Fans are why we can’t have nice things
This year, we saw some pretty horrendous fan behavior, from Rick and Morty fans attacking minimum wage workers over dipping sauce to disgruntled DC fans continuing to rage over review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Was it always like this, or were fans of 2017 just way, way too passionate about pop culture?
I’ve been a fan of many things in my life, from a more casual appreciation of Harry Potter to a diehard love of all things South Park, I’m a pop-culture-loving gal, and proud of it. I’ve been taken part in multi-thread discussions about Game of Thrones theories, written glowing and not-so-glowing reviews of big genre movies, and watched endless hours of YouTube analysis of some of my favorite movies or shows. I could be described as a passionate fan, yet I’ve never gotten so worked up over something that I decided to wage a social media war. Am I the weird one, or are fans these days ruining fandoms with their over-the-top behavior?
The first time I was ever creeped out by a fandom was with Outlander. I watched the first season and, like many, really enjoyed the story and characters. The beautiful scenery, gorgeous costumes, and strong performances from leads Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe made the show a must-watch. In the long break between the first and second season, I started checking out Tumblr blogs to see gifs people had made of their favorite scenes, info from the cast and crew social media, and any fun behind the scenes facts I didn’t know. But then, it got creepy. Somewhere along the way, it seemed like most of the show’s fan blogs had turned from appreciating the show to obsessively discussing the personal lives of the actors. In particular, there was a massive contingent of people who either firmly believed the Heughan and Balfe were a real-life couple, and people who spent their time attacking those people. I was immediately turned off. I liked the show, I liked their acting, but I didn’t give a shit who was sharing their beds offscreen. I went on an unfollowing spree, but even the “normal” blogs seemed to jump into the speculation, so I bailed. When the second season came around, it wasn’t even fun to live tweet with the fan community anymore, so I stopped watching altogether.
Obsessive shippers can be annoying, but aside from some possible line-stepping with actors’ personal lives, they’re relatively harmless. This year, we also saw what happens when “fans” take things even farther during the infamous Szechuan sauce debacle for Rick and Morty. As countless blogs have already detailed, McDonald’s held a promotion for their Szechuan dipping sauce, mentioned in the season three premiere of the hilarious animated show. The fast-food giant gravely underestimated the demand, and a shit show of epic proportions broke out when angry fans threw tantrums upon realizing that they’d camped out at McDonald’s for nothing. In one particularly disheartening video, a man jumped onto the counter and started screaming at the employees about getting his sauce before spazzing out on the floor. These fans, mostly men, thought their behavior was hilarious and perfectly acceptable because “it’s what Rick would have done”, proving that they completely miss the point of the show, and that they don’t seem to be able to draw a clear distinction between a goddamn cartoon and real life. It wasn’t a good look for the fandom and it made many sane people feel uncomfortable about being lumped in with these morons.
We also saw the ever-popular online crusade against Rotten Tomatoes rear it’s ugly head again (and again, and again, and again) for some of this year’s big blockbusters. Most notably, the “backlash” for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Critics (including myself) praised the film and noted that, while not completely flawless, it was one of the better entries into the epic space saga. Fans, on the other hand, were divided. Some liked the bold choices and mystery-box-abandoning explanations in the plot, some freaked the hell out and claimed that Last Jedi ruined their love of Star Wars forever. One such ridiculously dramatic proclamation was even accompanied by a photo of a burning Star Wars t-shirt. Aside from the fact that this level of freak-out is unwarranted because the movie is genuinely good, grown adults shouldn’t have this much of their fundamental humanity tied up in this series. You can love Star Wars—you should love Star Wars—but if your emotions are going to that level over some plot points you didn’t care for, you need to rethink your priorities. We’re living in an era where it seems like half the men in Hollywood are power-hungry rapists and your holy war on a movie is going to be because your Snoke theory was wrong?!
But perhaps the outrage over The Last Jedi is just a microcosm of where we are as a society now. As the guys from The Weekly Planet have said, there is no nuance on the internet and, when it comes to cinema, reviews can only be “best movie ever” or “worst movie ever” with nothing in between. We see it all the time in politics, where endless streams of Facebook comments usually feature alt-right Nazis screaming insults at so-called liberal snowflakes, so I guess it’s no surprise that this kind of stubborn, mountain-out-of-a-mole-hill attitude has infected entertainment. The thing is, there’s a big difference between people dying because they have no access to affordable healthcare and being bummed out that more people don’t agree with you about Justice League. Entertainment used to be the place you could turn to escape these kinds of angry debates, but now every damn comment section seemed to be filled with rabid fans attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We’re living in the era of over-analysis, and it’s making it hard to be a fan of anything unless you’re ready to ardently defend your opinion like you’re arguing a goddamn murder trial.
Can’t we just enjoy things anymore? Can’t we just like a movie or a show without having to write a thesis on its merits every time someone disagrees? It’s wonderful to be a passionate fan and it’s great when a movie or a show can bring you true joy, but people really need to calm the hell down sometimes. If someone disagrees with you, keep it moving. No need to let the conversation devolve into insults and anger. This isn’t irrefutable science, it’s opinion, and sometimes people have different ones. Trying to shut down Rotten Tomatoes, trying to embody an egomaniacal genius from an animated show, trying to demand that your favorite TV stars date in real life, these are not things fans do. A movie can’t destroy your childhood, and loudly proclaiming that it has is a pretty clear indication that you still haven’t grown up. Regardless of what rabid online fan culture tells you, you can be a fan of something without devoting every minute of your free time to it and flipping the hell out when a plotline doesn’t go the way you wished it had. In short, the fandoms of today are the reason we can’t have nice things anymore.