MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ARROW 4×08 & 4×15 and
LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 1×06
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
I posted my first article on fictional trauma back in December after the Fl/Arrow crossover. It was the first time I’d really seen fictional trauma grab hold of fandom in real time, and I was really blown away by not only the emotional impact of the episode on the fans, but how the fandom itself pulled together to process. That article was described by someone as a love letter to the fandom, because we had all pulled together in the face of fictional trauma and helped each other to heal.
This article… is not a love letter.
Last week’s episodes of Arrow (4×15) and Legends of Tomorrow (1×06) caused reactions in the fandom that were every bit as powerful as what happened in Arrow 4×08 (if not more so), but my observation of the reactions of the fandom were quite different.
ARROW 4×08 and 4×15 SPOILERS:
In 4×08, I think we could all agree that Oliver made a bad call. Perhaps an understandable one, but ultimately a bad one. We were shocked. We were angry. We were frustrated. We were hurt. But we primarily agreed.
This week the big reveal happened. We heard Oliver’s side. We heard Samantha’s side. We heard Diggle’s thoughts. We heard Vixen’s experiences. And most importantly, we finally heard from Felicity.
And suddenly, the fandom could agree on very, very little.
On my own Twitter timeline I saw opinions ranging from solid support of Oliver to solid support of Felicity. None of which I necessarily had a problem with, because I understand and support them both. But when I branched out a bit, opinions started getting a bit more forceful, up to and including people calling Felicity a selfish bitch (which Mr. Amell didn’t take too kindly to) or Oliver a lying asshole who doesn’t deserve Felicity. I didn’t see support groups so much as I saw debates, going from those that were lively and good natured all the way up to hurling profanity at each other. It was a little jarring, if I’m honest, as I (naively) thought that now that everyone had put all their cards on the table, the fandom would now feel a bit more understanding about where everyone was coming from. But that was not the case.
So the question I’ve been pondering this week is: why?
After talking with my usual groups of post-game fandom friends to process the episode (some of which led to some of those good natured debates I was talking about), I think I have a sneaking suspicion as to why this episode was so divisive and caused such an emotional stir which made it difficult for us to turn to each other. This episode, based on the issues with Olicity, tapped hard into experiences many of us have had with trust in relationships… and it’s likely that we’ve been on one side or another (or both) of the Olicity argument ourselves, and were experiencing high levels of stress and hurt at the time. In psychology terms, one of Freud’s defense mechanisms is called transference, which is where we “transfer” negative feelings we have about one person (in this case perhaps a previous relationship) to another person that may have similar qualities (Oliver or Felicity). Maybe that’s what caused so many of us to lash out about their actions?
From my own personal experience, I can tell you that I totally get where Felicity was coming from. As a matter of fact, her speech about how she understood Oliver’s decisions but just wanted to be a part of the conversation? I’ve given that speech word for word multiple times, being a step-mother myself for more than a decade now. But even though I thought I’d made peace with most of those issues, when my husband sided with Oliver in the argument, my hackles went up and we had a spirited conversation that ran just shy of an argument… over an episode of Arrow. Which is 100% because of our own issues.
But if my husband and I can relate to the Olicity argument, and have it invoke things in us and our own relationship that bring about those kinds of strong feelings and conversations, I guess that means the writers were pretty damn authentic, even if it was painful to watch.
With episode 4×08, most of the anger at Oliver had dissipated by the next day, and people were working their way towards acceptance, even if they were still sad and frustrated. They were starting to see a way through for Olicity, even if they knew it was going to be difficult. But there was a striking difference between the circumstances in that episode, and those of 4×15, in that this episode was followed up by Legends of Tomorrow, the combination of which ended up being the 1-2 punch for Olicity fans.
MORE ARROW SPOILERS +
LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 1x 06 SPOILERS
In episode 1×06 of LoT, the day after seeing the Olicity break up, we are shown Star City in 2046… in a future where Star City has gone completely to hell. Diggle is dead, Oliver is down an arm (but up a goatee), and Olicity is not together. Basically, we are shown what will happen if Olicity doesn’t make it. And it is rife with sorrow, anger, and pure desolation.
What we are left with, going into hiatus, is a complete lack of hope for the future.
Because the fandom was still reeling from the Olicity break up, and all of the emotions, both fictional and personal that it stirred up, seeing this dark, dismal future seemed to stoke those emotional fires even more. The stakes were shown. Now being on the right side of the debate isn’t just about whether Olicity gets back together, or resolves this one specific argument. It’s literally the fate of the ENTIRE WORLD. Which is obviously one of the primary ways that television differs from real life, but then again… when it’s our emotions, doesn’t it feel like in these pivotal relationship moments that the fate of the entire world is at stake, even if it’s just OUR world? Being right, and being acknowledged as being right, becomes a need that’s almost desperate in nature. In the case of the CW DC universe, whatever side of the Olicity debate you’re on, you NEED to be right or the world will end.
And so back to debating the fandom went.
It’s been a week today since LoT aired, and I semi-purposefully waited this long to post this because I was curious to see how the fandom would resolve this issue, especially when we are staring a month long hiatus in the face. I think… that it’s been a struggle. At the time of my posting this, my current thoughts about the fandom is that we’ve moved on from the Olicity debate (because it’s too painful, or just because we’ve talked it to death? Hard to say…), but are now focused on who’s in the box. Maybe because it’s a potentially happier thought for some (which doesn’t that just sum up this fandom in a nutshell? LOL), though obviously potentially devastating for others. This has led to more negative expressions of emotion between certain factions in the fandom, but of a far less personal nature, I’d say. The debate over who Oliver should love is a topic that we can talk about without getting nearly as close to our own real traumas as discussing the Olicity break up does. It might be a true over-dramatization, but it’s possible that the Olicity/Lauriver debate is as negative as it is right now, just because people are still struggling with the negative feelings, fears, and hurt left over from last week’s episodes and so they’re coming out in other fandom activities/discussions (a defense mechanism known as displacement). Or maybe people are just nervous about the rest of the season. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Or maybe I’m totally off base. It’s been known to happen occasionally. 😉
One thing I can say is this: Dr. Travis Langley, who has been a big source of professional inspiration for me, teaches college psychology by using fictional characters and their situations. He says that when we look at trauma in the real world, it can be hard to get past the horror to delve into studying the true psychology of it. But when we, say, look at Batman, suddenly talking about how a child may react to seeing their parents murdered becomes a whole lot easier. In processing Arrow this week, I was fully aware that I was projecting many of my feelings onto Olicity, but something that snuck up on me was the fact that I haven’t been mad at Oliver throughout this story line, just a bit disappointed. I knew he was trying to do his best, even though he really could’ve made some better choices. I was able to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I feel that as a man (albeit fictional), he’d earned it. And then I had that moment of clarity… that maybe I didn’t always give my husband the benefit of the doubt that he, too, had earned.
I encourage everyone who responded strongly to Arrow this week (or any show, really, ever) to do some introspection as to why you may have had the reaction you did. Talk to support people about it. Journal about it. The results (and the positive therapeutic benefits of watching TV) might just surprise you.
Author’s Note: Fandom — especially fandom as huge as Arrow — is a far reaching and highly complex beast, and as one person I can only see the parts of it that I can see. If you have a different perspective on this topic, or saw/have seen different things, I welcome your feedback and discussion!
If you want to reach out, you can find me through the comments here, or on Twitter as @drfangirlphd or @Chrisha_DWGrrl.