Letdown is part of being a fan. Maybe we expect too much from our beloved movies, comics, novels and TV shows, or maybe they promise too much — but one way or another, we've all lived through a lot of disappointment. And yet, because we're fans, we still get our hopes up — and sometimes they're rewarded handsomely, sometimes not.
You shouldn't have to lower your expectations for entertainment, because then the mediocrity wins. So instead, here's a quick and guide to living through the five stages of fan letdown.
We're not just following the Kübler-Ross model here. Denial really is the first way that many people cope with the realization that their long-awaited epic turned out to be a "meh-pic" instead. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) A ton of Star Wars fans walked out of The Phantom Menace believing they'd just seen an unprecedented masterpiece. There were lightsaber battles! There was a pod-race! There were Jedi in action, and interstellar politics! Etc. etc. I've talked to people who lasted two weeks, in that liminal state between excitement and reality. Like Wile Coyote running in mid-air.
How to deal with it: Hang onto it for as long as you can. If you walk out of a movie or watch a TV finale feeling like you've just seen something great, go with that feeling. If you notice all your friends are starting to say it sucked, just ignore them. On the other hand, if you start noticing that you're the last person who loves something, don't get sucked into arguments about it. There's no point if you're that badly outnumbered — and if you do wind up deciding it sucked, the arguing will just make the crash to Earth more painful.
Once you admit that your favorite TV show has gone downhill, or that the comics miniseries you've been waiting months for actually kind of sucked, then the natural impulse is to start figuring who is responsible for this outrage. Is it the creator, who just couldn't quite stick the landing? Is it the new showrunner of the TV show? Did the evil corporate overlords force the creators to water things down in hopes of selling more toothpaste? Or did other fans hype something to the point where it couldn't possibly live up to their expectations? Or is it all of the above? Whatever you choose, it's comforting to find a guilty party and nail them to the (Facebook) wall.
How to deal with it: Recognize that often, it takes a lot of cooks to ruin the stew — just as it often takes a lot of smart people working together to make something amazing. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with making a mental note that the next time you see a particular name attached to a project, you will temper your enthusiasm. It's just not worth vilifying a particular creator, when you probably don't know the inside story of how something went to shit. (And half the people who worked on something may not have gotten their names on it.)
Especially when your hopes have been smushed a few times in a row, it's easy to give in to the bleakness. What's the point? Why fall in love with mainstream pop culture over and over again, when it's just going to jerk you around and toy with your emotions? Maybe you should just quit watching Hollywood movies and only subsist on Icelandic monster films on import DVDs, where every film title has five umlauts in it. Cue lots of rants about how the entertainment industrial complex is not eating itself fast enough, and we need to put a fork in it.
How to deal with it: Pop in the Empire Strikes Back DVD. Rewatch Wrath of Khan, or the perfect Angel finale. Re-read Tolkien or Pratchett. Remind yourself that pop culture doesn't always ask you out and then bail on you halfway through dinner. Sometimes pop culture is a stand-up guy or gal.
You've come to terms with the fact that the Matrix sequels were like a power-point presentation with occasional kung-fu crowd scenes. And now, you're like a sentinel of haterade — if anybody else dares to admit that they actually quite liked the Matrix sequels, you're the first to swoop in, breathing fire. The unanimity of hate must be preserved at all costs. De gustibus non est shut up shut up shut up!
How to deal with it: You know, some people are always going to like weird stuff, and that's okay. (I've gotten flamed a few times for saying that I think Michael Bay's first Transformers is actually a pretty okay movie. And I like a few other movies that everybody else seems to hate.) It's often tempting to come down on other people for liking a terrible movie or TV show, especially after you've struggled to come to grips with your own feelings of disappoint. But the healing process includes letting go of your desire for everyone to agree with you about Green Lantern.
And finally, this is sort of like acceptance. Except that you never really accept that the Star Trek: TNG movies violated the "even-numbered movie" rule — because that would be like accepting the no-win situation. You're never going to stop being bummed that Frank Miller couldn't do a decent sequel to The Dark Knight Returns. This isn't something you should accept, because standards are important. And yet, you can start to make allowances for stuff. Like, "that movie is fun if you watch it at three A.M. with half a bottle of hornitos and some psychedelic mushrooms inside you." Or: "It's sort of a guilty pleasure." Or maybe just: "The special effects are cool. Just watch it with the sound off and Emerson Lake & Palmer blasting really loud."
How to deal with it: Once you've learned to make allowances for the stuff that's burned you before, you're ready to get back on that horse and set yourself up for more crushing disappointment. And, at least a good percentage the time, satisfaction at a piece pop culture that actually meets or exceeds your expectations!