Category: Pop Culture Page 1 of 2

I Think I’m Done With Internet Fan Communities

I think I’m done with internet fan communities.

This year, I’ve seen two pop culture goliaths – the release of Avengers: Endgame and the end of Game Of Thrones – absolutely swamped by ill feeling both before and after their release.

About a week before the release of Avengers: Endgame, a version of the story was leaked on to the website 4Chan, then migrated its way onto Reddit, where it was devoured by a waiting community. The leak turned out to be correct; I’d been following the commentary, but I went back and read the leaks after seeing – and loving – the movie. But I was one of the lucky ones.

By the time Endgame hit theatres, Reddit was chock-full of anonymous posters who spat pure hatred about the story, based only on the leaked information. It was alarming how many people were willing to pass judgment based on a sparse text description of a three hour film. It tainted the fan community online as fans began to expect the worst. It made no sense. But it passed.

This past couple of weeks has also been challenging as a fan of Game Of Thrones.

While I do think there are legitimate criticisms of how the show ended, it felt like the fan communities online turned into an echo chamber, with words like “bad writing” and “destroyed character arc” resonating around and around.

Take the sub-reddit /r/FreeFolk, a spin-off from the main Game Of Thrones sub-reddit that allows posting of spoilers, swearing, and so on. Before the final season began, /r/FreeFolk was a hilarious collection of memes and commentary on the show – the community there was made up of true fans who really loved the show.

But several things happened seemingly at once (spoilers ahead). First, the Night King was killed earlier in the season than most fans were expecting, and by a character most people were not expecting. Fans were surprised, sure, and some a little disappointed that the assumed major villain was gone with so much time left. But most were optimistic about the episodes to come.

Then, at some point in the week that followed, a number of elaborate (and accurate) spoilers leaked that laid out what was going to happen for the remainder of the season. Fans visited /r/FreeFolk in droves to despair at what they perceived as a betrayal of the characters and the show – remember, all without actually seeing the episodes in question.

The fourth episode came and went, proving the leaks were accurate, and the community went into meltdown. One fan created a petition to rewrite the show which now has around 1.3 million signatures. Everything was suddenly negative. It began to bleed into other sub-reddits about the show. The tone seemed to change on all social media. And by the time a coffee cup was spotted in a couple of frames, the internet had decided what it thought.

I unsubscribed from /r/FreeFolk and /r/GameOfThrones ahead of Episode 5.

If I were to guess, I’d say both of these negative backlashes – the Thrones one ongoing; the Endgame one doused out of existence by how good the film is – came from the same place: a false impression of where ownership of art resides.

The truth is, I think, that art doesn’t belong to the consumer; it belongs to the creator. Blockbuster films and global television hits are still art. And the fans don’t own it.

Creators of mass-marketed pop culture like to say “this was for the fans” but it isn’t. Not really. I’m sure the reaction of fans is a consideration. But we didn’t watch the fans’ version of Endgame; we watched Marvel Studios’ version. We didn’t watch the fans version of Game Of Thrones’ finale; we watched David Benioff and DB Weiss’ version.

As consumers, we can pass judgment. We can dislike the pop culture we’re consuming. These waves of negativity turned foul when those perpetuating it began to see their opinions as objectively correct, and dissenting opinions as objectively wrong. That isn’t opinion. That is arrogance.

These are far from the only examples. You only need to go back as far as 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to find another large-scale toxic and misguided backlash.

Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and cannot enjoy.

If you thought Game Of Thrones had the best ending ever, I’m happy that you enjoyed it, even if I disagree. And if that kind of respectfulness can’t exist in online fan communities, then I’m going to have to withdraw from them.

I like what I like. I’m not going to allow my experience to be tainted by sheer arrogance.

REVIEW Incubus – Auckland, March 4

It would be fair to say that I have not been the most committed or loyal Incubus fan.

Actually, it would be accurate to say that they were not my favourite act in the nu-metal movement of the late nineties; I much preferred their peers the Deftones, KoRn and Limp Bizkit, and later Linkin Park. It was all noisy, chunky guitars and a fairly straight-forward drum beat for me.

