Toxic Fandom and You: Exploring an Unfortunate Trend in Film Discourse
Tommy Lee Jones put it best (as Agent Kay) when he said that “People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.“. While being a fan of a particular franchise or series is fun, it is also exhausting in. Unfortunately, the internet provides a playground for the growth of toxic fandom. Since I already have a Twitter account, I decided to dive into that cesspool to try and get a read on the toxicity of certain franchises and why sections of their fans are so antagonistic in some cases. Let’s take a look.
What is Toxic Fandom?
Toxic Fandom is a hard concept to nail down. There is no definitive description of it, but you almost always know it when you see it. There are certain buzzwords and phrases that almost always point to toxicity. When you start to hear phrases like “ruined my childhood”, “Boycott [Company Here]”, “Remake [Film Here]“, or “[Director] doesn’t know how to make films”, you know you’re wading into the thick of it. As fandoms grow larger, the toxicity tends to increase. As the rate of production on risk-taking and divisive films increases, the toxicity does so commensurately.
A Common Thread
In my research through the Twitter-verse, a single constant seems to be found among all toxic fandoms: possession. Not the Exorcist kind, but the act of ownership. Many fans seem to think that a certain franchise or character belongs to them personally. When their expectations are not met, they take it as a personal attack. Many fans believe that [Director Here] has stabbed them in the back because [Iconic Character] chose to eat the Snickers bar even though that specific fan is allergic to peanuts.
Because of this possessiveness, fandom becomes a gated community. In these circles, you have to be “This much” of a fan before you can really call yourself a fan. If you haven’t seen this movie, read this comic book, or played this videogame, you are unworthy and your ass gets thrown out like Thor after his temper tantrum on Jotunheim. Worse yet, if you like something that another fan hated, you are an idiot who doesn’t know movies and is also paid off by Disney and the critics. You’re either a fan just like me or you are not a fan at all.
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no room in a toxic fandom for the dissenting opinion. Going back to the gatekeeping, you are either one of the ruling opinion or you are invalid. Here is where the toxic fandom begins to cripple the fandom overall. There is no longer any room for discussion or exploration of the different feelings that a movie or TV show can invoke. Your feelings as the minority are invalidated, and in turn, you and your experience with the work are as well.
Once the ruling and dissenting opinions are established, the walls between them are drawn up and the mudslinging can begin. There is no real cure for Toxic Fandom, only minor appeasements with later works. The fact of the matter is that opinions are difficult to change once cemented, regardless of how brutal or idiotic they might be. In short, there is hardly much in the way of a cure for toxic fandom. That being said, it’s still an issue worth exploring.
Star Wars has perhaps had the most publicity for its Toxic Fandom. Although, I don’t genuinely believe that it is as toxic as it was presented to be. Spend five minutes on Reddit and you’ll see the love that Star Wars fans have for the material and each other. It appears that Star Wars is plagued by a toxic fandom but by a vocal minority of whiny man-children and Russian Bots. (Yes, Actual Russian Bots). The divide over The Last Jedi was a huge rift, yes, but not the inordinate chasm that it is often presented to be by the acolytes of the “Remake the Last Jedi” campaign.
RiAn JoHnSoN rUiNeD mY cHiLdHoOD
“Childhood ruined” was a very common phrase in December 2017. Why? It’s the month that The Last Jedi released and the most high-profile time during the Twitter-age that Toxic Fandom was thrust into the limelight. Luke Skywalker, being (quite possibly) the most iconic character of all time, is one that millions of people are emotionally invested in. Not only this, but people have been extremely invested in them for their whole lives. Anyone born from 1965 to the present had a stake in his journey that began during childhood.
So when Luke’s journey went more Empire than it did New Hope, people went ballistic. Not a ton of people, but enough to make some noise. Because of their investment in the character and the entitlement to having a stake in his journey; these people felt as if Rian Johnson had walked up to their childhood self, stolen the half-melted Spider-Man ice pop from their hand, and kicked their dog. This lead to the gates being drawn and the exclusion beginning. These fans holed themselves up in a makeshift bunker and began hurling feces at those who dared to appreciate Luke’s different (albeit somewhat unexpected) journey.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
In terms of toxic fandom, Marvel is especially difficult to get a read on. The problem, quite simply, is that everyone is invested in these movies to a certain degree. The largest franchise and biggest film ever made means that most first-world citizens are at least partially involved in what the franchise creates. It also helps that these movies have been helmed solely by one man and one primary creative team to this point. While some movies are certainly regarded as worse than others, the love for the franchise as a whole is still pretty much universal. These movies aren’t as distinct from one another as the Star Wars trilogies, and so the divide isn’t as noticeable.
