2016 was a year of many changes for me, but none were as shocking to me as my altered relationship with pop culture and fandom.
Up until this year, I was one of the biggest pop culture connoisseurs that I knew. In fact, I used to pride myself on how much pop culture I could consume. It was a large part of my identity.
Whenever anyone talked about how many shows they’d watch per week, I’d always low-key brag about averaging 15-17 shows a week and would enjoy the stunned looks on their faces. Those looks alone gave me a sort of feeling of accomplishment that I just couldn’t find elsewhere.
In addition to watching (and keeping up with) an insane number of TV shows, I’d also see popular movies right when they were released and read about a book a week. This is all in addition to soaking up as much TV and movie news as possible. Over the years, my friends would come to know me as a pop culture knowledge database and pretty much get their news from me.
In other words, pop culture was my life. It had been since I was a child and my savvyness peaked at the end of 2015. Pop culture was my lifeline when things in my personal or work life would go sour. I had Hypable, a packed TV calendar, a Netflix account, and a constant stream of exciting movies to see. What more could I want?
But two things happened at the end of 2015 that would impact my 2016 more than I could’ve predicted:
- I decided that I wanted to finally quit my job and go on a trip through Europe (and I’d actually follow through with it).
- For the first time in my life, I experienced fandom fatigue and pop culture overload.
I’ve always been someone who played it safe and planned ahead, so to not really know what was going to happen in my future and where I would be by the end of 2016 was terrifying. And yet, because of my (self-diagnosed) fandom fatigue, I couldn’t really turn to my pop culture comfort food because I just didn’t really want it.
Of course, time marched on and 2016 arrived. My fandom fatigue slowly cleared up and I wouldn’t have to really face the life decision I made for myself until the summer. Things were slowly going back to normal for me. (Or so I thought.)
Going cold turkey on pop culture
Fast forward to the beginning of July. I left my job of three years and was getting ready to go on the trip of a lifetime: A month-long tour of Western Europe. With a group of 33 strangers. While I had a few of your typical fears (ie. “Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?” and “What if I end up hating all of the people on my trip and spend a month alone?”), I was also afraid of missing out on any important pop culture news. So I did what any sane person would do: I set up a Google doc for my closest friends to drop news story links into while I was away.
Mind you, I had been planning to create this Google doc for months. It wasn’t a last-minute inspired idea. It was premeditated. After all, I was basically throwing my entire life into chaos and couldn’t bear to lose my lifeline too.
From July 8 to August 6, I traveled all around Western Europe with my EF College Break group, checking my Google doc whenever I had downtime. However, because I was in Europe, scanning the Google doc became more of a habitual thing rather than a compulsion. I didn’t even really check my social feeds as much as usual (which was quite a change for me considering that I basically lived on Twitter). I was surrounded by amazing places and people and didn’t really need much else beyond that. When I noticed my declining interest in pop culture news, I just chalked it up to being on vacation.
But then when I came back, an odd thing happened: I couldn’t bring myself to power up my computer or open my social media apps on my phone. It just wasn’t something I wanted to do. I wanted to be outside exploring and living in the moment. My technology couldn’t give that to me. So, my feeds went practically unread for another full week (on top of the four I had been out of the country). Sure, I pushed out personal updates and musings, but I didn’t consume anything. Again, I just chalked up my mood to my post-trip depression. I’d be better in no time.
But I wasn’t. Sure, I didn’t stay away from social media for too long, but I didn’t constantly scan and refresh my feeds like I used to. Speed-reading novels became exhausting so I stopped reading altogether. My fourth and fifth conventions of the year seemed more like a chore than a treat. Motivating myself to write started to require a lot of effort and strain. And movies? Well, I saw Suicide Squad the day after I came home, but didn’t see another movie in theaters for at least a month.
And then there’s the fall TV season. I started out with about 18 shows and almost immediately fell behind on half of them. For a little while, I felt like I was letting myself down. I was no longer up on all of the news in the fandom world nor was I even up to date with my shows. What was happening to me? I’m a Hypable writer! Fandom is in my blood!
