Westworld is Fan Culture Going Awry.

No really. Glasses down nose= robot I kid you not

Some of these aren’t even made up.

I’ve been sort of reminded of the Flobots There’s a War Going On For Your Mind as of late, but not because of silly unimportant things such as government propaganda or the corruption of news media, no more important than that: TV show subreddits!

Reddit is the place to be for TV show discussion. The perfect example is the two mammoth subreddits just for Game of Thrones. Both are jammed full of weird fan theories, book and TV news, artwork and of course very, very angry posts about the new book not being out yet. When the shows are on air, the subreddits churn out vast quantities of content: Pre-episode predictions, live episode reactions, post-episode discussions, post-post-episode discussions. They are weapons of mass discussion, tearing apart each moment of every episode and extrapolating each line, promotional image and vague tweet that may hint towards the future giant game-changing spoilers that many commenters are also, paradoxically, desperate to avoid. Game of Thrones isn’t alone, though- you’ll find a subreddit for every show you could imagine. Even Firefly, a show that finished years before reddit was even coded still has an active, lively subreddit that exists in a state constant mourning, populated with people clinging to the false hope that one day the show will return (with Wash alive of course).

Most recent lamb to the slaughter HBO’s Westworld and boy oh boy is it a doozy! The show, for the record, is great and I’d highly recommend giving it a watch. Typical of HBO, it has incredible production quality, an interesting concept, and some compelling storylines to keep you coming back each week. All things that made me love LOST all those years ago, but I know saying that can be a turn-off for as many people as it is an endorsement. Incidentally, the problem with Westworld, or more specifically the fandom emerging around it, has a lot to do with LOST though and the environment and culture that it created (or at least helped fuel). Specifically, I can trace the beginnings of this back to one of the earliest examples of fan obsession run amok: LOST’s fan-run wiki, Lostpedia.

LOST aired from 2004 to 2010, starting during my first year of high school and finishing a few weeks before I left. I followed that show religiously through school and despite its many, many faults it holds a special place in my heart all these jaded years later. I would spend hours trawling through message boards, forums and of course LOSTpedia, reading theories and looking for answers to near stream of questions and mysteries being introduced in every episode. Looking back, I really should have realised that the writers were never going to be able to (or probably ever intended to) flesh out and answer the mountain of questions introduced over the years. Even up until the last few minutes of the very last episode I was still naively clinging to the hope that Jack or someone was just going to suddenly get some Matrix-esque injection of knowledge regarding every unanswered question on LOSTpedia and end the episode explaining where that glass eye came from, or why the Smoke Monster can’t cross lines of ash? Or perhaps most importantly, who was the all-important Waving Figure on the DVD menu screen!? As you may know, that never happened. In the end, Jack had a decent fight with Not-Locke, he died and a dog found him, everyone kind of went to heaven and Hurley became the islands sloppy-seconds ruler in a kind of “oh I guess you’ll do” selection process.  But what LOSTpedia came to represent was a popularisation of online mass discussion, collaboration, and fan theory culture, of meta-analysis and the ‘picking apart’ of modern shows that is now the norm. For every hour-long weekly Game of Thrones episode, I probably read, watch and listen to ten times that in analysis and discussion, podcasts, reviews and discussion threads before the next Monday morning fix. Is this a problem? As much as I disliked at first the Netflix practice of simply “dumping” new series all at once to binge on for a couple days straight, I do find myself judging these shows a little less and enjoying them more without as much pressure and expectation on each individual episode. I very much doubt I would have liked Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Daredevil nearly as much as I did if they were subjected to the intensive scrutiny, reviewing and nit picking that follow more conventional weekly TV series nowadays. Case in point: The War of the (West)Worlds.

You see, Westworld‘s subreddit is currently in a state of open combat. Dividing lines are being drawn between the radical ‘Timerliners’ and conservative’Linears’. It’s a messy civil war between super fans: brother versus brother, persecution and passive aggressiveness in every corner, screencaps and misquotes abound as two sides fight to decree their side as right and answer the ultimate question of the moment: does Westworld take place in multiple timeframes or not?! 

Whoever wins the Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Whoever wins the great Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Well, of course, the answer is really who cares, it doesn’t matter and we’ll probably find out sooner or later so just enjoy the damn show, but that doesn’t really fly when it comes to online discussion. There are dozens of posts now arguing back and forth about who is right AND which characters or events interact to prove or disprove the various theories. The problem here is that the rabid way the argument is taking over discussion of the show can only lead to toxicity within the community- there is never now going to be a resolution to this plotline that people are going to be satisfied with. Personally, I think we might be seeing parts of Westworld take place in the past and in the present (or… future? Sci-fi and all), but I’m not really holding it to much other than the way certain scenes have been constructed and a general feeling. Now if this turns out to be true (and there’s no guarantee that it will) can you imagine the impassioned fans who have sworn up and down that this cannot be, that have made graphs and videos and charts disproving it, will simply roll over, throw up their hands and admit a mistake? Oh no, it’s going to be the shows fault- be it bad writing, misleading editing, sloppy directing or a host of other complaints to justify the insane idea that they could get something wrong. I’m not just pulling this out of the air- it’s only because we’ve seen this so many times before, be it on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Arrow, Mr. Robot or countless other shows under the scrutiny of the fanatic magnifying glass. And we’re just going to see it again (hint hint Ricky and Morty season 3)

Theories are fun, Tv show discussion is fun and having a central online hub to share jokes and observations with other fans can be one of the best things about modern TV and the internet in general. But there’s a danger of getting too far down the rabbit hole here. There’s never going to be a way to please everybody, but the churning out of theories, ideas and analysis of TV shows only sets expectations far too high and the potential for disappointment far too likely. And the shows suffer for it too. I’ve long suspected Mr Robot’s lackluster second series and Sherlock’s piss poor third series partly a result of the dangerous influence of ‘fandom’- pandering to a fanbase and veering away from what people loved about a show in the first place. When we have ‘fans’ furious at a writer for not rushing out his magnum opus, or arguing over theories and madcap ideas and getting disappointed when they don’t pan out, or trawling through trailers, production leaks and casting calls for every last dreg of information before becoming somehow disappointed with the final product, you need to take a step back. I think LOST changed the face of TV, but I think it was LOSTpedia and the fandom that changed the face of how we consume TV shows, and I don’t think it was necessarily for the better.

If you’re still in the mood for reading, here a great article along the same lines (and probably put much better): Why trying to guess every plot twist in Westworld before it happens is the worst way to watch TV

And here’s the end to LOST, because it’s incredible. Please go watch LOST.

Tears in my eyes, man. Everytime.