Fandom Is Broken

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News Media Commentary
Title: Fandom Is Broken
Date(s): May 30, 2016
Venue: online
External Links: Fandom Is Broken, Archived version
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Fandom Is Broken is an article by Devin Faraci. It has the subtitle: "Controversies and entitlement shine a light on a deeply troubling side of fandom."

There were 2364 comments as of June 4, 2016, most of them apparently male, most of them in agreement with the post.

Some Topics Discussed


What if Annie Wilkes had the internet?

Annie, of course, is the antagonist of Stephen King's Misery, a pre-web story about the dark side of the relationship between fan and creator. When Annie finds novelist Paul Sheldon - the author of her favorite romance series, about a woman named Misery Chastain - in a car accident off a mountain road she takes him home to convalesce. A nurse, she tends to Paul's broken legs but refuses to take him to a hospital; you see, Paul has recently killed off Misery and Annie will have none of that. While she has the man in her care she brutally forces him to write a new Misery Chastain novel that will bring the heroine back from the dead. The story is a very, very thinly veiled metaphor for the relationship between pop fiction creators and their most dedicated, most rabid fanbases and the way the creators can be trapped, bullied and tortured by their own creations and the people who love them.

But what if Annie Wilkes had the internet? What if she didn't have to kidnap Paul in order to make her displeasure with him known? What if she could tweet hate at him all day, or could fill message boards with personal bile about him or could directly send him death threats through Facebook, email or Tumblr? If Annie Wilkes had the internet she would fit right in with a disturbingly large segment of fandom.

This isn't really a new thing - way back in 2012 I named Annie Wilkes the Patron Saint of Fandom after the childish, ridiculous uproar over the ending of Mass Effect 3.

Last week the AV Club ran an excellent piece [1] about the nature of modern fan entitlement, and I think it's fairly even-handed. The piece covers both the reaction to an all-female Ghostbusters reboot but also the hashtag that trended trying to get Elsa a girlfriend in Frozen 2. The author of that piece, Jesse Hasenger, draws a line between the two fan campaigns, rightly saying that whether driven by hate (Ghostbusters) or a desire for inclusion (Frozen 2) both campaigns show the entitlement of modern fan culture. It's all about demanding what you want out of the story, believing that the story should be tailored to your individual needs, not the expression of the creators. These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn't be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?

This immediate access to the people who create the stuff we love was supposed to be the greatest thing that ever happened to fandom. If you talk to old TV writers or scifi novelists they'll tell you that they were often creating work in a void, not sure what people thought of what they were doing. It took a lot of effort to send a letter, so the only people who did that were the truly committed, but the general populace was largely silent. You just knew if they were watching or buying. But social media bridged the gap, and creators are no longer working in a void. Instead they're working in some kind of a chamber of screams, where people can and do voice their immediate and often personal displeasure directly and horribly.

I don't want to pretend that this is some sort of generational shift; if that death threat above is to be believed the guy who made it is either in his 40s or fast approaching his 40s. This underbelly has always been there in fandom, going back to Doyle and beyond. There are new wrinkles for younger fans, a group that seems uninterested in conflict or personal difficulty in their narratives (look at the popularity of fan fics set in coffee shops or bakeries, which posit the characters of a comic or TV show or movie they love as co-workers having sub-sitcom level interactions. I had an argument with a younger fan on Twitter recently and she told me that what she wants out of a Captain America story is to see Steve Rogers be happy and get whatever he wants - ie, the exact opposite of what you want from good drama), but while the details change the general attitude is the same: this is what I want out of these stories, and if you don't give it to me you're anti-Semitic/ripping off the consumer/a dead man.

In a lot of ways fandom has always been a powder keg just waiting for the right moment to explode, and that moment is the ubiquity of social media. Twitter is the match that has been touched to this powder keg, and all of a sudden the uglier parts of fandom - the entitlement, the demands, the frankly poor understanding of how drama and storytelling work - have blown the fuck up.


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