Thursday, November 30, 2023

The overwhelming disappointment of Fandom

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The monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything that happens in the world of WIRED culture, from movies to memes, from TV to Twitter.

Long ago, in a far, far away WIRED office, a coworker once said, “There are a million and one ways to be a geek.” In a newsroom full of obsessed people – science, movies, gadgets, math, etc. – the meaning was clear. Everyone is a fan of something. Attachment is part of this fandom. When we really, truly admire someone, whether it’s an Avenger or Anthony Fauci, there’s a tendency to emulate their personality, even their morality. Media theorists call these links “parasocial relationships“; parents of kids with too many Star Wars posters call it (probably) “overkill.” But the people who attend, the people who write fics and spend days cosplaying before the next convention, call it part of who they are, the fabric of who they are.

Until it doesn’t. Earlier this week, actress Gina Carano lost her job playing Cara Dune on The Mandalorian. The former MMA fighter had been criticized for months for her anti-science views of wearing a mask, make fun of transgender sensitive pronouns, and tweets about electoral fraud. Then, Wednesday, after she shared an Instagram story which suggested that divergent political views akin to being Jewish during the Holocaust, the hashtag #FireGinaCarano began trending on Twitter. That night Lucasfilm issued the following statement: “Gina Carano is currently not employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans to be in the future. Nonetheless, his social media posts denigrating people because of their cultural and religious identity are heinous and unacceptable. “

Carano’s comments are harmful for a number of reasons, but they seem to carry extra weight for fans. Cara Dune was a heroine, a person who fought for people, a tough and competent heroine in a genre often dominated by men. Fans admired Cara and, by extension, Carano, but the actor’s social media comments left one of those things more difficult to do. “The pain was felt acutely by those who most admired his character”, Anthony Breznican written for Vanity Fair, “Including some who cosplayed as Cara Dune and hoped the hero’s spirit matched the feelings of the person playing her.” Others, meanwhile, backed Carano’s claims and launched a competing hashtag, #CancelDisneyPlus, as this week’s news began to spread.

The conflicts around these feelings live on in the hearts of fans around the world. If having a relationship, even one-sided, with a character, actor, director or writer means adopting part of their moral code, or seeing part of their own moral code in their work, then what happens when do these things no longer align? What happens when a the hero is no longer your hero?

You might think I’m on a fast lane to a screed cancel culture. This is understandable. But that’s not exactly the point. Canceling someone or something was once a strong reaction to something that person or organization said or did. When they made a racist statement or supported a transphobic cause it became difficult for fans to appreciate their work, so they stopped doing it, as if their show was taken off the air. Then, over the course of 2020, this was misinterpreted as an attempt to silence people. Even as people spoke on national television wearing masks marked “Censored” people did not understand that canceling someone does not mean that they cannot speak, it just means that everyone has the right to choose whether they want or not listen, buy his records or watch his film.


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