Nuts and Bolts on the USS Defiant
The “Whys and Hows” of Fandom’s Exploding Cows
An editorial blog “behind the scenes” of The Unconventional. A look at the sweat, blood and tears, techniques and ethos behind this journey. The raison d’être, DNA and agenda of this intellectual Mecha.
Editor’s Note: Below, readers will see a number of linked resources, as exemplars of the very elements we wish to stand against, from genuine bad-faith actors that produce measurable garbage that we cannot countenance even linking, to symptoms of the overall cancer eating away at our collective reservoir of knowledge. We want to be explicit that Polygon, and The Edge, amongst others not linked here, are on our official “no fly” list of tainted sources, no matter how compelling individual articles may be from those dubious mastheads. This is by contrast to the many other laudable references noted here, as a means of distinction. If we should ever use such dubious sources again, know that it is under duress due to a specific exemplar of the intellectually disingenuous or ill-mapped decay we’re responding to, or a uniquely phrased citation that can’t be found anywhere else. No bovines, sacred or otherwise, were harmed as of this writing. Some may have been tipped, though.
On Motivation: ‘Some Assembly Required’
There are barriers to the levels of anti-intellectualism that a society can accept, many long breached. With memes propagating any number of “hot takes”, and erstwhile progressive “comrades” becoming nakedly complicit with corporate groupthink, we the public are rapidly approaching a tipping point. While fixing discourse on civil politics and journalism in general is well beyond our capabilities, forcing fandom’s general “median” back to the waters of sanity and clarity is not. To be clear, it’s a mess—the journalistic and cognitive equivalent of Diablo’s “Exploding Cow” level, but unamusing, for all the absurdity. The reasons to do so are threefold. First, an abundance of bad-faith actors infesting the water, from moguls and studios[ 1 ], to the collision of bigoted, exclusionary consumers[ 2 ] with unthinkingly programmed shills[ 3 ], dancing to the tune of hypocritical corporate pandering[ 4 ] [ 5 ] (drowning out the few rational analysis[ 6 ]), and the talking heads flooding the area[ 7 ] [ 8 ] with nonsense and disprovable bullshit. Secondly, there are the ramifications on an increasingly infantilized and tribal society[ 9 ] [ 10 ], which suits oligarchs just fine (especially as enabled by slam-pieces[ 11 ] eroding the value of constructive critique), but is contrary to the point of most speculative fictions, which were, in fact, aspirational. Third, and perhaps the most profound of reasons, is to remind the public of the purpose and utility of consumer outrage[ 12 ] [ 13 ]. It is our hopes that by these three-forked tines, that through this Triforce of Clarity, Reason and Conviction, that we can hope to assuage the defrayed and fragmented signal-to-noise ratio. As for “How,” that’s by utilizing the tools and resources that we have, that poseurs aspire to—diversity, integrity, and diligence. Perhaps we can restore a fair bit of perspective and dignity to the dilapidated Jerry Springer Show that is the current state of conversation, amidst the bovine flatulence.
‘Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’
So, why do this? This is a Herculean (some might say Sisyphean) amount of labor, and for no immediate windfall. Who asked for this? To answer that, some background is required. First and foremost, as we’ve seen with the modern political climate, social media, and more, non-engagement is an ineffective response to shameless profiteering and bad faith actors, let alone baffling, abjectly mind-boggling stupidity and goalpost shifting. The old adage of “Don’t feed the trolls,” while very chic and popular for the early days of YouTube and turn of the millennium-era internet, was woefully ill-equipped to deal with modern evolutions of trolling and the hordes of 4chan[ 14 ]. Non-Engagement just ensured that bad-faith actors—be they neo-fascists, corporate carpetbaggers, or social-capital seeking opportunists posing as “progressives”—all operated with impunity and annexed increasing portions of the cultural territory, to shift the Overton window, or consensus, from under those of us who knew better[ 15 ]. That’s not bravado— the scope of our contributors is not just wide, but deep, ranging from published authors, doctorates in science, to specific experts in their fields. From the linguistics major who’s penned a study in constructed languages, to the haunter and escape-room producer who explores modern forms of theater, to the working chef who’s examining the food anthropology of these fictional cultures… our staff and contributors are acutely qualified to speak on these matters. When confronted with the hordes of inept and indolent consumers willing to pedant in favor of the buckets of glurge foisted upon our society via feed-bag, it’s a remarkably poignant time to quell those trite misattributions to “appeal to authority” fallacy. There are, in fact, authorities on most of these topics (given the field of aesthetics dates at least as far back as Babylon). With that clarity, it’s often been said that one’s greatness is the measure of one’s opponents or enemies. Per Karl Popper, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance”[ 16 ]. Tolerance becomes a vehicle for those who preach intolerance, to metastasize any system, and destroy tolerance along with their victims. Ergo, the German thinker’s proposed Paradox. So, let’s take a look at that which we oppose, and why.
