Mariska Hargitay, this one’s for you. It might seem like it’s starting in a bad place, but keep going. Please. Hear us out.
I recently wrote about how demonizing fandom was harmful, particularly when it came from people who had privilege and power that even thousands of us banded together never will, how even a well-meaning post by Isabel Gillies truly hurt me and so many others. I felt obligated to speak out, and even if I didn’t get it perfect, I hope I made at least some people feel seen at a time when a lot of us felt invisible and/or depicted in the wrong light.
But the post in question was written from a place of pain, which can all-too-easily become a place of anger…So, this is an attempt at attacking the sentiment from another angle.
I’ve made no secret about being a huge fan of Mariska Hargitay while reviewing Law & Order: SVU. I’ve even followed her since ER...Although, admittedly…I hold a very big and very serious grudge against her character, Cynthia Hooper, for robbing me of a filthy Doug and Carol scene as the result of her mistakenly taking Carol Hathaway’s letter…but I digress.
The thing is, even as a fan for a very, very long time, I’ve been made uncomfortable by the constant “be kind” narrative. It’s just an oversimplification of a very complicated thing, and I know—or at least, I want to believe—that the implications that we’re not kind, or that the times when we’re unkind far outweigh the times when we are…isn’t her intent here. But that’s how so many people I’ve talked to in the past week have felt, how far too many of us have found ourselves worried about the potential for harm to come out of intended good.
That probably sounds ridiculous. What harm, after all, could a message of love cause?
The thing is, given the timing—when there’s still a lot of hurt after the events of Gillies’ reaction to how fandom responded to a fictional character—it just feels like more of an attack. Like it’s more of the same in terms of so many outlets picking up a story about how mean and negative fandom is. We were all painted with the same ugly brushstroke, whether we participated in creating the memes and telling the character buzz off.
Is allowing that depiction of fandom—as a bunch of raving lunatic keyboard warriors who would never dare to speak up without hiding behind a screen, with “poisonous venom pulsing through their veins” as Jen Psaki so kindly put it—to continue to be kind? Nope. But it’s out there. And no one with enough power and a large enough platform to do anything about it has ever, even once, asked for that to be reconsidered.
But enough with the past and with the ugliness.
I thought I’d do this a little bit differently today if y’all will indulge me. I want to let Mariska, and anyone who believes that the discourse on Twitter dot com is all one thing, know what we do for each other, day in and day out. I want fandom to be seen—not just the ugly side of it, which I never once claimed not to have been guilty of participating in (God knows there are receipts), but also the rest.
Here’s what I’ve seen from Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime fans in the last week alone: people holding each other accountable, people who are otherwise complete strangers standing up for one another and saying, “No, I understand where you’re coming from. Please don’t feel like you’re wrong for feeling this way. We’re here for you,” and potential future friends sharing hilarity all night long until the sun comes up and it’s time to catch maybe three hours of sleep before doing it all again. Humor. Sincerity. A safe space to share past trauma, current struggles, and the very complicated, perplexed feelings surrounding this message of kindness—which, again, we know is not intentionally mean or marginalizing—and how it makes us worry about who might be listening and internalizing it in a way that is toxic.
Like the young girl, wondering if she should speak out about someone who is abusing her, who might see her idol demanding her to be kinder and decide it would be wrong to rock the boat—to say unkind things about what’s happening in the dark? Like the young woman who’s being taken for granted at work, who might see “be kind” and think it’s okay to just swallow it all…to put on a fake smile and move on?
I saw the #SVUSilencedMe tag trend, with thousands of us coming together to say: We stand with survivors who want to be heard about trigger warnings, yet have been blocked for daring to say they are in pain when they see certain episodes. We stand with people of color and LGBTQ+ fans, who saw themselves erased and silenced when Kat Tamin and Deputy Chief Garland were unceremoniously excluded from the series. We stand with one another, against bullying from a showrunner who wants to screenshot viewers’ reactions and share them with usernames included, regardless of where we come from, what we do or don’t like about a storyline, or whether or not we happen to ship Bensler. We stand with the user who took a comment about “females” negatively (as it was almost certainly intended to be) and was called a bitch by Ice-T for speaking up.
But here’s what I’ve seen from fandom over many, many years—regardless of whether it was the Suits fandomly (my ride or die…I will never begin to be able to tell you all how much you’ve saved me), Castle fans, or people who go all the way back to the days of The X-Files, Buffy fans…so many others:
- A bunch of insanely talented artists and fanfiction writers…and the people who support and praise their beautiful creations.
- A chance to become a writer and friends who’ve supported that, from site to site, from fandom to fandom…even when I, personally, constantly felt like giving up. Like I’d never “make it” or have any true opportunities to be seen and heard.
- Support for illness, death of a family member, and shared family/personal traumas.
- GoFundMe campaigns for those of us who have been in need.
- Meetups and vacations with friends old and new, full of absolute batshitterry and just a true escape from it all. Laughing until we cry about the stupidest shit that would never make any sense to a damned soul.
- Care packages for the hungry, holiday cards and gifts, a birthday during the Christmas season finally recognized…by fandom. Online.
- Fans raising money for various charities—several helped me raise thousands for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a foundation very dear to me because it saved me as a child and is the only reason I got out of my terrible hometown, multiple years in a row.
- Laughter—yes, even because of the dark type of humor that unintentionally upset Isabel Gillies after the reaction to Kathy Stabler’s gaslighting…but also just because of pure, unadulterated joy.
- Inhuman squealing and keyboard smashing when our ships have finally sailed (Elliot and Olivia WHEN), or when interesting plot twists have occurred…Or hell. Even when our favorite bands did livestream concerts that kept us going during the all-too-brief lockdown portion of the pandemic.
- Group DMs, where we could safely share our thoughts on what we watched, or what we read, or even what we were trying (and failing) to write.
- A family (fandomly, if you will) that kept us going, even when the families we were born into were falling apart. I think I sort of already mentioned that, but it bears repeating. We’re a family.
- A place to belong and feel like we belong, even when we simply don’t belong anywhere else.
- So much more that could never be put into words.
Are we, in fandom, perfect? Absolutely not. Would I ever claim as much? No. There’s too much proof out there of my own failures—as recently as late last night, when I told someone to “leave my friend the fuck alone before you see what actual meanness looks like.”
But that’s not the point here. Maybe there isn’t a point. I might be guilty of that far too often, as well.
Here I am, rambling along and risking it all by calling out someone I’ve literally grown up looking up to and supporting, who is god-tier Hollywood royalty with immense power, all to defend some people I’ve never even interacted with. To state, unequivocally, that fandom is many things, but above all, fandom is a refuge for so many people. Fandom is friendship. Fandom is community. And all of those are good things.
If that’s not showing kindness, I’d love to know what is.