There’s a lot of anger among fandom. Critics have even dubbed it “outrage culture,” a phrase that lumps together everything from indignation about the latest reboot to complaints about the gross objectification of women to calls for more diverse representation, as in the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign. It conflates the reasonable with the hotheaded, the passionate discussion with the abusive tirade. And sure, it’s no secret there are toxic elements of comics fandom — and gaming fandom, and movie fandom, etc. — folks who not only complain about story or character elements they don’t like but who are actively abusive toward the comics’ creators and anyone who dares contradict or confront them.
Women, people of color and LGBT folk get the worst of it; none of that’s news, and as your resident cis-het white guy, I’m not the right voice to delve once more into the full spectrum of online vitriol and harassment. Instead, I’m just going to address the anger. If everyone is angry, or angry that everyone else is angry, or laughing at the people who are angry about something they don’t think is worth getting upset about, where does it come from, and where does it end?
Devin Faraci’s recent essay comparing fan culture to the sadistic villain in Stephen King’s “Misery” had a lot of people nodding in agreement, prompted a fair amount of criticism and elicited more than a few subtweets questioning the writer’s standing to make such an argument. Faraci uses the word “entitlement,” which is not unproblematic, both in usage and effect. Labeling a reaction as entitlement allows one to belittle or dismiss a point of view without considering it. For now, however, let’s just consider the anger itself, and its roots in the ownership fans have come to feel.
Let’s take, for example, the ongoing garment-rending over the “Ghostbusters” reboot, which had another ugly episode this week and will almost certainly continue to flare up until the movie’s release in July, and likely beyond. Setting aside for a moment the misogynistic tone of many of the complaints — don’t worry, we’ll come back to it — let’s consider what it means to be a fan, in this case a male “Ghostbusters” fan. Let’s try to get a handle on the source of the anger.
Let’s say you’re a 5-year-old boy in 1984 when “Ghostbusters” arrived in theaters. The scenario we’re following can largely apply to younger people as well, but let’s draw a picture of someone who was there at the beginning: You see the movie on the big screen, and you’re blown away. You get all the toys, you watch the cartoons. And in earlier generations, maybe you’d see the movie on TV once or twice, or when it came to the bargain theater. But you’re a child of the ’80s (or the ’90s, or the ’00s) — you can own it on home video and watch it as often as you like, as you grow up, as the sequel comes out, as you acquire a new appreciation for it in high school and watch it with friends in your college dorm. This continues.
“Ghostbusters” feels like a part of you.
And then, three decades later, a new movie is announced, and it doesn’t feel like “Ghostbusters” to you.
I’ll stop here to note that, while the demographic sketch is accurate, I didn’t have this ongoing, deeply personal connection to “Ghostbusters.” I liked the movie as a kid, I had the soundtrack and the toys, but that’s kind of all it was to me. A good pair of movies, that, sure, I enjoyed again with friends when I was older. Still, I get the impulse.
But that’s about as far as I’m going to defend that, because the ugliness of the hate directed at the female-led “Ghostbusters” is indefensible, and something that’s been well-covered, if not necessarily well-addressed. Weirdly, I don’t think the root cause of the fan rage is misogyny, though it gets there quickly enough — it’s a rage combo, then, one part based in cultural investment and the other in something that is not unique to fandom, something that gives rise to things like “men’s rights activists”: a sense of frustration borne of lost influence, real or perceived. Men used to be able to ghost-bust, tell bawdy jokes and snap towels in peace. Any defense of the new movie, even from O.G. (Original Ghostbuster) Dan Aykroyd then must be rooted in pandering to political correctness.
I might as well state the obvious: The feeling that pop culture is a part of you and is something we desire is why people cling to it so tightly. And that’s part of why representation matters — seeing yourself in pop culture is vital to taking possession of it. But again, better and more appropriate voices than mine have covered this.
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