Sports make people mad. Politics ratchets up that anger. But entertainment? That takes digital rage to a whole new level.
Comic-Con was last weekend. The world’s premier entertainment and comic book convention, held annually in San Diego, is essentially a showroom for upcoming movies, TV shows, and other media. In case you missed it, here’s a summary: Picard looks incredible, Cats does not.
Loads of TV shows, movies and other media were premiered or teased at Comic-Con. Reading through the highlights, I couldn’t help but wonder which one of these is going to cause the next big social media tidal wave of disappointment, outrage and drama. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
You’ve noticed it too, right? People get really angry at entertainment. Like, really angry. Two obvious examples that I can almost guarantee you’ve at least come across on social media: the last season of Game of Thrones and the #NotMyAriel backlash. It seems like every time I open a social media feed, I find at least one article inciting controversy about an upcoming release, with a stream of upset comments and tweets. (Never read the comments. Ever.)
Internet entertainment rage roughly follows this pattern:
- Something new is announced—a movie or TV show for example. It’s new and shiny; people are excited.
- The trailers and promo images trickle out. “Wait, this doesn’t look/feel/sound like I thought it would.” We try to stay excited, but the questions begin bubbling up.
- A detail about the movie is released. Our worst fears are confirmed. Controversy and dissent kick into high gear. Journalists swoop in like vultures to spit out clickbait articles, and social media lashes out in response.
- Hype returns in the weeks before release. You’re either super excited, or you’re already dead set on hating whatever it is, and you will make sure everyone knows either way.
- The thing is finally released. If it was good, it’s time to argue with people who thought it was bad. If it was bad, prepare for a month of internet screaming at the creators, the actors, and the idiots who actually thought it was good.
- Lather; rinse; repeat.
Taking aims on Twitter and raging about your favorite _____ being ruined because of _____ is practically a cultural tradition, but it seems like it’s gotten particularly nasty the past few years. Daisy Ridley, star of the new Star Wars trilogy, actually quit social media after endless harassment from dissatisfied fans. It’s a similar story for Kelly Marie Tran, another new Star Wars actress, who left social media after undergoing a barrage of racist and sexist bullying. Let that sink in. People were enraged enough, over a fictional storyline, to attack the stars of the film. Why though? What compels people to send death threats to actors because they didn’t like what their characters did in a show? Why are we stuck in this perpetual cycle of rage about things that are supposed to bring us joy? Most people I’ve read who’ve written on this subject blame social media. It’s part of the problem, but I think the real reason lies much deeper.
I believe every person on earth has a hard-wired desire to worship something. I’m not just talking about worship in just a religious sense—I think it’s true whether you believe in God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or none of the above. In every one of us, there’s a deep desire to chase experiences that are pure, exciting, gratuitous, and transcendent. In other words, humans seek perfect experiences, and many of us are trying to find it in entertainment.
I know it sounds super churchy to equate a desire for cosmic fulfillment with how we consume TV and movies, but I’d ask you to think about the characters and stories that have been important in your life.
People cried when the new Star Wars trilogy was announced. Avengers: Endgame was heralded like the second coming of Christ, far beyond just a summer blockbuster. The premier of the Bachelor/Bachelorette is a marked date on millions of people’s calendars, on par with Easter and Christmas. It may not be in a chapel, but it’s worship—the sanctity of these experiences mean a lot to us. They are, in other words, sacred.
Is it ok for us to care about media as much as we do? How invested should we be in the fate of our favorite characters? Why do we care so much about what happens to them? Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a super-churched Ned Flanders, telling you to swear off entertainment. But the more I think about it, and the more internet rage is daily thrown into my face, it’s becoming painfully obvious: worshipping entertainment just doesn’t work—for three distinct reasons.
You Will Be Disappointed. A Lot.
Humans long to worship. And we want the object of our worship to be perfect—anything less isn’t worthy of our attachment and attention. For 8 years, Game of Thrones was the absolute king of TV shows, setting the gold standard of quality for the industry. During the first season, who could have possibly imagined it would end so poorly? No matter what’s being created, it’s simply impossible to fully satisfy the demands and expectations of fans. The creators are human, thus the show they are creating will show flaws eventually. There will be a hole in the storyline, a hero that acts out of character, or a Starbucks cup left on a table. Fair warning: if the media you love feels perfect now, just wait. If isn’t not ruined the first time around, the inevitable (and mediocre) reboot will do the trick.
While it feels good to vent when you’re mad, studies suggest it actually makes you more upset when you repeatedly voice your negative feelings. Nothing creates more of a toxic echo chamber than social media. Seeing other people share your disappointment compounds its legitimacy and severity. Suddenly, the fact that the center of your rage is a fictional universe becomes lost to you because there’s a host of online fans who stand in your corner. I know from personal experience, if I’m upset about something, I will absolutely feel worse about it if I spend 15 minutes reading other people’s complaints in the comment section.
We’re Easily Influenced.
I’m not trying to go full tin-foil hat here, but it’s true that nobody benefits more from sh*t-shows than news and media companies. Your clicks on their articles generate ad revenue—and nothing drives clicks like negativity. Reading those articles before you actually experience the movie or TV show or book, colors your experience. I can’t tell you how many times I would have had a positive experience with a piece of media if I’d been disciplined enough to not read the “Fans Are Fuming About ______” article beforehand.
Entertainment offers us a chance to escape the mundane. It can motivate, inspire, and take us places we’d never dare to go alone. At it’s best, it helps us see our day-to-day lives differently, and I actually believe good media can change the world. But it’s still not worthy of worship. It will disappoint. When it does, avoid the cynicism beast. And if you want to enjoy entertainment again, learn to form your own opinions about it. Our world is so serious, it’s high time for entertainment to be fun again. In fact, I think we desperately need it to be.