What The Hell Is Wrong With Fans?

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Title: What The Hell Is Wrong With Fans?
Creator: Peter David
Date(s): September 16th, 2014
Fandom: Once Upon a Time (TV series), and others
External Links: https://www.peterdavid.net/2014/09/16/what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-fans/, archive link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

What The Hell Is Wrong With Fans? is a 2014 essay by Peter David.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay

Some Topics Discussed in the Fan Comments

  • if fans want to see something different on television, they should make their own shows
  • diverse representation of sexuality is not that necessary
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander as gay, Tara/Willow
  • J2
  • same sex relationships as being a way to express emotion
  • only gay people should be asking for gay representation
  • gays are not a majority of the population so they shouldn't expect representation
  • some guys making sure you know how very straight they are

From the Essay

I’m afraid that I’m going to come across like a cranky fan sitting in my rocking chair complaining about the kids running around on my lawn. Nevertheless, recent instances of fan entitlement are starting to get on my nerves.

I’m not talking about previously discussed situations such as fans coming up with all sorts of excuses for stealing material and claiming that it’s okay to do so. Those are entertaining as always, but not really big on my mind at the moment.

No, I’m thinking about the current fans of “Once Upon a Time” who are not only convinced that their views are not being represented on the series, but are going after such blameless targets as the actors, targeting them with hostile tweets and such. And you thought it was bad when a villainess in a soap opera couldn’t go food shopping without being harassed by customers.

... the difference between now and then is that slash fans were a subset of Trek fandom and that’s all they were. No one ever expected for half a second that stories in which Kirk and Spock romantically hooked up would be manifested on the TV series or in any of the subsequent films.

Now we’re in a different mindset, though. Now fans seem to believe that not only should their views be reflected in the series, but if they aren’t, then the producers are doing something wrong. That they are overlooking or neglecting the needs of the fans and, in doing so, are displaying the fact that they are uncaring about particular aspects of fannish priorities.

And the problem is that if writers say they understand where the fans are coming from but aren’t going to write what the fans want to see, then the fans are quick to condemn the writers and call them hypocrites. Sure, the writers or producers may SAY they support gay rights, but they don’t really. The proof of that is that they won’t write what the fans want to see.

I’m not sure where or when this fandom mentality developed. I’m not sure why this sense of entitlement has swelled to such proportions that fans feel the need to write entire essays about how various programs or writers or whomever are letting them down by failing to represent their views. It may well be because of the rise of the Internet because once upon a time, fans would simply rage in a vacuum. But now writers and producers not only see what they’re saying but respond to it, sometimes in self-defense. And it’s a shame that that sort of fan mentality has brought matters to this situation.

I just wish that the fractional number of fans who were obsessed about unworkable offshoot stories would be happy with sharing their stories and beliefs of what characters should be doing with each other and keep it to themselves.

Fan Comments

I am so ashamed for these people who give fans a bad name. I wish there was some simple, positive way to instill upon them basic respect, the Golden Rule, and the reality that not everyone’s views can be represented in all things in all ways.

The show reflects the vision of the creative minds behind it. When it aligns with a fan’s vision, rejoice. When it does not, respect the creators’ right to create their own work. A fan can always choose not to watch without being harassed.

My completely uneducated, uninformed opinion of why this is so comes down to 2 major factors: The internet and reality TV. The internet PAD already touched upon – basically, fans have a forum to have their views and opinions aired like never before, and perhaps TV producers have set some bad precedent by letting those views and opinions guide where other TV shows have gone (I honestly don’t know from direct experience – not being much of a TV consumer, when I say “perhaps” I mean it it as pure speculation).

The other is reality TV, where fans have and do have a direct impact on the outcome of some shows (I’m thinking mostly of the fan voting in American Idol – though I’m sure there are many other examples). Fans no longer just “want” to have a say in the outcome of their favorite shows, they’ve come to expect it and, if PAD’s observations are accurate, look at it as some type of entitlement.

I appreciate that some fans are far too entitled, and attacks on creators and actors are not justified. But it’s important to consider that many fans are simply looking for representation. If there are no queer characters in canon at all, then queer fans are indeed being done a disservice.

Certainly no-one expected Kirk and Spock to hook up on ST: TOS, because of the homophobia at the time. But we live in more enlightened times now, surely? People ‘ship’ their favourite characters, whether straight or not, because they are written well and have great chemistry. Is it too much to ask for writers to put their talents towards creating a well-written canon gay couple?

