Anghus Houvouras on toxic fans and the media…
One of the things that keeps the fires burning in my brain is the concept of toxic fandom. It’s become so pervasive in our always-connected world of social media. Most of the stories play out in a similar fashion. A casting decision or creative choice is made on a popular geek property. A minute percentage of fans end up getting abusive and troll creators and actors until someone like Kelly Marie Tran makes a conscious choice to jump ship and abandons social media.
Then a slew of sites put up articles about how ‘fans’ have exhibited racist or abusive behavior (or both) and forced someone to flee in frustration.
This is a many-headed monster of a topic. There’s a lot of nuance and a fertile middle ground to plow, but today I want to focus on one specific piece of this argument:
Stop calling racist assholes ‘fans’. They don’t deserve the designation.
These are not fans. Calling them fans is disrespectful to the 95-97% of the fanbase that reads the comic or watches the movie and manages to not be abusive, racist asshole. Calling them fans is not only misleading, it also lends itself to a narrative that forces readers to consider that these bigoted, short-sighted, terminally-toxic dildos deserve consideration.
Someone who is so obsessed with a fictional character from a comic book that they abuse a real life person should automatically disqualify you from being described as a ‘fan’ as well as having your perspective normalized. The most recent story involves Anna Diop who is playing Starfire in the new DC Universe digital series Titans. Apparently enough trolls bombarded her social media for her to turn off comments on her Instagram feed.
Rather than the media ignore these raging rectums, they decide to cash in on hate-clicks and run the story describing them as ‘fans’ and sit back why people get upset over a ridiculously small percentage of trolls makes it feel like this is another salvo in an ever-growing culture war. But it’s not. It’s just a small number of assholes who lack perspective. An unhealthy blend of racists, obsessive compulsive gatekeepers and misguided, ignorant neer-do-wells.
Websites need to stop engaging this small subsection of fandom. Posting stories about them only emboldens them and further inspires them to continue their disgusting, hateful tactics. And calling them ‘fans’ excuses the behavior as a product of passion for the source material. The abusive behavior being used against Kelly Marie Tran and Anna Diop is not the product of fans, but the product of hate and ignorance. You don’t get to call yourself a fan if you’re harassing the people involved with an adaptation. No matter how much you purport to love something, tearing people down and exhibiting abusive behavior isn’t the product of love; it’s the product of entitlement and ownership.
The solution to this problem is to disengage with those creating this toxic environment. The first step is labeling them for what they are; not ‘fans’ but ‘racists’ or ‘trolls’. ‘Fans’ didn’t drive Kelly Marie Tran from social media; trolls did. ‘Fans’ aren’t harassing Anna Diop; assholes are. I suppose you could add the word ‘toxic’ or ‘obsessive’ in front of ‘fan’ to help make the designation, but I like the idea of fandom being about admiration and love of something. Applying it to hate-filled humans feels like a badge they haven’t earned. I mean, hell, Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon and they often use the word ‘fan’ to describe him. It feels weird to like John Lennon music and be put under the same identifying umbrella as the guy who murdered him.
Let’s stop calling these raging wrecks of humanity ‘fans’ and stop normalizing their behavior as the product of fandom. Fandom shouldn’t be this ugly, and we should do what we can to ostracize and exorcise them from the conversation. Sometimes that means websites might need to choose some discretion and not run stories emboldening their hateful tactics.
Sadly, the perpetual hunt for traffic will continue to see sites posting stories about this kind of terrible behavior because hate-clicks means revenue.
And that, my friends, is disappointing.