The Fickle Fragility of Fanatical Fandom

If there is an upside to being sick the past few days – acute bronchitis, by the way – it’s that this downtime has allowed me to catch up on my shows, check out what’s new in my fandom groups, and sleep. Although, if you’re familiar at all with any fandom whatsoever, it might’ve been better had I just slept 24/7… which, trust me, it was already close. I think I’ve slept more in the past four days than I have in the last year.

My weekend perusal of the typical fandom groups left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And it’s not those pickles that might’ve been a bad idea to snack on. Maybe it’s the meds or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been able to breathe since Wednesday that has me curmudgeonly, but when on earth did we become a society where being a fan of something now comes with a list of rules and regulations seemingly longer and, apparently, far more strict than the U.S. Constitution?

Back in the not too distant past, it was acceptable to enjoy something just for enjoyment sake and discuss said enjoyment mid nibble of an appetizer at a dinner party and the person you were talking to would either nod in agreement or back away in shock… you know, depending.  If you were lucky, you could while away a happy – or heated – half hour of camaraderie discussing your favorite show or book or comic before people started to stare and you both just sort of wandered off to mingle with other, less geeky, party-goers.

These days, not so much. I mean, you’d think it would be easier to connect to like-minded fans, what with the internet and all, but sadly, no. The aforementioned rules and regulations, of which there are many and most are vague, if widely known at all, come into play and work to kill the fandom rather than build it up.

An actual conversation from a Doctor Who fan-discussion group:

Random Doctor Who Fan: Oh, I love Doctor Who, I’m such a fan!

Twatty McTwatterson: Oh, you’re a fan, are you?

Random Doctor Who Fan: Erm, yes.

Twatty McT: Riiigght, well, have you seen every single episode ever made… twice?

Random Doctor Who Fan: Well, no, I really only like the newer ones.

Twatter Von FuckFace: Alright then, that’s not really a true fan then, is it? Jumping on the bandwagon only when it gets cool. Cooler, of course, I mean cooler.  It’s always been cool. But YOU, you’re not a real fan, are you?

Random Doctor Who Fan: I think as long as you really enjoy something and watch it weekly you can be a fan.

Asshat McPedantic: Yeah, well I bet you can’t even tell me…

and proceeds to fire off a bunch of very specific, if not obscure, questions about the show and if the new person to the group can’t answer them in what the self-appointed inquisitor deems to be an acceptable amount of time, then clearly they’re googling the answer and therefore not a fan.

I mean, yikes, right?  But as I’ve sadly discovered, this sort of possessive fandom does not begin and end with Doctor Who.  People experience it constantly with whatever they are a fan of. It does seem to be most toxic in what we might term “geek” culture though *cough cough* it does happen in sports as well. I know, I know, perish the thought.

Speaking of geek culture, both Marvel and DC are filled with fans so driven by their passion for the genre that they are adept at channelling that energy into very positive ways through fanfiction, cosplay, Comic-Con conventions and the like. But equally, there’s a serious division in this world between the, for lack of a better term, regular fans and those who class themselves as the super fans (ha!). They almost seem to have formed a cult-like existence believing that they are the purest form of fan, and they alone have the right to the characters of these comic universes. Only like the movies? Not. A. Fan. There is just no room for posers, people.

Just take a look at what happened with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We’ll call it Jedi Gate – The Star Wars enthusiasts bat shit crazies lost their minds over the Asian heritage character of Rose. The racial abuse and toxic harassment got so bad the actress Kelly Marie Tran was bullied off social media by these hateful creatures. And what’s even worse is the studio apparently listened to them because, after building her character up to be something important to the franchise, she hardly featured in The Rise of Skywalker. The worst thing a major movie studio can do is give in to these snivelling keyboard cowards over-the-top fans. It sets us back decades each time they do, and it encourages this harmful sort of bullying in the name of fanatical fandom.

My first love – books – aren’t even immune.  Technically, this is a play, but still. Harry Potter fans are where you might think there’s some quaint British-inspired relief from this sort of behavior. But, oh no. When the West End/Broadway production came out, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Potter fans speculated for months on just what the story would be about. They all posted about what they wanted from the play, you know, as one does… and when they didn’t get it, the outrage was, shall we say, palpable. From the casting (gasp!) to the storyline, people were pissed. In a franchise where tolerance, empathy, and inclusion are the mainstays of the literary universe, it was shocking to watch the fandom, or at least portions of it, crash and burn by their own hand. Those members of the fandom who were apparently personally offended at the play, deemed it “not canon.” True fans, indeed. Pfftt.

How have people become so obsessed with these franchises that they seem to have an unhealthy possessive sense of ownership over them? The only people that own these ideas are the people who came up with them in the first place, and the studios that own the rights. That’s it. After that, you get what you’re given and if you don’t like it, fine, you have a right not to, but you can express that without threatening an actress for playing a part, for God’s sake. If you do like it, great! But you also don’t get to appoint yourself the bouncer of fandom, deciding who gets to make it past the velvet rope.

Essentially, I feel the world is interesting because we are all different. We enjoy the same things differently, and our unique personalities mean we can be fans to different levels. Love the Doctor Who classic episodes or just the Tenth Doctor? Still a fan. We can be faithful to the original Star Wars movies only or embrace them all. Guess what? Yep. Still a fan. Just started watching your newest favorite series on Season 4? Still. A. Fan.

And if you want to call yourself a super fan, go for it; have fun. That’s the whole point. Just don’t humiliate or bully others for not living up to your version of a “fan.” There are way too many exclusive spaces in our world as it is, fandom (of anything) should not be one of them.  Repeat after me: I am not the fandom bouncer.