[Peter David]: That’s not what’s happening. People are not asking. They are expecting. They are demanding. And they are being belligerent when not getting what they want, challenging the writers and demanding to know why their feelings are being ignored. And if you disagree with them – with anyone, really – then you are accused of hating whatever interest it is they are supporting.
In my experience, the fans most adamant about having gay relationships between characters who aren’t in the least gay are not, themselves, gay. They are straight. As in the slash fiction of Trek’s past, they are most often women who want to see a softer, more emotional display of the relationship between the characters…and see a homosexual or lesbian affection to be the way to that goal.

If someone creates a good story, one where they worked out the character arcs, the long term plots, the twists, the turns, and the reveals and none of that involved a gay couple, how does it make the story better or worse on the face of it and why demand that such a couple be shoehorned in?

And what happens if they do?

I write a story. It goes to TV. I’ve plotted it out and know where everyone is going in each season, what the seasonal arcs are, and I know who lives and who dies. Suddenly a couple or character catches the fancy of a segment of the audience who declare that he/she/they must be gay.

I say that he/she/they is/are straight. The social media gets riled up. People demand that these characters be who they want them to be and not who I intended them to be.

Two problems.

First, who are you to demand that the creator bow to your demands? You didn’t create the character(s) nor did you give the character(s) life. You didn’t write or perform the character(s) in such a way that created the popularity that has led to this issue. How disrespectful is it to demand (as some are apparently doing here) that the creators and performers step aside so that you can step in and recreate something to be what it was never intended to be?

Second, what if I planned to kill that character or those characters in the next season or book? I plotted my story out. I know who lives and who dies and I know how that impacts the story after the deaths. I cave in, throw my hands up, and make characters who were never gay in my original outline gay to make everyone else happy.

And then I kill them shortly thereafter.

Gee, that will certainly go over well on social media.

Or I could change my plots midstream. It can be done, but it almost always has a noticeable impact. Many fans of B5 discuss the changes that took place do to cast issues and other matters and swear blindly that it would have been a better arc/story/show if it went as originally planned rather than having noticeable hiccups from last minute changes. And, as a worst case scenario… The Dark Phoenix Saga. One character death changed the overall story went off the rails for a while after that.

If it’s my story, if it’s a good, entertaining story, why should I add anything to its cannon other than what I need to tell my story?

I mean, the point is to be entertained. If it’s entertaining, how are fans looking for entertainment being done a disservice?

I’m white. I loved the hell out of Blade II and thought it was entertaining as all get out. At no time did I feel that it did a disservice to me while watching it because Blade wasn’t white.

I’m a guy. I liked Xena. At no point did I feel that it did a disservice to me while watching it because Xena wasn’t a man.

I was raised Christian. I loved the hell out of movies, books, TV shows, and comics where the heroes were Buddhist, Muslim, Norse, Hindu, etc. At no point did I feel that they did a disservice to me while reading, listening to, or watching them because the heroes weren’t Christian.

I love all sorts of foreign films. Never felt a disservice done because the characters weren’t of my nationality, running around in my country, or doing things that are, for me, cultural norms.

Hell, I’m as straight as straight can be. I loved the hell out of Captain Jack and some of the other Who and Torchwood crew. Didn’t feel the least bit of a disservice was being done to me that some of these characters didn’t bat exclusively for my team.


And that’s because all I want to be is entertained. I’m not looking for anything more than that. I appreciate it when a creator gives me something beyond mindless entertainment, when a creator gives us something to think about or something that makes us think for hours or days afterwards, but my main goal is to be entertained. It’s not to see people I can point to and claim to be like me.

If the fans get too insistent the writers should announce that if they don’t knock it off the character in question will soon be shown eating a chick-fil-a sandwich and voting for Pat Buchanan, and not accidentally either.

Tell ‘me to piss off. They have a better idea on how to write characters they had no hand in creating? Yeah, lol, no. Create your own characters. Fair warning: the characters one creates often have at least some aspects of one’s own persona and, that being the case, what is the likelihood that any tone they create will be the kind of character anyone will want to be around? Slim, am I right? So they will just glop on to things they have no ownership of and try to bully their way to ownership, like a lamprey pretending it’s part of the salmon.

Piss. Off.

