It’s hard to believe that the time has come to write an article on the season finale. It seems like just yesterday I was banding together with my new Arrow friends on Twitter in preparation for the season premiere to see what Olicity and the rest of our superheroes had been up to over the summer. But while it may feel like the year has flown by, Team Arrow and the Arrow fandom have been through a veritable rollercoaster of emotions and events. Domestic bliss, magic, break ups, politics, violence, wheelchairs, baby mommas, flashbacks, nuclear attack, bees, and major character death, combined with love, hate, anger, grief, and every emotion in between.
It’s been a crazy ride, but now is a good time for us as a fandom to take a collective deep breath and reflect on the same thing that our superheroes did at the end of this season: self-care.
In last week’s article, I discussed the concept of resilience, and how active coping strategies can help a person more easily recover from a major stress or trauma. But another part of being able to effectively cope with the things life throws at us is by taking care of ourselves both physically and emotionally every day. While being aware of the ways in which we’re taking care of ourselves should always be a priority in anything we do, as fangirls and fanboys, the end of a season is always a good time to take a step back and contemplate how fandom is affecting our lives. And as with last week, I believe we can look to our fictional band of superheroes for some real life insight.
The end of the season found Team Arrow battered and emotionally broken. After the epic showdown with Damien Darhk and HIVE, each member had to decide for themselves how to best take care of themselves afterward to heal. For Diggle, Lance, and Thea, this meant taking a step back from Team Arrow and the fight for Star City so that they could reflect on who they are without their masks and badges. This can’t have been an easy decision for any of them to make as fighting to make the world a better and safer place is such an integral part of each of their identities. In our fast paced world, we are so often programmed to think of others’ needs ahead of our own… it would be easy for each of them to struggle with guilt for leaving the city less protected to manage their individual issues, or to try to gut it out and not leave at all. But in reality, if superheroes don’t take a step back to manage their emotions and to heal, it’s very easy for them to either cross that line from hero to villain, or get themselves killed by not having their head in the game. Neither of these outcomes are at all helpful to the people they’re trying to protect, ultimately showing how taking care of themselves is taking care of the city. While my respect and adoration for these characters was already incredibly high, seeing them make the tough choices to step back and care for themselves emotionally nearly made my therapist heart burst with joy. It’s easy to be inspired by superheroes to be a better person and to do good for the world as they do. Seeing Team Arrow show us that it’s okay to take care of ourselves is something that we don’t often see superheroes do, and I hope will inspire more of us as viewers to do the same. While the stakes may not be as high for us day to day, the consequences can be the same… if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can stop having the capacity to be the people we truly want to be, living the lives we want to live. And that’s not helpful for us, or the people we love.
Self-care for Oliver and Felicity this year looked quite a bit different than the rest of Team Arrow, and the reason for that seems fairly straight forward: Oliver and Felicity took their time away from the team for their own self-reflection and healing last year. They rediscovered their focus and their purpose in a way that the rest of Team Arrow will likely work on discovering over this summer. Oliver is therefore caring for himself by continuing the crusade he began four years ago, and expanding it to work to help the city in the light of day as mayor, rather than only at night as a vigilante. Felicity is staying to further the cause as well. Seemingly for her, despite the pain that she has experienced this year, continuing to work to help keep the city safe is the way that she continues to find purpose in her life, giving meaning to all of the tragedy and heartbreak she’s experienced. Being on the outside looking in, however, I do hope that before they get back to protecting the city, both Oliver and Felicity take some time to sleep, eat decently, and emotionally and physically rest (separately, to get their heads on straight). They’re going to need it – especially if they’re going to be protecting the city on their own, and managing the emotionally heavy relationship issues that will likely come from them working so closely together. Alone. In the lair. Every day. (Fanfic authors, I’m looking at you right now….)
So in looking at ourselves as fans, I would encourage anyone reading this to do some self-reflection. In the same way that each of the members of Team Arrow reflected and searched for self-awareness about their status on the team and how it’s affecting them emotionally, it’s important for each of us to reflect on our participation in the Arrow fandom. Television is meant to be entertainment… something that enriches our lives in some positive way. Participation in a fandom is the next step, in that if we’re so excited about a television show (or any other form of entertainment), we want to connect with other people who are also passionate about that show. While this doesn’t mean that fandom participation has to be 100% positive all the time, it is a balance that we have to find.
Regardless of your feelings on the finale or the entire season, it’s important to internally examine whether or not watching Arrow and being a part of its fandom are still primarily positive and enriching to your life. If you have found that you are getting upset every week watching Arrow (or any other show), then stop watching. It’s a TV show, not a cult… no one is going to drag you back if you try to leave. If you’re not quite ready to do that, then take a step back from the show and the fandom for the summer, and reassess your feelings on watching come the fall. If you’re feeling frustrated with elements of the show, write the showrunners a note and tell them about it… respectfully. It’ll likely be therapeutic for you, and will help them know the feelings in the fandom. If you still enjoy the show, but are struggling with the significant negativity within the fandom, take a social media break, or use the mute/unfollow/block buttons liberally. While it’s important to not completely seal ourselves away from people who disagree with us, it’s also important to take care of ourselves. If that means paring down the people you follow on Twitter, or the groups you follow on Facebook, so be it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with decreasing exposure to things in life that upset you – especially when we’re talking about an area that should be about entertainment and fun. And hey, if you love the fandom but don’t want to watch the show anymore, that too is totally okay. As long as you’re respectful and aren’t malicious towards people for their choice on what brings joy to their lives, I’m sure most people would be completely okay with continuing friendships, even if fandom decisions differ. Most fangirls and fanboys tend to be cool like that, at least in my experience.
Works of fiction can inspire us, enlighten us, touch us, and motivate us. They can make us laugh, make us cry, and feel every powerful emotion you can think of… just as relationships with others can. When you combine those two elements – fiction and relationships – emotions can easy escalate, causing the tremendous passion we so often see in fandom. Passion about our fandoms is what we’re known for, and for many of us, it’s a point of pride, no matter what the rest of the world may think or feel about it. But keep in mind…. Life is short. Energy is finite. There are battles we have to fight in our daily lives that we can’t back down from. But our television choices don’t have to be one of them. When it comes to fandom, do the things that bring you joy and make you feel good. Focus on elements of your shows that make you happy. Read good fan fiction and leave positive comments for the authors. Find fun people and groups to engage with on social media. Go to a con and find your fandom family. Send your favorite actors, writers, and showrunners a love letter thanking them for their hard work and tell them how they’ve touched your life. Revel in the positive, and most importantly… Take care of yourself. You deserve that.
Happy hiatus, fellow fans… I wish you all an amazing summer! I’ll see you back here in October to process more fictional Arrow trauma!