episode 3 

[PREVIOUSLY ON REBOOT: Former child actor David Crader wants to reboot Rev Beach, the early 2000s teen drama that first made him famous. It’s a Buffy-meets-Dawson’s ripoff that almost nobody liked when it was new, but thanks to an unlikely resurgence of interest during lockdown, and a viral meme based on a screengrab, the owner of the franchise (who is also his old co-star and first ex-wife) is open to the idea of a 20th anniversary revival. David has flown to Los Angeles to talk to her, but first he has to appear at a Fan Convention, where he’s been invited because he is the voice of a popular videogame character named Shibboleth Gold.]

I signed and posed and smiled and shook hands and the hours went by in a blur of brief encounters with women dressed up as sexy elves and men dressed up as me.

Well, not me, but Shib, in his trademark black leather duster and matching cowboy hat. Under said duster he wore (they wore? “I” wore?) a gray long-sleeved T-shirt with three buttons at the neck, all undone, exposing a swath of chest hair only partially obscured by Shib’s trademark gold kerchief, which matched his trademark leather gloves and golden glowing eyes, from which, when abetted by certain power-ups, he could blast golden laser beams that flash-fried the tentacle-faced men who aimed to thwart him. The eyes stumped the average cosplayer. Serious heads sprang for custom contact lenses. Also, I know I keep saying “trademark” sarcastically, but these things were all actually copyrighted. That said, it was notable to me (and to no small portion of our fanbase) that Shibboleth Gold looked an awful lot like a palette-swapped Roland Deschain, aka Gunslinger of the Stephen King Dark Tower novels. And moreover, that the SG franchise—which trafficked in the same bootleg mash-up of noir, western, and fantasy as the DT books did—had been scripted first as DT fan fiction and only later revised into (nominal) originality when Sam failed to secure the IP. The more successful the game got, the more it found itself haunted by the specter of its imitative origin. This was, I suspected, another reason why CM2M was delayed like a prophesied apocalypse. Sam knew enough to know that this was our chance to break the surly bonds of fandom and stake our own claim in the western-noir-fantasy genre that King had more or less invented but could hardly claim a monopoly on, since he’d invented it by mashing up Tolkien and Sergio Leone, with a patina of that Robert Browning poem that was itself a retelling of that old French poem. King was always as much postmodernist as poptimist, so we had to assume that he’d have a good sense of humor about what SG was up to, if and when he found out about it. His lawyers on the other hand might be less inclined to embrace the death of the author and the theory of cultural memes. So CM2M was going long on Hollow Earth theory and doubling down on what it had borrowed from Lovecraft (for instance, the tentacle-faced men) whose work had been in the public domain for generations, and ripped off so many times by so many people (King included) that most of what he’d made up was taken at this point for genuine folklore, old weird Americana, like a life-size cow sculpted from butter or the Grateful Dead.

Some goon in my signing line was wearing a homemade shirt. It was a drawing of the young C. Thomas Howell, circa The Outsiders, with tentacles coming out of his face. Underneath the image it said Stay (((Gold))). This was a meme from one of our most dedicated Reddit threads, to the effect that Shibboleth Gold was Jewish, which was plausible insofar as his creator was, but also raised the prospect of anti-Semitism, since Lovecraft was a rabid anti-Semite and so were the MAGA chuds who originated the brackets-around-names thing, though Sam insisted that this label had been reclaimed, apparently, by Jews in the media who started adding it to their Twitter handles. (And yes, LOL, “Jews in the media” itself feels like an anti-Semitic thing to say, though it is literally true, and I’m half Jewish myself, so who’s gonna tell me I can’t?)

Maybe the guy wearing the shirt meant it sarcastically, or ironically, I’m honestly not sure which is the right word to use here, or if the latter, what exactly was being ironized by the shirt. It was all part of the ever-elusive, ever-shifting, all-pervasive irony of social media itself, and this was one big reason why I didn’t use any of those services. The last thing I wanted was a platform. The second-to-last thing I wanted was to appear in a photograph with a person wearing that T-shirt. It would be death by ten thousand RTs.

My handler stood off to the side; I waved him over, pointed out the guy. “Tell Ponyboy Squidface to zip up his hoodie or get out of my signing line,” I said.

The handler nodded, frowned, walked over. I wanted to watch, in part to make sure things didn’t escalate and in part for the perverse pleasure—so long forgotten, so quickly recalled—of making a guy like the handler into the instrument of my will. Of giving orders and having them followed. This world—the world of the fan con—was one where I could get just about anything I wanted. That knowledge felt good. But I didn’t watch the conversation unfold, because the one thing I couldn’t do was hold up the signing line. The fans kept coming. Someone switched out my Sharpie at some point. Did Ponyboy Squidface zip his hoodie or did they boot him? I couldn’t tell you. You’d have to check his Instagram, see if there’s a picture of us posted there.

