Earlier this week, Birth.Movies.Death.‘s Devin Faraci made the argument that internet fandom, much like Kathy Bates’ fanatic character in Misery, had become a toxic, dangerous threat to creators of comic books.
Well-meaning campaigns like #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and the misogynistic backlash to the new Ghostbusters were two sides to the same coin carried by fans who felt entitled to demand that creators craft stories suited to their liking instead of just accepting what they were given. Faraci goes on to address the vocal and violent reactions that some fans had to Marvel’s decision to reveal that Captain America had secretly been working for Hydra all along.
While that sort of viciousness from a self-proclaimed fan is indeed a terrible thing, the essay seems to be missing the fact that this behavior isn’t a symptom of a fandom’s newfound brokenness. This is what fandom is like on the internet and women, people of color, and queer-identified people have been dealing with it forever.
The only “new” thing is that the pointed anger is being directed at white men. Welcome, white men. Pull up a chair.
To highlight flaws in that line of logic, Comics Bulletin contributor Nick Hanover took to Twitter to list the inherent falseness of thinking fandom was somehow more broken now that it had been before. The push for more inclusion, he countered, wasn’t fans throwing tantrums, but rather the amplified calls of underrepresented consumers challenging creators to step their game up.
Historically, Hanover pointed out, rampant discrimination, documented instances of sexual harassment, and personal threats directed towards women and queer people working in the comics industry had gone largely unremarked upon or ignored.
Writing for Women Write About Comics, Megan Purdy correctly posits that fan backlash has become louder, easier to engage in, and more effective due to social media. But, Purdy explains, social media doesn’t somehow completely upend preexisting power structures that strengthen the voices of white guys while muffling those of minorities and women.
“The truth is that vulnerable people—marginalized people—experience a blistering degree of abuse on the internet, from micro-aggressions to violent threats, and it’s not because our abusers are fans,” Purdy wrote. “It’s because they hate us.”
The truth is that the collapse of boundaries, geographic and social, that social media has facilitated and encouraged has made vulnerable people even more vulnerable, the powerful more accessible, and has gifted us with powerful communicative tools that can be used for any purpose—sort of.
It’s true. People are increasingly using platforms like Twitter and Tumblr to create spaces for themselves and others like them where their voices and ideas can be worked through and reaffirmed. Sometimes this leads to people becoming hostile and combative. Sometimes it leads to collaborative exercises in creative thinking that comic book publishers, film studios, and artists are influenced by.
The new Ghostbusters are women, Ms. Marvel’s a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey, and Hermione Granger’s black. All of these things are progressive additions to a larger pop cultural canon, born out of the minds of people clamoring for progress in fan communities.
The canon is growing to look more and more like the people that critique and love it. Sometimes that critique isn’t all that pleasant and sometimes it’s leveled at white guys. That doesn’t mean that the idea of fandom, and being critical of something you love, is broken.