed he is in the fandom’s behavior.

Every time a racist — or sexist (or both) — hate campaign is kicked off by disgruntled Star Wars fans, actors and directors and producers associated with the franchise come out and say the same thing. That the Star Wars fandom is a family. That hatred and abuse have no place in that family. That the small, but vocal minority of fans that send death threats to the women and people of color who are hired to work on new Star Wars shows and movies are not representative of the fandom as whole. At what point do we just stop pretending that’s true?

Yesterday, author Brandon Taylor tweeted and then deleted a thread about the recent racial harassment that Ingram was receiving. Taylor wrote, “I love diversity as much as the next person, but we gotta stop throwing black and brown creators and actors onto the buzzsaw of fandom.”

Taylor argued that perhaps it was time to accept that there is just simply no “rehabilitating” Star Wars, that it will never be a cinematic universe where people of color, queer people, or women can be the main characters. “We keep...trying, but I think at a certain point, you just gotta be like, okay, so this text is not compatible with diversity no matter how hard we try, so let's just get a new text, lol,” he wrote.

It’s a shame that Taylor deleted his thread. Though, the fact he felt like he had to because of the immediate violent reactions it was getting from Star Wars fans only makes it ring more true. But to Taylor’s point, I think the “buzzsaw of fandom” is — like most things in the modern world — actually a community moderation issue.

Companies like Disney know that online fandoms are the key to successful intellectual property. A company, no matter how large, cannot replicate the near-infinite amount of content and connection that can be produced (for free) by fans. And what’s even more interesting is that Disney’s Star Wars division is so keenly aware that the bulk of Star Wars fans are frothing-at-the-mouth racist lunatics on the internet that, Ingram, in an interview with The Independent, said that Lucasfilm warned her that this would probably happen.

Now, do I think that everyone who loves Star Wars is racist? Absolutely not. In fact, I think Star Wars is a pretty good fantasy story for children about how selfishness, greed, and fear can make good people do evil things. The bulk of Star Wars stories are about a ragtag group of diverse humans teaming up with robots and puppets to fight nazis. But, over the last 50 years, those stories have also attracted a violent, reactionary, and entitled fanbase of white men who are terrified of growing up. And now the most massive entertainment monopoly to ever exist has taken those stories, turned them in an endless content funnel for their proprietary streaming service, and need those man-children to hype up every new project they generate.

If Lucasfilm, or Disney, wanted to actually remove racist and sexist fans from the “Star Wars family,” it would mean a drastic and genuine creative overhaul. It would also mean completely leaving the Skywalker family behind, which they seem totally terrified to do. It would mean casting actors of color and women in leading roles in which they weren’t wearing helmets or body paint. It would mean explicitly and clearly, in their movies and TV shows, making deliberate storytelling decisions that reenforced their commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Finn wouldn’t just be force sensitive, he’d be a Jedi and he’d end up with Rey. Rose would actually appear in The Rise Of Skywalker. It would mean that across nine movies and countless TV shows, fans could name more characters of color than Mace Windu and Lando Calrissian. But, I suspect, it’s cheaper and easier for Lucasfilm to just warn new actors that the fans are going to threaten to murder them and then, when things get real bad, ask a white actor to film a disappointed dad video in their car. It’s a mess.

And I think Taylor is right. When it comes to Star Wars, the buzzsaw of fandom can’t be turned off. The buzzsaw is the fandom.

Over on Reddit’s r/KotakuInAction, the site’s hub for Gamergate, which has evolved over the last decade into essentially an Upside Down for fandom, fans have been pissing their pants over being labeled racist (again). Reading through the comments, you start to see how this whole cycle works. A woman or person of color or a queer person is added to the cast of a Star Wars production, fans zero in on it, goad each other into harassing them, and then accuse “the media” of being “woke” for branding them all as racist when they inevitably get violent. They do it over and over again. And the only bright spot in this whole broken culture of hatred within this fandom is that the never-ending misery that Star Wars fan live in, where they’re constantly demonized for being racist extremists, is entirely their own making. They will never get to be the good guys and they absolutely know it deep down and it drives them insane. But that doesn’t make them any less annoying — or dangerous — for the rest of us. And it’s a shame that Disney isn’t willing to take their own movie’s advice and let the past die, start making new stories that totally and completely alienate Star Wars’ worst fans, and finally move on.

The following is a paid ad. If you’re interested in advertising, just reply to this email and let’s figure something out. Thanks!

Enhance Google with your past research. For a memory boost.

You probably read dozens of articles like this daily. But when you need to reference a specific one, you can't find it and your best ideas never develop. Heyday automatically saves pages you visit. And then, resurfaces them alongside relevant Google search results – to boost your memory. Try it.