The Shibboleth Gold fans knew what they wanted, which was more Shibboleth Gold. The Rev Beach fandom, having been around a lot longer, was less cohesive. It had had decades to evolve and change, to build up its own history and lore, complete with origin myths (the failed Tumblr petition), a medieval period (the early unmodded message boards), and a sense that it was now in the full flush of its own modernity (streaming and meme-ing). The question was how to face the future. Whether to embrace it, and more to the point, which future it was they were fighting for. The fandom had fractured into factions. The first and biggest cohort were the enthusiasts, who were eager to see their long-held hope of a reboot realized. Then there were the small but vocal convergencers, by and large younger than the enthusiasts, at least some of whom had come to Shibboleth Gold first and Rev Beach second. Since both pieces of IP involved me and Sam, and because the convergencers had been foie gras’d on Marvel movies since birth, they saw no reason why the game and the show shouldn’t become part of the same expanded universe. Indeed, a copious and ever-growing body of fan fiction fleshed out the potential of such a crossover. It seemed to involve a lot of Grace having sex with tentacle men, and me having sex with Shayne. The latter scenario didn’t even require an expanded universe to imagine, as some enthusiasts were quick to point out. Some of them had been shipping me and Shayne for twenty years.

Safe to say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of our convergencer fans, but they weren’t the ones I worried about. Frankly, I liked the idea that there were people out there for whom the thought of me having sex was a subject worthy of five or ten or forty thousand words of sustained imagination. Never mind who they imagined me having it with. I didn’t want to read it, and it was weird knowing it was out there, but I was happy to take it as the compliment that I assumed it mostly was. I knew their undying lust for my on-screen teenage self was what paid my fan convention fee. What else were they going to do with my signed headshots, with the half-second memory of how my hand had felt in theirs?

So no, the pervs weren’t my main worry.

My worry were the Revheaded Strangers.

They were a tiny group, maybe ten or twelve people tops, or they had been before the reboot rumors. Now they had newfound visibility and, I suspected, swelling ranks. They tested the limit of my live-and-let-live philosophy.

The Revheaded Strangers dated back to the show’s original run. They were OG fans. One of the founders had coauthored the Tumblr petition, and three others were counted among its first five signatories. They’d been enthusiasts back then, their devotion pure and unsurpassed. They wrote tons of fanfic, most of it blessedly free of imagery inspired by hentai. It was the Rev Beach universe itself that interested them: the vampires, the haunted beach, the don’t-call-it-a-hellmouth Hellmouth, and so on. They took this stuff and ran with it, like August Derleth with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos or Stephen King doing George Romero karaoke by writing that novel where cell phones turn everyone into zombies and then dedicating it to George Romero. We, the actors, were the least interesting part of the whole equation, as far as this apostate order was concerned. Over time, the Revheaded Strangers came to see the show itself as vestigial. They regarded it roughly the same way that the early Christians regarded Judaism, or as Mormonism regards Christianity: a necessary precursor, the best parts absorbed and the rest disavowed.

The Revheaded Strangers had enjoyed two full decades of schismatic freedom. Now, with the reboot viable, the threat of official canon was imminent. When Rev Beach came back (if it came back) whatever we put on TV would instantly render apocryphal the work on which, it is no exaggeration to say, they had spent their entire adult lives. All their mythos development and plot-hole backfilling, their spin-offs and alternate timelines, prequels and sequels and crossover orgies with the Dawson’s cast—obsolete in an instant. They didn’t want to be the last pagans born to purgation, watching Messiah lead the saved souls to heaven from the fringe of limbo. But they also didn’t want to convert.

Their solution was to oppose the reboot itself. Their methods were diverse, if predictable. They tweeted a lot. They started a Change.org petition, which took all the original language of the mid-aughts reboot petition and inverted it line for line. In the same way that Satan is the most devout Christian, because the terms of his rebellion confirm all God’s claims, so too did the deranged persistence of the Revheaded Strangers legitimize Rev Beach. It spoke well of our prospects for generating discourse. These people hated us so much, they’d probably stream every episode twelve times just to pick them apart. TikTok reactions über alles, whole podcasts devoted to taking us down. They would, in fine, give the rest of the fans something to unite in opposing, a way to heal the enthusiast/convergencer rift, to make the body of the fandom whole.

That was one way it might go. The other way it might go was that one of the Revheaded Strangers would snap, come to a convention like this one, and stand in my fan line and take my hand in his and then, with a grim glimmer in his glassy eye, straight up fucking murder me.

It was a small but real concern. And getting smaller by the minute, as my time at the signing table wound down. A few minutes more and I’d be free. Free and paid.

It was something to be.

From REBOOT © 2024 by Justin Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Justin Tayor is the author of REBOOT, out now. He will be in conversation with Anika Jade Levy at Threes Brewing on May 2nd. 

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