Audience Terrorists Issue Demands

It shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the natural next step in the thought process of audiences that for the last two years have been demanding Warner Bros. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut and have been growing up online with tales of The Phantom Edit and YouTube trailer remixes for the last decade or more.

Now there’s a push for Disney to #ReleaseTheJJCut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a movement born of the notion that the studio somehow interfered with the director’s vision of the movie’s story. Notable is that the anger shifted from one position – that Disney wanted Abrams to incorporate more elements from the direction Rian Johnson had taken the series in with The Last Jedi – to one that holds Abrams was told to ignore as much of TLJ as possible. Whatever the case, these individuals are convinced that any issues with RoS’s sometimes muddled story stem from Disney not letting Abrams fully realize the *real* story he set out to tell, assured that if he had the final product would have been much more satisfying.

[Side note: It’s worth pointing out that the only Star Wars movie that hasn’t been plagued by stories of producer/studio interference is The Last Jedi, one that “fans” found unsatisfying, disrespectful to the franchise and otherwise problematic. So the problem isn’t actually with the studio or the filmmakers, but the cranky individuals who feel their years of buying action figures and comic books has earned them the right to dictate creative decisions.]

A sense of entitlement goes hand-in-hand with widespread feelings that are capable of doing it better, one resulting from nearly two decades of consumer-generated media. That environment is one that’s ripe for discontent, especially when social media platforms where those opinions are shared continue to be well-suited to turn small instances of outrage into big headlines because of their focus on engagement.

But one more thing is in play here. It’s not just that fans are upset that giant companies are creating products designed to be as safe and approachable by the largest possible swath of the public. It’s not just that editing and creation tools are easier than ever to use and so put more power in people’s hands to remix and remake as they like.

It’s that we live in the age of #PizzaGate and other widespread conspiracy theories.

Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence justified the unsanctioned killing of a high-ranking Iranian official by saying that individual was tied to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 despite a complete lack of evidence. And today President Donald Trump advanced the idea that Iran was planning to blow up the U.S. embassy in Iraq, something for which there does not seem to be any intelligence or proof. As he’s dealt with concerns over the killing of that official and the looming impeachment, Trump has spent an inordinate amount of time spreading conspiracy theories about his political rivals and others.

People believe in conspiracy theories for a handful of primary reasons, including the need to retain some control over their lives, maintain a positive self-image and to achieve some level of certainty, even if its illusory.

Those reasons should be familiar to anyone who’s been online, especially those sections devoted to movies and entertainment.

As Holden said in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: “This is a site populated by militant movie buffs: sad, pathetic little bastards living in their parents’ basement downloading scripts and what they think is inside information about movies and actors they claim to despise yet can’t stop discussing.”

There’s never any proof to any of these, but that doesn’t matter. The lack of proof become evidence of the power of those at the center of the conspiracy, who have once more killed a story that’s about to come out or silenced a key witness that could have blown the lid off the whole thing.

How long, one wonders, before Warner Bros. or Disney become the target of the anger of a true believe that has decided to take matters into his own hands?

We’ve seen it happen in other recent instances. At least one “PizzaGate” adherent was arrested after shooting up a Washington, D.C. pizza place, one alleged to have been part of the child sex trafficking ring at the heart of the conspiracy. Trump’s continued comments about media institutions being the “enemies of the people” have lead to repeated instances of threats and violence against newsrooms across the country. A woman who believed YouTube was actively restricting her channel’s growth shot three people at the company’s headquarters.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, of course. For decades people have thought NASA faked the moon landing or that a massive cabal of international players had John F. Kennedy killed. There are countless more examples. Director Oliver Stone has made a career of such ideas.

In this day and age, the conspiracy theories that circulate around blockbuster movies are driven by the same sort of “we have an inside source” thinking that was once the purview of AICN and other niche sites. The protests and petitions that crop up in the wake of such beliefs amount to demands issued by an insurgent militia, though, especially as they’re given increased attention and therefore credence by the entertainment press. “Give us what we want and we won’t hurt your next release” is the implicit message sent.

What we see in the political field is that catering to those individuals only emboldens them, making them into a group that must be taken seriously at the expense of all others. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why the small percentage of Americans who believe all Trump’s statements are still held up as a “base” that must be strengthened and appealed to by the opposition. And there’s no other reasonable explanation for why the disgruntled whiners who complain about super heroes becoming social justice warriors (a role they’ve played in print and other media for 80+ years) are viewed as a “core” audience whose tastes must be taken seriously.

Push them out. Ignore them. Let them stew in their anger and let history treat them as the non-factors they truly are. They see everyone as needing to serve them and will never be happy regardless of what changes are made.

They aren’t just terrorists, they are a splinter group of a terrorist organization whose power is solely derived from the attention paid to their manifestos. They should be treated as such.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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