‘I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.’
The forces of anti-intellectualism range from click- and rage-bait vortexes for abject bullshit (flooding social media feeds with unsubstantiated rumor), to lazy and disingenuous studios slapping together works that tout “diversity” but treat the very stars they claim to uplift as chattel and “props” for their actual favorites. Then there’s something to be said for the regressive and mauvais faux amongst us, who pose as “enlightened” or “woke” but frankly, are merely engaging in neo-tribalism, not egalitarianism. It’s “I’m gonna get mine,” per Rowling’s position as “feminist,” while being caked in her sentiments as a “TERF”[ 17 ] [ 18 ]. What’s more, then there’s complicit “journalists,” such as the coalition of CIS Het White men who tried to claim Cyberpunk 2077 was transphobic[ 19 ], and scrutinizing the power dynamics of a black creative who’s been writing subversive fiction for over 30 years[ 20 ]. Enough is enough. The problem with moderacy is that it is slow to move, reticent to take bold stances against extremes, and tends to err on charitable engagements and giving benefit of the doubt. We have seen our society scuttled, and not for the first time, while previously on track to truly egalitarian distributions of wealth, better education, sustainability, and balance with our environmental impact. This is supplemented by “moderate” reactions, and general malaise to engage the unconscionably heinous, whilst failing to check excesses of claim-jumpers and frauds in our own ranks. The conversation has gotten away from us, and it’s time to speak up, over the cacophony.
George Bernard Shaw posited that the unreasonable man adapts the world around him to his preferences, rather than adapting to it. Thus, the sum of all progress has been the result of “unreasonable” men[ 21 ]. Looking about the intellectual landscape, with these corporate interests making big business of our pastimes and passions, and warping them into caricatures of their product identities, in tacky, ill-considered, and often laughable mockeries of the causes they claim to champion, we have allowed ourselves to turn a blind eye to the serpents amongst us. My friends, we have been colonized. Our very dreams have been commodified and fed back to us at a “healthy” markup. Our news cycles (if one can call them that) have been staggered and algorithm-ed and bleached of all substance, all in favor of these four different cancers upon the landscape—Four Horsemen of our Entropy of Standards. We face profiteering corporate dragons and bickering goblin Cults-of-Personality with competing echo chambers masquerading as “Social Justice,” the virulent cancer of the genuinely bigoted, as well as pedantic neckbeards who contort in mental gymnastics while entirely missing the point of these speculative fictions, railing against diversity of any variety, even works of exceptional craftsmanship.
Finally, of course, there are the apologists and reductionists, the ones that applaud “subverting expectations” sans any particular lesson or point, shamelessly promoting deification of youth and ghoulish acceleration of our generational cycles, IP holders abandoning prior constituents, mutilating any and all aspects of product identity in the mad dash for the mythical “new customer.” Immortan Joe and the other barons of Fury Road’s narrative would be proud. This has ranged from Anglicized white-washing of Khan Noonien Singh, the first prominent Indian character in sci-fi with agency[ 22 ] [ 23 ] and battering Star Wars into minstrel films[ 24 ] [ 25 ], to such hackneyed concepts as “Safe Space” and “Screentime” as “inspiring” new superheroes, with such origins as “internet gas”[ 26 ] [ 27 ]. These attempts at “diversity” are so transparent and tacky, that “it’s easy to … create characters that draw from harmful stereotypes or problematic misconceptions,” when one doesn’t do a modicum of research or have people from these demographics in the writer’s room[ 25 ]. The proverbial cherry on this latrine-fire, was the reduction of generations of Dungeons and Dragons’ lore and development to simply the racist conceits of Tolkien’s fiction, regardless of any development or growth by literally hundreds (if not thousands) of authors. This is all easily correctable without a massive, pandering marketing campaign whilst continuing deeply racist and skewed hiring practices. It’s a hypocrisy Zaiem Beg is not the first to expose, with roots that run deep, beyond “superficial changes,” as Deakin University’s Helen Young deems it.[ 28 ] [ 29 ]. As WotC has joked publicly about any excuse to add a new edition with prior product rollouts, the noted speed in doing so accelerating, their own production inconsistencies with this ethos and the open-secret that is complexity-creep does not fill savvy audiences with confidence[ 30 ] [ 31 ] [ 32 ]. What’s more, the ham-fisted implementation of these “progressive” policies, are as arbitrary Zuckerberg’s automated “community standards,” as Graeme Barber recently attests [ 31 ]. There’s a lot to shovel, in what Jon Stewart fondly dubbed “Bullshit Mountain.”
