Fandom Isn’t Perfect, But It’s Not Broken


A recent article from Birth Death Movies titled “Fandom Is Broken” has stirred up an enormous reaction across social media.

CjNhQhnVEAAri-zAt first glance, the “Fandom is Broken” article seems to have some good points, especially in regard to the gendered based backlash against the new Ghostbusters film.  The vile behavior of many of the commentators is deplorable, misogynistic, and needlessly cruel.  Both creators and fans have been subjected to this horrible behavior for months.  But the issue with the article arises when the author conflates this hateful rhetoric with the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend campaigns as a whole.  There’s a huge difference between a campaign rooted in hatred and a campaign with aims of encouraging creators to include more diversity in their works.

Let’s get one thing clear: death threats are awful no matter who is sending them.  Hate speech and harassment is terrible.  I will never make excuses for that, even if they are on “my” side of the argument.  But this article isn’t talking about this specific aspect of the campaigns.  It clearly defines the two groups it’s criticizing.  To quote the article directly, it’s about people reacting to “to an all-female Ghostbusters reboot but also the hashtag that trended trying to get Elsa a girlfriend in Frozen 2.  The people who have an issue with an all-female Ghostbusters tend to be reacting because it’s an all female cast.  The way it’s phrased isn’t including people who are upset with the idea of a reboot or just don’t find the trailer that interesting.  Those people exist, but that’s not who we are talking about here and the article makes that quite clear.

However, it doesn’t specify any hateful subsection of the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend crowd.  He’s not talking only about the ones sending death threats.  He’s talking about the entire movement as a whole.  I was hoping he would clarify at some point, but no, he reiterates that it’s the people that want “inclusion” that he’s talking about, and not just ones that may be participating in violent targeted rhetoric.  “Whether driven by hate (Ghostbusters) or a desire for inclusion (Frozen 2) both campaigns show the entitlement of modern fan culture,” he states.  It seems pretty clear where he stands on the issue.  He’s talking about all of us.

Addressing the hatred in fandom is important.  It’s a conversation worth having.  Unfortunately that’s not what this article is addressing.  It’s about “entitlement.”  Writer Chuck Wendig, who received a massive amount of backlash for including LGBTQ+ characters in his Star Wars novel, has addressed the hatred using this article as a launching point.  He had this to say on the matter:

And then my favorite tweet from his entire string of tweets:

Chuck has made many great tweets on the matter, so give it a look starting with this tweet.  I’ve only selected a few choice tweets that rang true for me here, but his entire series of tweets is worth reading (and liking and RTing!).

Even though Chuck Wendig is a creator who seems to understand the balance in fandom, I’ve seen many creators I admire share this article without defining the nuances between these two groups.  A part of me thinks so many creators are sharing it because they feel that an active and vocal fandom may be trying to dictate their stories.  They may feel fandom feedback, including calling for more diversity and inclusion on screen, is hampering their creative process.  And you know what? I get that.  I’m a writer, too. I write articles here on this website (and guest write at a few others) and creative fiction as fanfiction in my free time. Some of the feedback I’ve received both on my articles and on my fanfic has stung me deeply so I get it.  I’ve even been doxed before, so man I really really get it.  Your desire to want to continue creating free of this type of hurtful behavior isn’t outside of my comprehension here, but you can’t lump all of your critics together into one big bunch.  You need to look at their motivations and what they are asking of you.  Hatred and a desire for more diversity in media are two entirely different beasts here.

vm2Furthermore, fandom reaction to your creation and the creative process doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It may feel like people are being demanding, but fandom has done some pretty amazing things that have allowed creators to do more than they would have before.  In some cases it’s given creators more freedom beyond what their networks had originally allowed them.  For a couple of prime examples of this, I leave it to Geekiary author Emily and her series of tweets regarding the Firefly and Veronica Mars films, and various charitable projects inspired by her fandoms:

Geekiary writer Dot also spoke out on the positive sides of fandoms, including the Wayward Daughters campaign.

