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The Logical Endpoint Of Toxic Fandom
I’ve written before about the parts of Reddit that are obsessed with “fixing” movies. Subreddits like r/fanedits and r/fixingmovies are essentially fan fiction communities, but for users who don’t seem to know they can just write fan fiction. Users in these spaces agonize over how they might salvage various fandom properties through different castings or by swapping in extremely lame ideas for plot “fixes”.
As for why these predominately male fans do this, answers have been attempted a few times over the last decade. In 2016, Vox’s Constance Grady wrote, “Men who are involved in fandom are more likely to participate in curative fandom. They end up on Reddit, ranking every Doctor on Doctor Who. Women who are involved in fandom are more likely to end up on Tumblr, dream-casting a racebent version of Doctor Who.” And The Mary Sue’s Kaila Hale-Stern wrote in 2018, “Fic is primarily created by women, trans, genderqueer and just plain queer people — for free, for each other — and as such, it’s often derided and dismissed.” Both of those takes are still broadly true, but things have evolved a bit.
The men “fixing” movies with fan edits, along with the men who hunt for Easter eggs, the blogs that aggregate “fan theories,” and the communities I wrote about on Monday that obsess over obviously very untrue “leaks,” are part of an extremely professionalized fandom economy that have basically recreated fan fiction and fan art as a kind of WWE-style kayfabe where fanfic isn’t fanfic as long as it could be true, somehow.
To a give a personal example of how this works, I recently watched the film NOPE. I was left with a lot of (good) questions after the movie, so I went to over to Reddit, where users were basically arguing over the same 15 boring “fan theories” about various in-universe physics issues. I cannot imagine missing the point of a movie more than to go on the internet and fight about whether or not the [spoiler] from NOPE was a government experiment or not. Anyways, unsatisfied, I went to Tumblr, where the film’s tag offered the kind of deep, thoughtful metatextual analysis I was craving. The children’s alien masks look like the cameras that filmed the chimp attack! The shoe! The Akira and Evangelion references! (It was the kind of analysis, I should point out, I used to be able to easily find on various websites written by paid staff writers.)
The Tumblr side of fandom has not been without its issues over the years. It can be extremely nasty, particularly in a kind of bucket-of-crabs sort of way, where fandom creators who reach a certain level of prominence and mainstream crossover are “canceled” and torn apart by other fans for various discretions, real or imagined. But it’s been the Reddit side of fandom that has been ground zero for radicalization and right-wing recruitment.
Now, there’s a chance that male fandom spaces would have radicalized on their own — what you see on Reddit or YouTube in 2022 isn’t all that different from what you saw on various blogs and message boards in 2002 (I lived through the Star Wars prequels). But the scale of these communities, their ability to monetize, and their overtly right-wing political bent are on a much different level than the 4chan users photoshopping Neil Patrick Harris as The Riddler in their Christopher Nolan Dark Knight sequel fancast back in 2008. We also know that right-wing publishers in the mid-2010s like Breitbart used writers like Milo Yiannopoulos to specifically target these “nerd” communities, opening the door for a revolving cast of bad actors who wade into these spaces to recruit keyword warriors for their never-ending “anti-woke” culture war.
In June, author Brandon Taylor called this current reactionary miasma “the buzzsaw of fandom” after Star Wars fans sent black Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram torrents of racist abuse. And, this week, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, writing about the recent controversy around black actors in the new Amazon-produced Lord Of The Rings show, summed up the psychic anguish you see on platforms like Reddit pretty perfectly:
Many older fans are convinced they can’t recapture that intensity only because the producers themselves have failed to create stories of the same fundamental quality, when in reality they have simply outgrown the sentiment they are chasing. These campaigns seek to convince this audience that the feeling they are pursuing can be recaptured, if only those making popular art would reject modern progressive dogma—thus creating a well of cultural resentment they can manipulate for political purposes.
All of which has led to what we saw yesterday, when a now-suspended Twitter user named @vandalibm posted about a plan to use A.I. to “fix” Disney’s new live action Little Mermaid film by digitally transforming the star of the remake, Halle Bailey, into a white woman.
The sense of entitlement, the lack of imagination, and the poisoned nostalgia that has been bubbling under the surface of corporate fandom for years is getting worse. And, like every other social issue on the internet, becoming more sophisticated and automated thanks to A.I. But I’m also slowly becoming convinced that we may be reaching a peak to this stuff.
As someone who spends a lot of time in these spaces, these controversies are becoming more frequent. That’s true. And the lengths these weirdos are going to to “fix” entertainment franchises — whether it’s using A.I. to make offensive fan films, editing the women out of Star Wars sequels, or building neo-Nazi video game mods — are becoming more extensive. But I think they’re becoming more extensive because of how impotent these fans feel.
The irony is that the same reason these guys can’t write fan fiction is why the need institutional acknowledgement to keep this kind of energy up. These guys need the illusion that what they’re doing is somehow official or canonized and without it they lose all momentum. Ten years ago, a group of YouTubers could whip up a few subreddits, bombard movie studios with a hashtag, and bully them into doing whatever they wanted. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore and these guys know it. And I think as long as both other fans and the companies producing this stuff don’t give in, we can actually clear out some of these communities and push these losers back to the dark corners they came from.
There’s A Weekend Edition Of Garbage Day Now
It’s a nice bonus issue of Garbage Day once a week for paying subscribers. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, hit the green button below. You’ll also get Discord access and a bunch of other fun bonus stuff.
