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Jeff Simon: When voters and audiences give way to 'fans'

Jeff Simon

I know how "Avengers: Endgame" ends. I know who's alive and who's dead.

It's not because I've already seen the movie. I'm going to see it Friday at the North Park Theatre when one of the screenwriters – family friend Chris Markus – shows the film and talks about it.

I know what's what because it's all online. I hasten to say I don't in any way think my visual experience of the film has thereby been "spoiled."

I know what happened at the end of Sunday's 82-minute episode of "Game of Thrones," too, even though I only made it through 45 minutes of watching it Sunday. By then I was so offput by the unrelenting visual murk of the Battle of Winterfell that I thought I'd leave it up to my DVR to pay rapt attention so that I can pick it up sometime when I'm not bored out of my skull.

It's crucial to note, in all fairness, that my "Thrones" boredom isn't at all universal. What can I say? I much prefer "Billions" for my Sunday continuing narrative. Social media brought others' discontent with "Thrones" to the fore, but so, too, were there plenty of those who wanted the world to know that episode three of this season of "Game of Thrones" was the Greatest Episode of Any TV Show Ever.


OK, I'll grant that for the show's regulars the fate of the ignorant army that clashed by night (thank you, Matthew Arnold) was discussed at learned length online by the Hollywood Reporter, which listed all of the dead and ailing practically down to their sprained toes.

I must admit the show's concluding twist of fate was a doozy for regular "Thrones" watchers, but then I'm not a regular. I am, in general, just not a multi-installment big saga kind of guy, whether they take place in Narnia or Middle Earth or a Galaxy Far Far Away.

I'm sometimes content to watch long series of TV shows and movies, but don't ask me to  care whether or not the mutilation in season four, episode five is a betrayal of what was telegraphed around the blacksmith's forge in season two, episode six. I just don't give a fig.

Please understand, I like fans. A lot, whether they're for sports, blockbuster movies, premiere cable TV shows or popular music. They're the economic backbone of so much in an era that has turned everything possible into huge, money-gobbling spectacle – including cable TV news and, yes, politics.

I have always liked kids and always will. I'm not intrinsically offended by immature humanity. I reserve the right to have my own immaturities, thank you. My daughter is grown now with a 9-year old of her own, but I well remember when she was a kid. What everyone knows who ever had a child as merrily social as mine is that you'll sometimes have houses full of them. I always loved their liveliness, their humor and their loyalty to each other.

But we've got to remember one of the most basic and telling facts about the English language: "Fan" is short for the word "fanatic." Running society for the benefit primarily of fanatics, is a way to, at the least, condemn everything to immaturity.

I do understand those who want to avoid all "spoilers." What I'll never sympathize with is their bullying the rest of us over what we can say and what we can't. The world I prefer to live in is the one where adults speak to other adults (and interested young people) in adult language about adult things. The world, it has always seemed to me, should be run for our benefit and not for the benefit of fans who want ball scores and TV plot surprises kept secret until each individual fan is jolly well ready to experience it in "real time." Let them arrange their lives to have what they want and let the rest of us talk as we want.

I do not recklessly reveal endings and major movie and TV plot points and never have. It's an elementary courtesy to a work under discussion in its earliest stages. On the other hand, Darth Vader is Luke's father and Romeo and Juliet don't live happily ever after in Oswego, so let's not be ridiculous about when plots become common knowledge.

What is happening behind all this in the digital era has, in fact, become a huge subject outside of mere cultural etiquette. Here is what Matt Zoller Seitz – the movie and TV critic who runs the Roger Ebert site, has written recently about "Avengers: Endgame."

"It represents the decisive defeat of 'cinema' by 'content.'

"The word refers to a piece of entertainment that can be delivered any number of ways, and that's defined less by its story, characters, source material, or presentational medium (cinema or TV) than by its brand identity (Marvel), its corporate parentage (Disney), and its ability to get hundreds of millions of people talking about it all at once, inducing such a state of excitement that they'll implicitly threaten harm against anyone who 'spoils' the movie by discussing anything besides how much they loved it. (In one case, the threat was more than implicit: a Hong Kong moviegoer was beaten up outside a theater showing 'Endgame' for loudly discussing plot details.)"

I'm sorry, but out of control fandom is no way run a world, whether it's after a British soccer match or a Hong Kong movie premiere.

It's bigger than that, as Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, recently wrote about presidential elections:

"The candidate who won would be the one who built grassroots support in Iowa and New Hampshire, ignited it in December, and rode a triumphant narrative into quickly locking up the nomination. Those were the 10 presidential campaigns, give or take, dominated by what that era called the mainstream media.

"And one of the reasons the political press got Donald Trump so wrong is that his campaign didn’t work like that. When we saw his early polls, we thought he was the flavor of the month. But he was the flavor of every month, of every day. His support grew and grew, and his supporters weren’t just trying the idea out: They cleaved to him more tightly. His support didn’t rise and fall. It snowballed."

New movement politics, writes Seitz:

"... look less like old presidential campaigns than like social media fandoms: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Drake, and the Marvel Universe don’t come and go. They’re eternal, as long as their protagonists provide a steady stream of content and mutual affirmation to growing groups of supporters. This is a snowball, not a narrative."

A 21st century voter won't be what our founders thought citizens should be, but a "fan" instead.

The silliness of it tickles all of us when lovers of our favorite teams dress like cowboys or walruses or platypuses and whoop it up in crowds or at tailgate parties. As long, that is, as they don't live next door when you need someone to babysit your 2-year old so you can pick up your 6-year old at school because he just fell of the jungle gym in the playground.

You don't want those fans, in full regalia, doing news conferences in Washington, either.

You just want the majority of those fans to turn themselves back into audiences, so that grown-ups who like to talk to other grown-ups about grown-up things can do so unfettered.

And "unspoiled" by those spoiling grown-up communication.

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