Is fandom broken?  I don’t think so.  It’s got some problems, but overall I believe it’s a net positive.  To quote Chuck Wendig, “shitbirds gonna shitbird.”  The dangerous and hateful language does need to be talked about, but lumping in people who just want to see more diversity in the media is terribly offensive and does a major disservice to those who are on the receiving end of these types of bigoted attacks.  We aren’t the same so don’t tell us that we are.  We see that hate too.  We see it every day on social media and off the Internet in our real world lives.  We see what you see, so please don’t put us in the same boat as the hateful and bigoted fans who are hating on us too.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They identify as queer.

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22 thoughts on “Fandom Isn’t Perfect, But It’s Not Broken

  1. There are still 77 countries that criminalize homosexuality.
    There are still hundreds of people bullied, beaten and killed every day, just because they’re queer.
    Kids are ostracized and kicked out onto the streets by their families just because they’re queer.
    Queer female characters are created with straight men in mind and killed off with no thought or care.
    Queer male characters are few and far between and are definitely never considered as leading characters.
    Any queer character is met with cries of protest and disdain.
    Wanting representation is not entitlement, it’s necessity, and it should never be considered on par with people who make death threats. Queer people and writers of queer characters get death threats every day.

    The original article was written lazily and without forethought.

  2. So I read the original article as basically an argument for why the ends shouldn’t justify the means, and I think he has a point. Whether you’re on the side of righteousness or the side of hate, writing to creators and demanding they change their story to fit your values isn’t just unfair to creators (sometimes crossing the line into harassment), it’s counterproductive. Campaign for a gay Disney princess all day, that’s a laudable goal, and one with a good chance of happening if enough fans want it. But saying Elsa specifically needs to be gay doesn’t allow the Frozen creators to tell the story they want.

    1. You know that until XX century the concept of the independent art basically didn’t exist? Most of the classic art was created because someone has ordered it in the first place and artist was literally told what to do. Is that mean Michelangelo is less of an artist? I don’t think so.
      No mention commercial art like movies and TV shows are by definition created for money and for the audiences. It’s called a “production” for a reason.
      The true art is to find a balance between creators’ ideas and audiences’ expectations. If the writers planned for Elsa to find a romantic interest one way or another, there’s no difference if this person will be a girl or a boy. It changes nothing in the story.

      1. This view strikes me as strongly anti-artist. The Sistine Chapel may have been a commissioned piece, but it wasn’t made by committee. Commercial productions aren’t assembled in a factory, they’re created by incredibly talented people with vision and skill. Great art doesn’t always satisfy audience expectations; sometimes it subverts them. And are you really suggesting changing a heterosexual relationship to a homosexual one is as simple as changing the names and pronouns? I think that’s disrespectful to queer fans. It would be a major storytelling change, and a major new facet to her character.

        1. And art still has the right to do that. No number of hashtags has the power to compel an artist to change their art. Having to face criticism and transformative/transgressive readings of works is NOT THE SAME AS BEING SILENCED. Fans have every right to say what they want; creators have every right to not listen to them.

          Audiences making their wants and expectations known, no matter how stridently (short of death threats), isn’t anti-artist: it’s pro-speech. You may not like the message, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have every right to be out there — the same right that the art has to exist in a space that doesn’t necessarily accept it for exactly what it is.

          Tl;dr: Erryone gets to talk about what they want. Erryone gets to create what they want. Nobody gets to threaten anybody’s life over it. That’s the *only* line that can’t be crossed here.

