Toxic Fandom

Truer words were never spoken…

Have we geeks crossed a line? Allow me to wax poetic for a moment to a ‘happier’ time before social media. A time when you would decide from the trailers or by the leading star if you wanted to see a movie a not or to a time when you would watch a cartoon because your friends were watching it, if your mum let you. A time when it was really exciting for a new game to come out for your Super Nintendo or a new Choose Your Own Adventure novel. A time when being a geek meant you kept your opinions about who would win in a battle between the NCC 1701-A and the SSD Executor – *cough*Enterprise*cough* – to your group of friends.

It was a time when being a geek meant that you made really close friendships with other geeks because you were all in the same social peril at school and in life. Playing games in the Band Room at lunch time, arguing if Indiana Jones could beat Han Solo, secretly having a role playing game book and a dice set with you at all times, because you never know when that freak need for a d12 will come in handy.

It was a time when you were shunned and ostracised for doing your homework on time or early, for knowing current events, and for dreaming about a better society without bullies. We geeks got beat up for knowing there could be only one, for wanting to find the thirteenth colony, for wanting to go where no one had gone before, and for allowing our imagination to be the only limit to our possibilities. That was then. Now, we are those same people making movies and comics and presenting the culture and things we loved whilst growing up to the whole world. We kids of the 80s, 90s and early 00s Have gone from just geeks and fanboys to creators, yet I fear, as so many heroes do in the comics we read and movies we watch, we have seriously lost our way.

When I was a young, I experienced all the stuff I mentioned and more. I was beat up daily, the TV show Freaks & Geeks was less of a comedy and more of a documentary. Comics, Science Fiction, Fantasy were our escapes.


Yet while we finally get to watch these amazing movies about the heroes who stand for truth and justice, bring light to the darkest nights, and who get strength from Hera, we also can make any comment we want to about these cultural products that we wanted to and the only identifier necessary is something fantastic like, geekgawd63.

As I get deeper involved in geek culture, I am meeting some of my own personal heroes and I am becoming a peer with people who produce the things I love. I can tell you there is nothing wrong with being an excited fan. There is nothing wrong with being apprehensive for the latest Ghostbusters, the original was one of those classics. There is nothing wrong with being a little disappointed that the video game you are really excited for in not coming out when planned.

Where it all becomes wrong is when you: a) send death threats because that video game is late or; b) lose your shit over a 2 minute trailer for a movie that is coming out or sometimes even still in production because there are women in the role, or; c) get carried away or abusive to the point of gamergate.

A little more cape with your hero? No? Very good ma’am.

Look, to a very small extent, I get it. I understand how passionate we all all get about our culture. I just don’t understand the extreme negativity – especially when it is under anonymity. I watched movies like Batman & Robin or Fant4stic and seriously wondered what had happened. I know what I read as a kid and that what I remembered was was not delivered on the screen. I still went, and watched, and I would never tell anyone involved that they didn’t deserve to live because they made it, nor would I tell anyone else they were wrong for enjoying it. This nostalgia I have for these cultural texts does not give me the right to freak out, it may affect my decision to pay to see a later movie or TV show, and that’s all.

On his website Birth.Movies.Death.com, Devin Faraci has a good discussion about “three elements…coming together in such a way to truly break fandom” (2016). Faraci’s elements are: “one old as fandom itself” – the passion and, perhaps misplaced, ownership/symbiosis that comes with fandom; “technological advances” – the prevalence and speed of social media allows anyone to find creators and share an opinion, before social media a fan really had to work to get in touch with those they thought slighted them; and finally, the “corporatisation of storytelling” – where fans are treated more like consumers of a cultural product rather than the investors, and that the creators of the product are simply serving it up for consumption. Perhaps modern-day fandom is not broken but instead has a sense of entitlement as Jesse Hassenger suggests, that somehow fans deserve to want to see a movie and enjoy it as they remember it. Likely it is a little of A & B.

This online gathering of geeks and the passion they have for their fandoms is nothing new. “From the earliest days of dial-up bulletin boards…fans have flocked to the on-line [sic.] world to find people who share their passions and pursuits.” (Wiltse, 2004, p 2) These fandoms and gatherings of like minded people can be fiercely attended and form deep bonds. This is found to be true ten years later in a massive Psychological and Exploration study of geek culture. “The very practice itself of consuming and being engaged with geeky media allows a sense of geek identity and culture to be constructed even when disconnected from any localized geek community” (McCain, Gentile, & Campbell, 2015, p 30).

