Pop culture fandom is an interesting beast. The public discourse, examining the minutiae of today's pop culture franchises is, at once, something wonderful and engaging. At the same time it can be overwhelming and potentially fraught. There are a lot of competing interests in this most particular of realms. Competition for attention, competition for ideas and competition for a kind of supremacy of influence over the fandom of a franchise.
In the past week, I have observed a disturbing discourse in an area of Star Wars fandom that illustrates a gross misunderstanding of the love of the franchise.
It all begins with a bumper sticker.
(image credit: Steele Saunders.)
When Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens burst onto cinema screens in December 2015, heralding the return of the much loved franchise, Star Wars fans were elated with the cinematic triumph. In the three years since it was announced by Lucasfilm that Star Wars would be returning to the screen, fan communities - already energized with anticipation and reveling in the pre-release fervor that traditionally accompanies a Star Wars film - responded to the return of Star Wars with an outpouring of gratitude and renewed vigor that fed into their various communities. Once again, Star Wars had become a part of the pop culture consciousness.
In the aftermath of the release, conversations, fan theories, debates and discussions took place that actually made social media something worth engaging with again. The discourse was (and is) lively, it attracted new fans to the franchise and it opened up opportunities for people to connect with like minds and enhance their love for Star Wars.
Sure - at times, the conversations and fan theories, have taken on a life of their own - a life as big and as bold as the franchise itself. People, understandably, get excited and they want to express their point of view. That's okay. It's a part of being a pop culture fan. Except when the discussion becomes fractious.
The viral meme "Your Snoke Theory Sucks", the brain child of Melbourne comedian Steele Saunders was born out of the fervent discussion around who the chief antagonist in the new Star Wars trilogy might be.
(image credit: Steele Saunders.)
Designed as an affectionate "dig" at the sometimes over-blown discourse over a character that is designed to be intentionally ambiguous, "Your Snoke Theory Sucks" encourages fandom to have a laugh at itself and, perhaps, to take a little hot air out of the Snoke debate. It has become a viral meme, a bumper sticker, a T-Shirt and a key to one of the most welcoming communities of fandom I've ever been in.
Let me explain this.
Australians are known for their sense of humor. It is laconic, insightful and it is generally built on a healthy foundation of affection. We often express our love for something with a kind of back handed compliment - with a wink and a smile whereby we trust in the intelligence of others to interpret our real intent and acknowledge it with a cheeky tap on the nose that says "I see what you did there."
"Your Snoke Theory Sucks" is a perfect example of this kind of laconic humor. It is not malicious nor intended to be a serious put down of anyone. In fact, it has contributed to the discussion of fan theories around Supreme Leader Snoke. And it has found favor across Star Wars fandom - even crossing over into the Star Wars production community itself with notable figures such as Episode 8 director Rian Johnson and Ahsoka Tano voice artist Ashleigh Eckstein getting in on the fun.
(image credit: Lucasfilm.)
But some in the Star Wars fan community have taken exception to the meme, misunderstanding its intent and they have attacked the creator with accusations of bullying and gate keeping. They have failed to see the affection with which "Your Snoke Theory Sucks" has been delivered and they have refused to engage in a discussion about the intent of the meme. Instead, they have pursued an argument that aims to divide and alienate.
Steele Saunders is one of the most engaging and welcoming Star Wars fans I've had the pleasure to meet and interact with. Through his podcast "Steele Wars" and his associated social media presence, Steele has fostered a community of inclusion and engagement where people are free to express their love for Star Wars and debate, respectfully, the minutiae of Star Wars culture. Steele has opened me up to a community of fans who are among the most likable, loyal, friendly and engaging I've ever met and we're all indebted to Steele for facilitating our connection.
And we get the joke.
We get what "Your Snoke Theory Sucks" really is. It has become a means of connecting, of coming in through the doors of Star Wars fandom and it encourages us to not take ourselves too seriously. It is a love letter to Star Wars by fans, for fans.
I feel sad for those who don't get it.
Connect with the Steele Wars Star Wars fan community here.