        2. “The Sistine Chapel may have been a commissioned piece, but it wasn’t made by committee.”
          Actually, it was. First, the pope put a lot of pressure on Michelangelo because they were running out of time and money. And next, there was a committee, literally. College of Cardinals, called in 1565, ordered to cover every nudity on the mural because it was too scandalous during the time and visitors felt offended by Michelangelo’s art.
          I’m not telling there is no difference between present day and renaissance, there is, but artists were never free of viewers’ influences and their expectations (and their money). Dynamics between creators and recipients was always complex – either based on symbiosis or driven by conflict.
          The last one was one of a reason why the idea of “art for the art” was created in the XIX century. It didn’t actually end well since even the most progressive artists need their viewers and need to find a language to talk with them, or to them, to be noticed.
          That’s why Malevich left his Black Square to audience interpretation, thereby opening a totally different way for communication between artists and the viewers. By that he showed that the audience has a place in the act of creation (of course, during the time it wasn’t on that advanced level as it happened later, like for example when happening was invited, more or less for the purpose of the audience to participate).
          The complicated relationship between creator, art and the viewer was the subject of studies not only for theorists but in some cases it became a part of the artistic path (like for example in the Marina Abramović work in which the dependence and conflict between audience and creator became the literal object of the artistic research).
          Dynamic of this relationship is changing, and those changes are dictated not only by a medium artists are using but also because of the medium and possibilities used by viewers. It’s a natural order and there is nothing against the art in this process.
          Unfortunately, the article is missing that point by avoiding the huge part of the history of art, while is not even trying to pretend it’s about anything more that to prove author’s preconceived argument.
          And there is no other genre of art in which the codependency between creator and the audience is so important than in the commercial art.

          “Commercial productions aren’t assembled in a factory”
          True, but they are not precisely because of the fans’ influence. Dwight Macdonald, one of the first theorist of the mass culture, was afraid that what will happen, will be the mass production of the art, accepted uncritically and immediately by consumers. He was afraid mass production, ordered by dictators with money, will cause homogenization which will destroy the creativity in art. Fans proved different. When movies with James Dean became part of the workers’ class manifest in the UK during 50′, the popular culture proved the “product” not only belongs to its creators, but it can be remixed, changed and uses by the viewers for their own purpose. And by that, the pop culture became partly a property of its viewers.
          Also if you remember what was going on in the 80′ and 90′, you will notice that dictatorship of corporations and producers didn’t bring anything good. Movies and cartoons, especially the one based on comic books, were very often infantile, focused on selling the product, full of stereotypes and repetitions. This was changed because people didn’t want to watch those anymore. Until then the only possible influence on the movie or tv show creators was by buying a ticket or turning on/off your own TV. Now, because of the social media platform, viewers can finally articulate literally what they want to watch. It should be a perfect opportunity for the creators to confront their ideas with the audience and for producers to develop those, which they think that maybe will never be successful because the audience, in their opinion, was still not ready for them.
          The issue is not if the viewers should articulate their own opinion but in how this opportunity should be used by creators.
          Of course, there is no doubt death threats and hate are
          over the line. But positive hashtag campaigns and criticism should be welcomed and not necessary ignored.
          And of course, there is a difference between fighting for diversity and visibility in the mainstream media, and between creating hateful campaigns.

          “changing a heterosexual relationship to a homosexual one is as simple as changing the names and pronouns? I think that’s disrespectful to queer fans.”
          How is the perspective of same-sex relationships being healthy and acceptable by environment could be offensive to the LGBTQ community? Imagine that showing the perspective in which non-heteronormative relationship could happen to anyone and being queer doesn’t change the characterization of the superhero or their story, is highly welcomed. Not every gay-themed stories need to be dramatic, tragic and leave a heavy influence on the plot.
          Non- heteronormative relationship happens, the same as straight one happens. And to show this perspective is very important for the representation on TV. Because Captain America will be the same person and the same hero if he would get a boyfriend. Same with Elsa, if she could get a girlfriend.
          Did you missed The Legends Of Korra, or smth?

