My Facebook news feed is usually a deep dive into vacation photos, airport check-ins, job updates and discount offers. It is a pleasant-ish blur of activity which I can mindlessly like – until I saw this staccato, urgent update. A friend had posted: “I don’t think the crypts are safe”. Now, a crypt as I know, is a stone chamber which stores coffins. Why would she be posting about a crypt in the middle of the afternoon in Mumbai?
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I didn’t have to wait long to find out – what followed then, was an intense discussion among her other friends on how the crypts of Winterfell were not actually safe. Almost immediately, on a friends’ WhatsApp group, there was much mirth – a random video of a white-haired, oddly lean man walking on the treadmill in the gym, had been described as a ‘white walker’.
Not Being Part of GOT Fandom Freed Me From Constant Fear of Spoilers
I cautiously inserted an emoticon which expressed my extreme merriment, but of course, understood nothing. You see – I haven’t watched even a second of Game of Thrones. I wouldn’t know Arya Stark if she decapacitated my head over a friendly decaf. Served in one of those Starbucks cups they leave lying around, ever so casually, on the sets. I felt morally superior with my abdication of this particular throne. I wasn’t part of the GOT fandom: it freed me up from the constant fear of spoilers and jittery nerves, as each week and episode approached.
But then my comeuppance was around the corner – Avengers: Endgame released. I may not know Arya Stark, but I do know Tony Stark. And I found myself bleary-eyed at the airport between flights, exchanging frenetic texts with a friend on the many loopholes in the time-travel shown in the film.
Was time a loop, or was it linear? What did Banner mean when he said the past becomes the future?
We exchanged articles and theories on the quantum realm – and four hours later, remained vaguely dissatisfied with our findings. The voice of sanity which tried very hard to interject by feebly whispering, ‘It is just a film’, was ruthlessly quelled. Because, when you are part of a fandom, nothing is just a film. But then, what exactly is a fandom?
What Is A Fandom?
Fandom is almost like being part of a cult, a commune of acolytes. Certain writers have said that it is like fanaticism, but to a cultural ideology – your commitment is as intense and involved as a right-winger or a left-winger, but because it is to pop culture, it seems trivial. In other words, fandom is about being a pop culture bhakt!
Here is the thing – there have always been fandoms, but in another decade it would have been fringe – the reclusive comic book geek spinning his own narrative around fantasy characters, cut off from the mainstream. Now, it is a mass movement. So, what is it about Marvel, DC or even GOT, which makes fully grown adults emotionally invest in that world?
In his book ‘Slugfest’ which documents the epic 50-year-old battle between Marvel and DC, writer Reed Tucker has an interesting take. He says Generation X and older millennials are the first generation not to outgrow comic books. That has a lot to do with the source material itself – ‘the material has grown up. As a result, my generation became the first who didn’t need to age out of superheroes’.
There is a point in that – look at the darker, grittier and overly adult tone that films from DC and Marvel have taken in the recent past. Comic book fandom or franchise fandom now is a lifetime commitment – it isn’t a ‘life stage phenomenon’ like say MTV or Cartoon Network, which you outgrow. Once you are in it, there is no getting out.
The Mainstreaming of ‘Fandom’
Fandom, now becoming part of the mainstream narrative, of course has a lot to do with the amplifying role of social media. Like everything else. Mayurica Biswas, a documentary filmmaker, (also the friend who put up the crypts update and discusses time travel theories with me late into the night), says her crossover to GOT fandom was aided and abetted by social media.
“As someone who has read the books, it was always about how it gets translated visually. But this was before social media. Over the years, when GOT overtook Martin, what social media, especially Reddit forums did, was use the platform to throw up speculative/ conspiracy theories. I love going there,” she says.
In other words, this is an investment far beyond watching the film – there is an active re-imagining as well, of its universe. It is like a parallel reality – a bit like how time is described in Endgame.
Karan Talwar (aka Bollywood G*ndu), known for his irreverent take on all things pop culture says, “Social media is a catalyst, but the core product has to have a profound impact with its audience.” But he does go on to add that Lord of the Rings, while being ‘phenomenal’, didn’t have the mass base of a GOT in India, because it was in a pre- social media era. He says, in today’s era, it would be a ‘monster’.
The Social Proof Theory AKA ‘FOMO’
The power of social media has a lot to do with yet another mass behaviour theory. (Don’t mind me, I love spouting pop psychology). It is a theory called The Social Proof Theory, popularised by psychologist Robert Cialdini. It says a lot of things which you could read up on, but for the purpose of this piece, it stresses on the importance of social behaviour, on our own behaviour.
It is the principle behind using canned laughter in comedy shows – the perception of mass social approval guides your own impulses and viewing behaviour.
Psychological manuals say, “Research on social proof has shown that our peers, in particular, and their choices are important to us and influence our decisions and actions. As a rule, we usually choose to do the same thing that our peers are doing”. In other words, it is FOMO. Simple! Even if you forget all the behavioural psychology that I have laid on thick – Fandom is just an escape route – from a world which is mundane, toxic or just jaded.
It is so much more interesting to be invested in a narrative which has dragons, quantum realms, infinity stones and people in spandex.
It is a world without excel sheets, presentations and long commutes. (unless you count time travel). It demands allegiance, it demands suspension of disbelief, and an unwavering faith in an ideology.
It is like being a bhakt – only a lot better.
(Naomi Datta tweets at nowme_datta, and might gingerly watch her first minute of GOT soon. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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