I wonder sometimes. If you were working in a lab to create the most toxic fandom imaginable, would you do worse than we as a society have managed to do completely by accident? At that, I still don’t believe most people in any specific fandom are bad. It is, as always, that some of the loudest people have made the whole thing such a cesspit that reasonable voices cannot be hear, that we in fact drive reasonable people away from even giving the thing a chance. I initially didn’t give Rick and Morty a chance because it didn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d think was funny. These days, I’m afraid to give it a chance because, if I liked it, would that mean I was one of Those People?
The most famous example going right now, of course, is those vile excuses for human beings who cheerfully and deliberately drove Kelly Marie Tran off social media. (Full disclosure, I still don’t really count myself as having seen The Last Jedi because my viewing experience was so bad. I swear, I’ll get on that soon.) Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t see the movies in the theatres until the rerelease, though I didn’t fully forgive my mother for not taking us to see Return of the Jedi until a half-dozen years ago, when I realized how recently my father had died when it came out. So, you know. But even having attended a Star Wars-themed birthday party in approximately 1982 wouldn’t mean anything to the sort of fan who did that to Tran, because I am a woman and therefore literally cannot be a Star Wars fan.
But we’ve told them since approximately 1982 that the fact that they are Star Wars fans means that women won’t have anything to do with them. Compare societal expectations to reality on this one, not just from their perspective but from ours. The famous SNL “Get a Life” sketch didn’t have any female cast members in it. There were three women on the show at the time. The very first Star Trek convention had women on its organizing committee. And, yes, I’m aware that Star Trek and Star Wars are different, but is pop culture when it comes to portrayals of the fandom?
We’ve told fans for decades that they are single white men who are different from everyone else and probably intelligent in ways that waste their intelligence, and we wonder why most fandoms tend to include groups of single white men who believe they are different from everyone else and probably intelligent? And if they don’t get the “wasting their intelligence” bit, well, they believe they are using their intelligence in ways that you just don’t get, man. And that is a recipe for a sense of entitlement toward the thing they love. From there, the sense of entitlement spreads, and that’s never healthy.
Never mind that one of the oldest aspects of fandom—older than Star Trek, come to that—is fanfic, which is a predominantly female-driven subculture and always has been. Never mind that, as I’ve written before, you can find fan art producing your preferred characters as literally anything you want, and those are often drawn by women and fans of color and what have you as well. True fans are almost always a diverse lot. Society erases that, which lets these guys erase that.
We also shame them for things that, even if they’re true, are probably not their fault. Living in parents’ basements? Sure—but in this economy, who can be sure of a job that would let them move out? Or we shame them for having roommates as adults, ditto. We shame them for their personal appearance, too, as though personal appearance and interest in science fiction are a direct correlation and there are no unattractive football fans, as though these people became unattractive because of their interest in Star Wars. And I’ve been to cons, and there are some very attractive people there, I can promise you.
In short, we tell people horrible things about themselves and then act surprised when they both take it to heart and lash out against it. And then Facebook doesn’t have the courage to step in and say, “You are treating people badly and we’re going to do something about it.” So they brag about being horrible and suffer no consequences, which further reinforces their belief that they are entitled to do so. Well done, society; you invented toxic fandom and blame the movies for it.
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