Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who

Why are there so many conspiracy theories in fandom?

Contributed by
Jun 25, 2018

Depending on who you ask on a given day, Kathleen Kennedy is out specifically to destroy Star Wars, Marvel Studios pays critics and plants audience members to devalue the DCEU films, and the BBC forced Chris Chibnall to cast Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in order to appease feminists. While they’re not quite to the levels of chemtrails (well, except for that Marvel/DC one), it feels like you can’t shake a revised Solo shooting script at the internet these days without hitting a foil-hatted fan who has all sorts of theories about why studios and creators are making the choices they do—none of which ever have to do with simple business choices, or even, matters of taste or preference on the part of the filmmakers. 

The entertainment industry is no stranger to conspiracy theories, with tales of pop stars who have either been replaced by doppelgangers after a suicide, or made secret servants of the Illuminati, or turned into lizard people. But there’s something interesting about this new crop. The theories are no longer simply weird fan ideas that get passed around, but depictions of shadowy cabals of filmmakers who don’t just make choices that some audiences disagree with, but actively plot those choices with a nefarious goal in mind. 

Take the Doctor Who theory, for example. Chris Chibnall has stated that he planned on casting a woman for the Doctor before he agreed to take on the showrunner position. He even said, in an interview prior to the Jodie Whittaker announcement, that he’d laid out a series of risky moves he wanted to make to the BBC before he was given the job and was surprised they immediately agreed to them. This interview was largely forgotten by the time that Whittaker was revealed, possibly because it had been overlooked when most folks still believed the rumor that the next Doctor would be that skeevy ginger sandwich courier from Love, Actually

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It’s hard to read any comment threads on any posts about Star Wars these days without some diatribe about Kathleen Kennedy’s secret agenda. Yet, considering the minor dustup over reshoots for Rogue One, the larger controversy over the choice to fire not only Lord and Miller from Solo but Colin Trevorrow from Episode IX, and her glacier-like movements in regards to hiring female filmmakers to tell any of these stories, if anything it seems she’s being extra conservative during her stewardship over the franchise. 

And, as far as the Marvel conspiracy to pay off critics in order to give them good reviews, well, I’d certainly love to pay down some credit card debt, so I'd appreciate those checks any day now. Am I supposed to send an invoice? Or should I wait until after glowing reviews of Ant-Man and the Wasp? You know what, it’s probably not great to do this here, Marvel. Call me on the usual number. 

So, truly, what is up with this new crop of theories? Why is it not enough to accept that movies and shows are made by people other than ourselves with different ideas than ours? Lord knows I don’t love every installment of every franchise I’ve ever been a fan of. What happened to the days when, like followers of a sports team that had a bad season or two, we as fans were able to just go, “Eh, guess they missed the mark on this one” and hope for better next time? 

I’ve had a theory for a long time about conspiracy theories. I guess you could call it a conspiracy theory theory. I believe that these theories have taken the place in our culture that folklore used to. I think there is some degree to which it’s hard for humans to feel like we don’t have control, so we weave fantastical narratives which then give us the illusion of control. Unable to wrap our minds around a tragic event such as a bridge collapse, we once created the Mothman as a way of stepping back from the story. Not unlike how the gods depicted in American Gods have evolved to suit our modern understanding, in a world where it seems a little less rational to believe in pixies and redcaps, we're believing in deals happening around tables in shadowy rooms instead. 

Fandom is ripe for that sensation of powerlessness. When the content that we love is our escape, we feel abandoned when that escape doesn't pan out to our liking. It’s not enough to be simply a matter of taste, a difference of opinion between us and the creators. It has to be that something is taken from us. If we can’t feel like we own our fandom anymore, we can own the narrative as to why. 

So what happens next? Do we as a culture eventually grow out of them like we did with folklore, or do they just get more entrenched and harder to shake, like flat Earths or clones of pop-punk princesses? Are we doomed to see every major release further and further and further divide and split fandoms in a way that seems unable to rectify? And will an attempt to build a bridge between these camps collapse in a way that only the Mothman could know? 

I’m typically not a staunch hater of remakes or reboots — I think good stories are good stories whether they use familiar characters or not — but I have to wonder if perhaps this whole thing is a side effect of just how much the things we consume have become dependent on recycling. Maybe people feel such ownership over things because they’ve been around for so much of our lives that it’s hard not to. Maybe what we all really need is some totally new adventures to go on. 

That, of course, and my check from Marvel.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.