Because of our cultural obsession with entertainment, it’s important to examine the experience of being a fan. Being a fan means being passionate about something, and that carries an interesting set of challenges. Part of the difficulty is that our world has become saturated with creative content. Game of Thrones hasn’t ended yet, and games like Fallout 4 and Pokémon Go still appeal to different markets. On top of that, there’s a new Star Wars movie and three Marvel films coming out each year. What, then, makes it hard to be a fan? Let’s delve into the world of entertainment.
Putting Up With Marketing
Any fan of an ongoing series or product must endure the waiting game. That’s the dead zone between major releases of new content. It can be the six months between seasons of a TV show, or the five-plus years until George R.R. Martin finishes the next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire. In any case, marketing milks the waiting game.
Publicity teams design advertisements to build public interest for an upcoming product. Moreover, trailers — for TV, films, or games — have become their own genre, and they carry a substantial amount of hype. It’s gotten to the point where some publicity teams will release the first five seconds of a trailer, a day before the full trailer premieres. This is the regrettable phenomenon known as the “teaser for a trailer.”
Some trailers have become mandatory viewing before a new release. Should they be considered spoilers? (And what counts as a spoiler, anyway?) Last fall, a trailer spoiled the fact that Captain Rex would appear in Star Wars Rebels season two. By contrast, other projects have more moderate advertising. The TV show Young Justice managed to conceal a major plot point — the five-year time skip between its first and second seasons — from its marketing.
Marketing can get overwhelming. I’m a Star Wars fan, but Lucasfilm’s relentless advertising campaign for last year’s The Force Awakens completely wore me down. Two weeks before the film’s release, I simply decided to block out all Star Wars news. To be fair, my experience should not be indicative of others’ experiences as fans. Nevertheless, it’s important to take things in moderation.
Right before The Force Awakens, The Big Bang Theory did an episode about its protagonists going to the premiere. Actor Wil Wheaton told the other characters, “When you wake up in the morning, whether this is the greatest movie ever or a total piece of crap, your life isn’t gonna change at all.” It’s true that a new film, TV show, or video game probably won’t change your life. Still, there are obvious exceptions, and you can read about them in our “Catalyst to My Fandom” series.
Keeping Up is Hard
Besides the overwhelming nature of marketing, the other challenge of being a fan is having to deal with an excess of content. You’re probably wondering, “Why would too much content be a bad thing?” The reality is that it can be hard to keep up with everything, especially for a shared universe of entertainment.
For example, The CW currently hosts four Arrowverse shows: Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. Fans don’t need to keep up with every single show, but for those who don’t, the series’ annual crossover episodes can be confusing. Similarly, Captain America: Civil War provided the richest viewing experience to fans who had seen all 12 previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To return to The Force Awakens, there’s a reason why Lucasfilm didn’t market the film with “Episode VII” in its title. Including the “VII” would have implied that to understand the film, it was necessary to watch the first six Star Wars films as a prerequisite. Situations like that can deter incoming fans from enjoying a product. As a result, Lucasfilm simply called it “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
So, what’s the solution to this overabundance of creative content? There’s no “right” way to be a fan. Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that in our current world, being a fan has become synonymous with being a consumer. Not to get too cynical, but the primary concern of companies like Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios is to make money. On a very basic level, that’s how the entertainment industry survives.
That’s not to say that financial success matters more than the quality of a product’s content. It’s simply important to recognize that being a fan means finding something to love, while also putting up with the consumer culture of entertainment.