Fandom has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and it feels like having your old neighborhood change around you. At first you think that the new shops and new residents are pretty cool, that things are getting better, but then you wake up one day and find yourself a stranger in a strange land. This street is where you grew up, but you don’t recognize any of the houses. The community you had is gone. I feel like many of the nerdy properties that I grew up with, that gave me comfort in hard times and that inspired me to take chances in my life, have been coopted by people I hate. And I find that all the cool people – the real nerds, the sensitive kids, the outcasts and weirdos and misfits – have moved to a new neighborhood where I don’t feel as comfortable. As the stuff I loved all my life has gone mainstream the real nerds have found ever more obscure niches to set up camp, places where they can keep being unique and obsessive without having to share space with the assholes who conquered Gen X fandom. I’m kind of jealous, and sort of wish I could get into Steven Universe, but them’s the breaks.
Devin Faraci on Ghostbros ruining his childhood.
This is only one paragraph in a much longer op-ed about asshole bigots ruining fandom, but I think it highlights something important. Because, for the most part, (Western) Millennial fandom–and, at 29, Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar both is a Millennial and creates content primarily for Millennials–looks very different to Gen X and, in particular, Baby Boomer fandom. There’s something in that, and it’s something I don’t see discussed very much.
Personally, I know my relationship with a lot of (again, Western) Gen X-era pop cultural products is… dicey. I find they’re often seeped with a kind of apathetic nihilism I find extremely off-putting; if you’ve ever heard me say I don’t like something because it “feels mean”, this is that. When it’s DARKER and EDGIER it’s DARKER and EDGIER and hopeless to boot. It can also often be extremely essentialist, in that you’re defined by what you are, not what you do; think Buffy‘s obsession with souls, for example, or the houses of Harry Potter.
Millennial cultural products, on the other hand, often retain the DARKER and EDGIER bent of their Gen X predecessors–for kids’ shows, things like Adventure Time and Steven Universe are dark af–but also seem more… hopeful. They’re absurdist; the universe is awful and uncaring and life has no meaning but what we imbue it with… so we may as well imbue kindness. This hope is something I’d argue is a remix of Boomer-era media–remember the first Star Wars is literally subtitled “A New Hope”–albeit with its own special twist. Millennial pop culture is also often more existential than essential; think the grey morality of Homestuck ((I know this is fudging a little; Hussie is technically a Gen Xer, though I’d argue that his fanbase is almost exclusively Millennial, and he’s a lot closer to them–and thus more responsive to their likes and dislikes–than most non-indie creators.)) or, like, the entire premise of Undertale.
Obviously, these are extremely broad strokes, and there are exceptions (Dan Harmon comes to mind), but… hmm. Something to ponder more, perhaps, particularly in the context of the causes of that tonal shift (I’d be listing “influence of anime/manga” and “videogames”, for what it’s worth).
Let’s be real, though: it’s never too late to get into Steven Universe.