The MCU at its Most Toxic
The most toxic event in this fandom to date has already blown over for the most part, and it’s only been two weeks. Once people realized that Disney was being greedy, the personal investment in losing Spider-Man took a backseat. Due to the fact that so many people from across the planet are involved in this behemoth of a franchise, it’s difficult for any toxic dissent to spread before it gets stamped out by the other 6.9 Billion fans that don’t care for your whining because Captain America just whooped ass with Mjolnir on their living room TV.
Oh, so you read this article because you wanted me to dive into the most toxic of toxic fandoms? Well good, because I am indeed talking about DC films in this article. Though members of this fandom will take affront to the fact, DC is the most toxic fandom out there right now. Just take a look at the mess of Joker reactions being made right now on Twitter, a full month before its wide release. Quite honestly, DC fans are the worst among the tentpole franchises.
Hero to Zero
DC characters and quality movies have the most strenuous will-they-won’t-they relationship ever. On one hand, you have the absolute masterpieces like Superman: The Movie, Batman (1989), The Dark Knight, and Wonder Woman. On the other hand, you also have the absolute sewer trash like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman & Robin, Catwoman, and Justice League. DC fans have had to face far more disappointment than Star Wars and MCU fans combined. However, this constant jump from masterpiece to crash-and-burn seems to have fractured their ability to be civilized fans of something.
Take a look at any DC Fan Twitter account and you’ll find the following constants:
- MCU sucks and is for normies with no brains
- Joker changed my life (even though I haven’t seen it)
- Aquaman is the Citizen Kane of the 21st Century
- The only non-DC I watch is Christopher Nolan
DC Fans Anonymous
Before I continue honing in on why DC has the most toxic fandom, I need to illustrate where I’m coming from.
I like DC movies. The highs of DC’s cinematic history are brilliant, groundbreaking, and game-changing. I liked Man of Steel, Aquaman, and even Batman V Superman to some extent. Hell, Suicide Squad is my guiltiest pleasure. I know that Man of Steel and Aquaman are just okay, with the latter being especially formulaic and bland. While I admire Snyder’s “swinging for the fences” tenacity with BvS, he missed nearly all of his marks. And Suicide Squad‘s problems… don’t even get me started.
The point is, I’m invested in these movies and these characters too, but not to the point that I let myself be blinded by some weird manifestation of corporate fealty. At the end of the day, there are still standards for good and bad narratives, quality effects, and well-written characters. DC does not live up to them as often as their franchise competitors (not just superheroes). The real problem is that when DC flops, some fans grab their pitchforks and take to the streets of the internet.
DC’s True Film Audience
What I’m about to say isn’t always the case. However, it’s become more evident the longer I’ve scrolled through Twitter. DC makes films for neckbeards. That’s it. That’s the sad, somewhat derogatory fact. What’s a neckbeard, you ask? Take a look at what Urban Dictionary has to say and you’ll need no further explanation.
Batman V Superman
DC films do not resonate. That is why the “Martha” scene in Batman V Superman is the most laughable thing to come out of a blockbuster, this side of Bat Nipples. The biggest flaw in BvS is that both of its protagonists insist on the other being a homicidal maniac for the first two acts, while both characters themselves relish in being homicidal dicks to each other and the people they claim to be protecting. Instead of being written as the shining icons of justice they are, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent storm around in Snyder-ized Spandex while spouting faux-deep philosophy to anyone who will listen. These characters are all preach, with no practice.
Yet, select groups of DC fans instead decided that it wasn’t the universally disliked movie that was wrong. No, it was the audiences, critics, and studios that all pulled the emergency brake when confronted with this mess. From then on the DCEU fandom has become a monument to the cut of a film that doesn’t exist, MCU bashing, and the almost religious praise of a very adequate movie.
The Neckbeard Audience
It goes without saying that a vast majority of DC fans act responsibly. But DC films also resonate with those who see themselves as victims of the grim, gritty world that DC films depict. These films feed the imagined sleights that their audience feels. It caters directly to their need to be the only one tough, or reasonable enough, to live in such victimhood. When life says screw you, they say “m’lady” and continue on their way, katana in hand.
Unfortunately, the richness of a character like Batman or the Joker plays against the franchise here. Only people that are somewhat imbalanced themselves can truly see eye-to-eye with a murder-y Batman or a nihilistic Joker. Until DC learns to bring deepen these characters with more than just darkness and tragedy, they won’t connect to their full potential.