I watch/read stories to be entertained. I dont define myself through these stories. I watched Pacific Rim and Im not a giant robot and I dont have a 6 pack like the lead guy. Who cares? I was entertained. If I write a story its mine to do with as I please. I write songs and people will tell me what I shouldve done in a particular part of the songt. Its my song go write your own:) Truth is the gay population is not the majority so the chances are they will see shows that dont have gay people. When writing a story for a tv show or movie they probably go with a specific demographic and the one that is largest and will pay the most. Just my thoughts.

Part of it is the result of the Internet Echo Chamber.

Once upon a time, no pun intended, fandoms were still pretty generalized. You could find six or seven people who liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you had to take a wide range of opinions and tastes along with them.

Over the years that process has been refined. You can surround yourself exclusively with people who agree with your specific tastes. It’s easy to see yourself as a moderate when your scale only ranges from “fanboy who kinda wants to see Regina and Emma together” and “fangirl who creates graphic slash-fic and fanart.”

This isn’t exclusive to fandom either. Just look at how it’s effected politics. The fandom problem is only a single symptom of a larger issue.

=rolls eyes= I think what a lot of these self-entitled schmucks are truly entitled to is a good smack in the head with a big bucket-load of reality. Sniping at the actors is stupid. They didn’t write the script, they just acted it out. If the “fans” want to see Emma & Regina hook up, they can write it themselves & rope some friends into acting it out for them.

I think the entitlement has always been there. It has simply festered and grown over time. Now that we live in an age where everything is so accessible, especially some form of contact with celebrities and writers, there is an easy outlet to say anything with so few repercussions. I know that Twitter and blogs are wonderful ways to connect with respectful fans and promote work, but sometimes I think it would make a lot of sense to just disconnect from it all. The work speaks for itself, the fans have only each other to argue with about things that don’t matter to the show/book/whatever, and actors and creators can just focus on being creative and not on being harassed. I also recognize that this is probably too simple of a solution to actually work out well.

I’ve always known fans with this attitude, whether the fans in question wrote fan fiction or not. They had it right, the writers had it wrong, and things would go all wrong unless or until the powers that be wised up and realized these facts and acted on them. And they wrote letters. Some of them wrote lots of letters. But that’s all that they could really do most of the time. The powers that be at Marvel and DC may have actually seen the letters, but I doubt that most of the powers that be at TV shows, or the actors on them, ever saw the letters. And, frankly, they all probably only gave slighty more of a dámņ about the letters than the entertainment media did, who gave absolutely no dámņš about them at all 99.9% of the time.

But look where we’re at now. Every major movie, show, and comic has a social media fan page. Characters from these movies, shows, and comics sometimes have official pages. And actors, writers, directors, artists, and others are encouraged, by peers or by the powers that be, to have a social media presence these days. And sometimes even the fan fiction stuff has a forum or a website.

20 years ago, on the whole, if I wanted to be an ass I would have been screaming at the wind. These days? If I wanted to be an ass I could launch direct campaigns right on the digital e-doorways of anyone and everyone that I wanted to bother. And, worse, I’d be less alone in doing it.

In the days of snail mail and the fanzine, I would be the lone “intelligent one” in a town of 15,00 people. I might be able to find in various parts of the country a few sympathetic thinkers to my cause. Of course, coordinating everyone via snail mail and fanzine was not always the easiest or most efficient thing to do.

Today? Thanks to the net and social media I could be in a town of 15,000 people and have constant contact with the other 100 people who share my view or cause. And we would be in contact with the 50 in the next town over and the 400 in the city down the road who all would have thought themselves mostly alone two or three decades ago. And, if we’re efficient (or insanely anal) we would know all the little pockets of like thinkers in most every other state and a few other countries here and there. And organizing a social media blitz is a simple as announcing a time and date on a website, forum, or social media page

I feel the customer is always right, and you should cater to them to some degree; but if you choose not to, for whatever reason, you shouldn’t be abused – or even heavily criticised – for it.

There’s a comic book writer for whom I reserve very heavy criticism – not because they don’t give me what I want (they give the other 100,000 people who buy their books what they want, clearly) but because of more objective concerns like factual errors, major continuity errors and internal inconsistencies. But I’d never dream of attacking them personally.

Criticise the work, HATE the work if you want, especially if it doesn’t live up to the creator’s claims about it. But don’t harrass the creator for not giving you what you want, especially if you’re a minority in the fandom.