    2. First of all thank you, Angel, for this article – very well put.

      That said, Josh, I agree that cyberbullying is bad no matter where it comes from.
      However, I think that when fans are vocal without resorting to cyberbulling, they’re aiming to get content creators to become more aware of their power and the impact their stories have.
      There is a power in stories that mindlessly reproduce the status quo in matters of race, class, gender roles, sexuality and so forth which, as all reproduction of priviledge, tends to be invisible. I think fan campaigns and criticism are trying to force creators to confront the question of whether they intend to use their power and all the other resources they possess to reproduce the status quo once again, or challenge it. In my experience, fans criticize specific creators and stories because they wish the media they love to be better AND because they want single people to hold themselves accountable for what they help create. Otherwise, it’s easy for creators to just tell themselves somebody else can be the writer who doesn’t fridge a lesbian, or the director who doesn’t sexualize a female characer unnecessarily and out of context, or that things just have to be this way because it’s the normal way to do them, and so on. Creative vision is important but a lot of times it becomes an excuse to defend a creator’s reproduction of harmful social norms through their stories.

      With regards to the fact that fans will sometimes focus on specific characters or shows/movies in their campaigns, I believe that one of the reasons for it is that a lot of times when people are vocal about wishing for a wider range of characters and experiences on tv they’ll receive it in one of these forms: side-characters, extras, obscure niche content, or safe, cliché, oversimplified narratives.
      I say this as a person who’s never been particularly invested in the MCU, but realizes the sort of impact a queer Cap could have: giving “Captain America a boyfriend” is not the same thing as making a movie about a fairly unknown male superhero with a boyfriend, or giving a male extra in a Cap movie a boyfriend, even though all three are commendable.
      There’s categories of characters that mainstream media still widely considers untouchable; certain characters can be queer (or non-white, etc.), and certain queer narratives are becoming more acceptable, but – for example – a beloved, hugely popular, hugely inspirational male protagonist still cannot be anything other than heterosexual. Hence the push for many of these types of popular main characters specifically – Elsa, Cap, Finn… – to be queer.

      1. The use of “force creators” is telling…fan campaigns like these are about *making* creators respond to their concerns. That’s where criticism crosses the line into harassment. Criticism doesn’t care if the creator is paying attention or not; a critic can call out Marvel for not being diverse enough or sensitive enough, but they aren’t trying to force Marvel to change. I realize that creators, especially major ones like Marvel, hold privileged positions and act as gatekeepers for the culture to a degree…that’s why I support them hiring as many diverse voices as possible in creative roles. But ultimately it’s up to them what stories they tell, not you or me. That’s why we have criticism and fanfic and other creative outlets of our own.

        To your other point, a lot of my issue is with remake culture in general. We don’t have to cycle through every possible permutation of these century-old characters. Why couldn’t we make a cool new gay superhero? Could we make a gay Captain America? Sure we could, it might be great, but do we need to? Do we also need a gay Robin Hood, and a gay Hamlet, and a gay Beowulf? I’d rather focus on new art, and new characters, created with 2016 values in mind, then trying to retrofit characters created in an era where homosexuality landed you in a mental institution.

        1. But you are aware the gay Hamlet already exists? Same as gay version of Romeo and Juliet and so on? It’s because the theatre has much more diversity since there is no monopolization of symbols in the industry, but rather a lot of openness to the new ideas and perspectives.
          And guess what – no one died, Shakespeare is still important for the culture, art is still art, hurray.

          “Why couldn’t we make a cool new gay superhero? Could we make a gay Captain America? ”
          Why not both?
          “but do we need to? ” No, you right it’s better to tell the same story all over again for the eternity…
          Changing perspective, giving new meanings to old symbols is important. Progressivity and courage is what makes art The Art.

    3. You are entitled to feel that way. I disagree and that’s fine. But the issue is that people asking for representation are being compared to people who use misogynistic attacks against people. That’s the issue I’m having with his article. We can disagree on fans input on how stories are told and I’m fine with that. But the comparison in his article just isn’t right.

      1. I totally agree on that point. They are not remotely equivalent. One is what I would consider an honest debate regarding representation, another is a bullying tactic IMO.

      2. Well, it’s an uncomfortable comparison on purpose. Faraci is making that comparison because both the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are using the same tactics. Angry videos, organized hashtag campaigns, and a general philosophy that the works belong to the fans and not the creators. #GiveCapABoyfriend isn’t a debate, it’s a demand.

