Thursday, May 29, 2014

Answers, Part V

I want to get into some questions from Kelly today.

First: Are we in the "Golden Age" of fan negativity? Or has it always been this way, and it's just easier to notice since fandom interaction is so much easier nowadays?

I wonder about this a lot, actually. And I think I want to blame the internet for this one, actually. (I know, easy target, but still.)

I always think back to Harlan Ellison's excellent essay "Xenogenesis," which cites all manner of negative interactions with fans by genre authors. Lots of arguments and rude interactions and time-wasting "pranks" over stories, but there are also tales of theft, sexual harassment, violence, death threats, stalking, and much worse. Barry B. Longyear was punched in the face by a fan who didn't like one of his stories. Another fan threw a cup of vomit in Alan Dean Foster's face.

David Gerrold tells a story in that essay about how draining it can be interacting with certain types of fans, and felt it was to blame for a five-year slump in his writing. Elsewhere, Harlan Ellison has told the story of how, when discussing his hatred for Star Wars with a convenience store clerk, a young fan went outside and keyed Ellison's car.

Those two in particular stand out for me.

When I first got on the internet, 16 or 17 years ago, I learned very quickly not to interact with groups of fans. You know that old saw about how geeks are a welcoming, accepting community to outsiders? Did you fall for that horseshit in high school, too? Yeah, that's a lie. I've never been treated more rudely and bullied harder by anyone than my fellow geek men.

Hey, finally I can talk to people about my love for Robert E. Howard stories! "You're a fucking idiot who doesn't know shit about REH!"

Oh, hey, let's have a discussion about Star Wars. "Your opinions are wrong, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

I get what Gerrold is talking about, because fandom negativity is what keeps derailing this blog. It's not that I "don't want my opinions challenged" or "only want to hear from people who agree with me" or whatever bullshit assholes use to justify their conscious choice to be fucking dicks in their personal interactions. I just see little reason to engage people who argue from the position of "Fuck you, that thing was genius" or "Fuck you, your opinion is idiotic and here's why." Those people aren't interested in a discussion, they just want to lecture you for daring to disagree with them.

Jesus, guys, The Phantom Menace is 15 years old. But I can't ever mention it without some prick jumping on about how the movie's very existence is an insult to the collective endeavors of the human race, as though this opinion has just magically become fresh or interesting in the past decade and a half. Because there are people who despise that movie in such a way that they just can't shut up about it until they've made everyone else hate it as much as they do.

And you know what? It works! I hated everything Star Wars for years because I could only associate it with the worst aspects of fan negativity. And sometimes I just hate blogging. I don't want to talk in depth anymore about the movies I really, really like because there's always someone who wants to jump on and tell me that I must be a gigantic moron for thinking Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was great, and then actually get mad at me for refusing to engage him in what he mistakenly thinks is a discussion.

Gee, why don't I interact with bloggers more often? Oh, right, because I'm selfish, apparently. At least that's what a couple of people have told me.

Sorry about the rant-y nature of this answer, but nothing pisses me off more than people who want to lecture at you and bully you until they've taken away all of the positive feelings you had about some fucking movie or TV show or comic book, because all they care about is that everyone hears their opinion endlessly--and then act like it's your fault for simply having a blog, or giving an opinion, or using a word to describe something. There are still movies I don't even want to watch anymore, because all I can associate them with now is some tone-deaf asshole telling me how stupid I am for giving it my time.

You want to know when I stopped being a Robert E. Howard fan? About three months after joining a group devoted to discussing his works.

I wrote and essay on Tolkien that was published in a small literary journal. Now I don't even want to discuss him anymore with anybody.

No, I don't bother with my old Evaluating Disney series anymore, because of a series of email exchanges with someone who kept telling me how objectively wrong my opinions were.

I'm tired of all the noise. What's the point of declaring you take pleasure in something when someone's just going to dump all over you for doing it? Why do I have to always write something like "yes, I know you hated it" when I talk about JJ Abrams' Star Trek in a feeble attempt to ward off the latest round of entitled whining about how it's not different enough yet not exactly the same enough as the TV series?

I think the question is really one question and a follow-up. There's no "or" here. I think we're in the "Golden Age" of fan negativity, and it's easier to notice since fandom interaction is so much easier nowadays. It's because now we have social media, where liking last night's Hannibal episode or which reality show finalist is your favorite apparently says something deep and meaningful about you, and the mere act of saying "I don't care much for that song" is taken as a vicious personal attack on people who do.

That stuff was always there, it's just been given a much louder--and worse, expected--voice.

Second: I also have a hypothesis that fandom is a lot more fractured nowadays because it's so much easier to find the fan communities that are centered on what you like, and little else. Does it seem to you that there's less crossover these days?

