How the “True Fan” Phenomenon is Destroying Geek Culture
In recent years “True Fan” phenomenon has spread through many aspects of geek culture, from gaming to comics to science fiction – it’s tearing many fandoms and geek subcultures apart at the seams, and making people feel uncomfortable in what should reasonably be welcoming shared spaces.
The concept of a “True Fan” can come in many forms, and which form it takes often depends on what section of geek culture you’re a part of and what circles you associate with. Fans of source material – whether it’s a novel, a comic, or a manga – may feel superior to those who have only seen the movie, TV show, or anime adaptation. Fans of long-running shows or other types of long-running media may feel that they have a better claim to the story than those who joined in at a later date. Sometimes it’s simply fans feeling like someone is enjoying “their” media for the wrong reason, or that they’re the wrong demographic, because that person doesn’t align with their own concept of what a fan of that specific thing should feel or be.
The harassment of these “not true fans” comes in many forms, whether it’s online bullying, real life exclusion, or the increasingly popular method of “doxxing” individuals. Doxxing is the practice of taking an online disagreement off the internet and exposing someone’s personal information to the masses, or, in some cases, even harming them in real life. This is happening with an alarming frequency nowadays – and it needs to stop.
At the moment, GamerGate is currently the most visible online harassment campaign. If the current escalation continues, it might even end up as a flashpoint in gamer and geek culture. Not everyone might view this as a form of “true fanning,” but in a very basic way, it absolutely is. They’ve clearly targeted a specific demographic – in this case women, or more specifically feminists who are critical of the media they consume – and are harassing them because they don’t have the same outlook on video games as the “GamerGaters” do. This harassment has come in the form of tweets as well as doxxing. Several outspoken targets, such as Anita Sarkeesian, have had their information posted online and have had to leave their homes for their own safety. When Felicia Day spoke up about how she was specifically afraid to post about the issue because she was worried it would happen to her, some of her personal information was posted online in a matter of minutes. The irony of what happened to Felicia Day – that the very thing she was afraid of happened almost instantly after her post went live – is not lost on critics of GamerGate. For those who still claim that GamerGate is “about ethics in video game journalism,” this should have been a wake up call.
While GamerGate is certainly a very high profile case of harassment against women in geek culture, it’s certainly not the only incident. Just a few weeks ago I was doxxed in a similar way, and while I’m not anywhere near as well-known or influential as Anita Sarkeesian or Geek Goddess Felicia Day, it was a very frightening experience. Someone on Twitter was making derogatory remarks about how women in geek culture look, then began to target a close friend of mine by insulting her appearance. I stepped in and rather foolishly fanned the flames, in an attempt to take the heat off of my friend. It felt like a noble thing to do at the time, but in retrospect I was courting my own potential demise. Within minutes this person had my real name and phone number and began sending me threatening text messages. Some of the threats included taking down this very website and replacing it with rather unsavory material. For the first time in my life I had to lock down my Twitter account and file a report with the police, who are typically ill-equipped to deal with online harassment and really don’t know what to do in these situations. Eventually I even had to file a report with the FBI Cyber Crime unit, who are thankfully much better at handling things like this. It was an extremely unpleasant experience, and when Felicia Day was doxxed less than 24 hours later, I almost wrote an article about it right then…but I was still too scared and shaken by what had happened to me. For the moment, the online bully had won.
But then another reporter for this website was doxxed, in several different ways, and I decided that this issue was far too important for my own fears to prevent us from shining a light on this issue.
A week and a half ago our Supernatural convention reporter and show analyzer Emily was very publicly ejected from a convention. This is not doxxing in the traditional sense, as at that time her personal information had remained private, but much like doxxing does, it took online arguments and forced them into a real life situation. She was removed from the convention due to a tweet that was taken out of context. The tweet included a Doctor Horrible quote and a sarcastic response to accusations that she was “destroying” the Supernatural fandom and show. And within days, she was doxxed in the way that we’re all more familiar with – her name, IP address, location, information on her children, and the name of her employer were posted to an online community. The information has since been taken down due to violating the website’s terms of service, but while the information remained posted it was a stressful time for both of us.