My pop culture hunger was abating. After going from feeling overloaded to completely depriving myself of pop culture, my system was in a sort of shock and was trying to figure out where my happy medium lies.
Not only was my enthusiasm and craving for these things waning, but I was also experiencing some pretty awful side effects. I was irritable more often than not and found myself having trouble concentrating on simple things. I also agonized over how I was going to fit everything I wanted to do and everything I needed to do into a 24/7-shaped box.
In other words, I was a miserable mess. Something had to give. I needed to rethink my involvement and enthusiasm for fandom.
Quality over quantity
Knowing that, in my heart, I didn’t want to go cold turkey once again on the entertainment that I loved, I began to cut back. On everything. I started cancelling episode and series recordings on my DVR. I no longer forced myself to catch up from where I last left off on each of my social feeds before I went to bed and after I woke up in the morning.
I decided that paring down my pop culture consumption was the best thing for me. I started focusing on enjoying the things I loved most and tabling everything else. In other words, I adopted a sort of “quality over quantity” mindset.
(To be clear, when I say “quality,” I’m not referring to the fandom entities themselves. I’m not commenting on their inherent value or if I think they’re good or bad. I’m simply categorizing them by their importance to me. The things I get true entertainment and value out of that I don’t want to live without.)
The shows I made an effort to watch ASAP (live or via DVR) remained on my TV calendar and those I found myself skipping over were cut out. Pretty soon, I was only regularly watching about half (if that) of the 18 shows a week I had initially put into my fall TV calendar.
My quality over quantity mission didn’t just go for TV, however. Instead of getting excited for every. single. movie. release that was fandom related and feeling compelled to see them all, I kept my expectations in check. Low-balled a few of them, even.
There are still must-see movies for me, don’t get me wrong. But I no longer feel guilty over not being excited or motivated to see some fandom-related ones. To this day, I still haven’t seen the most recent Star Trek, X-Men, and Ghostbusters movies (to name a few), even though I’ve seen and enjoyed their predecessors. They’re just not that high on my to-watch list.
Sure, there are a few downsides to my new “quality over quantity” approach to pop culture and media. Because I no longer push myself to catch up on my social media feeds (namely Twitter), I feel like I’m missing out on the lives of my internet friends. I could very well be missing out on new pop culture gems (like Speechless). I’ve given up on shows and franchises that I’ve enjoyed and invested myself in in the past. It hasn’t been an easy transition for me by any means, but the rewards have outweighed the losses.
After making the change to how I consumed and interacted with pop culture, I started seeing positive shifts in my everyday life. I found myself feeling less burdened and stressed. I’ve been able to start really enjoying the media I’m consuming without being bogged down by guilt over other things I should be watching or reading instead. I’m not saying that limiting my intake solved all of my problems, but it definitely helped.
Ever since I’ve started focusing on the things I love the most instead of trying to muster high levels of enthusiasm for a wide array of things, I’ve found myself coming back around to pop culture and fandom. Watching shows is becoming enjoyable again and my motivation to write is (thankfully) returning. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to consuming as much as I was before 2016 hit, but I no longer dread engaging with pop culture and media as I once did.
It’s true that 2016 was an awful year in many ways but, as I sit here writing this while watching Return of the Jedi in honor of Carrie Fisher, I’m thankful that it has forced me to reprioritize the role of pop culture and fandom in my life. If it weren’t for my 2016 reality check, I’d be sitting here stressing over watching something off of my DVR or doing some other fandom-related task rather than watching my favorite Star Wars movie for the umpteenth time in memory of one of my favorite female role models.
Pop culture used to be my life and, for years, I accepted that. I embraced it to the point where it was a large part of identity. But, in 2016, that got to be too stressful and I realized that the way I was interacting with it just wasn’t sustainable for me anymore. While it’s no longer my entire life, it is still an important part of who I am. That will never change. I’m now just approaching it in a way that’s healthier for me and allows me to enjoy everything to the fullest.
Thanks to 2016 and my new “quantity over quality” motto, I finally feel free to enjoy pop culture in the way that’s best for me in 2017 and beyond.