So, I’ve been writing on here for over two years now and I’ve got about 250 posts under my belt, on everything from my hometown to my favourite episodes of various TV shows.
Over the two years, I’ve shared more and more on Facebook groups and on Twitter and I’ve noticed certain patterns that echo through all of them. Social media is such a hot topic these days that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist.
My first experience of talking to other people online about anything was in the late 90’s when I used to go on a Buffy fan site and get into group chats with people, do quizzes. I can’t even remember the platform we were using to do this. It was fun and no-one ever really argued about anything. We were just there to celebrate what we all had in common.
I never joined any Facebook groups until I started up the website and I wanted to be able to share my articles with other people. It was then that my use of Twitter grew as well, as I tried, with varying success, to share what I was writing with some of the people I was writing about (eternal thanks to Mary McDonnell and Kyle Maclachlan for noticing me in those early days).
Now, I’m a member of about a hundred groups. Adding this to what I see in the media and the anecdotes I hear from others, I’ve been thinking about the patterns of fandom around us. What does it mean to be a fan these days? Do different fandoms behave in different ways? Are there similarities? Where is the line between being passionate about your beliefs and being, well, rude?
I toyed with different ways of presenting this but eventually came up with the idea of taking each fandom of which I consider myself a member, sharing my experiences of existing within it, and then see if I can reach any conclusions or see any patterns. Somebody has probably already done all this way better than I’m about to do it, but I’m sitting on a train at the minute with nothing else to do so I may as well give it a try.
These are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER, so don’t start!
Maybe my oldest association; as a child, I collected just about every Star Wars figure going, from C3PO whose legs weren’t stiff enough so he couldn’t stand up to the oddly sweet-smelling TiE fighter pilot. I watched the films; I loved them all. I read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Being a Star Wars fan was fairly simple until 1999. That’s when things got nasty. People’s dissatisfaction with George Lucas’ prequels set, I believe, a precedent for everything that would follow after. The outpouring of hate was on such an epic scale that it drove actors (see the tragic stories of Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best) from their professions and made anyone who had enjoyed the films (especially the first two) feel very wary of revealing this in social situations. If you liked the prequels, then you weren’t a real Star Wars fan, whatever that meant. Personally, I like bits and pieces but I think, because I wasn’t a child when I saw them, (the primary intended audience) I didn’t have the same awe and wonder for what was going on. It’s amazing how times change, however. A group who remained silent for a long time, eventually developed a voice, as I was to find out when I wrote an article about revisiting The Phantom Menace and shared it on a few Facebook groups.
I wanted to enjoy it. I really did. I thought I would approach it with a fresh set of eyes and see things I hadn’t before. Really, though, I was disappointed and I said so, in a polite, I thought quite conciliatory manner. The response was very quick. I was accused of being ‘just another prequel-basher’ and told that I should leave it alone. Fine. Maybe I was kicking at it while it was on the ground. Some of the messages I got were just hateful, though.
The attitude of some (a minority, let me be clear) Star Wars fans has been shameful over the past year. Ever since The Last Jedi came out, there has been an almost ceaseless outpouring of bile, bemoaning just about everything to do with the film, from Rian Johnson and the production company to actors like Kelly Marie Tran. I get how some people were disappointed with it; I had my reservations with some of it myself. I just don’t see how it attracts such venom. Seriously, a petition to expunge the film and do it all again from scratch? People are so quick to jump on anything that is different and say that it’s an agenda. I think Rey is by far the best thing about the new films but people have a problem with it, saying it’s just a way of pushing the ‘Social Justice Warrior’ agenda about women’s rights. Well, I have to say, it’s about time that was addressed, and they’ve done it in such a great way. Also, the new films still feature the classic triad of two male leads and a female – Rey, Poe and Finn – so not that much really changes then.
