Popular media FOMO: a self-callout

Or, why I watched The Witcher and read a Sarah J. Maas series against my better judgment.

(A heads-up: I might complain about your faves! If it's going to bother you, please don't read. Otherwise, remember this is a SELF-callout—I won't judge others' media consumption here.)

FOMO, or fear of missing out, comes up a lot in the book community. Whether it's author blues about being unable to attend a convention or readers anxious to stay abreast of upcoming releases in their favorite series, it's never fun to be outside a conversation—particularly when that "conversation" may engulf social media for days or weeks. Humans are social creatures (yes, even us introverts, as we're learning the hard way during coronavirus-induced isolation), and it's natural to want to join in when we see people excited about something.

FOMO can also be painful. It's the feeling of not understanding a pop culture reference that has everyone else giggling; hearing "you had to be there"; wondering if others are having fun without you. This envy is human nature too, but it's something we can contain if we name it and replace it with constructive emotions. I'm terrible at this, but maybe by acknowledging it, I can shut that shit down.

Because—and maybe I'm being unnecessarily deep—I think capitalism and consumer culture feed on FOMO. It's why companies release shiny new tech and charge obscene amounts for it, knowing people will pay to have the latest gadget. It's why we as a society haven't thrown a collective fit over planned obsolescence as a concept.

In publishing, FOMO-profiteering takes the form of authors needing to churn out three to five books a year to stay relevant while readers struggle to prioritize which new releases they want to focus on, knowing they'll never get to everything they want to read. Too often, the attention goes to the people who shout the loudest—although "people" here tends to mean "publishers," since they're behind promoting books—and that leads to everything from a tiny subset of books getting huge amounts of press to fiascos like American Dirt. (American Dirt is a symptom of many underlying problems in publishing, but in this case, I'm talking about how promos by celebrities, some of whom hadn't even read it, inflated sales.)

I may have gone too wide with what was meant to be a critique of my own consumption habits. Let's circle back. I have a terrible time reining in my popular media FOMO. I watched The Witcher even knowing I'd avoided the books because of misogynist tropes and even though I'm not over starring actor Henry Cavill's cavalier treatment of the #'MeToo movement. Maybe that's blown over now, or maybe his apology was enough to satisfy most people. No one seemed to be talking about it, just swooning over Cavill's physique and discussing the wig he wore for the role. I also read three books (are there more than three now?) of Sarah J. Maas's popular YA series A Court of Thorns and Roses, despite being fed up with the writing style and lack of diversity after the first book.

Both The Witcher and ACOTAR left me frustrated—with the creators, yes, but mostly with myself for being so keen to know what people were talking about that I wasted hours on media that added no value to my life. And this while I have a TBR list of books about and by queer people and people of color that I absolutely can't wait to read! I made a similar mistake when I was new to the book blogging community, trying to catch up on lots of popular backlist reads that weren't particularly appealing to me (I still haven't finished Six of Crows or the Darker Shade of Magic series and it's probably going to stay that way). It was stressful and ultimately pointless.

This, then, is a long-winded reminder to myself. Self: DO NOT READ THE THING. Do not watch the thing or listen to the thing or waste brainspace on the thing, even if it's all over Twitter, even if Barnes & Noble or Netflix has a landing page that flings it in your face.

Keeping this in mind is already working in a way I didn't expect, prompting me to seek out communities where the buzz is about media that I enjoy and feel good supporting.

And thank god I learned my lesson before subjecting myself to Tiger King.