A Little Goncharov For Thanksgiving

Movie poster for the fictitious film, Goncharov.
Movie poster by Alex Korotchuk, (beelzeebub.tumblr.com)

If you have not heard of the recent Tumblr phenomenon of Goncharov, you have only to google it to read a breakdown by The Guardian, Variety, and NBCnews.

What began a few years ago on Tumblr with a photograph of a pair of boots with a label that read “The greatest mafia movie ever made. Martin Scorsese presents GONCHAROV,” evolved into an online collaborative fan community that is still working to world-build an entire film franchise that never existed. 

I learned about it the way I learn about most memes and pop culture, from my teenagers. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we had a group chat spring up on Discord that included two family friends who were going to be joining us for the holiday from out of town. One of the topics of conversation turned to Goncharov, the imaginary film around which an active Tumblr fan community had sprung up, as if it had been a real, little-known cult classic from 1973 made by Martin Scorsese. 

It became a fun creative exercisein the middle of the day, one of the kids would send a question about Goncharov: “What do you think about the relationship between Katya and Sofia?” or “What did you make of the clock tower imagery?” or “Goncharov… iphone or android guy?” To which someone else would playfully answer. 

This same kind of thing was happening on a massive scale on Tumblr, where artists created movie posters and promotional materials, composers posted songs and soundtracks, people posted deleted scenes and script fragments. There are reviews and academic papers, fictitious Wikipedia and IMDb listings, and A LOT of fan art.

Lynda Carter posted a photo on her Tumblr with Henry Winkler that she captioned, “Me and ‘The Fonz’ at the premiere of Goncharov (1973) at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”

Discussions popped up about the characters and who would play them in the reboot. Posts were shared hundreds, then thousands of times. A Goncharov (1973) Lore Google Doc and Discord server were created to help keep the content organized.

Ice-Pick Joe’s Demise.

Our family’s fan-favorite character was Ice-Pick Joe, so I wrote “Musings on Ice-Pick Joe” in between chopping veggies for stuffing and waiting for the sweet potatoes to roast, complete with some AI-generated art. That was four days ago, and the post has been liked and shared more than I anticipated, and I keep thinking about why that is.

Conversations around Goncharov have continued, and I find myself wondering what it is about this moment in time and this type of activity that continues to capture so many people’s imagination and engagement? Tumblr is a hub for public fandom culture and community in a way that the other social media platforms are not. It’s where you can find discourse and fanfiction/fanart for almost anything.

Still, this is a little different and on a much larger scale. At a time when people are looking for Twitter alternatives, with the stress and joy of holidays approaching, what is drawing so many people in?

We talked about this over Thanksgiving: the way Goncharov allowed people low-stakes permission to create, to play to their particular strengths, to connect with other people, to escape reality for a moment, to build a new community. We talked about the shortcomings and challenges we saw: power dynamics, issues of race, etc.

It’s an evolving experiment, and as such, it has been shaped by the many variables involved and course-corrected each time someone notices a gap or opportunity: What would a musical look like? What if some of the actors had gone on Sesame Street or the Muppet Show? What if Gonzo played Goncharov and Miss Piggy played Katya? What would the remake look like set in 1980s NYC? What recipes might be created for the Goncharov cookbook? (I remember how much fun we had making the Forking Good cookbook.) There really is no end to what people can come up with. I’m waiting to see if Goncharov gets a Tom Gauld comic or a mention on Saturday Night Live. 

It seems relevant that role-playing games, both online and tabletop, have recently increased in popularity. Dungeons and Dragons was the cornerstone of Stranger Things, and 50,000 people attended Gen Con (tabletop game convention) in 2022. It’s not my world, although I’ve watched the joy my kids take in it. My energy goes into writing, but I can absolutely appreciate the fun of playing together. 

As a writer, I walk around with worlds in my head, but I don’t get to share them until they get published. Something like Goncharov, which was not an intellectual property “owned” by anyone, gives people permission to imagine and play.

I think it speaks to a need we have an human beings to experience connection, joy, wonder, and hope. We’ve always had those needs. People have been gathering around fires or tables, telling stories, for thousands of years.

Today, the hearth may be a computer or a phone, but the desire is not that different. My November began with the publication of Mother Christmas, my graphic novel, the secret origin of the Santa Claus story which is rooted in the ancient Muses, whose gifts inspire humanity. One of the questions my story attempts to answer is: Where does inspiration come from?

If we look at Goncharov we can see that inspiration comes from so many places. So much is possible when people given themselves permission to play, to shrug off the inner critics and outer trolls, and to imagine for a moment a different world that they have a part in creating. That is such a powerful and compelling idea.

Stories remind us that we are not alone, that we share struggles, and that we can overcome obstacles. There are so many challenges in the world right now. Maybe Goncharov is a lens through which people are seeing themselves and each other, reminding us how much fun it is to make-believe and how powerful it can be to have a shared image of the world.

The first step in creation is imagining. Exercising that muscle, allowing ourselves to play and tell stories and make art is a worthwhile one, and I think it’s one that we need to survive.  The Goncharov phenomenon gives me hope, because if we can have this many people put their energy into creating a whole world around Goncharov, just imagine what else is possible?