With Star Wars, it seems that anything new is judged quite harshly by a set of expectations based on people’s response to films they saw when they were children. It’s usually the people who grew up with the original trilogy who rail so much against anything new. They remember what it felt like to see those films as children, as I do. When they grow up, they expect anything new to elicit the same kind of awe and wonder from them. However, it’s near impossible to replicate and disappointment and anger ensues. We can’t look at something through the eyes of a child once we’ve grown up. We’ve lost our innocence and can’t get it back. That can be frustrating but it’s our issue to deal with; no one else’s. We can’t transfer our anger over our lost youth onto a film. The closest we can come is to watch these films WITH our children and enjoy their response.
All that said, there are those in the Star Wars fan community who do a great deal of good work on behalf of others. Organisations like Vader’s Fist provide costumes for a number of charity events, while Force for Change raises money for Unicef and other Children’s Charities. Fans have a lot of heart. It just seems like sometimes a bunch of them forget that when they disagree with someone.
I was never sold on the idea of recasting Captain Kirk. I’ll always be a Shatner fan. He is Captain Kirk as far as I am concerned. You know what, though? I sort of enjoyed those new films. To set the scene, I’m pretty much exclusive in terms of my Star Trek fandom. I love the original series and the films, and the rest of it passed me by a little bit. I love Patrick Stewart (you should see him do A Christmas Carol on stage – now that can help you recapture your youth) and I can happily sit through an episode of TNG, but that’s about as far as it goes. I never got into DS9 or Voyager. At this point, people from certain quarters are already saying that, as a result of this, my opinion isn’t worth anything. I like what I like is all I’ll say.
I thought I’d give Discovery a go when it first aired last year. Based on the first couple of episodes I thought it was an enjoyable addition to the canon with a good lead character in Michael Burnham. I even included her in a list of great female characters in science fiction. In hindsight, I should have gone for Michelle Yeoh’s character but I was dazzled. My appreciation for the series wore off after about six episodes and I haven’t been back to it since. It isn’t for me and that’s OK. There’s plenty of other distractions available out there. This is another place in which I’ve seen the most scathing vitriol expelled into social media.
Discovery has been roundly treated as a pariah in the pantheon for Star Trek fandom. Every decision made from story to casting has been ridiculed by people on social media to the extent that a separate Facebook group had to be set up under the guise of ‘tolerant fans of Star Trek Discovery’ just so people could actually talk about what they saw without being hounded for even watching it. When I included Michael Burnham in my list, I received so much grief, with people even accusing me of being a paid employee of the Production company.
The ‘Kelvin timeline’ established by JJ Abrams’ more recent films is also a hot topic amongst Star Trek fans. As I said, I thought those films were pretty good. I thought Karl Urban made a great Dr McCoy and Zachary Quinto was an excellent Spock. I wasn’t a fan of Into Darkness because I thought it misjudged the line between homage and reboot badly. As an extension to the franchise, though, they stand up well. I was shocked to learn that certain Facebook groups ban even the mention of their existence by members. I found this out when I put up one of my Monday Music posts featuring some music from Star Trek Beyond. I was told that it was forbidden in the group to discuss the ‘Kelvin timeline’ as it caused too many arguments and too much ill feeling. Really? We can’t even mention it?
People seem to be a little bit more calm on the subject of Star Wars vs. Star Trek these days. It seems like people are a lot more willing to accept that you can be a fan of both franchises. I think that could be because each group of fans has so much to argue about internally, they haven’t got the energy left to look outside as well. Is that progress?
My first fandom of the Internet age, and the first thing for which I attended a convention. Back in 2000, I went to Bitten, a UK convention in the West Midlands for fans of Buffy and Angel. There were no special guests. It was just a bunch of people sharing their love for the shows. I’ve not encountered any problems in this fan community. Could it be because there is no new content? The idea of a rebooted Buffy series set tongues wagging a month or so ago but there seemed to be a very united stance in favour of having a new show in the same universe as opposed to going over the same material and recasting the lead characters. My interactions with people in this fan community have been nothing but positive if I’m honest. Even when I posted my top 10 episodes of Buffy, Angel and Firefly, I received nothing but politely written responses. Lots of people disagreed with me but they all did it very nicely.
The things people argue about are ‘shipping’ issues and even that is rarely heated. So, here we have a fandom that, because there is no new content, exists in relative harmony. Feel free to disagree if you know things I don’t.