One More Thing On DC
DC films haven’t always been toxic, nor do I think they will always be this toxic. To reiterate, a large majority of fans watch these movies, discuss them, and move on with their lives in a reasonable fashion. However, the fact of the matter is that the films are still currently problematic at best. They identify the worst of what fans can be as opposed to the best that their heroes are supposed to inspire. This doesn’t mean that heroes can’t be dark, but they can’t be solely defined by that darkness. Dark characters in dark worlds telling dark stories with no redeeming or human qualities to be found means that the toxic fandom divide will continue to grow.
What makes DC the most toxic fandom is the fact that the toxicity doesn’t just stay within the fandom. Spend five minutes on Twitter, and you’ll quickly lose count of every time a DC shill attacks Marvel/Star Wars/ [Franchise Here] for liking something in their fandom more than something in the DC fandom. Not everything is a competition, and you can enjoy two different things. I hope these DC fans realize this fact, and the internet becomes better for it. Someone else’s content does not have to be bad for yours to be good. And, no, Zach Snyder is not so deep that normal people can’t understand him, you’re just delusional.
Can toxic fandom ever be justified? Is it ever okay for fans to be upset? Yes, I believe it is possible. Why? Because it’s happened before with one of the largest fandoms out there. It’s also happening right now with another fandom that has been presented with a very similar scenario. That’s right, I’m talking about Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. But, since this is MovieBabble and not TVBabble, I’m focusing more on Lord of the Rings.
One Fandom to Rule Them All
Remember when Grima Wormtongue stabbed Sauron in the back in The Two Towers? That’s exactly what MGM and New Line Cinema did to fans with the Hobbit Trilogy. In the case of Toxic Fandom, the audience almost always makes the first misstep. Here, however, the Producers took the first swing. Instead of delivering the grounded, practical effects-driven spectacle as they’d done with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, New Line opted for a CGI money grab that fractured the story for the sake of a few extra box office paydays.
When New Line followed up the most epic, most consistent, arguably greatest franchise of all time with one of the cheapest looking, forced, and worst; what did LOTR fans do? Not much. They complained at the time, yes, but then they moved on. In fact, they moved on quickly. At the end of the day, LOTR fans still have an amazing, true to the novels trilogy that rivals everything else even remotely like it. And that’s enough. Most of the franchise’s fans don’t bother themselves with the inferiority of The Hobbit, they’re just grateful to have the first three films.
Game of Thrones
Okay, I am going to talk GoT a little. The problem with the LOTR fandom is that it doesn’t have much toxicity. Thus, its role in an article about Toxic Fandom is diminished. However, there is a fandom nearly identical to it that is currently in the midst of a toxic storm. The final two seasons of Game of Thrones were rushed. Why? Nobody knows for sure. All we know is that the attention to detail and complexity the narrative had been given in seasons 1-6 was weak in season 7 and almost completely absentee in season 8. People aren’t mad about what happened, they’re mad because of how it happened and why.
Reddit and Twitter have been an absolute circus since Season 8 Episode 4 debuted. The fandom is very toxic, except not in the same way as with other franchises. Game of Thrones is nearly as unified as Lord of the Rings fans are right now. There isn’t a gate-keeping divide between fans, but there is an enormous divide between fans and the creators (D.B. Weiss and Dave Benioff). The worst part is, D.B. and Dave (D&D) have been aggressors themselves. Instead of taking criticism or accepting any faults, they shift the blame to the fans in many instances.
And yet, that does NOT excuse the horrible death threats that fans have made towards D&D as well as other members of the cast. Such actions are gross and unjustified and only add to this conversation. Every fandom can show a dark side in one way or another.
Can Fandom be Non-Toxic?
Toxic Fandom has always been a thing, and will always be a thing. That’s just how people are wired. Individuals have filed petitions and held silly marches against content for years. In 2019, we all simply have better means than ever to get our messages out there. However, it doesn’t always have to lead to a friendship ending toxicity. It’s okay for two different audiences to view Star Wars differently from one another. What is not okay is when those differences of opinion become hills to die on. As an individual, you do not have a say in who appreciates Star Wars or who doesn’t. The fandom does not belong to you. So if you have opinions, great, share them. Do not, however, attack others just because their opinion is different. If you don’t like a particular film in a series, then don’t watch it, but don’t make it your mission to ruin someone else’s enjoyment.
To end this article the way it began, I have one more Men in Black quote. “Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin‘”.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Toxic Fandom? Comment down below!
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