When I was a kid staying home sick from school, I'd often watch "Donald's Happy Birthday," a Donald Duck cartoon from 1949. In the cartoon, Donald's young nephews buy a box of cigars. After catching them in the act, Donald forces his nephews to smoke every single one of the cigars, turning their tree house into a veritable hotbox.
Donald shoves cigar after cigar into their little beaks, even stoking their inhalation with a furnace bellows. (I don't think the cartoon scared me as a kid, but it kind of does now.)
It's a classic child rearing technique: give kids an abundance of something they love until they can't handle it anymore.
It feels like we're getting to that point with "Star Wars," "The Avengers" and pretty much any other form of widely loved entertainment. I can only fit so many "Star Wars" spinoffs in my little beak, Disney! It seems I'm not alone: "Solo: A Star Wars Story" earned $84 million in its opening weekend, $29 million the following weekend and about $15.7 million over this last weekend — currently making it the lowest performing "Star Wars" film to date.
Leading up to the release of "Solo," I heard a certain sentiment repeated in various circles. Something along the lines of, "Of course I'll see it — it's 'Star Wars' — but I'm not that excited." For "Star Wars," "Solo" is the moment where passion becomes obligation: We watch it because we feel like we should, not because we actually desire it that strongly.
I can't help but think of Facebook. When I joined Facebook in 2006, every notification and status update was an escape from the drabness of everyday life. I used it because it was fun. I still go on Facebook daily — to keep up with the news, to check on events happening in my area — but it's mostly an obligation-based activity now. For me, and probably for most others, Facebook is no longer the means of escape. Instead, it's the thing I dream of escaping from.
Of course, I could escape. Time won't stop if I walk away from Facebook, "Star Wars" or any other such thing. What am I scared of, exactly?
Abandoning our own fandom, or at least distancing ourselves from it, implies the risk of a deeper kind of estrangement: from our sources of passion, and from the person we used to be. Those are big anchors. It goes so much further than two hours in a movie theater or two minutes on a Facebook timeline.
National Book Award-winner Ta-Nehisi Coates' recent essay for The Atlantic, titled "I'm Not Black, I'm Kanye," masterfully observes this fraught relationship. For Coates, an African-American, it isn't "Star Wars" or Facebook, but Michael Jackson and Kanye West, whose self-destructions have tested the limits of his fandom. And it's not just about his individual relationship with these targets of fandom, but the way that individual experience necessitated engagement with a larger community of like-minded fans — in his case, folks who desperately needed a champion.
"We knew that we were tied to him, that his physical destruction was our physical destruction," Coates writes of Michael Jackson, "because if the black God, who made the zombies dance, who brokered great wars, who transformed stone to light, if he could not be beautiful in his own eyes, then what hope did we have — mortals, children — of ever escaping what they had taught us, of ever escaping what they said about our mouths, about our hair and our skin, what hope did we ever have of escaping the muck? And he was destroyed. It happened right before us."
These are the stakes of a certain level of fandom. It is fandom at its deepest, and for some, its most culturally necessary. The things we love are the things that hurt us most — and yes, sometimes that includes movies and celebs. We approach those things in a lone bedroom or a dark movie theater, when our faces and hearts are hid from the outside world, but remarkably open to whatever is in front of us.
We tend to view passion/fandom as something unbound, but I think it's actually the opposite. In truth, there are many, many strings attached — namely, heartstrings. It keeps us coming back again and again, and the thing that was once a blessing becomes a burden too heavy for our heartstrings to hold. So those heartstrings break. And sometimes, so, too, do we.