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Toxic behaviour in fandoms - there’s no easy way around it. We all have strong opinions as fans, and not always do our thoughts and feelings align with one another. However, we do all share one thing that unites us; a love of our chosen fandom. In theory, we should all get along and respect each other’s opinions, right?
As you can probably guess from the fact I'm even writing this entry - nope, that's not the case. We don’t. We really don't.
And that's an issue I think we need to address.
This piece is inspired by multiple events and conversations from the last few years, several of which I’m going to be referencing in detail. I’ll start with the most topical - a split between fans over the latest film in the Harry Potter (or should I say Wizarding World?) franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Judged harshly by the critics prior to its general release, the film has stoked many fans to come out and voice their own thoughts quite loudly. Some absolutely adore the blockbuster, with all its twists and turns - others... not quite so much. Personally, I’ve found it really tough to find many threads of conversation where both sides of the coin are discussed openly where others don't resorting to petty name-calling and accusations of bias.
Just as Harry and Voldy were bound together, this is an issue stemming from both sides of the fence. Those who love the film are claiming that critics are ‘haters’, and not 'true' fans of J.K. Rowling. Meanwhile, those who disliked the film call proponents delusional, arguing they have no appreciation or understanding of cinema. Two of my favourite content creators - Tessa Netting and Brizzy Voices - both hit the nail on the head with these issues, highlighting the importance of respect online; Brizzy summed up this dialogue perfectly in her own words with the Twitter post below (click for the full thread). Likewise, Tessa discussed the fact that “ALL fans are valid” in her film review, and suggested discrediting someone because of their opinions was a slippery slope to come back from.
People will always differ on their views of a film or TV series - it’s a natural discourse when you're an impassioned fan, and voicing opinions in a thoughtful manner comes from a place of love. They love their fandom, and only want to see it at its best; in fact, critical feedback can sometimes be instrumental to a franchise's continuing success.
But as touched upon, the delivery of this feedback is vital to get right - and sending death threats to J.K. Rowling via Twitter is a horrid way to express your love.
When you regress to being a keyboard warrior with a desire to vilify, you’re not advocating for any change in a meaningful way. Hollering your hate from the rooftops - and belittling those with different views - just demonises every other critic out there. At the end of the day, there is a healthy way to voice our opinions, showing consderiation for the weight of others and their thoughts. This episode of Mugglecast is a great example - the hosts have seen the film multiple times, and ask viewers to call in and express their own views, even if they differ wildly from their own.
Dismissing those who disliked a film you didn't rate as ‘haters’ is reductive, and it shouldn’t be hard for us all to have an open and frank conversation about a film - warts and all. Keenan Malak of The Guardian lamented “Criticism is becoming re-branded as hate. Those who criticise are not critics, they are hate mongers.” We should lend an ear to fellow fans, regardless if they disagree.
But alas, the internet can be a cruel place - it’s very easy to fall into an “us and them” attitude.
This brings me to my next point - segmentation in fandoms. In the context of this article, I'm mostly talking about the divide between different Shippers and different Stans (have a quick google of these terms if you're not sure what I'm on about). Don’t get me wrong - there are ships that I love, and favourite characters from franchises that I'd love to see more of. However, one fandom where a portion of Ships cause a great deal of controversy and (at times) negativity is Supernatural.
Story time: I remember listening to a geeky podcast, and was put out when one of the hosts argued that the Supernatural fandom was “toxic”. As someone who loves the show dearly, my first reaction was to chalk this down as a ludicrous claim - you only have to look at the work that the cast and fans have done for charities, mental health advocacy, and feminism to see the positive effects a show like this can have on the world. But unfortunately, when you take a lens to official social media accounts, you see an audience tainted by people so obsessed with their Ships and Stans that they use their views as a weapon against other fans.
As an example, let's take the brilliant Natalie Fisher, Hypable journalist extraordinaire. At the press screening and celebration event for the 300th episode of Supernatural (which I WISHED I was at more than you could ever know), she managed to fill our feeds with wonderful commentary and photos of the cast. However, Stans and Shippers alike went on a rampage when one actor wasn’t immediately mentioned in the first piece of content released, despite her reassuring them that there was another article coming. As you may predict from this article's tone, this quickly spiraled into name-calling, boycotting, and 'hater' branding being thrown around.