Yet despite the deep bonds that form, “the strength of those bonds can be quite invisible until a dispute arises among group members that threatens the existence or unity of the group itself” (Wiltse, 3). This threat to the community can come from without as well according to Jason Tocci in the dissertation, Geek cultures: Media and identity in the digital age. “Many geeks are suspicious and hostile toward those they perceive to be outsiders, those who are feared to be judgmental. That suspicion potentially extends to anyone who doesn’t seem as socially awkward and obsessed with fannish minutiae as the geek himself” (2009, p 273).

I think this is where the root of the problem lies. When any community feels threatened, it always does what it can to defend itself. Wiltse, Tocci, and McCain et al., all mention that there are outliers in the communities who are harsher and more easily threatened. I believe it is this group of outliers that is being the loudest and harshest. Maybe, as Faraci suggested, it’s people who really didn’t think anyone would read things that are sent via twitter or Facebook. Maybe it’s just people being dicks. Or even truly not knowing better, maybe we as a society have failed to establish and teach proper online etiquette.

Instead of simply being a ‘here’s what’s wrong with the world’ situation, let’s explore some solutions. Lauren Rosewarne suggests “such awfulness needs to be called out and shamed as appalling rather than just tolerated as another yawn-worthy example of internet insanity” (2016). Yet this just creates a situation for the bullying and nastiness to be reversed as witnessed by everyone who watched the Meshel Laurie Trolling story in 2016. Some very inappropriate things were said about her appearance and career on The Project on her facebook page so Laurie called them out in public.

Laurie responded exactly how Rosewarne suggests. She posted their responses and identities on her Facebook page to shame them. However, Laurie realised that was the wrong reaction. “It’s a strange space we’ve created for ourselves isn’t it? This lawless place called social media that we try to tame with public shaming. Inevitably we make outlaws of some pretty marginalised and lonely people” (Laurie, 2016). Laurie continued, “No doubt many of you think they ‘deserved’ everything they got…I totally felt that way at the start, but as the balance of power swung my way…I felt more and more like the bully”. Is this really what we want to turn the internet and geek culture into? Do we really let a small, amazingly vocal, group of vipers turning the larger group into demons?

Wiltse maintained that, in finding that their “imagined community” of fellow readers and fans increasingly includes a group of people with whom they initially thought they had nothing in common, both students and inmates come to see themselves and their peers differently, and in turn, to see the system of social distinctions and discrimination, of choices and inheritances, that has produced their current identities and addresses, differently. (2004, p 6).

I believe a solution is out there: requiring a person to log on and prove identity before they can leave a comment; perhaps change twitter so that you must know the person to tag them rather than being open to strangers; maybe if you are shown to be a jerk removing you from twitter more absolutely *Trump*; what about holding corporations to the standards they promote to a stronger measure; maybe even requiring platforms like FB or Twitter have humans who moderate posts. All I know is that everyone games, everyone has a passion, and there is a little geek in everyone. It’s time for us to stop attacking each other over things that we are meant to enjoy, we need to choose our collective adventure and turn the page.
The End

References

No Author. (2016). Meshel Laurie fought the trolls. But when she found out their histories, she felt horrible.. Mamamia. Retrieved from http://www.mamamia.com.au/meshel-laurie-trolls/

Busse, K. (2015). Fan Labor and Feminism: Capitalizing on the Fannish Labor of Love. Cinema Journal, 54(3), 110-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/cj.2015.0034

Faraci, D. (2016). Fandom Is Broken. Birth.Movies.Death.. Retrieved from http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/30/fandom-is-broken

McCain, J., Gentile, B., & Campbell, W. (2015). A Psychological Exploration of Engagement in Geek Culture. PLOS ONE, 10(11), e0142200. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0142200

Rosewarne, L. (2016). When fans go feral (aka the ugly culture of obsession). ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-02/rosewarne-when-fans-go-feral/7469562

Tocci, J. (2009). Geek cultures: Media and identity in the digital age (Order No. 3395723). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304979606). Retrieved from http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304979606?accountid=13380

Wiltse, E. (2004). Fans, Geeks and Nerds, and the Politics of Online Communities. Proceedings Of The Media Ecology Association, Volume 5, 1-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1.1.499.8257 Retrived from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.499.8257&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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