        1. I don’t feel like you need to compare the victims with the bullies to have this conversation. Myself and many of my friends have been subjected to harassment from the same group of people he’s comparing us to. It goes beyond “uncomfortable” and becomes downright offensive. Especially when one side is being clearly defined (the people that hate that Ghostbusters is all female led vs fans who don’t like it for other reasons) and the other side is being kept very vague and lumping everyone together. I didn’t make angry videos. I’ve only ever participated in discussion about representation in the media and have never spewed the type of vitrol those I’m being lumped in with have done.

          And again, you are welcome to feel we shouldn’t make “demands” about the media we consume. This is a worthy conversation! And I clearly disagree with you and that’s ok. We can disagree with each other without doing something as offensive as this author has done. And really, that’s my entire point. To once again quote Chuck Wendig, shitbirds gonna shitbird…. but please don’t lump me in with those shitbirds.

        2. And what, exactly, is the difference between a debate and a demand?

          Answer: The difference is whether you agree with what’s being debated/demanded.

        3. “Faraci is making that comparison because both the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are using the same tactics.”
          But it’s like comparing Gay Pride Parade with Nazi Manifestation just because, you know, both groups are using the same tactics. Of course, you can write an essay about social movements and method used by particular groups of society to fight for their goals, but this is definitely not a perspective this particular article had used.

  3. I agree fandom is NOT broken but I also think he’s brought out some arguments that SHOULD be discussed. And there’s aspects on both sides of the aisle that I believe warrant discourse.

    In particular, I’m struck by the discourse on: ‘Fan and Creator’ relationship or ‘Consumer and Producer’. I think he’s right, the way most mainstream media is presented has an overwhelming commercial edge these days. How can you not notice the product placement, the ratings-grab plots, and other forces that tell us entertainment is sometimes more business than art? Somehow it feels less “right” to demand change to an small independent film made on a shoe-string budget than for something coming out of the ABC mega-house. So I DO think the commercialization of creative works turns viewers/readers into consumers. It’s not a bad word but it supports the notion that by seeking specific character changes, we are trying to re-write the story to suit our head canon. So, I guess I don’t mind if they chose to keep Captain America hetro IF that’s been a long-standing trait and the vision of the creators before it went “Hollywood” and mega-million blockbuster. OTOH, I also have no respect for shock-value character arcs. Capt America is working for Hydra?? Really? That feels commercial/profit motivated. Either it’s a massive retcon of the character, designed to get free press OR it’s a temporary plot twist and Cap is a triple agent and will be back to red, white, and blue in a few issues. But even THAT feels like the comics version of ratings ploy. So…creators and producers cannot simultaneously make what appears to be profit-motivated story decisions and then turn around and complain about be treated like “products” not art. The author acknowledged its an industry issue but I think the audiences are wise enough to see the trend and the reaction is natural.

    On the other hand, while kickstarter has created opportunities for creative works produced by individuals, the bulk of our entertainment comes from businesses. It’s a conundrum. But when the dust settles, I will admit, I’d rather NOT have profit driving the story. And if fandom movements are responded to because of profit concerns…. well, that bugs me. I DO see watered down movies and television. Shock value is now full frontal nudity on Game of Thrones. Woohoo. NOT. Frankly, I don’t WANT shock value (I’m still not over Edgar on ’24’, I don’t want to talk about it…). I want interesting perspectives, organic plot twists, actual creative thinking. Look at TVLine’s May Sweeps scorecard… it’s like the “go to” list of TV plot contrivances for ratings. *sigh* Again, a conundrum IMO. The symbiosis of fandom and creators really smells of consumers and producers when it come to May sweeps. And BOTH parties are culpable. We DO watch more, and thus increase their profits, when they have these major plot changes (whether or not they make sense).

