I’ve been struggling a lot with my identity lately. The eternity of 2020 has done a lot to push mortality into the minds of everyone. But I also feel that I’ve been experiencing a heightened push in that regard from other angles as well. We watched Breaking the Rules, which was really not very good, but did make me think. Then I got the kidney stone over the holidays, which, while not life threatening, kind of put my life on pause for a month. This has driven me to question whether my life has meaning.

Meanwhile my identity has taken a number of hits over the past few years.

In 2022 I stopped being a vegetarian after a decade with no meat. In that time I had become overly reliant on Amy’s brand for food. The revelation that they had closed an entire factory in response to the workers’ attempt to unionize (allegedly or whatever) felt like something I can’t ignore. Such a scorched earth policy to workers rights is unacceptable. But I didn’t really know how to reliably replace them. A lot of other things had been building to me eating meat again, but this pushed me over the edge.

Beyond something as essential as food, brands I’m attached to, which specifically profit from providing a locus of identity and culture, have become problematic.

Well before Amy’s shut down that factory, when the Crew announced they were moving to Austin in 2017, I think I felt the first pain. I had attached something of myself to my local soccer fandom. I did not participate in the Save the Crew movement, not because I didn’t care, but because I felt hopeless. Even when the movement succeeded, I felt disconnected. I hadn’t really experienced “they don’t care about you” in such a pointed way before that point. After that more evidence continued to pile up.

I’ve been heavily tied up in various nerd culture franchises for my entire life. Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, and many more. All of these have something in common: mega corps now own them and, at some point, often recently, the corps have begun to introduce changes which make the cracks in their relationship with the fandom quite clear.

Disney killed the Star Wars extended universe on purchase. Paramount attempted to reset Star Trek with time travel and then drove the franchise into the ground with bad writing. Microsoft repeatedly mishandled Halo by releasing strangely incomplete games. Hasbro attempted to rewrite the Dungeons and Dragons game license immediately after what might be the most poorly recieved Magic product launch since Hasbro took over.

I find myself saying “I don’t know who I am anymore.” I googled this. What I got back is 100s of articles about abusive relationships. Women who are stuck in bad marriages. People who have changed themselves to suit their partner to the extent that they are playing a role. I don’t think I have this problem. My girlfriend has been wonderfully accepting of my hobbies and quirks. Certainly I have had to change, but none of those changes have been core to my identity.

I think the abusive relationship I am in is with these companies. I don’t really know how to get out. This is my life, and my involvement in these stories, almost all of them interactive through events, video games and table top, is something not so easily broken off.

TheJaymo posted this Simpson’s meme at the end of his February 12th weeknotes

Simpsons point at the sign meme - “Don’t make me tap the signe. - Your peers are creating the fulfilling art and media that you seek Not corporations”

While I think that looking for alternative indie media is good advice, changing all of my interests and behaviors overnight feels like losing myself. I think that is the fundamental problem and why I feel so disconnected from my own identity.

There is also the problem of community. These big franchises come with a built in community. It is easy to find people who share my enthusiasm, and it has been for my whole life. I lack the skills to discover whole new communities on my own. Beyond that, many of my existing relationships are built on shared interests in these properties.

I am also 35 now. The time and freedom I would need to rebuild this part of my life from scratch is simply not there. This type of identity building took decades to get where I am in an education environment that made doing so easy. I can’t imagine how to do it now.

I plan to continue to find ways to separate my identity from these things which I do not control, the owners of which do not care about me beyond my wallet. However I do believe that these companies need to understand the damage they are causing, not just to their customers (they won’t care about that), but also to the brands themselves.

I wish there was a way forward for me that did not involve dismantling who I am and rebuilding again from scratch. Without a major course correction from big media, I do not believe that such a path exists.

I am Edward Modecki-Mellett, a web developer from Columbus, Ohio. I love zines and the indie web. I love sci-fi, fantasy and slice of life. I listen to upbeat electronic music, post punk, jazz, and video game soundtracks. I like making things, but don’t often finish them (I’m working on that). I enjoy lifting weights, cooking, and organizing. I don’t really know who I am, but I’m working on that too.