The Scary World of Fandoms (Response to Why Are Fans Turning Against Their Favorite Franchises?)

A while ago I wrote a blog post responding to something on Speculative Faith. Yesterday, I read another good post on there, and felt compelled to respond to it.

So in this post, they talk about anti-fan behavior, and how some anti-fans “make a cottage industry out of despising that franchise,” as well as what this reveals about human nature and how we can idolize stories.

I am no expert on human nature, idolatry, or the tenets of Christianity, in the way that the post’s author, E. Stephen Burnett, is. But I have been involved in fandoms for several years, so I can speak from experience on what it is like to be in one.

First off, I should probably describe how I am as a fan.

I am kinda weird as a fandom member. I tend to hang out on the fringe, which is probably where most of the “older kids” like myself hang out, and mostly observe the fandom rather than participate too much. After all, I don’t know how to draw too well, so I don’t do fanart. I’m not enough into memes to post memes (not to mention that they get old fast). I do like fanfiction, but lately I’ve been too busy with my own original projects and just life in general to read or write fanfiction, even though I have several fanfics saved in a section of my Pocket app for later reading, and a Doctor Who fanfic I’ve been working on for a while that’s already over 140,000 words long, along with other fanfics I’ve been thinking about writing. Besides those three things, the only other big thing in most fandoms is shipping, and that is something I largely stay out of.

Now, I probably mostly stay on the fringe cause, unlike some geeks, I have a “life,” with a job and all. Or it could be because I tend to be more about the details and analyzing the heck out of things. (My review of the Doctor Who episode “Twice Upon a Time” is a good example — caution: it has spoilers!)

Or maybe…I stay on the fringe cause I know how scary fandoms are, and how toxic they can even become, and I don’t want to get too involved.

Let me illustrate with a couple examples of experiences I have had.

The first of these happened in 2015, and revolved around the ABC show Once Upon a Time. If you know the show, you know the show’s primary couple is Emma Swan and Captain Hook, a ship most commonly called Captain Swan by fans. It was introduced, along with Hook, in season two, and basically became official canon in-show as of season three. I am not a fan of this ship, mostly because I was never a fan of Hook, and it annoyed me that the show was pushing it so much.

So I posted this post on Tumblr, venting my frustration, and saying I wanted the ship over with. (The post itself, for context, refers to something that happened in what was then the most recently aired episode, “Heroes and Villains”). And I tagged it with the “Captain Swan” name, since it was about the ship, not knowing how tagging works when it comes to shipping, and got a fair amount of flak. Looking back at it now, there were people who actually agreed with me, but the earliest responses were so intense you would have thought I said I wanted to murder a puppy! Thankfully, someone kindly informed me about anti-ship tags, which is what you use with ships you don’t like. Now I know better.

The second of these two examples happened in April 2018. In this case, I posted a post remarking on something that had happened on the CW show Supergirl, which I have been into since it first came out in 2015. I meant no harm; I was simply pointing out the irony of a particular situation, and forgot to explain I was being sarcastic. To be honest, the very idea that I had to explain I was being sarcastic just makes this even more ridiculous. But, as I often do in many areas of life, people took what I said seriously, and, as my thread of posts shows, it got pretty crazy. I was honestly surprised how much flak I got about supposedly “bashing” Mon-El, since opinions on him have always seemed primarily negative in the Supergirl fandom. The Supercorp shippers, who think Kara belongs with Lena Luthor despite (in my opinion) the show providing no evidence of them even having feelings for each other, hate Mon-El, and think his arrival was intended to break up their precious ship. (Though there may be people who hate Mon-El for other reasons too. To be honest, I don’t blame them — when he first shows up, he’s pretty much an arrogant jerk, and the fact that his homeworld, Daxam, has long been at odds with Krypton for various reasons, doesn’t make things better. Even I wasn’t a huge fan of him at first). But apparently Mon-El has a lot of fans as well.

These are only two examples. I could tell you other examples that I’ve merely observed, like fanart theft or all the toxicity in the Doctor Who fandom — seriously, that fandom always finds something to fight about. Be it Moffat hate, Clara hate, Capaldi hate, accusations that casting a woman Doctor was “pandering to the feminists,” just generally complaining about how this or that “ruined” the show and so they’re not going to watch it anymore, and so on. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t get a ton of drama for daring to argue against Clara being bisexual, which was a huge topic of discussion following the Series 9 premiere “The Magician’s Apprentice,” due to Clara commenting to her students in the episode that Jane Austen was a good kisser. Or that I got so much positive response to the “Twice Upon a Time” review linked above (though that might be because it was on Amino — Amino tends to have stricter rules about hate than sites like Tumblr), which got 104 likes and even made the featured feed of the Doctor Who Amino community (which is kind of a big deal since it means the community curators read it and found it worth getting more notice).

Honestly, the only fandom I’ve been in that was notably very accepting was the Orphan Black fandom, commonly known as Clone Club. Then again, Orphan Black is not the most mainstream of shows — it was a Canadian show that aired on BBC America late at night, right after Doctor Who. But thanks to its cult following, it became a sort of sleeper hit, with a huge fandom that the creators were very great at handling and very appreciative of. Sure, the show isn’t very “Christian” — one of the main characters is a trained killer, two of the main characters are gay, some drug dealing occurs, and let’s not even start with all the weird scientific stuff going on (cloning is just the beginning) — but I still really liked the show, and was happy at finding an accepting fandom at last, even though I didn’t join till shortly before season two.
(Though I did inadvertently tick off a few Clone Clubbers with my misgivings about liking Cosima, a lesbian character, when I am straight and was brought up with Christian ideas of thinking about homosexuality, no drama arose from it). And yet, I didn’t get that involved in it, probably because I’d had bad experiences in other fandoms.

And that’s my big point here. My bad experiences with fandoms have largely driven me not to be involved in them. I don’t want to cause drama, and obviously I don’t want to support things that are anti-Christian (though I admit I am unclear where I stand on certain issues). But I have shows and movies that I enjoy, and I want to feel free to enjoy watching them and sharing my thoughts on them without fear of causing trouble or drama. I want to feel free to write the fanfics I want to write and not worry about what people will think. (Though, to be fair, I’ll probably worry about that anyway).

My best friend and one of my coworkers are also into a few of the same things I’m into, but they aren’t involved in the online fandoms for these things. And part of me thinks they’re better off; they can engage in their interest without all the drama. But on the other hand, I like the community aspect of being in a fandom — especially since I have very few geek friends, and my family’s not that geeky — and just want it to not be toxic. I don’t care if the toxic stuff isn’t happening directly to me or doesn’t directly involve me. That doesn’t mean I don’t see it, and that I’m not bothered by it. And of course, I want to do something about it, but more often than not it’s not my place, or I fear doing something will just make it worse.

I’m not saying don’t be in a fandom. That’s not my call. Plus, obviously, I’m not opposed to fandoms, and secretly I hope my own stories will have fandoms of their own someday. But I think all this drama and toxicity just needs to stop. It doesn’t make things enjoyable for anyone.

Burnett mentions that, instead of idolizing stories and hating on them, he’d rather worship God. That is the Greatest Commandment, after all — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37 ESV). But just as important is another commandment: “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39 ESV). I think loving our neighbors as ourselves can extend even to fandoms. Imagine, if we did that, how much different our fandoms would be!

Frankly, that‘s a fandom I’d be happy to be a part of. Not scary at all.

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