So why Emily? Why target her? Unfortunately we don’t have a confirmed answer, as we don’t know who sent in the tweet, but the popular theory is that it was someone with a grudge stemming from character or shipping preferences. This is another form of “true fanning” that’s destroying many fandoms, including Supernatural. Emily is outspoken for her love of Castiel, Misha Collins, and the ship Destiel. She’s also a very active member of fandom, having organized a gift project for the cast and crew, participated (ironically) in an online bullying blog, and written for this website. The combination of these things have led to her being accused of watching the show for the wrong reasons, of being a “menace,” and, in the case of the Supernatural convention in Chicago, of being a “threat.”
While we can’t confirm that this online harassment towards Emily directly led to her ejection from the convention, people who have actively harassed her in the past haven’t hidden their enjoyment of her ban. If they weren’t responsible, at the very least they used it as a tool to continue harassing and publicly defaming her. Her detractors clearly supported the act and took joy in watching it unfold.
The online harassment of fans who enjoy pieces of media for different reasons is widespread. The Teen Wolf fandom has similar stories – an actor from the show even tried to tell fans what the “right” reasons for watching Teen Wolf are. SwanQueen shippers from the Once Upon a Time fandom have also faced similar issues regarding their shipping preferences from people involved in the show.
Apparently shipping isn’t a good reason for fans to watch just about anything – across the board, people who enjoy relationships between characters that may go beyond what is canon take a lot of heat from their fellow fans. Even back in the 90’s during the heyday of the Xena fandom, fans of the character Joxer were bullied at conventions, called names, and made to feel unwelcome at Xena events. Some saw Joxer as a threat to the Xena/Gabrielle dynamic and chose to make fans of his feel unwelcome in their online and physical fan spaces.
“I was waiting in line with a friend and I heard someone say, ‘Ugh, they’re those Joxer b*tches.’ We had Gabrielle Joxer Romantics Society badges on to promote our fan group. We laughed when we heard it because it really was quite ridiculous.
Sadly, my smaller, younger friends were not so lucky. A couple of young teens I was friends with were sitting further back in the audience during a panel and were surrounded by aggressive fans that had identified them as Joxer fans. They were bullying them throughout the presentation, telling them that they didn’t belong there and that they should leave. […] These two poor kids were terrified and it seemed typical to me that they’d pick on the teenagers but not the group of adults with the GJ tags. Especially not the chick dressed as Xena with a sword.
Basically, these fans wanted to run ALL Joxer fans out of fandom. In the end, they kinda won. You go to Xena sites these days and there’s nary a mention of Joxer, and no mention of Gabrielle/Joxer as a popular ship at the time, even though we had a highly active fanbase at the time for a small syndicated show like Xena.” -Nancy
Nearly two years ago, another author here at the Geekiary hopped on the “Sh*t People Say” bandwagon and created a “Sh*t Geek Girls Say” video. She believed the video was a fun way to showcase who she was and the things she was passionate about, and more than anything it was meant to be something to share with her friends. Unfortunately, over a year and a half after she created and posted this video, it was posted on the subreddit r/cringe and led to days’ worth of harassment, as a plethora of “True Fans” (or in this case, “True Geeks”) left comment after comment on both the Reddit post and the video itself.
“The comments ranged from people giving ‘condolences’ to my significant other (for having to ‘put up’ with my ‘fake geek girl’ persona, I presume), to saying I was ‘good looking, but not good looking enough for this’, to using the usual ‘fake geek girl’ and ‘poser’ accusations. While I responded to a few of the comments, I ignored the ones that were just downright nasty, and thankfully things died down within a few days. One positive thing did come of it – the number of views on my video more than tripled in a very short time – but I still don’t think those hits were worth the amount of grief that those ‘Geek Police’ caused me.” -Tara
“True Fanning” and the subsequent harassment is destroying many subcultures and fandoms in the geek community. It’s being used as a silencing tactic, making people scared to participate in fandom activities if they don’t fit into some arbitrary set of rules that are decided on by people who feel that they control a specific fandom. It’s turning shared spaces into exclusionary spaces and narrowly defining what qualifies someone as a fan, when as geeks we should be particularly open, and welcome people who don’t fit into narrow boxes. Worse yet, it’s putting people’s livelihood and safety at risk simply because they have a different point of view.
Diversity should be welcomed in all aspects of life, not silenced with threats and harassment. Yet this is what’s happening across geek culture. Instead of civil discussion or acceptance of each other’s differences, people are attempting to eliminate fans who aren’t exactly like them – and it needs to stop.
Author: Angel Wilson
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3.
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