Fandom Hurts My Heart

It’s an incredible time to be a fan.

It’s also the worst time on record to be a fan, and believe me when I say I’ve seen some truly horrible times on this front.

Fangirls are being recognized and celebrated as a driving force.  The various franchises have heard the raised voices, and strong female characters are being hailed from on high.  Alongside this elevation to equality, we’re seeing more minorities and LGBTQIA+ fans and characters as something more than just mere lip service.  Rightfully so, and well done!  Those who have been marginalized for far too long are finally being accepted and welcomed.  It feel so good to see such dreams realized.

There’s nothing saying that progress had to come with the price tag of kicking others down in the process.

On the other end of the spectrum, the word “fanboy” has somehow become a four letter word.  Content creators are drinking from mugs of “fanboy tears.”  If fanboys have a legitimate gripe or question about something, the moment they express their opinions, they are lumped into the categories with the most hateful and vile, and labeled accordingly.  People who have invested decades of their lives in characters and stories, who have weathered the bullying that so many are standing against now, are being rewarded with the middle finger and social ostracism.  There’s a sense of betrayal that needs to be answered before it festers and blows up into something truly horrific.  It’s bad right now.  It can get a lot worse.  We all know the internet never forgets, and this sort of hate on both sides is only stoking the flames.  The actual hater “fans” out there — not to be confused with the loyal ones who are merely upset or confused about a perceived misstep — are being magnified a thousand fold.  It’s a power they don’t deserve, handed to them by creative types who, quite frankly, should know better.  That evil genie is out of the bottle now, and it’s crushing souls of those whose only “crime” is not being appreciative of something they love with all their hearts backhands them.

As someone with a foot in both camps — a transwoman who grew up relying on these characters as friends and inspirations, as support for the challenges of life itself, only to see many of them be remade into something they’re not — I understand the importance of identity.  If Luke Skywalker pulls a lightsaber on a kid and hides out while a threat far bigger than anything he’s ever faced shows up out of nowhere, it’s a big deal.  If Wonder Woman goes from virgin birth to rape baby in her origin story, it’s a big deal.  If Batman pulls a gun, it’s a very big deal.  If Kirk goes from stowaway to captain in a couple of hours and the Enterprise gets destroyed yet again simply for the sake of box office bucks… eh, you get the idea.  Change can be good, if it has real purpose.  Change for the sake of change, simply “because we can” is undirected and harmful.  It undermines everything in the story and in the audience.  Characters and stories make us all passionate.  What resonates with us is going to cause dissonance when something goes out of tune.  It’s why we spend our hard-earned dollars to embrace those icons and immerse ourselves into their worlds.  Franchises have spent billions forging this connection.  Do they expect anyone to simply smile and say “thank you” when they make a decision that splits fandom right up the center?  Is it really so far beyond the pale to imagine someone being angry when their childhood hero is given short shrift?  I’ve personally been on the receiving end of this so many times it’s crazy.  When it happened all at once across a number of my favorite universes, it sent me spiraling.  These fictions are more real to many of us than real life, these characters more lifelike than many people we can name.  Some of them helped to prop me up for all the right reasons, and it was like having the crutches kicked out from under me.  I was determined to reclaim my sanity and find my strength.  I did so, and I said many tearful goodbyes to some of my heroes and heroines in the process.  But some of those loyal fans out there haven’t yet found their strength to say goodbye.  They’re still reeling from the shock.  In an ideal world, they wouldn’t have to say anything other than “welcome back, old friend.”  Instead they’re being told, “Fuck you, get off my planet.”  These fans are living in fear of losing what they hold dear, their communities are shunning them, and we all know how that turns out.  Fear… anger… hate… suffering… a Dark Lord who had some attachment issues…  Seems a bit familiar, like I’ve heard this story before… a cautionary tale told by a master to future generations that wouldn’t listen.

Does this seem acceptable to anyone that people are being punished for love and betrayal?  Really?

For all the things going right, we’re somehow doing far more wrong in the process.  All of us.  Franchises and fans alike.

In some ways, it’s a lot like the cold civil war that’s happening in the United States right now, only this is global and not quite so violent.  Not yet, anyway.  I’m not on most social media platforms for precisely this reason.  I have no stomach for it.  I don’t want to fight my stories and the creators who bring them to me.  But at the same time, I don’t want to support those things that are harmful to me and mine.  Fanboys and fangirls are my people.  If some of us hurt, we all hurt… or should if there’s any empathy in the world.

I get it.  Storytelling is a business.  Franchises are huge business.  They’re made that way by treating the most beloved characters in the world and the people who love them with respect.  That love and respect has got to be a two-way street.  I’ve certainly dished up some epic rants in my time.  Hell, you can find some of them right here on this site if you know where to look.  That was a release valve on pressures that, quite frankly, took their toll on me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I paid immeasurably for that.  Ranting was needed.  I hopefully provided some intelligent arguments in the midst of it all.  But I also learned that people will interpret or misinterpret anything willfully to fit whatever narrative they need to tell themselves.  We’re all guilty of that too.  I don’t foresee this situation getting better without better examples being made on the front lines on both sides.  There’s more than money at stake.  Address those concerns, the money will flow.  If not, the cash cow dries up, and a lot of people become dysfunctional messes.  I’ve seen it all before.  I’ve lived it before.  It sucks.

It sucks a lot.

Please, let’s learn from this before it degenerates further.  Art has to mean something more than money, and consumers have to count for more than just being piggy banks.  Answer the concerns.  Treat people as worthy individuals.  And for fuck’s sake, quit trying to torpedo the only credibility you have with the “opposing” side.  More than that, quit believing there IS an opposing side.  We’re all in this together.

End of rambling.  Thank you for understanding.  If you need me, I’ll be over there, exploring incredible stories that resonate with me, from creators who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them.  Those are the ones who will get my time, my money, and my love.

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