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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

The Streaming House of Cards that Nerds Built

Toxic fandom shouldn't ruin the golden age of geek-friendly entertainment.

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WARNER BROS.
  • Warner Bros.

If you had told me 20 years ago that the biggest shows in the world would be streaming right to my house via the internet, I would have likely had some very choice and very skeptical words for you. If you had gone on further to say that there would be half a dozen streaming platforms, and they would be anchoring all of them with the geek fare of my dreams, I'd accuse you of teasing me. Maybe I'd do some light pouting, too.

But here we are today, with Disney+ propped up on the back of Star Wars and Marvel (in addition to its own impressive catalogue). Paramount+ played a new episode of Star Trek every week for a year. Amazon Prime produced the animated adaptation of the comic Invincible, and is staking its claim on the Lord of the Rings spin-off Rings of Power. Netflix capitalizes on the nerd nostalgia of Stranger Things and comic powerhouses like The Umbrella Academy. HBO Max is home to the entire DC Comics film oeuvre, old and new.

Are there downsides to this? As a consumer of all of this stuff who finds it to be catnip, I might be biased. I want all of this stuff. I want more Star Wars and Star Trek television shows. I want the experimental comics being made into streaming epics like Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I want these billionaire oligarchs to produce some of the richest filmed nerd art the world has ever seen. But is the monetization of geek enthusiasm something that's going to be worth it in the long term?

The larger geek culture grows, the more toxic elements infect it. Groups like "The Fandom Menace" and the harassing hordes calling for the initial release of the "Snyder Cut" of Justice League will get loud and angry, make YouTube videos to manufacture dissent, and monetize the minimal outrage. They'll decry anything as being too "woke" if it will drive

engagement.

It came as no surprise to find that these same people will pounce on products that haven't even been released, too. It came as a shock when Warner Bros. announced the cancellation of Batgirl, a planned HBO Max release that heralded the return of Michael Keaton as Batman and had costs of almost $100 million already. In an era of streaming, why not just release it there? I expect it will happen sooner or later; they won't just waste the movie. There's as much likelihood that WB wanted to put a loss on its balance sheet in 2022 for tax purposes as there is to the notion that the film is actually bad.

Unfortunately, the grifters are already taking a victory lap. They've produced videos with thousands of views already saying that this is a sign of things to come, and that Batgirl was canceled for being too "woke" (translation: with a Batgirl who isn't white). None of that is demonstrably true, but they're going to say it anyway, because it drives clicks.

If you ask me, the biggest problem with the current "geeks have inherited the Earth" streaming eco-system isn't that we're getting bad content. It's that these toxic con artists in the nerd community have more and more fuel to burn the whole place down with it.

There's nothing inherently wrong with geek-friendly brands serving up a major pillar of streaming content that drives subscriptions. For the most part, we gratefully consume the content, good or bad, and help propel it into the social consciousness. The problem is that any fandom of sufficient size will necessarily attract a small percentage of toxicity and folks decrying a more progressive societal view and non-lily-white casting decisions as though it's somehow a bad thing.

With the ubiquity of streaming services, plenty of folks are going to be watching the flagship shows on each service. With nerd culture fronting it, it's a foregone conclusion that there will be a larger percentage of jerks watching those shows. As long as we can accept the fact that these grifters are going to glom onto our entertainment and make the internet discourse

surrounding them a potential minefield—seriously, we're still at a point where any mention of how great The Last Jedi is has some of bad actors go to war, trust me—then we should enjoy what we have and accept the negative side effects. Because if it wasn't nerd culture leading the streaming wars, it would be something else that could be every bit as unbearable in this regard.

Those folks exist regardless of what's on TV. Let's just do our best to ignore them and enjoy our "woke" geek renaissance.