I haven't given that a lot of thought. Certainly I see a lot of crossover on Tumblr, but more along the lines of "pictures of Marvel characters dressed as Disney princesses" or "Game of Thrones gifs with dialogue from 30 Rock." I think there's a strange and sometimes-wonderful way that people who are fans incorporate a little bit of everything into their expressions of fandom. I do still see a lot of people having the old Marvel vs. DC or Star Trek vs. Star Wars rivalries. There are fandoms that define themselves less often as fans of the thing that they're fans of and more often as not fans of something else.

I think what you're defining as fracturing is really more of a politicization. People want to give being a fan of something a deeper meaning.

I've witnessed endless debates about the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, and what it says about you as a person. That's weird to me. I love Doctor Who, but I don't love the Matt Smith era. To me, it's a disappointing run of stories and an approach to the show that just isn't what I think of as Doctor Who. If that's what Steven Moffat thinks of as Doctor Who, that's fine. He's running the show. My lot as a fan is to either enjoy it or not, and if I don't, hey, maybe the next era will be better. I could give you any number of reasons as to why I don't like it, but I'm not going to say you're "wrong" because you do.

But my point here is: I don't understand people who define themselves by whether or not they like this era of Doctor Who. So it seems useless to me to insult people who do like it, because I don't think their liking it says anything about them. Their liking it means they find something in it that speaks to them, appeals to them, entertains them, etc. And if I don't find it there, it's not because I'm "wrong" or they're "wrong" or anyone is. I just didn't have the same appreciation.

I can only speak out of my experience and my feelings. I don't speak for anyone, and neither do the people who want to tell you that liking the New 52 or Michael Bay movies or Two and a Half Men makes you a bad person. I may not like those things, but luckily for me there's a simple solution: don't expose myself to those things.

That's what I mean by politicization. It's become some sort of weird political thing in some circles to say that you like something that's problematic. What bugs me is that no one ever asks anyone else why they like something that's problematic, or whether they even acknowledge that it's problematic. It always becomes "You like something problematic? You must be deranged."

This is all kind of a vague answer to your question. This is how easy it is for me to go off on this attitude of how fandoms supposedly define a person, when such things are easy to ignore. Sure, it's fun talking to people who like the thing you like, but if someone doesn't like it, well, it's not like The Big Bang Theory is writing anti-gay marriage bills or deregulating gun sales or polluting rivers with toxic chemicals or killing us all by deciding to ignore man-made climate change. Someone not liking The Big Bang Theory doesn't say anything at all about their character.

Likewise, if the most interesting thing you can say about your identity is that you're an anime fan, well, that's not really saying very much about who you are as a person.

I feel like I haven't answered your question at all.

I think, also, there's a reluctance in some circles to talk about outside things because of internet arguments. If you're in a fan circle where you talk theories about Game of Thrones, attempts to also discuss, say, True Blood, since that's also an HBO show based on a series of novels, might get shouted down because, guys, that's not what we're here to talk about.

That all said, some of the most irritating-yet-fun people I follow on Tumblr are fans of seemingly everything. I may not care about Supernatural, I may actively dislike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but sooner or later they're posting stuff about Hannibal or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The variety makes it much more interesting.

One more question related to fandom: Is there anything out there that you kind of WISHED you liked because the fandom seems so cool, but you just don't?

Not really. Sometimes I just have no interest in a show while it's on, and then I'll suddenly watch it when it's all over just to see what all the hype was. With my general distaste for fans, I don't get caught up in wanting to be a part of what everyone's talking about. I just distrust groups in general. Pretty much every group I've ever been a part of has turned on me for dissenting with the groupthink. (I'll touch more on that when I answer your political questions.)

There have been times when a particular thing is recommended enough by people whose opinions I respect that I'll want to check it out, but if I don't care for it, I won't really bring it up. For example, a show I know you love: Firefly. I don't like Firefly at all, but I don't really have anything to say about it, so why go around slagging it off unless it's to deliberately antagonize its fans, which is not the kind of thing I'm interested in doing. Why get into it if I have no passionate feelings? For that matter, why get into it if I have negative passionate feelings, unless I'm genuinely interested in discussing a plot point or something.

Nah, fandoms never seem cool to me. Stuff seems cool. I like recommendations because sometimes I end up loving a thing I wouldn't have tried on my own. (Another Kelly example: sending me Leviathan Wakes for Christmas, a book I never would have picked up on my own because I don't even know where to start with modern SF, but which I absolutely adored.)

I'll take enthusiasm over fandom any day.


JP said...

I really miss the Disney posts.

Roger Owen Green said...

Yeah, actually, i wish you would do the Disney stuff, not just for the content, but because i think it would be a "Screw you, it's my blog and I'll do what I want" statement.