Madness descended upon the internet earlier this week when the Westworld showrunners stormed into a the /r/westworld subreddit for what proved to be one of the larger online pranks in recent history.
The gist of the prank was simple: the Westworld team announced that they would be spoiling the entirety of the show for the Westworld superfans. Their logic was that the fans of Westworld seem to love guessing spoilers, so they might as well have them all revealed in advance.
This was a clever stunt, a well-executed, but most importantly: the Westworld team had created a genius act of public shaming that should bring into focus the absurdity of many aspects of internet fan culture.
The internet loves a good fan theory. The trouble is, the phrase “fan theory” has started to go the way of words like content or hipster or artisan or any of the other words whose definitions are so vague, so all encompassing, that they have very little meaning at this point.
“Fan theory” is currently used as a descriptor for the following things:
A prediction for an upcoming storyline
Analysis of a character’s motivations
Analysis of a storyline
The dissection of a trailer and conclusions drawn from moments in said trailer
Explanation of subtext, predicated on the explainer failing to recognize subtext.
Recognition of dramatic irony or a plot turn before the reveal
None of the above should be considered fan theories, in the opinion of this blogger.
So then, you may ask, what the heck qualifies as a fan theory?
I’ve been trying to write this article for a while. Years. While I try to avoid listicles, I’ve found that, at times, they have their uses. These are my opinions and observations on what we talk about when we talk about fan theories, and what they are, and how we should talk about them.
No one has an agreed-upon definition for “fan theory.”
Fan theory is not listed on Urban Dictionary. It is not explained on Know Your Meme. Even the /r/FanTheories subreddit does not have any official stance on what makes a fan theory a fan theory.
This is largely because the phrase “fan theory” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Part of why I’m writing this is to reach some kind of definition and meaning, and to refute what I see as being inaccurate uses of the phrase.
A fan theory is a form of contemporary critical theory, in which the audience analyzes the text and creates a new interpretation that explains “what really happened,” creating a separate narrative aside from or within the narrative.
This is what I’ve come up with. I don’t know if it’s perfect, but I think it says a lot.
Now, more importantly, I’d like to explore both what makes a fan theory good and what makes a fan theory bad and what makes a fan theory not a fan theory. Part of this will include citing particularly good and bad fan theories.
A weak fan theory is anything that suggests “it was all a dream” or “the main character was dead the whole time” or any variation of this.
I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.
Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.
Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?
Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.
Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?
In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.
How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?
If you aren’t familiar with it, The Eric Andre Show is a post-modern talk show starring Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress, two comedians who are either parodying a late night show or trying to escape one.
In its description of the show, Hulu describes it as the “most manic and unorthodox late night talk show ever made,” calling Andre “inept and bipolar” and Buress “his apathetic co-host.” The AV Club says “what most distinguishes The Eric Andre Show is its disintegration.” MediaLife Magazine, in a furious review, calls it “slapdash, noisy, annoying and not funny.” IndieWire, in a review of its fourth season, calls it “some beautiful chaos.”
But the review that still haunts me and informs my entire viewing of the show is one on IMDB, titled Is This Comedy? The author, diesixdie, describes the experience of The Eric Andre Show with such troubling precision and insight that it has informed my view The Eric Andre Show ever since:
“We seem to be viewing some sort inescapable closed universe containing nothing but an endless slightly nightmarish talk show. It feels like a bad dream, half remembered. It feels like there’s some unspeakable horror lurking just off-camera that the people on-stage can see, but, we can’t, and they can only stay safe by pretending to ignore it.”
Those of you who have read this blog with any regularity will recall my True Detective review in which I offered a fan theory about the fate of Ross Geller’s son, Ben. It was a strange blog post, in that it ended up being a theory about a show I haven’t watched in years. The other strange thing about that blog post is that it got a lot of attention, showing up referenced or summarized on Entertainment Weekly, Hello Giggles, Cosmo, Redbook, Refinery29, and a series of other websites.
With Saul Goodman once again gracing our televisions as of last week, it’s a good time to reflect on Breaking Bad. Specifically, on its final episode, the polarizing finale entitled “Felina.”
Of course, many people loved the finale. But, on the other hand, there were those who found no satisfaction in it. Or, more accurately, they found no satisfaction because they found it to be too satisfying, too easy for both Walter White and his audience.
Unrealistic, people said. Too happy and too smooth, they said. The consensus of many seemed to be that the last episode had abandoned the realism of the show in favor of a (relatively) happy ending.