This is my main thing. I’m sure if you’ve ever been to my website before today, you’ll know that. You don’t do a YouTube poem about something every day for a year unless you’re a fan. The Twin Peaks fan community existed in peace and good will until the arrival of the third season in 2017.
The new series was so divisive among fans that the discussion boards were really quite toxic for a while. Those who didn’t like it were branded as idiots who weren’t Lynch-savvy enough to ‘get it.’ It was such a complete departure from the original series that of course it was going to turn a lot of people off. There were lots of snap judgements made about people’s position as ‘real fans’ if they didn’t get on board. There were just as many shells being fired in the other direction. People were branded as Lynch sycophants if they stood up for the new series in any way. It really was a poisonous atmosphere at times. Again, new content is seen to be the cause of disagreement. There is also, sometimes a bit of elitism among some Twin Peaks fans. Some people seem to think that being a Lynch or Twin Peaks fan makes you, well, just better than other people! You see it a lot on social media – only clever, deep people ‘get’ David Lynch’s work.
I wrote an article for Taste of Cinema ranking Lynch’s films last year. He’s my favourite director and I love his work. It was a bit of fun to order my thoughts about where I’d rank his films. The reaction I got on various forums was that I ‘didn’t know anything about David Lynch.’ One guy who picked on a choice of mine said it was no good because it was too ‘Spielberg-y’. I asked him if he meant that in a bad way and he said that yes, of course he did. That was as far as I took that argument. I can’t quite get on board when people build up what they like by knocking down what other people do, especially when they’re so snobbish about things and have a immovable world view. Plus, you can’t really knock Spielberg ‘s body of work, can you?
On the plus side, I’ve been to the Twin Peaks UK Festival four times now and it’s here that you really feel like you’re part of the community. In fact, it’s more than that. It feels more like a family of shared experiences. People share their stories and their time and escape from their normal lives for a day or two in the beautifully crafted environments created. People treat others so well that it makes it all the more shocking when you see some of the things that go on online. Another positive about the Twin Peaks fan community is just how involved the cast are. So many of them interact with fans regularly on social media, making us all feel like we’re on the same level.
People are hounded by trolls, forced to take breaks from social media to escape the negative atmosphere, their family members are insulted and people act as judge and jury on the worth of what they contribute. So many people put so much of their time into their fan projects but it seems that some out there think they can hold court over which project should’ve embraced and which should be trashed. The incredibly personal way in which this is done is quite shocking, with trolls attempting to sully people’s names and reputations by copying members of the cast and crew in on their baseless accusations.
Whilst this fan community is filled to the brim with the most kind, generous people who are always building each other up (and they really, really do), there are a few who walk among us who should take a long, hard look at their conduct. I haven’t felt any of this heat personally (everyone’s really nice to me about my poetry) but I’ve seen it done to others and it is really troubling. Maybe this article will draw a little of their fire my way. That’s fine by me. People have disagreements and that is expected and accepted. Some people just show more class than others in how they deal with this.
Much like Buffy, Lost exists as a finished product. I rarely see any rudeness or issues in this community. There are many fans who switched off after a couple of seasons but they still consider themselves fans. Lost fans don’t seem to argue amongst themselves. They only argue with people who think “they were all dead the whole time”. This mistaken reading of the show still persists and Lost fans are quick to take people up on it. Let someone write an article for their blog selling this theory and there will be a battalion of fans on hand to challenge.
Another finished product. I attended a charity Blake’s 7 event last year, which was full of people who were just there to share a common interest. I’ve never had any problems on the (granted there aren’t many) Facebook groups devoted to Terry Nation’s masterwork. People read my series Rewatches and are all very nice about them even if they disagree. I mean, it’s not like I have anything new to say about the show. I just say what I’m thinking.
