Here is the article I’m about to dissect: Fandom is Broken
A proper summation of the article in question can be defined in one word – no.
But since I have you here, let’s break down why everything he said is wrong, arrogant, and lacks the perspective of inclusiveness and historical accuracy.
Let’s ignore that the article seems like a reaction to someone saying something the author didn’t agree with and him retaliating by having the internet to express himself and thus writing an article in the vein of, oh, I dunno the very people he claims to find so simplistic and awful. Let’s set that into the cupboard for a wash at a later date and focus on the underlying misogyny, lack of understanding for how media is consumed in the modern world, and the entitlement of suggesting there is only one proper way to fan – his way.
I’d like to share with you a story about a little guy named Henny Penny. His peers called him Chicken Little. Chicken Little had an acorn fall on his head. From that moment on he absolutely believed the world was ending. “The sky is falling!” became his mantra – the hysteria spread. The moral of the story is about the evils of mass hysteria, but it’s also about the benefits of not opening your mouth before you understand a situation. Understanding all aspects of a thing is far better way of attacking a complicated subject. It keeps us from thinking the sky is falling.
One of his first points – and the way he wraps his narrative of bad fans into his complaint of them doing things like talking and having opinions – is the death threats. He and I are in complete agreement. The internet does open the door for strangers to say whatever they want to say – to bully, harass, and be genuinely awful to each other. The anonymity emboldens some and creates false armor in others. I don’t mean to shock the reader, but bad people have existed throughout time, and are in every facets of everything that one might be interested in doing. Bullying is an issue that needs to be addressed by social media companies, i.e. stronger policing, and by the actual police. Yay, we agree on something! High fives all around.
Everything else is a solid no.
The writer admits to tracking down one of his harassers and scaring him. “One time I managed to hunt down a kid who threatened to kill me and called him; I won’t deny that his tear-filled voice as he begged me not to call the police and report him gave me some pleasure.”
The fact that the reader did what he hates is neither here or there. The fact that people of color, the disabled, those of non-binary gender and sexual origins, and women have to live with this on a daily basis, hoping that the issue is reconciled through legal channels because reaching out to their abusers could literally result in their deaths is one that should be addressed. The fact that they are doxed for doing nothing more than breathing while different is the topic that should be explored further by people with a voice, because it is scary and it is important. People absolutely deal with this every day, and it needs to stop.
Anyone who thinks death threats is a cool way of expressing themselves is a bully and a terrible person, plain and simple. Not acknowledging the fact that there are people who receive these deaths threats on a daily basis, not just in art but across the board, because they are not part of our daily narrative is also awful. Inclusiveness is not difficult. It’s based in compassion and not reacting to something only because we’ve had personal experience with it – it is acknowledging our privilege as white, or male, or wealthy, or all three, and using that voice to lift up others instead of complaining that someone was mean to us. Death threats across the board should stop.
BUT with my limited time I’ve had on this earth I’ve discovered that the bullies are the minority. Yes, they are awful, but they are also not 99 percent of the people who consume media and discuss it. Fandom has wonderful, thoughtful, creative people who consume art intelligently and kindly. Which brings me to my next point.
Critiquing art and pointing out how the narratives of being white, male, Christian, and heteronormative are no longer the standards of storytelling is NOT BULLYING. Speaking up about plot lines that are no longer relevant to what people want to see is NOT BULLYING. Pointing out, in the words of my friend Jen, “Fam, that’s racist,” to creators of content when they refuse to be inclusive is NOT BULLYING. It’s using a platform that was not available to them a decade ago to lift their voices up and say what they need to say to procure change without other people speaking for them or over them. It annoys people who want the standard to continue, but it is not the bullying you see in those who respond with the death threats and the long-winded articles about how fandom is dying a violent death.
He claims, “…It’s all about demanding what you want out of the story, believing that the story should be tailored to your individual needs, not the expression of the creators. This isn’t how art works.”