What is wrong with Fans? Well, if the current Blog-geist is to be believed, the problem is Capitalism.

At one point, our economy was dedicated to satisfying Needs, like Food and Shelter. But then it became efficient enough that the extra could be used to satisfy Wants, like Representation and Slashfic. And being more efficient, it had to satisfy more and more Wants to make the same Profit. So we end up with an economy dedicated to giving me everything I want, and I want everything, now, dammit.

It is all Don Draper’s fault.

Didn’t “Heroes” listen to all the fans internet complaints, resulting in the mess that was season 3?

I blame Willow. Back in the day, there was a loud call for Willow to be gay. Now I have no idea if that was the plan all along. Maybe it was. Afterall, the Vamp Willow was referred to “as kind of gay” by our Willow. The Gay Willow storyline didn’t materialize for a couple of seasons.

The fans who clamored for a Gay Willow won. I kind of had my story problems with that, but hey maybe I am a homophobe. But I did have a problem because whole storylines revolved around Willow having such uncontrollable lust for each other that they betrayed their significant others and had a clandestine affair. But that’s me and I’m old and the kids won’t stop playing on my lawn.

Nevertheless, the beast was fed, and boy did Joss get in trouble when he killed Tara. I suspect if Willow had a boyfriend he would have been killed too. But that is a concrete case of fandom driving a story. Just as fan mail got Star Trek a third season, now fans send in Tobasco and whatnot to save their favorite shows. “If it worked once” it’ll work every time.

I think engaged fans need to realize their relative numbers are small for TV. I was at a Highlander con back in the 1990s. A writer was speaking to about 2,000 people in the main ballroom. She thanked us for watching but made the point that ratings count hundreds of thousands and even millions of viewers. If everyone in the ballroom got a friend to watch Highlander and that was somehow measured, it wouldn’t matter. If all the same number of people in the ballroom stopped watching the show, that drop in viewers wouldn’t matter.

That’s why I laugh whenever I read a comic fan criticizing a comics movie for not slavishly following comics continuity. They say “why don’t the producers respect us? Why are they risking losing us at the box office?” A comic book movie needs tens of millions of viewers to be successful. A comic book is considered successful if it sells 50,000 issues in a single month. Do the math.

Anyway, I have to go and chase some kids off my lawn.

Supposedly, Whedon had been considering making either Willow or Xander gay for quite some time. I think the Vamp Willow thing might have been testing the water for it. It does kind of jump out at a person that Willow’s sexual tension with Xander was a major plot point in the series, but there are a couple of ways to think about this: A.) She was young and had never even considered another aspect of her sexuality, but Xander was safe anyway because he’s not incredibly traditionally masculine; or B.) Sexuality is on a spectrum, and there can be exceptions even if someone identifies as completely one way or another. (There’s also bisexuality, but I know from close experience with members of the LGBT community that it’s inappropriate to tell people how they should label themselves.)

To Whedon’s credit, he stuck to his guns about the story he was telling. While the fans and even the actress were upset with the seemingly random killing of Tara, he never undid it. (He tried to bring her back for a one-off with a special message, but the actress refused.) If one accepts storytelling as an art, which it is, an artists owe more to the story they mean to tell than to their fans. I respect artists who recognize that, even if I don’t like how they go about things.

Xander being gay would have been truly groundbreaking. Willow? Eh. I file that under the old “look, we’re so edgy we show 2 hot women going at it, which is only what exploitation films and porņ have been doing since about 2 weeks after movies were invented. Take THAT, patriarchy!”

Whee don’t experience was a warning to others, once you let a character become something of a surrogate for the viewers it is suddenly out of your hands. There was a time when it would have been difficult to portray an African-American character negatively but now they can be good, bad, everything in between, which is doubtlessly a good thing from a getting hired standpoint. Hopefully we’ll see gay characters get the same treatment, otherwise they will be limited to best buddy second banana status.

I wonder how long it will be before some start demanding that only GLBT(BLT,LOL,WTF,NSA) actors be used to portray similar characters. Otherwise it’s just lavender face.

I think you might have a misconception about the Willow/Tara relationship. It wasn’t really exploitative at all, especially since they were probably fearful of the censors. The first on-screen kiss wasn’t until about a year after the relationship started, and the only scene that was really sexual between them was literally “magical” a year after that. What was truly remarkable about it, and I say this as someone who overall didn’t care for the series, was that the relationship was just treated as normal. The fact that it wasn’t exploitative and overt was nice.

