Loving What You Love Without Hating What You Don’t: Surviving Fandom In 2018
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh”
– Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?“
While it may seem like a stretch for me to compare the drama going on within geek circles to the type of violent, socio-political strife that Marvin Gaye was singing about back in 1971, I really do sense something ugly and almost irreparably cruel going on within fandoms all over the world. And it breaks my heart.
Every day, I scroll through my Twitter feed and I see so much hatred, ignorance, and wanton cruelty that it makes my stomach turn. And I’m reminded of the words of Revenge of The Fans co-founder, Jon Crabtree: Remember when fandom was about loving things, not hating things?
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Between the current, extremely hostile political climate nearly everywhere you look, and the fact that we’re living in a culture that’s increasingly reliant on “advancing” the collective dialogue via incendiary sound bytes instead of through meaningful discussions, it’s only natural that this “Us vs Them” mindset has found a way to pollute something that’s supposed to be beautiful.
But I want you to think about this for a second. And I don’t mean “You” in the abstract. I mean you, literally; The person reading this; The person you see in the mirror. Because it starts with you.
As I walk you through this discussion, I want you to keep an open mind, because even you can be incredibly destructive if you’re not careful.
There’s a strange phenomenon going around lately, with the label “Toxic” being branded onto particular fandoms. I’ve seen that hurled at a sect of DC fans; I’ve seen it lobbed at Marvel fans; And- lately- it’s the only way one can really describe some Star Wars fans. Now, it’s important to note that I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Toxic Fandom. I think, just like with everything else in the world, there are “bad apples” within any large group. But that’s why it’s important for you to be mindful of what you say, and who’s voices you help amplify, within your chosen fandom.
The “toxic” label has become a thing because of stuff like…
- Countless fans swarming someone because they shared their dislike for a movie, or their disdain for a filmmaker, or for not phrasing something in a way they find acceptable
- Online trolls purposely stirring the pot to illicit such reactions- perhaps because of a misguided desire for attention, or to bring their website some angry clicks
- Fans outright attacking the people involved with the productions they cherish, no matter the context- be it actors, writers, directors, studio heads, etc. Even if say, for example, the person in question is posting a thoughtful, humane tweet about some social issue. It’s not uncommon to see their Replies inundated with hateful prose about how they “ruined” some movie
- Fans drawing battle lines, deciding to trash anything “the competition” is doing, and instantly glorifying anything their favorite franchise/series/property is doing, without even considering the possibility that maybe they should support all cool things regardless of where it comes from
- A hive mentality where it doesn’t matter if something is true or not, as long as it’s repeated often enough that it becomes true within the hive
It should be noted that a lot of these above attitudes aren’t exclusive to geek circles, as they seem to be part of human nature as a whole. But my point is that fandom isn’t meant to have any of those qualities.
To be a fan, in theory, is to love something. Nowhere in the description of a fan is the mandate that you must hate anything, or fight with anyone who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with you about your favorite things. So the mere fact that we’re starting to use the same sad tools people use when they discuss polarizing world issues…in a setting designed to discuss what we’re excited about, is truly disheartening and a desecration of the very idea of being a fan.
The shockingly tragic treatment of Kelly Marie Tran from Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes to mind. Lately, there have been alarming stories about the abuse she’s had to deal with from fans ever since that film came out. Mind you, she’s merely an actress who was given a job to do. She did her job, said her lines, and did what her director asked of her. And yet, because people hate her character and think of her as the new Jar Jar Binks, she literally had to delete all of the photos on her Instagram and basically go radio silent on social media because of the relentless negativity.
This is a woman who was honored and awestruck to be cast in a dream project; A Star Wars movie. And people have gone out of their way to rob her of that joy. Meanwhile, unlike a CG character like Binks, she’s a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and emotions, who doesn’t deserve such personal animosity.
There are many examples of things like this, where performers, creators, and executives have had to literally go on social media hiatuses because they can’t seem to share a single thought online without being flooded by hate.
Is that how this is supposed to work? Do people really feel so entitled to having things go their way that they’ve completely forgotten about something as simple as human decency? I surely hope not, but present circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.
Speaking of human decency, I need to speak- again- to the instigators of Zack Snyder slander on the web. I know it gets you clicks and attention, but can you please take a step back instead of kicking a man while he’s down? It’s ridiculous. In the last two years, he’s essentially been booted from a franchise he was passionately working on; His daughter committed suicide; He was shown the door on what should have been his opus (Justice League); That film was released into theaters, bearing his name despite the fact that it didn’t in any way resemble his vision; And he’s just trying to pick up the pieces, dust himself off, and move on.
I honestly don’t care about your opinions about movies like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, you have absolutely no right to personally attack Snyder- or any filmmaker for that matter- simply because you weren’t a fan of their creative decisions.
Can you try to let them know that you didn’t care for the movie, and perhaps let them know what didn’t work for you? Sure. But to vindictively attack, mock, and belittle them over something as trivial as an opinion about a movie is the height of immaturity.