The Lay of the Land—Today’s Battlefield
When conservatives attempt to cite Rage Against the Machine in attempts to seem relatable, while being the essence of their lyrics, and FCC chairmen can caper on television, condescending to us while putting the free internet and civil liberties under attack, it’s easy to believe we are powerless. More so, as Zuckerburg and his ilk run circles around fossils in their congressional hearings, before resuming strip mining our society’s data. Our en masse exercise in cognitive dissonance is severe, and not disappearing anytime soon. Game producers, digital and tabletop, glut the market with ever increasing volumes of ‘add on’ product, then complain that this has unforeseen effects on balance, in order to push new expansions or editions, a perennial self-fulfilling prophecy of “complexity creep” [ 32 ] [ 33 ]. Even more damning is the ghoulish corporate appropriation, not only of our childhood pastimes and fantasies, but of our very political rhetoric and identity politics. When Disney, a mega-corporation worthy of Shadowrun and Cyberpunk, postures with flagrant, absurdly disprovable sentiments about their Star Wars debacle (“There’s no source material. We don’t have comic books. We don’t have 800-page novels. We don’t have anything other than passionate storytellers”), while short-changing the many authors who sustained and rebuilt the fan base, from its relative flat-line back in 1992, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.[ 34 ] [ 35 ]. The very fact that Ms. Kennedy, the same butcher responsible for Shymalan’s travesty to Avatar: The Last Airbender, is still granted oversight of these franchises, is a testament to white mediocrity, pontificating as “progressivism”[ 36 ]. Might as well hand your keys to the town drunk. Her tone-deaf praise of Patty Jenkins’ deeply problematic Wonder Woman 84, with its onscreen consent issues, is entirely on-brand for her performative stances[ 37 ]. In a true meritocracy, such serial incompetence wouldn’t be entrusted to serve a cup of coffee. Sadly, this corporate trend of “divide and conquer” with fandom, mischaracterizing critique of shallow endeavors as “impossible to please,” has become the norm. An examination of actual identity politics as curated by Fanon invokes the question, “‘Why do we look for recognition from the very institutions we reject as oppressive?”[ 38 ]. Fandom has become big-business, and tragic amounts of our fellow consumers will willfully turn a blind eye to corporate manipulations, just because the talking points “sound” appropriate, regardless of the net effects on these fictions, our society, or what the stars themselves have to say about it[ 39 ] [ 40 ].
It’s tempting to state this is strictly the province of Hollywood. However, even the source media is not immune to such manipulations. When the writer for Captain America vocally critiques the value in punching fascists, as he pens an excruciatingly tedious arc which sees Steve Rogers as a Hydra Sleeper agent, and when DC Comics can declare that (male) heroes don’t engage in oral sex, the boundaries of absurdity and hyperbole have shattered, like any delusions that most talking heads engaging this nonsense are doing anything other than stirring the pot[ 41 ] [ 42 ]. It’s time to speak up, not just against the polarized extremes as they’re spun into narratives, but also the lurking ne’er-do-wells and shitheels on the outskirts, both in the halls of power and culture-vulturing any bits of flotsam or whipped up frenzy they can, for their five seconds of relevance sans fact checking or any sense of integrity. Amongst all this is the increasingly dismissed notion that consumers have any say, whatsoever. While certainly fandom’s attempts to interject in its assorted industries have had a checkered history of late, there is still value in consumer response. Beyond abjuring ghastly potential distortions of the Sonic the Hedgehog film franchise[ 12 ], as well as salvation of select media from cancellation[ 43 ] [ 44 ], fandom declaring its distaste for perceived pandering to Nazis in tabletop gaming and comics, or flagrant, cartoonish grade misogyny, remain critical aspects of aesthetic review and public engagement with the arts[ 45 ] [ 46 ] [ 47 ]. There used to be not one, but several forums to engage such matters, between one’s local comic shops, the bars and salons we’d frequent following a play or movie, or the simple comfort of a local book club. The mass colonization of the Internet, both by mainstream newcomers and corporate giants worthy of classical Greek theater, has hammered these discussions of depth and nuances as flat and banal as the worlds they’d advocate are “unchanged” by their tampering.
