This is The Strange Juxtaposition

You’ve heard about the Great Resignation, but quitting your job is just one way that throwing in the towel can be a great way to get ahead. This story is part of a Men’s Health series on how real-life quitters became winners—and how you can join them.

 

THERE ARE TWO vivid memories that have come to define my relationship with Star Wars: In one, I’m a kid, running around my house with a wrapping paper cardboard tube, playing lightsaber fights with my dad. In another, I’m getting harassed and threatened by legions of anonymous toxic Star Wars fans on the Internet. This is the strange juxtaposition that Star Wars occupies in my life—where this sci-fi saga has given me moments of joy and also bizarre and disturbing unpleasantness.

 

So earlier this year I decided to quit tuning into whatever might be happening in the latest prequel, sequel, or spin-off from that galaxy far, far away entirely. It was painful, but I went cold turkey. I stopped watching the films, I gave up on the shows, I quit browsing fan sites, and reading or sharing on social media or message boards. And then a strange thing happened: You could say a new force awakened within me.

 

But first let’s talk about the depth of my devotion: Yes, I grew up with Star Wars. I watched the movies for the first time as a kid on VHS tapes–fast-forwarding through that Leonard Maltin interview with George Lucas every single time. I played the video games. I read the books. I built, smashed, and rebuilt the Lego sets. I dressed up as a little Han Solo for Halloween. And I’m sure my parents still don’t have the heart to throw out all my old action figures. For me, Star Wars was my gateway into the world of sci-fi, which evolved into my love of reading fiction, of watching movies, and writing. These characters have felt like friends and family—even if they sometimes only communicate in bleeps and bloops.

 

I was just a kid when the prequel films came out between 1999 and 2005. These were the early days of Internet discourse, and as a nine-year-old, I hardly took note of how other fans reacted to these films. Sure, even as a kid I had my complaints, but there was still podracing! Lightsabers! The Force! I loved them because I loved Star Wars. I didn’t care what someone else had to say about them, and had no intention of sharing my opinion online (I was busy using the computer to die of dysentery on the Oregon Trail).

 

But, between the final prequel film in 2005 and the Disney reboot in 2015, I grew up, the Internet grew more demented, and Star Wars transformed into something else entirely. Disney has since released five Star Wars movies and four TV shows in the last seven years. And certainly, with so much content so fast, the quality has been inconsistent at best. But, fandoms are bigger and more vocal than they were in the fledgling days of the Internet. They’re also meaner.

 

“While the anonymity offered by online platforms can allow genuine interaction, it can also provide a sense of invulnerability which allows people to attack each other in a way many would not if face to face,” says Lynn Zubernis, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at West Chester University who studies fandom.

 

I followed the drama, the news, the leaks, the theories, the outrage, the culture wars, and polarization over the last seven years of Star Wars fandom. In general, I still believe that the majority of Star Wars fans are normal, reasonable people who want to engage with others who love this series. But as is the nature of online culture today, the voices of nice people are often drowned out by a minority of loud assholes. Racist, misogynist Star Wars fans harassed and abused women and actors of color who appeared in the new movies. They spewed hatred everywhere. And because I grew up to be a pop culture critic who often wrote about Star Wars, anonymous trolls attacked me too. They found my Instagram and threatened myself and my partner. They made lengthy YouTube videos detailing why I’m the “king of ass-hats.” They made actual websites dedicated to unhinged conspiracy theories that I was secretly getting bribed by Disney. note: Murder on the Nile Movie

 

That’s the trade-off that can happen with modern fandom, and it bleeds over into the Marvelverse, Potterverse, and even Bachelor Nation: In theory, any gathering of people who share a like-minded interest should be a safe space with a sense of community and belonging that can boost self-esteem, and encourage creativity, Zubernis says. But the growth of fandoms on social media throughout the 2000s have also “made bullying and harassment both easier to undertake and more public than ever before.”

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