Xander’s being gay, and quite explicitly so, would have been groundbreaking for the WB and UPN at the time. However, he wouldn’t have been the first out male character. During that same time period, there was Carter on Spin City – who did kiss another man on screen. Unfortunately, it was played for laughs since the recipient was not willing, but it’s still something.

And gay characters have been portrayed as bad before. I remember reading criticisms of that, since it was more likely people would find psycho lesbians or depraved gay men tormenting the straight leads.

People can make their own damņed TV show if they want to. They can’t get it on a network, but there is the internet. And enough people are also doing that. We’ve seen fan version of things like Star Trek and other properties done well enough to get buzz and notice. Some are even getting their own panels at cons where fans show up to see the stars of the fan versions. Some people are doing original works in series form on the net and getting notice, buzz, and fan followings.

The simplest answer to these drips is the one Matt just gave. If you think you have the Golden Ticket idea, if you think it’s what people really want to see, and if you want to stop wasting the time trolling and spamming so as to devote it to creative endeavors- Do your own. You can get the equipment, new or used, relatively cheap, there are local talents who are willing to work for nothing more than exposure and the love of craft & doing something creative that they enjoy, and most computers come with basic movie editing programs that do more than 99.9% of the computer owners out there know that they can do.

Shut up, put your money where your trolling is, and show us what you can do.

Create your own characters; don’t try to change characters in which you had no hand in creating just because they don’t fit your world view. Should a character be written as gay because X number of outspoken fans want him to be gay. Should Jewish fans (or any other religion affiliation for that matter) be able have some influence on changing a character’s religion? Do we have to give them a back story of an abused child? Should they become left-handers? Write your own character, and by the way, you may be disappointed to find even when you do, there are a LOT of cooks in the kitchen. And regarding the deterioration of Heroes, I recently re-watched the entire series for the first time from end to end and it really does start to fall apart after the strike-abbreviated season. I think previous posters here hit the nail on the head when they point out the unexpected popularity of certain characters and their subsequent tenure in the series. After killing off Ali Larter’s character, did they really have to introduce ANOTHER identical twin with different powers just to keep the actress around? I don’t think so.

It might be appropriate here to mention The Price of the Phoenix and The Fate of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath.

The Star Trek book publishing arm had published a collection of short fiction authored by fans, not established professionals, Star Trek Lives, with Marshak as one of the three editors. (Lead editor Jacqueline Lichtenberg was an exception, as she was an established professional with a number of non-Trek novels published.) [1]

I went to a Star Trek convention in Maryland when some of the fans (all female) were touting these novels as finally following the ideas and wishes of the fan community.

I objected that the novels were written as if Roddenberry had built Star Trek around Ayn Rand philosophy, which was obviously not the case. Their response was that Shatner had read the books and liked them, which seemed to me at the time (and still) to be more a matter of Shatner’s philosophy and even more his love of being the sole active agent at the center of any story.

All of this was well before the Internet, of course, but it was an exception to the successful confinement of K/S fiction to exclusively fan-authored, fan-published fiction. These books were not about rewriting the characters as gay, but they were in every other way examples of the authors substituting their deeply held beliefs for the beliefs at the center of Star Trek, put there by the show’s creator.

Old lady reader here, but isn’t the whole idea of reading (or following a TV show) is letting your brain run around in someone else’s world? After all, it’s THEIR story to tell, not a create-your-own-ending adventure. I feel like if you have that many ideas rolling around in your head, you should be creating your OWN stories. (For me to read/watch… I’m greedy that way.)

I personally love it when characters take turns I wouldn’t have thought of. And I love the way an actor can take lines on a page and create a living, breathing person onscreen – it fascinates me. I hope I never get too old that it gets old for me.

As you say, this style of… possessive fan has been around forever, but I think it’s really exploded with social media and messagebords, simply because there is now a forum for people to air their dissatisfaction and have others agree and egg them on. I used to quite enjoy nosing around TV discussion boards, but I’ve given it up after seeing “the writers don’t know what they’re doing/don’t care/are actively screwing with the show for no reason” too many times.


  1. ^ This fan is confusing Star Trek: The New Voyages with Star Trek Lives!.