The Internet is known for creating and using words that confuse the older generations. From AF, basic, and on fleek, to selfie and GTS we have a reputation for misusing (or recreating) the English language. Nowhere else is this especially true as in the world of fandom, or “the state or condition of being a fan of someone or something or fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc., regarded collectively as a community or subculture,” according to Google.
This term is often applied to the passionate fan bases of popular TV shows, movies, and books. Most often members of certain fandoms can be seen arguing over who their OTP (one true pairing) is or defending their faves on Tumblr and other corners of the Internet. But what happens when the fandoms turn against the creators?
For most fans this has happened once or twice. Ask any fan of “Doctor Who” how they feel about Stephen Moffat; or talk to fans of Stephenie Meyer, George RR Martin, or even “Gilmore Girls” and you will mind yourself in the midst of a battle. The thing about people in fandoms is that we are a passionate people. We care about fictional worlds and characters and aren’t willing to sit back and let bad things happen without saying anything. Anyone who ever watched “Gossip Girl” remembers raging at the TV when Dan told us he was GG. Anyone who watches any of Shonda Rhimes shows will be all too eager to talk about Meredith and Derek, or Olivia and Fitz (or Jake if that’s your thing). It’s a self-inflicted problem, really. We keep coming back to these stories in the hope that they will improve or fall in line with what we want. What happens when this genuine concern for characters we have come to love turns us into rage balls and we turn our fury to the writers/creators?
Recently Cassandra Clare (“The Mortal Instruments”) and Maggie Stiefvater (“Shiver,” “The Raven Boys”) talked to MTV about their fandoms and why they feel the pressure from fans. Clare in particular talks about how she was pushed off the Internet, something that is happening more frequently to writers and creators. Less than a month ago “Avengers: Age of Ultron” came out and Joss Whedon promptly left Twitter, saying: “…it’s like a job. It’s just another art form. Until I have a script I truly believe in or a tweet that’s really remarkable, I can just walk away and get back to the storytelling I need to do.” I have no doubt that’s true, but I imagine the staggering number of threatening, hateful tweets probably made that decision a bit easier. Many authors and creators cite this as the primary reason for not joining in on the social media fun.
Clare told MTV she left Twitter after she refused to takes sides in an online debate about the cast of the new ABC family TV show “Shadowhunters,” which is being adapted from Clare’s books following the monumental failure of the previous movie adaption. She also said that part of the problem stems from being too accessible online. Creators aren’t really ever part of their own fandom, but it’s easy for people to forget they hold all the cards. Stiefvater likened it to being at a wedding. “It’s wedding math. There’s one happy couple to greet everyone and dozens of wedding guests who all need attention, and it’s impossible for it to be equal. Except, you know, in this case, I’m the happy couple, and my tens of thousands of readers are the guests who would all like (and honestly, deserve) a thank you note for the gifts they brought. The biggest problem with that is figuring out who you choose to engage with, because it becomes impossible to nod at every guest.”
We all sit in front of our TVs or in our rooms reading, and because we are alone we think our experience is solitary. Then we go online and find a couple thousand people who agree, and the excitement overwhelms us. Somehow in having that solitary experience we forget that there is a person behind this thing we love. The Internet does share the blame for this problem– it’s made it too easy to be mean anonymously and without any consequences.
Stiefvater told MTV that being online makes it impossible to share your thoughts about your story:
The most aggravating part about being the creator is that even if you have an opinion on an aspect of your own work, you must be cautious about sharing it. Because the creator’s voice will inevitably be louder than any fan’s. If I post about a character in the “Raven Cycle” on Tumblr, no matter how offhandedly, I have in essence pulled out a bullhorn and shouted WAR EVERYTHING WAR GO GO GO. Expressing an opinion shared by one side of a divided fandom can seem as if you have given that side an unfair advantage.
As a fan I want to defend us and say that we didn’t create this problem, and that those are extreme cases and unusual, but then I watched Tumblr reduce John Green and his work to that of a predator. I will be the first to admit he isn’t my favorite author, but I’ve enjoyed some of his work, especially his videos with his brother Hank, and it was disheartening to see people tear him down just because they could.
As it always does, it started with a single comment about Green pandering to girls in his books and videos in an effort to “amass a cult like following.” This thread of comments quickly delineated into Green abusing children. Green has faced backlash before for using the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, but in reality his books are often showing that the idea of a manic pixie dream girl is never what you think it is. Of his four books, only one tells a story from a girl’s point of view, and none are perpetuating any violence. Unsurprisingly, Green took to Tumblr to defend himself: “Throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don’t like, you trivialize abuse.” Green then addressed his need to leave Tumblr, “But this stops being a productive place for me to be in conversations if I’m not allowed to be wrong, if my apologies are not acknowledged alongside my misdeeds, and if I’m not treated like a person.” You can read his full response here.
You could be asking yourself why this matters. Why the voices of a few are making such a difference that it’s worth leaving a social media site or why I’m writing about it, and the answer is simple: It’s wrong. It’s wrong for any of us, whether in the fandom or not, to threaten or shame someone into not being proud of their life. The Internet has given us power and we have abused it. It’s easy to tear down those you hate, but it’s just as easy for someone else to tear down someone you love.
Our passion for a story or character has turned some of us into monsters. Many of us have found an acceptance in fandoms, but some have turned it into a place to rant about what we hate without ever mentioning what we love. Maybe we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to appreciate the things we like without destroying things we dislike. Fandom can be a great place to talk about serious problems in stories, but let’s not forget that people exist behind our favorite stories.
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