‘That’s nice, buddy. But, how?’
So how do we do this? As previously stated, we extended our nets wide for a truly diverse cast of professionals. As a pastiche of varying races and ethnicities, religions, cultures, creeds, political affiliations (except fascists), if we do not speak up, we do not have a right to complain when others speak for us. As we see the commercialization of Juneteenth and other progressive forms of “appeasement” and homogenization/white-washing in real time, it falls to those of us who know better, whose fields and passions these topics and case-studies happen to intersect, to do the good work and clear our throats. “If you see something, say something” was a cliché of our youth. Well, we’ve been seeing quite a bit of bullshit, friends, and it’s long past time for us to cough. Per The Rum Diary’s Paul Kemp, “I put the bastards of this world on notice, that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage”[ 48 ].
It’s taken more than intestinal fortitude, but a deep vitriol for the mass-produced worship of schlock, to assemble this sophisticated beast, multifaceted and feature-rich as we intend. Thus, we took this as a solemn duty, to unpack, unkink and otherwise un-fuck the complete moral turpitude and ferrous corrosion on the very machinery of reason. To revive the cognitive gears on society’s long-slumbering intellect, through the very opiate that’s stupefied it, of all things, its recreation and “escapism.” Fandom was intelligent, once. These fictions were aspirational and inspiring, not only in saccharine, machined and focus-grouped ways, but actually inspired and prescient. Asimov, Tolkien, Roddenberry and more helped reshape this world. Their works thrust us forward, dated and imperfect as they were. Nudging us forward in ways they couldn’t have dreamed of, inspiring whole schools of thought which have pushed the boundaries, not only of the fictions that entertain us, but the very conveniences and services that curate our modern experience and employ many of us. Whole industries which have grown from pop-up stands to corporate pantheons in their own right.
We have it within us to individually and collectively strive, to be Starfleet. It is time to do so, and climb out of the dystopian muck and wreckage of Mordor. Should we be wary? Certainly; the potential for risk and the dangers are significant. But the possibilities, the potential for reclaimed knowledge, is equally great. For there is so much lost and buried knowledge to be had, just within living memory. Much as Kirk exhorted his crew in that infamous episode, over 50 years ago, “Risk is our business. That’s what this [Enterprise] is all about”[ 49 ]. So, let’s examine the cards, with a wary eye to the dealer, the plants in the audience, and the folks behind the cameras, slavering for our chips. Le jeu commence!
“The wasteland we find ourselves in is not one of alien invasion, climate disaster, nor post-apocalyptic nuclear fallout. At least, not yet. No, in this case our wasteland is a scarcity of intellect and attentiveness.” Tithi Luadthong. Shutterstock. “post apocalypse scene showing the man standing in ruined city and looking at mysterious circle on the ground, digital art style, illustration painting”, https://www.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/post-apocalypse-scene-showing-man-standing-1200949222.
“The fact is, that fandom didn’t go mainstream, so much as the mainstream became aware of, and colonized fandom. Which, when you think about it, plays very, very differently than ‘acceptance’.” Photobank.kiev.ua. Shutterstock. “group of tv zombie people”, https://www.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/group-tv-zombie-people-1402932974.
With decades in consulting and project management, and work at over two hundred events, Savan’s settled into his role as “war chief” to many tricksters. A former Wizards of the Coast employee, he lends his acumen to several endeavors. Between his role here as Editor in Chief, ongoing duties as founder and CEO of Steam-Funk Studios, work as the driving creative force for The Living Multiverse, and pursuing his next degree through Harvard, he does not lack for crusades or grail-quests.
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- George Bernard Shaw. Saint Joan. S.L., Clydesdale Pr Llc, 2020.
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