The Dark Side of the Fandom

(Apologies for not having this up sooner, my computer decided to be uncooperative)

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Hey everyone, I wanted to talk to you today about something a bit more serious. In terms of mainstream acceptance and sheer scale of dissemination through popular culture, it has never been a better time to carry the title of ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’. If you look at the films with the highest grossing openings, not only are the top three spots held by geek culture movies (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Avengers) but in fact the top thirteen places are held by films within the genre, only interrupted by Furious 7. You can walk into any Target, Spencer’s even Wal-Mart and easily find a plethora of clothing, accessories, and collectibles to proudly proclaim your love of all things geeky. Conventions are huge and plentiful, with cons like E3, the New York Toy Fair, and San Diego Comic Con becoming entities unto themselves as places of premiere news, trailers, and announcements to both geek and mainstream media. We made it guys, widespread acceptance!

So why does it feel like we’re more divided as a community than ever? When we should be united in celebration of our ascension we instead argue internally, warring like petty generals after the death of a conqueror. So I want to discuss what seem to be the pertinent points that cause this divide, and perhaps in recognizing these faults we can prevent them from tearing us apart from within.

  1. Nostalgia

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Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It’s also one that carries a double edge. It’s why franchises of any sort continue, because it provides a connection to the audience over time. Without that connection, without that fond remembrance of that show, or movie, or game, or band that you love or have loved, you wouldn’t feel the need to revisit it. You wouldn’t feel any of the same excitement about a new venture within that universe without it. And whether wielded deftly to fit organically into the new entry (The Force Awakens), or bludgeoning you with it like a wildly swinging crutch (Jurassic World), it has an effect. Unfortunately, the other edge of the blade is having such a nostalgic attachment to something that any change or new idea is seen as sacrilege and a ‘ruining’ of something beloved. This is not entirely without merit: reboots fail, new entries or forays into different media flop, and new characters fall short of the originals. That being said, doing nothing new invites stagnation, and a slow death to the thing you love and hold so dear to. You see it in all fandoms and even genres (looking at you, music), the purists, the die-hards. If you do something different then it’s the end of the world, but if you do the same thing over and over again then you’ve got nothing interesting to say or do anymore. But in reality, every franchise, every character, every band has that one entry or song or story that is a bit different compared to the rest. But that in itself isn’t a bad thing. Some of us like those weird one-off stories or albums, even if the rest of the fandom doesn’t. As amazing as nostalgia is as a force, it can also make for a no-win situation.

 

  1. Making It Too Personal

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We all have things we are passionate about, that goes without saying at this point. What we do need to remember is that not everyone loves what you love as much as you do. In fact, many people will love other things just as much as you love your things. And that is great! Diversity! Until you get too wrapped up in your own little bubble and forget that. Then unpleasant things happen, like personal attacks and conspiracy theories. One I heard a lot over the summer was how Disney/Marvel was paying people to write bad reviews for Batman vs. Superman (as if that ship wasn’t sinking just fine on its own), because Heaven forbid you criticize something that someone else loves. Now I can’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but when I wrote my review(s) for that film, I was up front about the issues I had with it. Not because I wanted to give it a bad review, or because I hated it, or because I was being paid by the competition to do so. I wrote the review I did because I wanted to illustrate how much better the movie could have been, because I wanted to love it. A good review will provide you with both the positive and the negative aspects of a film (or game, album, etc.). A review should be something you can use to determine whether or not a piece of media is for you, but not your only deciding factor. Because ultimately a review is only another person’s opinion.  Unfortunately some people (for reasons I’ll elaborate on later) see this as a personal attack, that by criticizing something they are passionate about, you are criticizing them directly. That brings me to my next point:

 

  1. She Blinded Me with Fandom!

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We’ve all been guilty of it. We defend a subpar product because we (want to) love it or love its associated franchise. Or conversely, we irrationally hate another because it is part of a different franchise that we don’t like. When we blind ourselves with our fandom, we lose our ability to be objective. It is absolutely possible to love something while still recognizing its flaws, and there’s nothing wrong with that. All art is subjective, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something even if it isn’t ‘perfect’. Many people vehemently love and defend the film Avatar, regardless of the fact that under the video-game flash of effects, it’s a bland story better done in Fern Gully  or The Last Samurai. But neither side is truly right or wrong, and we have to learn to agree to disagree. The other side to that is to hate something because you’ve already made up your mind to hate it. A reaction like this, when disseminated onto the Internet, can quickly become a conflagration. A prime example of this came just this summer with the new Ghostbusters film. A reboot with a gender-switched cast? Apparently that is a blow to the nostalgias and egos of fans so severe that it warranted a veritable tsunami of crap that lasted for months. So many refused to not only give the film a chance, but went out of their way to do what they could to sabotage it, from attacking the cast and director online, to downvoting the trailer and outright flagging comments that were even the tiniest bit positive. It was a truly disgusting display for a film that turned out to be (as far as reboots go) actually not too bad, dare I even say enjoyable in its own way. Does it come close to the original? No, but no film will. Even Ghostbuster’s own sequel, with all the original players, couldn’t. But neither does it tarnish the integrity of the originals. Unless it could somehow retroactively change them to make them bad (looking at you, Star Wars special editions), but can that truly destroy what you love? If I can deal with the jarring CG buildings added to Cloud City, you can deal with this. Just as an aside, who decided that Ghostbusters was a sacred property that could not be touched? I have never seen a reaction like this from a fandom. Just because the story didn’t go along with what you wanted it to be, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’m not super happy about how Han and Leia were apart by Force Awakens and that things with Luke had gone the way they did, but it’s not my story to tell. Now I’m waiting to see what comes next. Headcanons are a whole other topic, so I’m just going to leave that with a line from a certain song: ‘you can’t always get what you want’.

