Since starting Raising a Rebel some ten months ago to coincide with the birth of my daughter, I’ve integrated myself into the Star Wars community like never before. While I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this fairy tale family saga, my interaction as a fan rarely went beyond schoolyard conversations and picking up the odd bit of merchandise.
Although Star Wars fandom has arguably always been contentious, divided and sometimes hostile, it has become altogether unrecognisable today than what I knew as a kid through the release of the prequels. It shouldn’t take a giant leap of the imagination to realise the biggest difference is the internet – specifically social media.
The Phantom Menace was the first time the internet had played a key role in the marketing of a Star Wars movie and the way fans interacted with it. From sharing rumours and insight in online message boards, to the official set images and behind the scenes videos that were officially released, the internet reinvented fandom. And who could forget that old news footage with fans waiting in line for TPM tickets with whole computer systems set up. This marked the shape of things to come and one can scarcely imagine the release of Star Wars film today without a digital marketing machine behind it.
This was the late nineties, but many of the platforms we’ve come to associate with modern fandom are even more recent inventions. Facebook was launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006. In the space of just three years, the way people communicated with one another was forever and fundamentally changed. So too was fandom.
Since joining this online community, both here on WordPress and on Twitter, I’ve seen first-hand the love, passion and kindness at play. I’ve met some wonderful people who I’ve come to cherish as friends. But the dark side of social media has never been more than a stone’s throw away. Insults, death threats, violent words and worse. Sometimes it comes from the sect of so-called “true fans” and sometimes from opportunists. Often, though, just anonymous individuals getting a thrill off hurting people. Even this website has been the target of some nasty comments.
Even with the best will in the world, the most positive outlook and a finger sore from pressing that block button, it can be difficult to muster up the will to stay active on social media. Sometimes, I admit, this is down more to fandom fatigue, but often, yeah, it’s because my feed can get so mentally draining.
My most recent social media detox has lasted for weeks. Sure, I’d pop up and post the occasional tweet and wish everyone a Happy New Year (Happy New Year, by the way), but by and large I’d be focussing my attention elsewhere. For a few days – a few weeks, even – I was beset with FOMO (or fear of missing out). But every time I checked in, there was always some petty argument, or some new vitriol. As the weeks went by something happened. Arguments about The Last Jedi no longer seemed like a big deal. I didn’t care that some folk think Disney is ruining Star Wars. Even the prequel bashing seemed distant and unimportant.
That’s why I wanted to write this post. Not to claim that social media is a vacuum and what we do and say there has no impact. Obviously that’s not true. But some time apart really puts things into perspective. Although I missed interacting with my new-found friends there for a while, I was glad of the breathing room. It was like clearing my mind, focussing my thoughts, understanding what I truly thought and not because it was the popular or to be contrary. It’s like Master Yoda says, “You will know good from bad when you are calm, at peace, passive”.