In the words of Ben Wyatt, “I don’t even have time to tell you how wrong you are. Actually, it’s going to bother me if I don’t.”
- To claim that media should be consumed in a void portrays a basic lack of understanding for what art is and should be. Yes, art can be created by someone in the privacy of their own home, but is it truly art if no one consumes it? Art by its very nature is a circular thing. The creator creates, the audience consumes. Without the audience, many artists cannot continue to create. To want people to have no opinions on anything created ever suggests a general lack of understanding of the inherent risks of producing content and baring one’s soul. People SHOULD respond. It means they are invested. Invested means more content, and more content means greater opportunities to grow one’s art. See? Circular.
- He expresses how things were better when people had to take out the old quill and place it to parchment to complain to the creators about the stories. There was less complaining back then, so things must have been better. Artists could create in their voids of awesomeness and not have to deal with things like being inclusive, or feminist, or any of the things that make our current world better.
- As a writer of over 18 novels, I’m just gonna say it: while art is deeply personal and emotional, any artist who publishes their work is trying to commercialize their work and turn it into a brand. They owe their fans and their fandom a lot if a property takes off, because they are the only, ONLY, reason that something is successful. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to every single person who wants a very specific thing from you, but it does mean that when a lot of people come to you and say that something is not cool or that they wish you had been more inclusive, you don’t get to say that they are just whining. The problem is with you. Growth is also part of the artist’s narrative. It is in every work, and it can either be stunning or a sad display of a person’s inability to listen.
He goes on to express, basically, that younger fans – does anyone have a cane I can wave? – are idiots who don’t know how to consume media because they, god forbid, want there to be happiness to their stories. This touches upon some current trends of creators to create unimportant drama out of nonexistent hardships that have no narrative place in the story being told just because it seems more interesting when it reality it is laziness and complacency for the status quo rather than thoughtful art. (Did I say that all in one breath?) Happy stories do not mean lazy writing. Drama can exist in every facet, in every way, and doesn’t mean you have to say, make a man who stood for freedom, compassion, thoughtfulness, and fighting for what’s right a part of the largest evil organization in the world instead of, you know, giving him a boyfriend. Because retconning his entire history for the sake of ‘drama’ was far less scary than stepping into 2016 and realizing that love is everywhere and in many forms. Because love is boring and for girls. Whoops? Did I say that aloud? Still not touching the misogyny in his article. My apologies.
Fandom can be better. We can all be better. We can all learn from our mistakes, try to deal with our internalized homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, etc. and make safer places for those who are actually marginalized within our social media spheres and the world. We can treat discussions of these things in fandom and in art with more respect and tolerance. We can stop threatening people. But writing articles about how the sky is falling lacks a serious understanding for the beauty that shines out in the most unexpected places, how welcoming and kind fandom can be, how it demands more but makes you a better person because of it, and how it treats crap storylines for the crap they are.
Content creators who wish to stay off social media may do so. That is a personal choice I respect completely. Anxiety is a beast, and social media can be a trigger. Not everyone has a thick skin or the ability to look past the few who make things not fun. But to suggest that creating content in a void, and that everyone who speaks up about laziness in writing, tropes that are overdone – I’m looking at you love triangles – and lack of inclusiveness is not and will never be bullying or unwelcome. Social media is, by its very nature, about creating a conversation. And that is never a bad thing. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard once said in every episode ever, “Engage!” Communities can be messy, but they are human, and full of the implicit goodness that shines in the majority of fans.
Chicken Little may think the sky is falling, but I see fandoms full of creative people, who use their talents to create amazing fanfiction, wonderful cosplay, detailed graphic art, and so on. The art inspires art and people who get excited about it, and that brings me a lot of hope and a lot of joy. It also makes me eager to see what the future holds.
Fandom is not broken. It bends sometimes, and frays around the edges, but so does humanity. And the heart of passionate people willing to get excited about something they enjoy is the heart I have come to love.
Let Chicken Little have his acorn. I have my fandom.