Watching the Watchers

A couple of months ago, as the TV shows I watch entered their winter hiatus period, I started watching reaction videos to fill the void. It allows me to feel a little part of the fandom of the various shows (about a half-dozen, maybe more), something I miss at times from back in the pre-Internet days. You see a gamut from stunningly insightful to full-blown strident politics. It’s interesting.

Note well, I will be referencing events from aired episodes. If you are particularly spoiler-phobic, bail now.

I first dipped my toe into the reactions as some Supergirl reactors popped up in my Youtube recommended list. They were reactions to the storyline featuring Alex’s coming out on Supergirl. It was inspiring to see the joy and recognition this brought to the LGBT reactors I saw, as well as the overlap with the shippers of Alex’s romance (aka by the “Sanvers” portmanteau). It was a featured storyline for several episodes that was well written and given much more screentime than is usually aloted to supporting characters.

When the show started airing new episodes, the ugly side of fandom, especially shipper fandom, started making itself prominent (possibly aided by the emotions stoked as a result of the US general election). Based on a significant portion of reactors, the show is on the verge of having a shipper problem. If Sanvers isn’t featured every episode, especially if the show instead gives more screen time to the lead’s romance, there is much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (well, more like eye-rolls and diatribes….it’s a metaphor). I’ve opted to not watch a lot of reactors because of this whiny ship-militancy. Some of the language has bordered on hetrophobic, intended or not. As I’m not obligated to watch, I opt out without fanfare — after all, they are allowed to enjoy (or not enjoy) the show as they see fit.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is the only viewpoint expressed by Supergirl reactors. You also get equal number of views that are conspicuously opposite but less vocal (i.e. no trash talking, but they ignore the Sanvers scenes whenever possible or otherwise make no comment). And then you get the third who are in the relaxed middle ground that is passionate about the show and stories but aren’t invested so emotionally with one or two “ships”.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Game of Thrones reactors I’ve seen. It’s all much more at arm’s length. Sure, they embrace or loathe certain characters and relationships, but it’s all more about the show itself. It’s interesting to see different people’s (and group of people’s) take on the often lethal events that occur in most episodes. Some are nearly universal. Others will produce a spectrum of emotion from joy, grief, disgust, or confusion. One reactor I saw figured out a major series plot point almost a season before it’s reveal without information from the books or spoilers. It was great to see when those pieces fell together — though I imagine it’s a lot easier with binge-watching instead of having to endure the years of scattered clues.

What do I take away from all of this?

  • Some reactors talk too damn much and miss key information which results in them not knowing what’s going on later in the episode (or worse, just missing the jokes). Very frustrating.
  • Some reactors talk not enough. Just watching someone stare at a screen is frakkin’ dull.
  • Group reactors often remind me why I hate watching stuff IRL with groups of people — too much talking over the show.
  • Group reactors also provide a spectrum of participation that can not only be entertaining to see but insightful as well.
  • I like the passion that comes from shipping as long as it isn’t to the detriment of the show. We’ve all seen what happens over the years when shipper wars happen. No one wins.
  • I enjoy when reactors figure stuff out before the episode in which the reveal is made. Too many will say “I called it” when they only called it a few scenes before. That’s not calling it.
  • Not having a screen insert of some type to let the viewer see and hear what you are reacting to requires a bit more prior memorization of the episode from the viewer than is probably reasonable.
  • The shared global experience is fantastic. When I was young, fandom was very local; now it’s everywhere. I love it.
  • The language of the reactor being other than the one I’m fluent in doesn’t seem to be as important as I would have assumed. (Perhaps it helps that I’m familiar with many so I’m not often completely in the dark.)

Something I sometimes have to take into account is my years spent writing screenplays and teleplays. It gives you a perspective on how to develop and unfold a story, and the business choices that inform creative options, that mitigates a lot of frustrations — though it also stokes other frustrations when you know a fumble just happened, or worse, established a plot point that was great for an episode but has now doomed the show. I also don’t get mad at a show because they don’t tell the story as I would have told it. A lot of people: reactors, critics, reviewers, etc. across media seem to have a problem maintaining, if not recognizing, that separation.

Despite the occasional videos or reactors that just aren’t my cup of tea, I’ve found I quite like reaction videos. That so many people are willing to share their laughter, shock, tears, and feels is amazing to me. I may not always agree with their points of view, but we are bound by our love of show. That’s what’s great about fandom.

PS Supergirl reactors, whether you are Sanvers, Supercorp, Karamel, no ship at all, or other, as y’all were my first, all y’all will always have a special place in my fannish heart. Thanks to all of you for introducing me to this part of our socially networked world.

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