This post is part of Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative.
Like a lot of people, I like the show Black Mirror. I enjoy watching it, even when it’s overly dark or predictable or not quite as smart as it thinks it is.
But if there’s one episode of Black Mirror that I have a particularly hard time with, it’s the fourth season’s “Crocodile”. My frustration is not over the bleakness of the episode, nor the the violence.
Sure, it’s a bleak and brutal episode: by the end of it, central character has murdered four people, including a child. But that’s okay. It’s Black Mirror and Black Mirror is a brutal, unapologetic show. At least half the episodes end with an escalation into hopelessness, fueled by technology and desperation.
This post is part of Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.
During a recent viewing of The Departed—a film I saw twice in theaters, have blogged about before, and have seen somewhere between 10 and 1000 times—something occurred to me. Something I hadn’t considered before. A question that seemed unanswered.
That question is this: was Staff Sergeant Dignam normally a nice guy?
“Maybe. Maybe Not. Maybe Fuck Yourself.”
This fan theory’s origin rests in one simple, throwaway line delivered by Alec Baldwin as Ellerby. The line occurs around the 25 minute mark. Baldwin delivers it at the end of a briefing scene, during which Dignam insults a team of cops investigating Frank Costello, including the resident FBI agent who is cooperating on the case.
At the end of the conversation—after insulting the FBI agent, the entirety of the room, Ellerby and Ellerby’s wife—Dignam departs on the line that “…feds are like mushrooms. Feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.””
Baldwin’s subsequent line in this scene is the following, referring to Dignam after Dignam leaves the room:
“Normally, he’s a very, uh, nice guy. Don’t judge him from this meeting alone.”
This post is part of a new series called Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.
One of my favorite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 2017’s Spiderman: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man). While I haven’t yet seen the new Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse animated film, its release did inspire me to re-watch Spider-Man: Homecoming… which, in turn, inspired a new, minor fan theory.
A Radically Condensed Summary of Spider-Man: Homecoming
Part of the film’s appeal is its relatively simple narrative. Unlike most Marvel films, it contains only two superheroes and a straightforward coming-of-age plot. There’s no convoluted storyline, no over-elaborate villain backstory, no shoehorning-in of extraneous characters. It doesn’t even bog itself down with an origin story or a montage dedicated to learning superpowers.
The plot is, more or less, this: Peter Parker tries to a) be his friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and stop a bad guy from doing some bad things b) impress a girl at school and c) impress Tony Stark enough to join the Avengers.
He succeeds in all three, to varying extents, enough so that the film ends with Tony Stark inviting Parker to the Avengers headquarters in upstate New York and giving him a “welcome to the team” speech. Said speech ends with one of the better lines Stark has had:
There’s about fifty reporters behind that door. Real ones, not bloggers. When you’re ready, why don’t you try that on [gesturing to a new Spider-Man suit] and I’ll introduce the world to the newest official member of the Avengers. Spider-Man.
It’s a great line, both because it’s very fitting for Tony Stark and because of, well, the degree of truth to it.
The controversy you missed because only bloggers care
This post is the first in a new series called Fan Theory Fridays, in which we will share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.
I thought I hated Home Alone.
So when a friend invited me to attend a matinee viewing of it at the new Parkway Theater in south Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure whether to accept. The idea of watching the film did not spark nostalgic giddiness or ironic snark, but more a sense of nameless dread that I would be trapped in a dark room for two hours with a swarm of squirming children and a few of my fellow childless buddies, wondering why we had thought this a good idea.
Of course, despite my dread, there were a few reasons I went. Namely: my friend had already bought the tickets and he assured me it would be “more hipsters than children”. That, and as he reminded me, “it’s a John Hughes movie with Joe Pesci, John Candy, and Katherine O’Hara in it.” Finally, I’m currently writing a novel partially set in the ‘90s and I thought it would be good to subject myself to a forced trip down memory lane.
Here’s the thing about Home Alone: I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a much better film than I remember it being and probably a better film than you remember it being. The plot structure should be taught in film school. The performances are sublime. The John Williams soundtrack is masterful.
There was, however, one thing that threw me off about the film: it was both much darker and more vaguely supernatural than I recalled it being.
I remembered the bed wetting subplot but had no memory of Kevin’s uncle calling him “a little jerk” or the objectively bad parenting that resulted in Kevin being left home alone in the first place. I remembered John Candy’s role as a polka king but had forgotten his haunting story about forgetting his own child in a funeral home for an entire day.
I remembered the scary old man and Buzz’s tall tale that he was a murderer or something. I did not remember that his name was Old Man Marley. I did not remember his story about being estranged from his son. I didn’t even remember him serving as a Deus Ex Machina, arriving to save Kevin from what would have been certain death at the hand of two bumbling crooks who, in the film’s final moments, escalate from cat burglars to attempted child murderers.
While Home Alone is indeed better than I remember it, that’s not what I’m writing about today.
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.
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.