About once a decade, everything lines up. A half dozen major cultural juggernauts all come into land at about the same time and some poor soul is paid to write the ‘GEEK CULTURE IS OVER. WE SHALL NEVER SEE ITS LIKE AGAIN’ piece. Hey if the check clears and the piece doesn’t hurt anyone, go with God. We’re in one of those times now. Game of Thrones has under half its super short final season to go. Avengers Endgame is all over theaters everywhere and the ninth core Star Wars movie has been confirmed as the end of the Skywalker saga. If this was a concert, we’d officially be into the ‘Freebird’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘Thrift Shop’, ‘Single Ladies’ phase of the night.
These are emotional times. As geeks, as people who are alive in the ocean of digital information that 21st century life is, we assemble our armor from what attracts our attention. That top line is from Hamilton by way of Brooklyn Nine Nine. I’m writing this wearing an Autobot symbol t-shirt, on an iPad with a sticker of Hunk from Voltron on the case. Why Hunk? He’s a big, articulate, kind dude who likes cooking. Why the Autobot symbol? Have you met me? All this stuff is intellectual property, and yes all we do when we interact with culture is keep IP’s alive. Go too far with that and you get to the kind of extremism that lives on the outskirts of very dark places. But be aware of the dangers of over-investment and culture becomes the lock pick for the door of life. You understand the world through the culture you use to interact with it. It’s why far left folks in the US default to Harry Potter metaphors. It’s why far right folks in the US invoke Newt Gingrich. It’s al so why the ‘don’t politicize fiction’ argument is just a massive Kaiju of willful idiocy, stomping across he innocent city of modern life. Like the song goes, yes it’s political, everything’s political.
But at the core of any cultural interaction is emotional engagement. Emotional engagement is the fuel that drives story, its what’s makes us care about everything from soap opera to Shakespeare and everything in between. Stories are mirrors. You can’t see what they’re reflecting without truly understanding it and that understanding has, as the price of admission, caring. We laugh at Jon Snow kissing Dani with one eye open and focused on her dragons. We cry as Leia hugs Rey, knowing whatever happens we’ll never see one of them on the big screen again. We prepare the re-hydration salts for Endgame, as an epochal crew of portrayals prepares to take its final bow. We know this will wreck us. We know we’ll learn and be stronger in the broken places. HEMINGWAY understood this for God’s sake. But the exact people who’d carry his boxing gloves for him and drink only Big Ernie approved whiskey seem to have forgotten this lesson. Instead, they listen to this guy.
Don’t do that.
The last few years have unleashed an impressive barrage of awful phrases onto the battered, flaming hulk of the English language. ‘Fake news’ is far and away the worst but ‘snowflake’ is the most insidious and, for me, the most toxic. It’s most commonly used to attack people who’ve dared to express an emotional response to something. Like, for example, not being happy about their rights to exist as humans being debated. Or pointing out demonstrable hate speech on a social media platform run by a sentient beard who thinks you can minmax yoga. It’s a terrible term, a blunt instrument used not just to insult your opponent but insult the very idea of emotional engagement. Linguistically, it’s a nuke. Everyone’s got them and they lay waste to everything around them. Every time it’s used, someone gets pushed further away. It’s a weapon designed to not just mock the idea of emotional engagement but the idea of emotional engagement with others. And what’s one of the biggest ways we engage with others?
Shared cultural joy. Fandom.
Gate-keeping in fandom is, often, what’s for every meal. This particular stripe of it instantly pushes my rage buttons because I’m a cishet notional and have fought the stiff upper lip my whole life. I was tremendously lucky to have awesome parents who weren’t afraid of their own emotional responses. I still took twenty years to realize that my emotions were something I was supposed to release in a healthy fashion as opposed to burying them. I honestly think this is one of the reasons why the default response for so many people is hipster snark. If you laugh at something you push it away from you and you focus your attention, and others, on what it is not how it’s affected you. That’s understandable. I’ve done it myself, more than once and will again.
But it never lasts. And it never should.
Kate Bush once sang just being alive, it can really hurt and she wasn’t lying. Modern life is exhausting and at times like this, when the support structures we rely on are evolving, it can be even more so. At times like these it’s all too easy to fall back on defensive behavior and cover up instead of letting yourself get affected. But affected doesn’t always mean hurt, and covering up just means no one else can see you. Now more than ever, we all deserve to be seen.
So, the stiff upper lip is bullshit. Hipster snark is bullshit. Laughing at other people for their emotional honesty is bullshit. All clear? Great. I’m off to load up on tissues and re-hydration salts before seeing Endgame again. See you next time