Yet, aside from Deftones (who are still one of my favourite bands, and whose inclusion in the nu-metal genre was always because of their association to KoRn), I would also say that Incubus are one of the few bands of the time that I’ve kept an eye on in the years since the genre started to go the way of the dodo. I’ve heard and even enjoyed parts of all of their major releases – including their patchy latest album 8 – so it was without hesitation that I accepted a very kind offer of a ticket to their Auckland show this past Sunday night.

We arrived early on, around 45 minutes before the opening act was due to take the stage, which meant a fairly good opportunity to people watch from our seats in the back-right of Spark Arena. I mean, if there were any people there; the arena took most of the time from then until Incubus took the stage just after 8.30pm to fill up.

Villainy – the opening act who were playing with Incubus for the second time – took the stage around 7.30pm, launching into a selection of the biggest hits from their first couple of albums, punctuated by a stirring rendition of their brilliant first single, “Alligator Skin”, a song which surely ranks as one of the best hard rock songs out of New Zealand this century.

Their set ended on an odd note after they launched into their brand new song “Tiny Little Island” – a pirate-rock influenced punk track – and tried to get the crowd singing along, despite admitting that it was the first time they were playing the track live, and it had only been released two days earlier. Probably not enough time for your fans to hear it, guys.

After a short break to set up the stage, Incubus took to the near pitch black stage and assumed position with their instruments, launching into a pair of new album tracks – “Glitterbomb” and “Nimble Bastard” – split by “Circles”, from their hit 2001 album Morning View. I was dubious about how the new album tracks would translate, but they actually sounded better live; in fact, I would say the entire band sounded better live, with their songs elevating in the live environment.

From there, the group jumped around their discography a little, starting with “Anna Molly” – a personal favourite from 2006’s Light Grenades – and leading into “Megalomaniac” (from 2004’s A Crow Left Of The Murder), “State Of The Art” (from 8), and their hit single “Pardon Me” (from 1999’s Make Yourself); the crowd caught part of the opening riff as the band were getting ready to start, so the hype for the track built for a few moments until the group launched into it.

“Paper Shoes” (from 2006’s Light Grenades”) and “Pantomime” followed, with the group taking a few moments between each song to get their bearings and set up for the next track, with the stage going to black each time. The unwillingness of singer Brandon Boyd to engage with the crowd between songs meant that the show felt like a series of short performances, as opposed to one continuous, coherent performance.

In fact, the stripped back stage – with the group kind of huddled together in the middle with large swathes of space on either side, just one screen behind them, and a fairly straight-forward lighting rig – combined with the performance style almost made the band feel at arm’s length from the crowd, like the union between artist and audience didn’t really get established. It did play as low-key for the most part, but it would be easy to see how some audience members might feel disappointed.

The group continued on with a string of hits – “Nice To Know You” (from 2001’s Morning View), “Sick Sad Little World” (from 2004’s A Crow Left Of The Murder), “Stellar” (another favourite of mine from 1999’s Make Yourself) and “Talk Shows On Mute” (from 2004’s A Crow Left Of The Murder), which turned into a cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” instead of going into its bridge. I have to say, I used to cover “Need You Tonight” in an old cover band, and we didn’t sound as good as these guys.

They closed out the main set with “Vitamin” – sadly, the only track they played from their brilliant 1997 album S.C.I.E.N.C.E. – followed by “Are You In” and “Wish You Were Here”, both from 2001’s Morning View, ending the main set with a few bars of Pink Floyd’s brilliant single “Wish You Were Here”, which had the crowd on their feet and singing at full volume.

After a very short encore comprised of their latest single “No Fun” (from 8) and their biggest single “Drive” (from 1999’s Make Yourself), they were done. A very solid set list which traversed their entire repertoire – though I would personally have liked more from their earlier albums – and a very good night out for one of their biggest fair-weather fans.

Incubus’ latest album, 8, is available now.
Villainy’s new single, “Tiny Little Island”, is out now on your favourite streaming service.