 

  1. No Casuals Allowed!

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This is a term I hear mainly in the gaming community, but it has further application than that. The idea that someone is somehow ‘less’ of a fan because they don’t eat, breathe, sleep, and have tattooed themselves with some aspect of the franchise. Forgetting of course that the ultimate goal of a franchise or property is (along with telling a story) to attract fans and thus make money. There is no hierarchy of fans, that someone started listening to Dragonforce because of Guitar Hero is less of a fan than someone who bought their first disc on release day. How you find a fandom doesn’t determine how ‘good’ or ‘true’ of a fan you are. There are no ‘fake’ fans, not for how you found it, not for how deeply you are into it, and certainly not because of your gender. It’s an argument that seems to indicate that somehow new fans will somehow sully the franchise. That there is only one true or pure way to be a fan of something. And I don’t think I need to tell anyone with common sense how ridiculous that is. If something doesn’t have the widespread exposure, it’s difficult to find new fans. But give it that exposure, and you’ll see a huge change. Jumping on a bandwagon doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for a fad, it can be a great stepping-stone to discovering something you really like. How popular was Iron Man before the MCU films? Certainly not at the level of Spider-Man or the X-Men. And his popularity has exploded, and without needing to sift through multiple decades of material first. This also leads me back to the criticism of a loved franchise. When a movie or a game doesn’t do well, and when people criticize it, the default is to say ‘they just didn’t get it’. You thought that movie plot was over complicated and nonsensical? You just didn’t get it. And that’s ridiculous and insulting. That assumes that other people are somehow stupid or oblivious because they didn’t like or have issues with your thing. Instead of attacking, we should be discussing. Is there something that was missed? Are we getting too attached to see the flaws? Will fighting over it really help? Why are we trying to alienate potential new fans of something we love and want to see continue?

 

So what can we conclude from this? Is it really so simple as we all need to take a step back, calm down, and just stop being jerks to one another? Maybe. Have we drawn such deep dividing lines that it’s hard to extend that olive branch? Maybe. As I said in my opening, it’s never been a better time to be a geek. We need to not fall into the stereotypes, we need to embrace the people that are finding or finding their way back to us from all walks of life. We need to stop painting ourselves in such an ugly light and celebrate that, while we have our differences, we are united in our love for our nerdness.

What do you guys think? Is there a solution, or have we gone too far? There’s a lot thrown out here, a lot of thoughts and musings about the state of the community, so I want to hear what you think. Am I seeing things are worse than they are? As always, let me know in the comments!

4 Responses to The Dark Side of the Fandom

  1. First of all, well-written! Second, glad to see this topic up.

    Third . . . unfortunately what you describe can also characterize experienced collectors of stamps, homeowners in homeowner associations, long-time residents in subdivisions, senior employees, etc., etc. To quote another song, “What a draaaaaag it is, getting oooold.” I saw ‘Rock Of Ages’ recently–Baldwin and Brand’s characters exchange on the subject of embitterment is worth putting up with their brain-bending medleys. Very human tendencies. We should all fight them.

    Fourth . . . I do disagree with one thing. There are fake fans. Some people really do pretend to like things to fit in / get dates. It’s easier to tolerate them, though, than people who hate an entire genre too intolerantly.
    Yeah, good article. Maybe I’m being too general, but all of us need to fight our negatives and work on our positives. I wish I had a blanket solution more catchy than ‘Just Keep Swimming!’

  2. These are precisely the sort of prejudices and bad attitudes that have quieted my own sense of fandom (and which have pushed me away from “Star Wars” fandom, in particular). Thank you for speaking out.

  3. Fourth . . . I do disagree with one thing. There are fake fans. Some people really do pretend to like things to fit in / get dates. It’s easier to tolerate them, though, than people who hate an entire genre too intolerantly.

    Reading that again, I don’t think I quite explained that as well as I should’ve. I was talking more about people getting called ‘fake’ fans because of how they got into something, or because they aren’t the ‘usual’ gender that’s in the fandom. That’s my bad. But people who are fake fans for dates or popularity? Oh yeah, they are definitely out there. Bandwagons are a fact of life, and people are going to jump on them. And they are definitely easier to deal with than the irrational hate crowd (for the most part).

  4. The Atomic Punk

    Good points, melmo. I would include “The Mind’s Eye” in #2: a fan’s personal interpretation or preconceived notions. Especially true of novels, where we envision the characters’ looks, dress, mannerism, and even the sound of their voice. Which is why people tend to geek or rage over movies and TV adaptations.

    Also the reason why comics are constantly rebooting, running parallel series, alternate dimensions and timelines, etc. Inevitably leading to conflict among fans over who truly is the superior Spider-Man. Then there are the “casuals” or “uninitiated” who are suddenly bombarded by long-time rival fans with their “must-reads” and acceptable canon.