The same goes for fan-to-fan debates.
Us v Them: Dawn of Toxicity
Fanboy debates like Star Wars vs Star Trek, WWF vs WCW (yes, I know, I’m dating myself), and Marvel vs DC, have gone on since the beginning of (geek) time. And they’re fine. They’re healthy. They’re expected. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about a couple of friends having a heated debate about how their favorite thing is better than the other person’s favorite thing.
But that’s amongst friends.
Online these days, it’s somehow become acceptable to have these debates with perfect strangers- which is fine, and expected. But due to the inherent anonymity that internet interactions innately have, and the fact that you never really know where a stranger is coming from or the full context for why they feel a certain way, we’re now living in a time where “Oh, you shared an opinion directed at no one in particular that I disagree with? I’m now going to try to publicly own you through mockery. That’ll teach you to feel differently than I do…even though we’re totally different people, you’re a stranger, and I really shouldn’t care at all about what you think as long as I’m clear on what I think” is the way people choose to discuss differences of opinion.
Because when you have these debates with friends, there’s a common respect there; An understanding. Certain things will be off-limits, or go unspoken. There’s trust. But online, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You can spew some poisonous bile at a perfect stranger, then just click out of that app and go play Fortnite.
A lot of it seems to stem from people forgetting to include the words, “For me” “I think” or “In my opinion.” Instead, folks pretend to be experts by passing off their own subjective opinion as if it’s a fact:
“This movie was __________, because ________.”
When you post something along those lines, you open yourself up to scrutiny from people who feel differently. I have found that, in my daily online interactions, things became far less heated, angry, and controversial when I started expressing myself more diplomatically. I started making a concerted effort to specify that my opinions are just that: My opinions. And I try to back them up as reasonably as I can, but I never try to act like I’m some sort of authority on anything by making blanket statements.
If it’s truly your intention to share an opinion, without trying to start a flame war with “the other side,” then you actually have to be mindful of your words. It’s such a logical concept, but one I see constantly ignored.
People who disagree with your opinions are not your enemy. If anything, they can be a great friend. If two people are able to look at a piece of art, see totally different things about it, then have a passionate discussion about what they walked away from it with, that’s one of the most beautiful things in life. It’s how you learn, how you grow, how you connect. It’s how your horizons expand.
If you instantly condemn someone in your heart, and in your mind, because you feel differently about something like a TV Show or a Movie, then you’re shrinking your own world and being a part of the problem.
Be Mindful Who You Give Your Time To
Look, the social media landscape can be a venerable minefield. You can go down the wrong path and end up in some pretty dark places. That’s why it’s so important to put effort into determining who you want to interact with.
For example, when I post a story, an opinion, or an observation, and someone responds in a hostile way, or they try to ridicule me for having the audacity to feel differently than they do, I don’t instantly engage them. What I do, instead, is click on their profile. I scroll through their recent posts to get an idea for what kind of person I’m dealing with.
If they’re someone who seemingly delights in being a troll and stirring the pot, or who seems to have a hostile chip on their shoulder and just wants to fight all the time? I ignore them.
If they’re someone who actually seems reasonable and like they’ve got a good head on their shoulders? I engage them.
That simple practice has saved me all kinds of stress. And it’s led to some really rewarding discussions; Ones where I actually turn a potential enemy into an ally! It’s happened more times than I can count, and it’s a thrill each time. To take someone who starts with “You’re such an idiot. You’re so wrong about this. And here’s why!” and then have it all end up with “Sorry for saying that before. I get where you’re coming from now.” It’s a pretty epic feeling, and it’s the essence of passionate fandom.
But some fans seem to have trouble with this idea. I’ve seen a fandom rage on about a single tweet from some random user for days and days. I’ve seen situations where there are 30 different threads going on dissecting what someone said, then when I go click on that person’s profile I see that they’re just some Average Joe with 17 followers who likes to go around and troll people. And then I ask myself, “Why are they paying any attention to this sad creep?”
That’s a question you need to ask yourself before you jump down a rabbit hole with some rando who’s trying to get your goat.
And in the case of inflammatory online reporting, which there’s sadly a ton of, you have to be just as discerning.
Don’t Take The Bait
This is going to seem odd, reading this here on a fanboy blog, but you really shouldn’t click on every link you see. You’ve got to remember that, for most sites, it’s just business. The owners keep tabs on the stats, they see which kinds of stories generate the most traffic, and then they choose to run more stories like that. And, sadly, it leads to really misleading headlines as well as articles that exist for no other purpose than to piss you off and indirectly inspire you to comment, share, and get the rest of your friends angry, too- because then they will click, comment, and share!