So Say We All. It’s nice how the fan community has such an easy #hashtag to bring them together. It seems that having something like this unites everyone from the word go. There are so rarely any bits of nastiness between people in this community. That was not always the case, however. The bitter arguments over things like the gender-swap Starbuck situation took ages to die down. There are a group of people who don’t like the rebooted version and think the original series should have been reinvented in a different way. There exists out there a trailer for a continuation that was being floated by the late, great Richard Hatch that would have been quite different. This rarely boils over into anger, however. The Battlestar community is another in which cast members involve themselves in a very positive way. Edward James Olmos frequently enlists the help of the fans to promote environmental issues, while James Callis is especially good at communicating with fans and making us feel like we have a voice.
Another gender-swap problem. Doctor Who has evolved so much over the decades and there are a range of opinions available about just about anything. I can’t talk with that much authority about it. My brother is the real Doctor Who expert and convention goer; he could speak more intelligently about the atmosphere in that community. All I see is groups for Classic Who, groups for ‘Nu-Who’ and groups for everyone together. There isn’t that much vitriol heading in either direction. It just seems like people have a preference and others accept it. When I did my top 15 Dr Who stories, I expected a lot more flak than I got. Some people thought there should be more classic stories but they all acknowledged that this was opinion based. The only thing that gets my goat at the minute is the Jodie Whittaker situation and the group of people out there who refuse to accept something different. People are so quick to point fingers at the BBC and claim political correctness gone mad. I say change is worthwhile. You can sense them all waiting in the wings, desperate to say “I told you so” if there is a dip in ratings or an episode isn’t particularly good. I’m sure there will be many more white male Doctors in the future. For now, can’t we just try something different. I think Jodie Whittaker is doing a great job.
There are other groups I could mention: Mass Effect, James Bond being just two of them. It seems like I figured out halfway through writing this what the problem is. The problem is new content. Wherever there is new content, there is disagreement. Is it the case that the longer the gap between the original content and the new, the bigger the disagreement? Maybe. I’ve seen a lot of the horribleness I mentioned first hand and with people I know. Some of it I’ve read about on news outlets and then dug into on my own. I read through pages and pages of tweets about Kelly Marie Tran before I felt physically ill. Other things I say are just an impression I get. I mentioned the conventions I’ve been to and I have to say that when people get together in person, their behaviour is so much better. These a re opinions I have. I don’t state them as facts and if you disagree, please tell me about it. I love to hear stories about the good things people do. Just try not to insult my family like some people do. They aren’t writing this; I am.
It’s the curse of social media, I suppose: the same thing I’ve noticed with young people through my work. People are very quick to insult others from the comfort of their own bedrooms. They write things that they would never think of saying in person (I hope). Children I can understand because they are just developing emotional maturity but when I see this kind of behaviour in adults it really makes me sad. people put cosplay pictures of themselves up and get ridiculed or fat shamed over them. If it’s a good-looking woman, there are yards and yards of lewd comments under the picture about their breasts or bottom. Women are bombarded with creepy PMs just for being present in a group. The only word for it is cowardice. Thankfully, this behaviour is from a minority of people. They give fans of their respective franchises a bad name and that’s the saddest thing. There are worse places to be: I’ll never play Call of Duty online again. I can only take being headshot by twelve year olds in Utah so many times, especially when they tell me how much I suck afterwards.
This turned into a little bit of a rant in places, but I want to end on a high note. I want to tell a story of the beauty of fandom. Fandom groups can help people belong. they can help us feel like we’re part of something. Often, people who lack that sense of belonging in the world can connect with people in a way that they never could before. the marvel of the Interwebs has brought the whole world closer together and made it possible to find people who love the same stuff as we do. I’ll always advocate getting out of the house and really meeting these people. It was lovely to meet some of the people I’ve been talking to in the Twin Peaks community over the past year. It feels then like you’re making ‘real’ friendships rather than the transitory exchanges we share online.
Last year, a member of a fan community was feeling especially down. Messages were worrying and a group of people online banded together to reach out and help; to help someone they had never met. They took time out of their lives when they could have just scrolled on. That’s the power that fandom can wield. I want to hear more stories like that. That’s what the world can be if enough people try.
Thanks for reading. Sorry for preaching. I have no right to do it, I guess, but it was on my mind for a while
Here are some of the things I mentioned that I’d written
All the best,