The Dark Tower And Toxicity In Modern Nerd Culture
Unless you recently fell off the back of a truck and hit your head on another truck on the way down, you’re probably aware that a certain movie has just come out, centered around a certain Dark Tower.
The production of this movie is one that has spanned years before finally reaching theaters. And following the controversial casting of Idris Elba as the iconic Roland Deschain, the Dark Tower movie has become one of the biggest hair trigger topics on the Internet, after politics.
To put it mildly, things have been difficult. Fans have been hostile and nasty, with name calling on each side. What should have been something for everyone to be excited for instead became a battleground upon which perished our sanity and our own better natures.
The development of this movie has seen a number of different casting choices and concepts. Remember back when we thought it was going to be Javier Bardem? With Ron Howard directing? It was a more innocent time back then, wasn’t it?
And if you’re worried that this is just some kind of apologist, pro-studio ramble, I do think they made a mistake marketing the film the way they did, knowing how many rabid Tower fans were out there. From the start, people were confused about what this movie was and what direction was being taken. When you say you’re making a Dark Tower movie, the fans are going to expect…well…a Dark Tower movie. They are going to want to see the books they love, adapted to film and all of their reactions will be refracted through that assumption.
And if Sony wasn’t willing to share with the world that the film they were making was essentially a sequel to the book series, they should have just kept the whole production under wraps, said nothing about it until just before release.
I will admit that this likely would have been impossible. In the digital, wireless age you can’t really keep anything secret, especially when you consider the massive amounts of people involved in a major motion picture. But just imagine for a minute what might have happened if they could have done that.
One week before release, the trailer drops. The Dark Tower, the movie. Idris Elba as Roland Deschain. Matthew McConaughey as the Man In Black. Brace yourself for what is essentially the eighth book in the Dark Tower series.
I think the reception for the film could have been substantially different. There would have still been complaining and protesting. This is the Internet, after all. But there would have been less time for the group of vocal protesters to turn into a village of torch-wielding warriors, set upon defending their childhood.
The controversy around the casting of Roland became incredibly hostile and all this has done is fester over the past year. And like trying to make a sandwich with a piece of moldy cheese that has been left sitting out, the final product can’t help but be damaged.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that anyone who opposed the casting was racist. Obviously that isn’t true. There were a lot of people who were pretty shitty about it though, who could provide no real reason why it mattered what Roland’s skin color was. I saw plenty of people who seemed convinced that the entire series hinged on whether or not Susannah could call Roland a honky. Because that’s a huge plot point.
Insert eye roll here.
What disappoints me the most about the Dark Tower movie is that I suspect it will end up being the greatest movie that hardly anyone sees this year. I worry that so much time and energy has been spent firing missiles into the side of this thing that it will be sunk before it even leaves port. There is going to be a huge contingent who won’t give this a chance and will scramble for any reason they can find to hate it.
And all of this again comes down to a dark side of nerd culture that I see, more and more often. Whether it be movies or comic books or video games, there are a lot of people out there who have made me embarrassed to love a thing in the first place.
There has been a trend of entitlement throughout the culture over the past few years that I have found disappointing, to say the least. Author Chuck Wendig recently coined a phrase to hdescribe the phenomenon that I think is on point, that what all this amounts to is weaponized nostalgia.
What you have is a group of hard-core, long time fans who have anointed themselves as the only “true fans”, not to be confused with the superficial ones who don’t really “get it”, who are just hopping on the cool bus.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a passionate fan. I understand how It feels to be emotionally connected with a franchise. When I read my first Dark Tower book, George Bush was the president. And I’m referring to George Herman Walker Bush. Bush senior. I think those of us who read along with the series as it was being written feel a special connection with the series because we kind of took the journey alongside Roland.
Still, despite your passion and your loyalty, there is one uncomfortable but essential point that we all need to square with.
Nobody owes you anything.
If you don’t like how a movie seems to be coming together, I’m genuinely sorry but your recourse is to simply not watch it. You don’t have the right to take up arms against it, recruiting as many people as possible in an attempt to vanquish the thing they dared to make in a way other than what you wanted.
I saw this in the online siege laid against the recent Ghostbusters film. How could this movie ever have had a chance when there was so much hysterical shrieking about it beforehand? If you aren’t happy about it, don’t watch it. Try and understand that some people out there might actually be excited for it and accept that your opinion is no more important than the next, regardless of how much you can amplify your voice. If you don’t like it, step aside, shut the hell up and make way for people who are actually enjoying the product in question.
Give people the freedom to like things, even if you don’t. This isn’t about you.
I saw it again in the reactions to Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath trilogy. I remember being excited when he got that gig, thinking about how awesome it would be to write a book in the Star Wars canon. Now? You’d have to pay me a lot of money to stick my hand into that hornet’s nest. This went beyond merely giving a bad review to a book. These guys were targeting people who dared to actually like it, trolling good reviews with reckless abandon. I had my review on Amazon nailed by a Troll for doing nothing more suspect than stating publically that I liked something. After a while, it was like it wasn’t even about Star Wars anymore and instead, the pop culture became just an excuse to air out every piece of dirty laundry out on the line. In this case, this was people who devoted their Internet access to rending their hair over the fact that some of the characters in the book were gay.
Same demon. Different triggers. Different manifestations. The ability to broadcast your thoughts instantly to the whole world has led some to spew out their negativity like a chemical weapon.
Has it been so long that we’ve forgotten our roots? Hasn’t this always been about having the freedom to be passionate about things that society might write off as childish or silly? Doesn’t all this absurd bickering go against the framework of what it is to be a nerd in the first place?
We should be spending our time and energy celebrating the things we actually love, not shitting on the things that we, in our all-great wisdom have deemed to be “wrong”. Speaking for myself, I am so completely sick of hearing the same old refrain of, “They’re ruining my childhood!”
No. Actually, your childhood is right there where you left it. The books are still there on the shelf. Just because the movie made some changes or went in a different direction it doesn’t mean that your childhood experience gets wiped away like Marty McFly from a Polaroid.
It’s okay to not like things. It’s okay to talk about the things we don’t like. But it has to come from a place where you understand that you can’t be the participant and the referee at the same time. You don’t get to be the gatekeeper, defining what should and shouldn’t be done with the product. You are the same as all other fans and there’s no such thing as real fans or fake fans. Stop using that kind of language. Sometimes you get the movie you want. Sometimes you don’t.
The Internet went bonkers over a Dark Tower movie despite knowing nothing about it. And again, it’s happening despite not knowing what plans might be for future films. I wish more people could have had an open mind about this movie because it’s actually really entertaining. But you need to have an open mind. You need to see this as a new exploration into a universe that you love. If you’re just sitting there in the theater, arms crossed as you are on the lookout for all the things they “get wrong”, it won’t work for you. A lot of people either won’t go to see this or won’t release themselves into the necessary frame of mind. And it truly is their loss.
I don’t know where to find the path that leads us out of this hole we’re in. Maybe nerd culture needs to slink back into the shadows and let jocks sit at the top of the mountain again for a while. Then maybe we can be in a place where we can feel free to like things again, outside the scrutiny of the entire planet. Maybe then, the culture we claim to love so much doesn’t become an arena for you to prove how much better you are than the rest. Maybe we could even start treating each other like people again.
All I know is that something has to change. They won’t let us have nice things for much longer if we keep this up.
It isn’t that hard. It’s called having manners. Give it a try.