Despite it growing for some time, 2018 is the year when the toxicity of fandom bubbled to the top.
Pop-culture fandom has exploded over the last decade, bringing passionate discussion, which has merged with toxicity.
You will find no greater example of this than movie fans on Twitter. It is a digital platform in which the rules of the old west apply (as in, there are none); if you step out of the saloon doors and say you liked Episode I-III of Star Wars, there will be an outlaw waiting in the street to shoot you down with the most personal attack they can muster in 280 characters. It is relentless and it is everywhere.
Being a part of something is what makes life wonderful. Finding a community of other people who come together to celebrate a particular thing, you feel like family; there’s a sense of unity. But social media changed things forever; as quickly as you may find a kindred spirit, you can find an antagoniser even quicker.
Sure, some of you would brush this off as benign, as “words will never hurt you”. But what if this was every week, every day, every hour, a constant barrage of hateful words spewed from every corner of social media, all directed at you with the specific intention to cause you harm?
In 2018, I feel we’ve reached our nadir.
It began with Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran removing herself from Twitter and deleting her posts off Instagram with nothing but a bio, which read “Afraid, but doing it anyway”, and a black and white profile photo remaining. A Variety report divulged that the American-born actress was heavily criticised by Star Wars fans for her Vietnamese heritage, despite being the first female lead of colour in the franchise’s history.
Tran remained resolute, impressing upon the media that playing Rose Tico was “both an honour and a responsibility”. Despite her valiant determination, the sludge of toxicity seeped in, with tweets and posts flooding her accounts, ranging from despicable to downright disgusting.
Internet personality Paul Ray Ramsey took a swipe at her appearance; fan site “Wookiepedia” altered it’s information on Rose Tico with racist language; and a barrage of tweets, memes, comments and gifs were tagged, aimed and directed at Tran with the specific intent to inflict harm.
Ahmed Best (known for portraying Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) tweeted on how he considered taking his own life after the backlash he received from “fans” about his character. Best, pictured with his son, addressed this directly within the tweet, confessing: “This was the place I almost ended my life. It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival.”
In a 2017 interview with Wired, Best said that he had received “death threats through the Internet”, as well as had people approach him aggressively saying “you destroyed my childhood”. Despite receiving numerous supporters, including The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and voice-of-Yoda Frank Oz, the timing of the tweet (the 20th anniversary of the film) was a clear indication of the toll that the toxicity of fandom had had on the actor.
Anna Diop, star of the new DC streaming show Titans, disables her Instagram comments due to racist fans. Diop was the victim of racial hatred due to a small minority of DC fans being displeased at a leaked image which surfaced showcasing her costume. But this quickly spiralled into an attack on her ethnicity when the first trailer was released.
The 24: Legacy star proclaimed in a now-deleted Instagram post that “racist, derogatory, and/or cruel comments have nothing to do with the person on the receiving end of that abuse”, but this did not stop people accusing her of being “too dark” to play DC character Koriand’r/Starfire and that the casting of the American-Senegalese actor was not “comic accurate”.
Australian actress Ruby Rose quits Twitter after the backlash she received on her casting as Batwoman for the CW Network. It took a mere two days after the announcement for Rose to leave Twitter and disable comments on her Instagram, with “fans” attacking her acting ability, her sexuality and the fact that she is not Jewish (unlike her comic-book character).
In her last tweet, the newly-cast Batwoman addressed the toxicity with a simple sign off, stating that she is “looking forward to getting more than 4 hours of sleep” while she removes herself from social media and turns her attention to preparing for her new role.
No matter where you stand on the issue, for fans of any medium of entertainment it’s become a very serious, very public disease which has been allowed to spread and allowed to be the ugly face of fan groups.
Fandom was never about denouncing what we disliked, it was about celebrating what we did. Somewhere along the line, between the birth of social media and now, fans have forgotten how to love one thing without hating another.
There is no easy fix to this, nor is there a blanket solution, but we can invoke a little wisdom and lean on the pillar that allows for a constructive discussion: understanding.
In an interview with Collider, Mission Impossible: Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie was asked about toxic fandom. His answer spoke to the much wider problem of how people on the Internet react when their expectations are subverted.
But the heart of the issue is knowing when their rhetoric is becoming less about defending their point and more about attacking the other person’s point of view. As McQuarrie observed, “as a society … we’re attacking logical problems with emotional responses; people are so busy defending their point of view, that they’re not really looking at the way they’re defending it.”