REVIEW Foo Fighters/Weezer – Auckland, Feb 3

The rain. Oh, lord, the rain.

We arrived at Mt Smart Stadium around 6.15pm and quickly joined the crowd lined up at Gate S, a small gate giving access to the South Stand, an uncovered, seating-only area at the opposite end of the stadium from the large stage set up to house the Foo Fighters and opening act Weezer.

Given past experience with shows at Mt Smart, and as Weezer were starting their set at 6.30pm, we figured that fifteen minutes would be more than enough time to get into the stadium – heck, even if it took a little longer, we’d only miss a song or two. We could live with that.

We didn’t factor in just how odd this little gate was, with only a few lanes at the actual gate causing a massive bottleneck – plus, every single person going into the stadium was being thoroughly scanned with a metal detector, causing further delays. The result was that we didn’t get to our seats until after 7.00pm, having missed the majority of Weezer’s opening set.

Oh, we could hear them from outside in the queue. It sounded like they nailed “My Name Is Jonas”, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind”, among much else. And when we made it inside, they rattled off a string of hits including “Buddy Holly” and a rousing rendition of “Say It Ain’t So”. But it was somewhat bittersweet.

A short break later – and after an unsuccessful hunt for a rain poncho, a warm cup of tea and a spicy Fritz’ Weiner – the Foo Fighters took the stage; this was my fifth time seeing the group live, but first since 2011, and I was extremely excited when they took the stage and opened with “Run”, the lead single from their latest album, Concrete & Gold. I’ve not been a huge fan of Concrete & Gold, but this song – and the second single “The Sky Is A Neighbourhood”, which they played later in the set – both seemed like they were built to excel in a live environment, both sounding great in the stadium atmosphere.

Following “Run”, charismatic lead singer Dave Grohl led his group into a selection of their albums’ lead singles, including “All My Life” (the lead single from 2002’s One By One), “Learn To Fly” (1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose), “The Pretender” (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) and “Rope” (2011’s Wasting Light), before diverting into the Taylor Hawkins-sung “Sunday Rain” – sung as “Saturday Rain”, due to the weather.

To be honest, the set lulled a little from here. The next song was their now-legendary “My Hero” – which I found oddly affecting; I’ve played that song in a handful of bands, so hearing it again in a live setting made me oddly nostalgic for the good old days, and had me thinking fondly of friends back home in Whangarei. But following that, they launched into a string of somewhat forgettable singles, an over-long version of “Breakout”, and a string of half-arsed covers while Grohl introduced the various members of the group, capped off with a rendition of Queen’s “Under Pressure”, with Taylor Hawkins filling the Freddie Mercury role while Grohl played drums and sang the Bowie portion of the track.

It is worth mentioning that – by this point of the evening – I was soaked through to the bone. By the time the Foos launched into “Monkey Wrench”, it was after 10.00pm and I’d been standing in the rain, thoroughly unprotected from the conditions, for around four hours. I was shivering. I was saturated. And as they launched into a fairly downbeat end to their main set, featuring a cover of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” with Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo, I was starting to wish they’d just get on with it.

As the low temperatures of the late night started to set in, I was hoping for something more energetic, and the set-closer “Best Of You” delivered. The band left the stage to massive applause, before returning with a slow version of “Times Like These” and a stadium-shaking performance of the fantastic “This Is A Call”, before capping off with an extremely slowed down version of “Wheels” and a fairly straightforward version of their biggest hit “Everlong” (which you can see below).

Overall, a strong set – not overly different from the last couple of times I’ve seen Foo Fighters live, and there is an element of samey-ness when a band is sticking to their own tried-and-true formula. But it is easy to get past that when the band is as adept at what they’re doing as Foo Fighters are. It was a long (and cold) show, but it was entertaining throughout.

A good night had by all. And as a bonus, the best shower I’ve ever had afterward, too.

Foo Fighters’ latest album, Concrete And Gold, is available now.
Weezer’s latest album, Pacific Daydream, is also available now.

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