    So… should Elsa have a girlfriend? IDK. Her orientation is not indicated as far as I’m aware. I think there’s room here. Is is definitively ‘wrong’ if Disney fails to make Elsa queer. That, for me, seems like consumer dictating the story. It feels more like a risk being turned into tokenism if it is only driven by responding to fan action. Said differently, if the people who respond are doing it JUST to be edgy/get free press/profit motive, I don’t want that to drive content. OTOH, I’d rather they started out a character open to the idea that this may be where the story takes them. And if they go in that direction right from the start, fantastic. If they chose later to go in that direction based on character development and audience response, spectacular. THAT feels symbiotic.

    Look, I’m clearly NOT an English major, just a fan. I think there is something to the concept that a more commercialized entertainment industry, combined with open comm lines, has enabled consumer-driven plots that may or maynot work. I’d rather we had consumer-driven trends (vice plots) that open up more stories that are representative. But I also understand how that might come across as “be patient” – which is NOT what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say, there’s an argument to be made for why a show isn’t “wrong” if it doesn’t change it’s story to meet an audience campaign. If there’s no effort to address representation then treat the show like the dinosaur it is and let it go extinct.

    1. I agree that the article definitely brought up a lot of good topics that need to be discussed, like the relationship between fan and creator or the “shitbirds” of fandom vs the positive side of fandom. You have a lot of good topics here in this comment. Almost worthy of an entirely new article, ha.

      Thanks for reading and joining the conversation.

    2. “So I DO think the commercialization of creative works turns viewers/readers into consumers.”
      Yes, but this is nothing new. I don’t know if you’re aware, but movies and cartoons based on comic books about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created ONLY for the purpose of selling … toys (action figures) which producers originally wanted to sell.

  4. I must say girls fetishizing male homosexuality, also called slash shippers, make fandoms a pretty bad place too, especially when they force their imaginary m/m pairing into everyone’s throat to the point of calling every person that doesn’t fantasize about this homophobic. Even more problematic is when they bash female characters and send death threats to actresses for getting in the way of the lead male characters. And contrary to what one might think, they actually represent a large part of fandoms. As a gay man, this really makes me uncomfortable to the point I tend to keep myself out of fandoms in general since they appear to be everywhere now. I wish we would talk more about this problem that became more and more important these last years.

    1. I respect where you’re coming from as a gay man. I also get uncomfortable when people fetishize two women together. But not all slash shippers are fetishizing. I’m a slash shipper and I actually don’t feel any sexual attraction towards anyone, male or female. I am, however, biromantic leaning homoromantic (I like relationships, but not the sex) and male/male pairings are often a good outlet for me when it comes to exploring homophobia/biphobia in media. I enjoy stories that explore those themes because I experience them myself. Female/female pairings can provide this too, but there aren’t nearly as many female protagonists in the media I consume. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how media is made. Men outnumber women by a lot.

      But I don’t want to villainize heterosexual slash shippers here. I get where you’re coming from. I really do. But I consider a lot of the heterosexual shippers allies. I saw many of them in both the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend tag RTing our voices about representation in the media and supporting us. Some just like the dynamics of specific pairings. Some really do just find two men together attractive. But they’re my friends and have supporting me for years as I’ve fought against discrimination towards myself and my community.

      So tl;dr I respect where you’re coming from and it’s a problem worth discussing. I’m sorry it makes you feel uncomfortable and I get it. But not all slash shippers are “fetishizing” it. Many are coming from within our community.

    2. I understand where you are coming from, Rich, and I am sorry that the part of fandom focusing on slash shipping makes you uncomfortable. However, I must disagree with you saying that the negative members who make death threats and who bash female characters are a large part of the slash fandom. I’ve been involved with slash fandom for 20 years, as well as with general fandom for 40 years, and I have seen only a small number of people who behave that way. About the same percentage as in general fandom, actually. A lot of the “bashing” of female characters is more of a protest of badly-written female characters who can’t pass the Bechdel test and who are as interesting as paint drying. I also write slash fiction, and fetishes have nothing to do with my interest of it. I just like writing about strong and independent characters who also feel (and show) emotions, and there are a dearth of female characters who fit that.

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