A Good Tweet
The Lisa Rinna M&M, Explained
This one was a request from Platformer’s Casey Newton, who wanted to know what the heck was going on with this meme. The easiest explanation is that it’s a photoshop of an M&M made to look like Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Lisa Rinna and people think it’s creepy looking. The original image comes from a 2008 ad campaign for the Oscars. In the original ad, the Lisa Rinna M&M is on the red carpet interviewing an M&Melganger of Joey Fatone.
As for the complicated explanation, the M&M ad campaign the Lisa Rinna M&M comes from was tag-lined, “There's a little M&M in all of us,” which is absolutely one of those 90s advertising sentences that, at first glance makes total sense, but actually means nothing if you stop and think about it. The tagline accompanied different celebrities transformed into M&Ms. One of those M&Ms was Dr. Phil. And the Dr. Phil M&M has had a huge second life as a meme after Tumblr users realized that the Dr. Phil M&M was doing the same hand pose as another famous meme, Lucky Luciano’s “You know I had to do it to ‘em” photo.
As Know Your Meme points out, the Lisa Rinna M&M didn’t really surface until around 2020, when a few Twitter users started sharing it, without much viral activity. Last month, it spread to TikTok where users are pairing it with the song "After Like" by IVE (which I actually can’t explain) and using it as a jumpscare.
And it seems like it finally crossed over into a mainstream meme last week when people started joking about sending the Lisa Rinna M&M to the UK to cover the queen’s death. So there you go!
Trendcasting Is Probably The Next Big Trend
This is going to be a bit meta, but so are the times we’re living in. Tumblr users are currently dunking on this piece of branded content from the department store Kohl’s, which asks users to find out if they’re “gothcore” or “preppy”. As Tumblr user glowinggreengoo wrote, “This ad actually makes me want to bang my head into a wall and commit a felony. I think all companies should die forever and ever and ever amen.”
I did some hunting around and was able to trace it back to Kohl’s Pinterest account. Though I did find users on Facebook talking about it too, where user asked another which outfit describes their aesthetic best, to which the other replied, “Neither of these horseshit outfits” lol.
The image comes from a Pinterest series that organizes the store’s clothing into different TikTok-able aesthetics. One post asks, “What’s your style vibe?” Another post asks users if they’re “outdoor prairie” or “back to basics”. And the border on the posts reads “Trend Alert” in big bold text.
This sort of general exhaustion and also deep commodification of post-pandemic vibes and aesthetics and trends was kind of swatted at recently in a series of tweets from writer and content creator Rayne Fisher-Quann, who wrote, “has anyone else noticed the TikTok cultural criticism and trend analysis careerist vibe shift?” Fisher-Quann then cited Mandy Lee, who posts under the name Oldloserinbrooklyn, who has theorized that “theorizing about fashion was going to be the new mode of the mainstream fashion influencer.” Confused?
Basically, I think for the last two years a lot of people have wanted answers about culture. I’d even say Garbage Day’s growth has been part of this. Coming out of the pandemic and into some kind of new normal at the same time that a brand new very online generation was coming of age has meant that things have been sort of confusing. But I think brands are awkwardly beginning to catch up and are now, themselves, trying to trendcast because they know that people want trendcasting. Which, if history can tell us anything, means that trendcasting as a popular form of content might be on its way out.
CCTV, A.I., And Instagram
Here’s an absolutely bone-chilling project. It’s called “The Follower” and it was created by developer and artist Dries Depoorter. He recorded open security camera footage for weeks, then scraped publicly available Instagram photos tagged at that location. Then he used A.I. to line up the Instagram photos. It’s, honestly, fucked. But, also, seeing as how Depoorter is an artist that specializes in projects about surveillance, I’d say this is meant to make you uncomfortable. You can read more about how he did it here.
Anyone Checked In On CollegeHumor Recently?
I have! So I can’t really think of a company more closely linked to the bizarre venture capital-flush New York City digital media boom of the early 2010s than CollegeHumor. It sounds kind of weird to say but for several e years, they were kind of at the top of the viral heap. They had massive traffic, they had big social accounts — including being one the biggest brands on Tumblr for a while — and they were one of the first companies to realize you could kind of turn your media company into a weird semi-reality show and do well on YouTube.
But after a bunch of layoffs and well-known original talent leaving, they kind of fell off the map. Though, interestingly enough, they’ve sort of started to make a comeback, but in a totally different form. The site CollegeHumor.com doesn’t exist anymore. They’ve rebranded as Dropout and it’s a subscription streaming platform. And a couple of Dropout’s shows have gained massive followings on TikTok, Twitter, and Tumblr, namely their unscripted shows like the long-running tabletop roleplaying show Dimension 20 and the improv-based game shows Um, Actually, Game Changer and the new Make Some Noise. And while I don’t know anything about Dropout’s subscriber numbers, I do know that over the last six-to-nine months I have started to see Dropout clips EVERYWHERE. And the clips are, honestly, great!
I was going to have some like big high-minded take on this to put at the end here about the weird lifecycles of digital media and how I can’t help but root for CollegeHumor to figure out a way back into the internet zeitgeist. But I gotta admit I got completely distracted doing research for this and started watching this 2019 episode of Game Changer that is extremely funny.
A Project To Prove That Every Taylor Swift Song Has An Equivalent Mountain Goats Song
I came across this fantastically specific playlist on the r/themountaingoats subreddit. I’m a big Mountain Goats fan, but I did not know that there’s apparently a theory that there is a corresponding Taylor Swift song for every one of their song. I listened through this playlist this morning and I’m not entirely convinced this is 100% true across the board, but I do think works a lot better than you might expect.
Another Good Tweet
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by 🅱🅾bbieyag🅰 and I think it’s time we talked about it 👏🏻
Some Stray Links
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***