Obsessions can be unhealthy without you ever really noticing - and when you can’t even look at anything from the show without your faves appearing 24/7, you’re possibly at that point of no return.
Sadly, this is a common theme in the Supernatural fandom. Any time any piece of content is put out from the show (trailers, promotional posters, you name it), there’s someone out there who has issues with an element of that content. Be it two characters interacting that they don’t want to, or a character appearing on a poster that they feel 'doesn't belong'. Some people even go as far as to immediately block or send hate to other Shippers, mocking and generalising about every other fan of that relationship.
This hate can be so strong that these users look for excuses to attack actors in their personal lives, as well as encouraging others to do the same. And more than anything else, that disappoints me.
Let's be honest here; we all have hatred for certain fictional characters (I still shudder when someone mutters the names 'Joffrey' or 'Kilgrave'). But I recognise that characters and actors are two separate entities, and it's a real testament of talent when someone evokes such strong emotions in me. Some people, however, struggle to find that line between fiction and reality.
Sending horrific messages online to a real person because of their fictional character? A step too far, mon'amie.
I pledge others to consider this - if you’re commenting about someone directly, take a second and wonder whether you'd have the guts to say that to their face. If not, wise up and delete the heck out of that comment. Trash talking people online is cowardly, childish, and discredits you as a fan.
Why can’t we have a fandom where we discuss our favourite Ships and characters openly without dissolving into chaos? I try to accept my friends who ship other fictional relationships to me - it’s just an opinion at the end of the day, and there is no objectively right combo. Everyone has their own interpretation of a story, and it shouldn’t result in a breakdown between different sub-groups of the fandom.
And guess what? Hate online can sometimes have direct consequences on people’s lives, changing the way they see fandoms forever and doing us all a disservice.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi was a polarising film for many. However, the backlash against one character - Rose - was so strong, trolls emerged from their dark holes of the internet and sent racist, sexist and just downright hateful messages. They were so bad, in fact, that it caused Rose's actress - Kelly Marie Train - to quit social media all together.
And this isn’t the only case of something like this happening. Anna Gunn, the actress who played Skylar on Breaking Bad, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the threats she’d received online from viewers who disliked her character. She had to justify her own role as an actress, and explain why the hate was uncalled for.
It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that we need to distinguish fiction and reality. Harassing someone online because of a character they play is completely wrong, and it can be damaging to a person’s mental health. Think about how you’re communicating your criticisms, and think about where you’re communicating them. It's naive to think that words you write online stay just in your circle of friends. Everything you type and publish is out there for everyone to see, and it becomes a permanent etch of you as a person - don’t make that online persona a hateful one.
All in all, there are three takeaways that I’d like to reiterate from this article. Firstly, differences of opinions in fandoms are going to happen; instead of shutting down the other side, we should be listening to one another and communicating our thoughts. Don't make blanket assumptions - we’re better than that, and we should respect and listen to opinions as long as they're not cruel or attacking people.
Secondly, criticism and hate are two very different things. Think about the way you want to voice your opinion carefully. Craft your thoughts in a clear manner, as opposed to just spewing out insults left, right and centre. Anyone can tell the difference between a valid piece of feedback and an insult written with the pure intent to hurt. Maybe by dialing down on the hate, we can open a dialogue between fans and create a better environment to interact.
Finally, we have a duty as fans to show to the world the positivity that our fandoms can bring. Alienating the members within it - famous or not - is, quite frankly, shameful. If you advocate toxic behaviour within your group, you’re no fan at all. If you truly can’t find a way to curate your opinions without being a dick, surround yourself with the elements of the fandom that make you happy, and stay far away from the areas that don't. Respect others online, just as you’d like to be respected in real life.
The ironic thing is that I'll probably receive hate for this article... but maybe that'll just prove my point. In the meantime, all I hope for is that my words resonate with people that truly, deeply care about making someone else smile and feel loved.