I do agree with one aspect of this criticism: we should not view the ending as being the true ending. But I think that there is a third way to view the finale. No, it wasn’t a dying fantasy of everyone’s favorite cancer-ridden drug dealer anti-hero. But no, it wasn’t “closure-happy” or “too easy” either. Continue reading “The Real Ending of Breaking Bad: No One is Okay”→
With the year ending, it’s time to write and reflect about something that I had never thought about until 2015: the Friends character Ross Geller, portrayed by David Schwimmer.
During August of this year, I wrote an article in which I suggested that perhaps Ross lost custody of his son, Ben Geller, in the later seasons of Friends.
Two strange things happened after this: this blog began to receive more traffic than it ever had before, as my theory was huff-and-posted across the internet during two mild waves of virality. My theory was often described as “heartbreaking,” which surprised me, granted that the entire theory was that Ross was an unfit father and disturbed man who deserved to lose his son, and that Ben still had two good parents even without Ross in his life.
After several waves of intermediate virality regarding a theory about Friends, this blog and its author have received some very entertaining feedback, through the legions of recappers, bloggers, and commenters that have thoughts and feelings regarding my suggestion that Ross Geller was an inept father who lost custody of his son. My initial response, when reading some of these, was to want to go out there and argue with people.
Instead, I remembered something important: haters are inevitably going to hate. As proven by the celebrities who read mean tweets about themselves, the best thing to do is laugh and shrug and keep doing what you’re doing.
So here are some of the rave reviews that I’ve received:
“…completely ridiculous.” – Michelle B, commenter on Huffington Post.
“What a waste.” – Sally K, commenter on Huff Post.
“….what a bunch of dribble….” – Patrise S, commenter on Huff Post.
“This is stupid.” – Jessica F S, commenter on Huff Post.
“Seriously? I think a hobby is needed…” – Melissa S-A, commenter on Huff Post.
“Anyone who spends this much time analyzing character on a comedy, yes – a fictionalized version of peoples lives, has way too much time on his or her hands. Do something productive!” – Lori M. H., commenter on Huff Post.
“He’s not a bad professor.” – Nait A. C., commenter on Huff Post.
“Waaaaay too much time on your hands” – Jay R., commenter on Huff Post.
“Way too much time on your hands. How many years ago was this show cancelled?” – Deborah B., commenter on Huff Post.
“Someone has way too much free time.” – Ephy K, commenter on Huff Post.
“Coming to all of these conclusions would be like arguing for statistics based on the frequency of extremely rare medical cases all occurring in Princeton-Plainsboro from House M.D. …” – Vadim B
“…maybe the child actor who played Ross’s son had to be somewhere else, like school.” – Ariel Karlin, someecards.com
“Or more likely, the boy or boys, playing Ben actually had some career success with Big Daddy and decided not to be on the show anymore.” – Joseph F.
“…smells of SJW…” and “This author has sympthoms of feminazi.” – Honza8D, on the Friends subreddit. (SJW, I learned, means “Social Justice Warrior.” Huh. Okay. Thank you!)
Now brace yourself for this one, because it’s long but it’s a good one:
“I just finished binge watching Friends from beginning to end on netflix, over the course of a few months. Friends had a lot of internal inconsistencies which indicate that actually it’s not a show where you should put a lot of effort into logically understanding. For example in one episode Chandler flies to Yemen and in the following episode (one week later) there is no mention of Yemen. It takes practically a week just to fly to Yemen and return. In another episode Joey’s eyebrows are destroyed and in the following episode, another week later, his eyebrows have returned to normal. This is a show that can be enjoyed for the wonderful acting and wonderful writing and jokes, but that is not a holy text to be understood through study and close analysis. It’s more like Gilligan’s Island, less like Lost. What is going on here is that Lovett has his own dead horses to beat, and is using old episodes of Friends to beat those horses.” – Peter J, commenter on Huffington Post.
Haters will hate
I’ll leave one response to all of this: over-thinking things is fun. Blogging is one of several fulfilling hobbies that I have, and a hobby I would recommend to all the angry internet commenters.
And to answer one more question I’ve gotten: No, I’m not much of a Friends fan. If you recall from the original post, I thought of this while watching True Detective, not because I watch Friends. I didn’t watch a single episode of Friends while writing this theory. I’ve never even seen most of the episodes. It took, from start to finish, about one hour to research this theory on Wikipedia and a few other sites, and another hour to crank out the original blog post, which has now been viewed by over 10,000 people. (My favorite recap of my theory is the one on Cinema Blend, because it’s the only one to consider my thoughts on True Detective and Ray Velcoro.)