Published on November 6th, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell


The Toxicity Of Fandom

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The Toxicity Of Fandom

As denizens of the Internet may have heard, the Steven Universe fandom recently bullied a fan artist to the point of a suicide attempt.

Steven Universe

Yep, you read that correctly.

Fans of an animated, children’s tv show that preaches love, diversity and acceptance, bullied another human being to the point that they attempted to take their own life.

I’ll give you a brief rundown of the events; artist Zamii creates various fan art of the shows she likes, including Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, and posts frequently on Tumblr. The Steven Universe fandom takes a dislike to some of her drawings, and proceeds to create more than 40 critical blogs attacking this individual and her artwork, primarily for being ‘problematic’, (but also attacking her artistic ability.) Her posts are rife with nasty commentary, and her inbox on the site has been packed with much of the same. You can find a more extensive run down of the supposedly ‘problematic’ artwork, and the preposterous fan reaction HERE. Ultimately, she attempted to take her life, after the bullying became too much, and thankfully, is now on the road to recovery.

Yet, the problem remains. Why is there such toxicity present in fandom?

Wikipedia defines fandom as, ‘Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.’

That description suggests nothing more than a shared interest in a particular fictional entity, yet fanbases occasionally seem to become rabid and abusive.

Joss Whedon was recently forced off of Twitter, something he puts down to ‘wanting a quieter writing space.’ Despite his statement, it’s fairly evident that he chose to go offline in a time where he was getting daily abuse, and death threats, from so-called ‘Marvel fans.’ Sending someone a death threat over their perceived misuse of a loved character seems a little much, no?

Joss Whedon

So, why do these collectives devolve into madness? Is it a simple mob mentality, seen most often in football hooliganism? Is it the power of relative anonymity?

It’s a certainty that the Internet allows thousands of individuals an anonymous guard in which to hide behind, a layer of protection when they wish to spend their short time on this Earth virtually bullying people. Something has to be said for the type of people frequently found within ‘geek’ fandoms — for every well adjusted person, there are undoubtedly reams of the opposite. People who have no jobs, few friends and a distaste for socialising – thats not to say socialising is the be all and end all, (I’m certainly not a frequent socialiser,) but one has to gain the ability to function in society. Most of us are forced into these scenarios, where we are required to grow, and learn how to deal with other people — work, school, events — but there are, undoubtedly, people who do not adjust to these situations. They don’t learn to deal with other people very well, and as they grow older but lack experience, their desire to learn diminishes through fear of denial and embarrassment, thus resulting in people who simply don’t understand the way humanity and socialising work. Again, I’m not referring to the socially awkward, but instead the extreme end of the scale, those who often hold personal vendettas against directors, content creators, and frequently, women. I’ve noticed that, extensively, these individuals frequent the ‘geek’ world — they’re at their most noticeable either online, or at conventions. Those people who spend their days glued to a screen typing pages of abuse to strangers, are often the same types leering at women in cosplay, or aggressively and awkwardly hassling nervous stall vendors or petrified comic book writers. They stand out from a mile away as people who simply don’t know how to deal with other people.

Comic Book Guy

With a fandom online, these people, and others, are welcomed into a collective. If one member of said collective takes a dislike to something, or somebody, within the fandom, it has a tendency to snowball until a mob, complete with fire and pitchforks, are attacking the disliked individual. Reason and logic are thrown out the window, instead replaced with a fulfilled sense of belonging, no matter how questionable the origin. Looking at a situation or person rationally becomes an impossibility, and in worst case scenarios, it results in a tirade of bullying and abuse.

I think it warrants saying that if you’re part of a fandom, no matter how big or small, you should occasionally step back and observe your own behaviour. There is absolutely no shame in enjoying being a part of something, and collectives of fans are often a place of love and acceptance… But like all things, this can be soured and abused. A friendly, passionate bunch of people can quickly warp into a hateful, near-obsessed, pack of rabid bullies. Take a step back and question why you’re typing nastiness into someones message box and just try to remember — there is a person receiving those messages on the other end. A real life human being with thoughts and feelings.

Perhaps you don’t agree with their ship. Perhaps you don’t like the way they draw certain characters, or the situations they draw them in. Perhaps you simply find the individual distasteful, or not to your liking. Thats fine — we don’t have to enjoy all things.

But that doesn’t give you a free pass to be an asshole, either.

If you don’t like something, don’t look at it. If you feel the person who’s created the thing needs to be told, just step back and really consider that. Are they a big name, world famous creator who needs to be made aware that their work is offensive? Then sure, perhaps notify them, their publishers, their office. Are they a teenager drawing pictures of fictional characters and posting them on the Internet? They probably don’t warrant a witch hunt. If you absolutely must tell someone how dreadfully offensive their artwork is, perhaps do it in a gentle and polite way, privately, instead of aggressively lampooning them and encouraging others to do the same. That, my friend, is bullying. And as a fellow nerd and lover of the fictional, I know just as much as you do, that being a bully is not acceptable. Enough of us have withstood criticism, (and worse,) from strangers for our hobbies… We shouldn’t be doing the same to others.

Be excellent

Fandom can be a wonderful, safe and enjoyable place. It’s a place where like minds come together to create little pockets of awesomeness for one another. Often, when calling out people of a higher power (creators, directors, writers,) it can be used for good, to bring light to real issues in media. Television series like Marvel’s Agent Carter succeed far beyond expectations thanks to online buzz from a tight knit community of Peggy fans, and those cheering on women in comics. Demand for series like Spider-Gwen, and movies like Captain Marvel, are created and improved by these online communities. Support for DC’s Batgirl is rife online, with hundreds of fan-made costumes, plentiful fan art and general celebration of the character and the new direction. Thanks to social media, fans can now connect with the creators directly through the likes of Twitter and Tumblr, and express their love and support for the properties — fandom is not bad! It gives many fans a safe place to be passionate about the things they love… And that’s exactly how it should be. Safe, fun and friendly.

Spider Gwen and Batgirl

The sooner we knock the bad, aggressive, mob mentality of fandom on the head, the better.

In the immortal words of Ice Cube, check yo’self, before you wreck yo’self. Be kind to others, and celebrate fandom in the happy, marvellous, supportive, crazy-in-a-good-kind-of-way.


Holly Ringsell

Holly Ringsell

Pink and purple. Owner of Dark Side Comics. I have a lot of feelings about Steve Rogers.
Holly Ringsell

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