There are few relationships as complex as that between fans and the things they are passionate about. Being a fan can embolden, reassure, and inspire creators we love to reach new levels of success; it can show the best in humanity in creating a community of people who enjoy the same things. It does, however, also have a dark side (pun slightly intended). In recent years, I have seen sports fans burning jerseys they bought for hundreds of dollars because of a player’s opinions or actions that they disagree with. People make death threats because a referee made a call that was unpopular and they believe they were wronged.
And it isn’t just sports fans; geeks have been getting up in arms, calling people criminal for bastardizing their favorite characters or stories and review bombing movies in retaliation. My fellow nerds create internal cliques that espouse equality meanwhile looking down on those who disagree or like things that they don’t; this is where I have seen social media at its worst. People feel that their opinions and biases should shape the way others live. How self-important do you have to be to think that way? The only way I can think of to address this is through two groups I belong to that have showcased this unhealthy behavior; let’s start with the geeks.
The past decade has seen an acceptance of geek culture as something mainstream, which has been great for a group that once felt disenfranchised; however, there is a subset of members who are confrontational about differences between themselves and the forces they perceive to be threatening a.k.a mainstream popular culture. They preach that they are inclusive while also looking down on those different from them. There is an underlying toxicity that emerges through this condescension and an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Does this stem from stereotypes? Did being picked on as teenagers and children for liking something different than the perceived norm embitter us so much? Now that there are others around, have we become emboldened and want to push back? I have literally seen fans in online forums and groups use the term “normies” to describe those outside fandom; the internet has given everyone a soapbox from which to yell and feel entitled, as well as a place to crap on things they dislike.
Many of these fans take any changes from source material personally. Marvel fans and Star Wars fans are especially guilty of this; just google Captain Marvel (2019) or Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) and you’ll see lists of negative responses and complaint videos. I understand the passion of geek fans (as one myself); many feel that the stories and characters they have loved are now being used as political pawns, social justice crusaders, and forced to appeal to the least common denominator. Is there evidence of this? Absolutely, but overreaction has gotten to the point where people’s blood pressure rises at the mere fact that a movie doesn’t play directly to them or their biases. While I believe diversity and individualism are things to be celebrated, these fans project a mentality of, “Look at me; I’m different and that makes me better.” The clearest example of this is found in comparison memes that show how everyone else spends their time in the mainstream and implies that, because we do something different, we are better. But it isn’t just in general geek culture that I see this happening; music fans also have a sense of entitlement that affects not only themselves, but the musicians and creators they claim to love.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed my blog for a while that music is a huge part of my life. I keep track of my favorite bands and try to interact with fellow fans, so I am in a few online and social media groups that share the same interests; it is here that I see such strange interactions between fans and the bands. I have seen people expressing regret for not immediately sharing the majority response to a release, whether it be positive or negative. People apologize for liking a song that is unpopular in the group, or for not liking a new release that has been well-received by the rest of the group. Pre-orders and fear of missing out have also caused rifts between fans.
Some fans get upset when there are limited edition packages or releases that they cannot afford, while others lambaste the band or artist when what they pre-ordered doesn’t live up to their expectations. Fans should realize the possibility that they might not like the final product and understand that they can either wait until the release to be certain, or take the risk and pre-order if they wish. I have been burned by this in the past, and have jumped on pre-orders without hearing all of the final product. You get over it; the artist doesn’t owe you anything. Early leaks of new releases also cause disagreements between fans. I have been tempted to download a leak of an album before, but I have never actually gone through with it. If I am waiting for a physical pre-order and want to listen on the day of release, I will buy a digital copy so that I can support the artist even more while fulfilling my need for instant gratification. I support the creators of music that touches my soul because I know that, in my small way, I can repay them for the connection they have given me and I can help them continue to do what they love; and isn’t that really what this is all about?
You don’t have to like everything an artist puts out. If there is a release that you dislike then trust me when I say you’ll get over it. I understand that being passionate about something is healthy, but there is a fine line. People need to remember that creators and celebrities and athletes are people too, and they don’t exist purely to serve your needs. Though people often overreact, they should’t seek the opposite and be apathetic either; in fact, people should express more empathy, but in a way that is measured. Caring deeply is an asset, not a weakness, but we have to recognize when we are so invested in something that we cannot control and be ready for when it may disappoint us.
I am sure it seems like I am standing atop a soap box (and I definitely am), but I have been that toxic fan. I have judged people for the music they do, or don’t, listen to. I have gotten into arguments with people online over petty things like which band is better (whatever “better” means). I have been disappointed in the release of a movie that I believe was overly hyped. But I have learned to be better, and I can say that I have never in my life felt entitled enough to harass an actress online because I didn’t like what her character did in a movie (The Last Jedi – Kelly Marie Tran). This speaks to an emotional immaturity that is baffling to me. People have to stop breaking others down to build themselves up; if you don’t like a movie, don’t watch it. If you don’t like a band or singer, don’t listen to them. I realize that the examples I gave above are in the vast minority, but, unfortunately, their voices tend to be the loudest. The things we love should bring us together, not tear us apart, and that is what being a true fan is about.