I would know. I used to work for a site that would constantly hit me over the head with “We need more clicks! Make the headlines more provocative! Make more of the kinds of articles that generated all that traffic last week!” That’s why I’m so thrilled to be running Revenge of The Fans, because this site isn’t about money. I have a thriving career as a Wedding DJ, and my staff and I run this site every day out of love for this stuff. No one’s making a cent on it.
[NOTE: In the four or so months since we started running ads on the site, we’ve made a grand total of about $190….which doesn’t even cover what it cost us to create the site! If we’re at all close to breaking even, it’s because of the amazing folks who contribute to the total of around $100 a month we get via Patreon.]
Of course, I’d love for that to change since I think my people deserve to be paid for their work, but for me, personally, I don’t need this site to generate a dollar for me since I’m already 16 years into a career I really love. (Though I’ll admit my wife would appreciate it if I started making money on this site I pour 30-40 hours a week into)
But I’m a unique case. Most sites operate under a “bottom line” mentality. They need your clicks, they need those ad dollars, and they need that daily traffic. So half the time, when you see some outrageously negative headline, you have to realize that they’re simply trying to sell you something. And if you do decide to click the link to see if they can back up their sensational headline, then leave it there. If you determine that the article really was just baseless click bait, the best way you can stop that from happening again is to click out and not say a word about it to anyone!
Because if you shine a spotlight on it- even if it’s a negative spotlight- you’re still giving them exactly what they want, and guess what? Now you’re going to get more articles like those!
Be The Change
If you’re someone like me, who gets bummed out when you see the way people treat each other, the best thing you can do is be kind. To paraphrase the message from Wonder Woman, “The only way to end hate isn’t with more hate. It’s with love.”
Despite the safety of your tidy, online anonymity, remember that you’re dealing with people. These are potential friends, neighbors, allies. And even if they’re not, they’re someone who’s got their own set of challenges they face every day, and maybe they’re lashing out at you or at something you love because of something that’s lacking in their own lives. Or, simplest of all, maybe they just disagree with your point of view…and that’s okay. Remember that, because it’s the beauty of art: Understanding and respecting the different reactions so many people can have while looking at the same exact thing.
And the same applies when interacting with the creators of art. No one sets out to make a piece of art with the hope that it’ll hurt you, desecrate your childhood, or ruin something you love. They’re merely doing the best they can, using the tools and experience life has handed them. If you’re unhappy with their work, that’s fine. What’s not fine is spewing hatred onto them, because that’s not how you get things to evolve in a positive direction with your favorite property.
Think about it.
If you’re outwardly harassing a person involved with a project that matters to you because you didn’t care for their take on things, do you think that other artists- ones you may love– are going to want to get involved with projects in that particular franchise now with the knowledge that fans can so easily turn on them? And do you really want to make the life of someone like Tran miserable when she inevitably has to start work on Star Wars: Episode IX, knowing that there’s a legion of people around the world who hate her and want her to fail? Is that what you want?
I can personally attest to the benefits of being more diplomatic, humble, and patient online.
After years of doing things the wrong way, and getting the desired results of “stirring the pot,” in the middle of last year I decided to do a 180. Whatever positives once came from being more abrasive became far less rewarding, and I started finding myself in these epic, vicious online arguments. I started getting bullied and pushed around, and I decided to look inward at how I present myself online. And I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t like what I saw.
As soon as I decided to change gears and become more positive, more diplomatic, and more self-effacing, great things started to happen. My following practically doubled, my podcast listenership went up, and my supporters became even more ardent in their appreciation of what I do- which gave birth to Revenge of The Fans. And all it took was the decision to focus on positive energy, and to leave my ego at the door.
One incredible example of the good that comes from being humble and honest came a few months ago, when a rumor I’d shared about an Aquaman trailer didn’t pan out. People came at me with pitch forks and torches, and I still shudder to think of some of the hate that was thrown my way by people who don’t know a single thing about me. To this day, that experience has changed me. But I embraced the situation with dignity and openness, and I even replied to a tweet from director James Wan when the uproar surrounding the trailer became that deafening. In that reply, I explained how sorry I was for my part in creating a negative distraction, and I owned my mistaken reporting of that rumor.
The result? A few hours later I had a DM from James Wan, himself!
And he was great about it. Totally understanding, honest, and cool about everything. And it feels great to know that I wouldn’t have had this nice interaction with a filmmaker I truly respect if I had- instead- been a jerk about things. I could’ve lashed out at people; I could’ve gotten super nasty, or attempted to call Wan out for misrepresenting the facts in an attempt for me to save face because what he said contradicted what my source had said. But I didn’t. I owned it. And I got to chat with James freakin’ Wan because of it.
It’s like they say: You can catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar.
So if you put out positivity, you’re more likely to get the good things you want. Because fandom shouldn’t be used as a weapon; We’re not fighting a war, even if it feels like it lately.
It feels fitting to close this piece with a quote from Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, from Star Wars: The Last Jedi- a film that deeply disappointed me as a lifelong Star Wars fan:
“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”
Thanks for reading,