Imagine Owning The Rights To Exploit Papa Smurf, Brainy, Or Smurfette Individually, While Still Remaining Part Of The Smurf Collective

The tweet above is part of a very long and boring thread from Seth Green about why he’s so excited about making a TV show featuring a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT. You can click in and read the whole thing if you really feel like it, but the rest of it is about as coherent as this tweet is.

While we’re talking about crypto, Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer says that Elon Musk doesn’t know how to run basic code. And then Musk fired back, tweeting, “My kids wrote better code when they were 12.”

Meanwhile, Alex Mashinsky, the CEO of blockchain-based marketplace Celsius Network, had a meltdown on Twitter after users began questioning how Celsius’s “HODL Mode” works. Users accused HODL Mode of blocking customers from taking their money out of the network. But Celsius said it’s a security feature that’s totally optional and up to the user, except for times where Celsius just decides to turn it on and, uh, block customers from taking their money out.

BTS Goes To Washington

K-Pop supergroup BTS went to the White House yesterday. I was hoping they were replacing Biden, but, apparently, it was just a visit. It was a big moment. BTS stans are probably the biggest and most well-coordinated fandom on the internet, able to maintain a sophisticated decentralized online ecosystem sharing up-to-the-second news updates, translated content, and indecipherable memes.

Also, as New York Mag pointed out, one of the more popular fan edits for BTS fans are photoshops of Kim Nam-joon, or RM, in the White House press room. Which actually finally happened in real life yesterday.

Now, you might roll your eyes at this whole thing. You might say, “with COVID, a looming recession, a war in Ukraine, domestic far-right terrorism, and the end of Roe v. Wade, the Democrats are bringing a dang boyband to the White House?” And I would say, “shut up!” As Twitch streamer Hasan tweeted, “I've been very critical of the Biden White House, but they brought BTS to the White House and are currently doing a press briefing with them and 300,000 people are watching.”

Anyways, regardless of how you felt about the whole thing, I would recommend not making the same mistake Tucker Carlson did. He dedicated a segment to attacking the band’s visit. I don’t know what Fox News’ various emails, mailrooms, and phone lines are like right now, but I’m going to guess that not even Fox News is able to defend themselves against the sentient DDOS attack that is K-Pop stans.

A Good Tweet

Does This A.I. Have A “Secret Language”?

One little thing I’ve been keeping my eye on is artificial intelligences creating content. Kind of out of nowhere in the last year or two, we’ve seen a bunch of easy-to-use web apps pop up allowing users to give inputs to an A.I. and have that A.I. generate images. It’s actually resulted in some very cool art. And one thing I’ve been curious about is what happens when an A.I. inadvertently creates a new type of content that humans get obsessed with. My frame of reference for this are those weird algorithmically-generated videos for children on YouTube. They’re just sounds and colors, but kids can’t get enough of them. What happens when an A.I. makes something like that, but for adults?

Well, here’s maybe a step in that direction. This week, a computer science PhD student named Giannis Daras wondered aloud on Twitter if the DALLE-2 A.I. had “a secret language”:

A few other researchers tried to recreate Daras’s results and it seems like the truth isn’t quite as fantastical as it appeared. According to follow-up threads from research analyst Benjamin Hilton and Twitter user @BarneyFlames, what seems to be happening is that DALLE-2 is pulling in Latin scientific names for different animals and trying to arrange them in ways that make sense. Which is still kind of cool, but not quite the robot uprising we’ve all been waiting for.

This Graph Has Really Messed With My Head

Please Stop Trying To Make Disinformation Czars Happen

The New York Times published an absolutely wild story yesterday about how the state of Connecticut is hoping to hire a “State Misinformation Sheriff” before this year’s midterms. Here’s a paragraph containing a series of words that would have been unfathomable even 10 years ago:

Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.

I’ll come right out and say it: I think this — and any other state-sponsored attempt at moderating misinformation — is a really dumb idea, if not an all-out dangerous one. I thought the Biden administration’s Disinformation Czar fiasco a few weeks ago was a disaster and I think all attempts at similar roles are doomed to either implode in the same way or be weaponized by right-wing authoritarianism.

You know what would be a much better use of $2 million? Instead of paying someone to search “site:4chan.org Connecticut” four times a day, what if the state just invested all of that money in easily searchable and navigable government websites and social pages that all worked on mobile, updated frequently, and contained pertinent information written clearly and published in timely fashion? Revolutionary, right? And, you know what? If they had extra money after that, maybe they could give out some grants to jumpstart some local news sites so people wouldn’t have to rely on QAnonMom1776 on Telegram for news about their community anymore.

One More Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a real good Tumblr thread.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

Join the conversation

or to participate.