Virtual Authenticity

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity, about what is genuine.

It’s something I look for and love about the people in my life: give me honest grumpiness over false pleasantries. I think that’s why I sometimes have a hard time with sarcasm–if I can’t tell what’s true, it makes me uneasy.

I’ve recently had a few conversations with friends about the internet and authenticity–the ways we portray ourselves and the quality of our online relationships.

Just last weekend, I was at a baby shower for a dear childhood friend, sitting at a table with my sister, my oldest friend, and others from the neighborhood. The conversation turned to the love-hate relationship many of us have with Facebook.

My sister refuses to join Facebook, while the rest of us use it to varying degrees. She teased me about some of my posts, brought to her attention by my cousin, who asked if I really do the things I post about (especially with three young kids).

The things I post about really do happen.

But it got me thinking.

When I post a photo or an anecdote about some small instance of joy, like dancing in the kitchen or enjoying coffee under canopy of trees or laughing with friends by a campfire, it’s not to point to them as examples of my everyday life.

My everyday is filled with a rather unexciting routine of kids, coffee, writing, kids, cooking, coffee, housework, relationships, writing, wine, frustration, bickering, procrastination, overcommitment, deadlines, and so on. The everyday is pretty typical. It’s messy, and I’m generally ok with that.

This is my dining room right at this moment--a mess of homework, Halloween, and the ever-moving piles of paperwork.
My dining room at this very moment–a mess of homework, Halloween, and the ever-moving piles of paperwork.

Sometimes I will post about the everyday, usually if I think it’s funny because I think it helps to know that other people are dealing with ridiculous moments of child stubbornness or homeowner frustration, but nobody wants to read about the everyday every day.

So most of my everyday posts are about coffee or wine. Because the sharing of those seems to be a recognizable symbol for “the routine”–a shout out to everyone else, as if to say “Cheers! We’re in this together, this grind of everyday”–without having to specify the details. It’s like a nod of recognition.

Those other moments: the ones that are silly or playful or creative–they are exceptions and exceptional. They are the moments that make me stop and feel gratitude, they remind me to keep perspective, they show me what the everyday is for.

When I share them, it’s because they are outside my norm, because they are not everyday or typical. I feel like they’re a  gift, so I share them.

I’ve been reflecting about why I post the things I post: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on the blog. Each one is different, a different tool.

This past year I’ve been trying to write as much as possible: fiction, short fiction, poetry, comic book script. Making a  commitment to writing means that I spend a lot more time at home alone on my computer.  When I take a break, I pop online. I read a post or some tweets. Then I go back to work.

Twitter? It’s about community for me, the larger writing/arts community, many of whom are not in Chicago. That’s where I can wave to friends who are also writing at 2am, learn about a new poem someone published, or give congratulations for an award or good review. It’s also where I get most of my news.

Tumblr? I post photos and stories that I find interesting and quotes that strike me as compelling. Much of what I post there if for myself, a sort of bookmark for the future. (I tend to use Google+ in a similar fashion).

Blog? I process the world by writing. When something is really important and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, I often write a blog post. It’s my way of working things out and also inviting a conversation from people I don’t get to see in person.

Facebook? This one is trickier.

Facebook is good for long distance friends and family, for birthday greetings and other milestones. I periodically check-in on people, pick a few folks I’m thinking about and read their posts, skim their photos.

But what about the things I choose to post?

There are the interesting articles and links. I try to only post things I think are compelling or important.

The rest?

I think it comes down to connection.

In her TED talk on vulnerability (and also in her book), Brené Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning in our lives.”

I think she’s right. Of course, connection means different things for different people. For some people it’s the close friendship of a handful of trusted friends, for others it’s crowds of fans and followers. Most of us are somewhere in between.

I think at its best, Facebook can be about those little nods that tell us we’re not alone. Especially when we are alone so much of the time.

That’s how I see “likes,” as nods, not in agreement necessarily, but in acknowledgment: I see you, I hear you. In this moment, you are not alone.

Of course, we are. Alone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what I loved so much about Louis CK’s talk on Conan.

Louis CK said:

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.”

I think Louis CK is  right. We need to be able to just stand in the way of moments without the distraction of the phone or the filter of the camera. We need to be able to feel them fully, to be present.

But after? After those moments?

After that profoundly sad moment happened, Louis CK shared it on live television, and it has been archived and passed all over the internet.

Maybe somewhere in there lies the balance?

We need to experience genuine moments–moments of joy or sadness or revelation. But after? Afterwards we can share them.

Facebook can never be a substitute for a face-to-face talk, a hug, the energy of a lively dinner conversation, but the internet does give us a starting point from which we can further connect.

I think it’s always important to remember that the virtual is only part of the whole.

When I raise my mug of coffee in the morning, know that I’m probably setting it down on a large pile of papers to be sorted. Just because I don’t mention them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

When I’m singing to the Beatles in the kitchen, it may to be to drown out the sound of the kids complaining about homework or fighting over who gets to use the cool, sparkly pencil.

And when we’re dancing in the living room–I often close my eyes not to see the clutter –because sometimes it’s better to just be present in the moment. The rest of it can wait.