Hobbit fandom prepares for second film in trilogy

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Urmilla Kuttikad

Last year, on the day The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, the school was teeming with hobbits – and even a few Bilbo Baggins of its own. There were antiquated costumes and gleaming Rings on necklaces and, in true hobbit fashion, a few bare feet on their own heroic quest against school health code policies.
Gracefully timeless stories like the Lord of the Rings have that kind of enchanting power on people; they make them throw caution to the winds and express their passion with a childlike abandon.

“I read the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was in first and second grade,” junior Jilly Dos Santos said. “The Hobbit was my first favorite book. When everyone else was going on about Harry Potter, I knew where the real magic was at. [When the movie came out], I went to see the midnight release with a big group of friends, stayed up the rest of the night, somehow passed a math quiz in that zombie-like state and then did the dance marathon. We were dead by the end of it. I didn’t sleep for 40 hours, but it was so worth it.”

With tomorrow’s release of part two of the three-part installation, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Dos Santos says she plans on going to the midnight release despite it being in the midst of a busy weekend again. Though she says it will be a hectic night, she believes that all the craziness is part of the fun. Dr. Robert Thompson, renowned professor of Television and Pop Culture at Syracuse University that the Associated Press once dubbed “A Pop Culture Ambassador,” said there’s a reason for this devoted craze around The Hobbit.

“Generally, there are certain types of programs that tend to get the really enthusiastic, cult-like fans. And those programs tend to be things that create universes all their own,” Thompson said, “which means we get a lot more enthusiasm around fantasy-oriented programs, science fiction-oriented programs, than we do around a lot of other programs. And The Hobbit, of course, is one of the classics in that genre. When you pick up The Hobbit or you pick up any of the Lord of the Rings books, there’s a map in the beginning. It creates a universe and it literally maps it out and you’ve got all these different languages, different rules. You’ve got elves and there’s hobbits, and I think all that lends itself to mass social consumption because there’s just so much to talk about.”

Junior Maha Hamed harbors a plethora of pop culture “obsessions,” ranging anywhere from Lord of the Rings to One Direction to Doctor Who. Hamed doesn’t just forge through her obsession alone, though. Social media outlets like Tumblr provide communities for her to fuel her interests.

“You could say [Tumblr] makes [pop culture obsessions] better and worse,” Hamed said. “Because Tumblr is other people helping you with this sort of obsession and fueling it, so you’re like ‘Yeah!’ but at the same time, [Tumblr] slowly gets weirder and it slowly goes too far. It’s reassuring that you’re not the only one, though. You don’t feel like you’re the only person out there that likes a certain thing even though it can be the weirdest thing. Maybe in your class no one knows what Doctor Who is, but if I go on Tumblr, there are thousands of blogs about it. So you get a sense of belonging with finding fandoms.”

Thompson says these communities — both tangible and online ­— only make sense. When people ask why these followers tended to group into “fandoms,” he replied, “Well, why wouldn’t they?”

“If there’s something you really like, whether it be a skill like knitting or a sport which requires participating with other people or a show, you really are part of the fun of consuming any kind of culture [that] is sharing it with other people,” Thompson said. “Take your favorite show: you really like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Imagine what it would be like if you could watch it every week, or on Netflix all day long, but you were never allowed to speak to anybody else about it. What if every Super Bowl, people watched the game all by themselves, didn’t have Super Bowl parties, weren’t able to talk about how various players had performed; that would take an awful lot of fun away from it.”

Furthermore, though social media outlets like Tumblr that, as Hamed said, can often “take things too far” or intense gatherings like Comic Con can lend a negative stigma to pop culture obsessions, Thompson believes there’s nothing wrong with obsessions, that maybe there’s even a silver lining.

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about [obsessions],” Thompson said. “I suppose if you wake up in the morning and do nothing but read people’s blogs about The Hobbit and update your social media outlets about The Hobbit and rewatch ‘Hobbit’ cartoons over and over, that’s too much. If you’re naming your first-born child Bilbo, you’re probably a little too into it, but I sometimes envy people who can get as interested and as committed as they can. I think, in many ways, some wonderful things come from caring about these sorts of things. Truly enjoying a work of art, whether it be a movie or a novel or a poem, can be a profoundly good thing.”