Earlier today, as I was swiping through the Star Wars app, following a night of a Rogue One / A New Hope double-feature, and prior to reading more of Lords of the Sith (a book I’m still not really sold on), my wife asked me if I was excited about The Last Jedi, a movie I pre-ordered tickets for.
“No,” I joked. But it does make me wonder how artificial my current interest in Star Wars is, or was, or will be. There’s always been some trickle of Product for me to eagerly await: Shadows of the Empire, the Special Editions, the Prequel movies, Knights of the Old Republic games and The New Jedi Order books, the Legacy comics and even a 3-D theatrical re-release of The Phantom Menace, first Clone Wars and then The Clone Wars and finally Rebels TV series, and now the yearly release of a feature film. There’s always an ad campaign calling for Star Wars consumers’ attention.
Fandom is such a weird thing. The goal, at the end of the day, is to consume so as to know and feel a part of, right? If there is a goal. I’ve long taken a relaxed view of fandom: I don’t really care to keep up with things, I don’t care how anyone views my involvement or engagement or status or lack thereof within any particular fan community, and I don’t really judge anyone else for their level of engagement. It matters a lot to some people, though. Even many people who profess a similarly relaxed view of fandom seem to regularly engage in declarations of affection or love, sharing and commenting upon the recent news releases, and arguing over the merits of spoilers (or even what constitutes a spoiler–can a theme park ride or officially released trailer or promotional image actually even be a spoiler? apparently so) (for that matter, aren’t I one of those people? how many of my posts on here are about Star Wars, after all?).
I’ve been burned out on Star Wars before, in college. I think my interest started to rise again in law school, but it’s certainly been heightened since the release of The Force Awakens. Occasionally, I wonder how long it can stay heightened. I think my consistent level of casual engagement helps–I’ve typically resisted the conscious peak in excitement as a new film approaches (though realistically, I must be shunting a lot of that excitement to an unconscious level; I’m still consuming a lot of Star Wars content in the build-up to The Last Jedi, after all).
This post isn’t a response to anything in particular, just some lazy Sunday musings on my personal blog. But it has been refreshing to see fans on social media engage with these ideas more in recent weeks and months, with conversations about the consumer-oriented nature of fandom emerging in things like #MynockMonday on Twitter, or fans frankly discussing their periods of burn-out and re-ignition in a particular fandom space. Again, this post isn’t a response to anything in particular, but those sorts of conversations are in the back of my mind today.
I often feel less like a “fan” than I do someone with many obsessions and hobbies. I collect hobbies and interests. Some I nurture, and some I discard. Some I spend a lot of money on, and some have cost me nothing but time. Some have been a part of me for a long time, and they’re always there, framing how I think about certain things, even if I don’t kindle that passion any longer. I‘ve written about this before. Obviously it’s something that’s still stuck with me. I imagine others have written more eloquently on this subject, but it’s something I’m still trying to tease out.
Maybe part of what I’m trying to get at is, fans tend to be a little bit obsessive. That’s a personality type, I think–not so much a subculture. Someone can greatly enjoy Star Wars without even having to see any of the other movies, let alone trying to absorb the pile of novels, young adult novels, graphic novels, comics miniseries, video games, art books, television shows, soundtracks, commentaries, essays, histories, and so on that has accumulated over the decades. People can like something without needing to claim it or feel a part of it, let alone seeking out a larger community around that thing. I like or even love a great number of movies, books, and television shows that I don’t feel a “fan” of.
So we have a personality type, and that personality type I think has always been a bit territorial. Many try to restrict fandom to a core community of hardcore fans. Some may try to discriminate in the ways that humans have historically tried to discriminate, along lines of gender or race or ethnicity or class. But the “fan” type is territorial in another way, as well: the fan wants to own a part of the property–figuratively, with the time and emotional commitment, and literally, with the purchasing of goods. This might have at one point been harmless, but as companies have found considerable profit in catering to this personality type, I think it’s become a bit grotesque. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way, and I know I’m far from the first person to comment upon it.
At one point, George Lucas marketed action figures to kids, and we’re now at a stage where I’ve seen grown adults talk about how they “need” a particular cable television tier so that they can immediately watch new episodes of Rebels on Disney XD. I suspect that all of us fans have some weird compulsion, even if we try to keep it limited, to buy, to feel a sense of “need” to own a certain product. For me, it’s always been books. The burnout in college helped a lot, but since the insertion of the new canon I’ve certainly bought quickly and frivolously. I’ve slowed this consumerist impulse by requiring that I get through the stack of new-canon Star Wars books before I buy more, and to alternate my Star Wars reading with other literature (any other literature, really, but especially histories and other science-fiction novels as of late). Even so, I’ve still given in to buy a “needed” book from time to time, like From a Certain Point of View or On the Front Lines.
I’m straying from the point, but I wanted to make it clear that I’m not being hypercritical of other fans and ignoring my own vices. This is a broad problem, and I’m just as much a part of that problem as anyone else. Sometimes it takes hearing of a particular “need” from another fan to spark the reminder, but it doesn’t make my own obsessive consumption any better or worse.
That fan impulse leads to most of my superfluous purchases anymore. I have monthly streaming services with Netflix and Amazon Prime, and I can rent a movie from the library or Family Video or Amazon, so I rarely go out to see a movie in theaters. But I still make a point of at least one theatrical viewing of each new Star Wars film. I’ve gradually transitioned my reading habit to accommodate library trips over bookstore purchases, and yet there’s that big Star Wars weakness. I buy physical copies of The Clone Wars and Rebels, where I almost never buy any sort of television set collection anymore. And so on.
If we recognize fandom less as this special, unique identity and more as an imagined community of obsessives, maybe we can reorient away from consumerism. Maybe we can just be obsessed hobbyists instead of this unique thing, the fan. I have plenty of hobbies and obsessions that I can engage in privately, and that I enjoy discussing with others, that nonetheless are simply representative of things that interest me. They are not defining elements of my life. They do not help frame my relationship with the world in the way that a fandom might.
I am sure that many people take strength from fandom, but I think that fandom often takes as much as it gives–if not more. Could we perhaps once more have hobbies without being defined by them?
…I say all this, and yet I know that even if I never spent another dime on Star Wars, I’d still spend too much on that other often-dumb hobby: video games. But that’s maybe another subject entirely; some hobbies really are pay-to-play, I suppose. I “need” to pay to game, right?