Toxic Fandom

Toxic Fandom

Reviews for the new Amazon Prime series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have been delayed by Amazon for up to 72 hours amid concerns of review bombing and trolling. Reports of racist and sexist attacks against the cast has ignited the usual Twitter foray of “forced diversity”, “wokeism”, and other tired generalisations pertaining to modern entertainment, with no nuance to be spared. But while these remarks have thankfully been denounced, a broader discourse on the nature of “toxic fandom” has emerged which adds an unfortunate but very much discernible crinkle to what one might expect of this subject.

This idea of “toxic fandom” has become prevalent in recent years, mostly due to the nature of social media amplifying the voice of disturbed passionate fans. Where the extremist fans were once left to toil away with their posters and toy collections, they now have an avenue for embracing their fellow comrades in arms and turning on them at the slightest criticism of the IP they love. We’ve seen this most notably with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the fandom has become divided over the old era output and more recent Phase 4 material. Perhaps a brief list of talking points will illustrate where the fandom gets imbued with toxicity:

  • Yeah, I love Marvel but these new series (She Hulk, Ms Marvel) aren’t doing it for me.
  • Your sexism is showing.
  • Well, the stories just aren’t as good.
  • It’s them building up to another Avengers. You’ve gotta give them time.
  • That twerking scene with Megan Thee Stallion was such a low.
  • I bet if it was Tony Stark doing it you’d love it.
  • Why is Harry Styles in the MCU? He can’t act.
  • Harry’s talented. You’re just jelly.
  • Ugh… Marvel’s gone so woke.
  • Tell me you’re sexist without telling me you’re sexist.
  • That election was stolen off Trump! F- the MCU.
  • Wait, what?

These idiots kind of fans can usually be found on Twitter, where vitriol runs rampant more than any other social media but the discourse feeds into entertainment news too and colours the greater picture of toxic fandom. Now, to be fair, there are actual bigots criticising these shows and movies (as evidenced by the comments on Rings of Power and House of the Dragon) but in the chaos of the comments’ section, it becomes a lot easier to paint any criticism of these IPs with the broad stroke of toxicity, which brings us back to Tolkien.

Having watched three episodes of The Rings of Power, I deem it decent without being exceptional. The nature of my criticism may raise an eyebrow or two though because while I feel it is visually stunning, the characters are mostly dull and without personality. Especially the Elves. Now, because one of the leads is a female and because people on social media refuse context and reading beyond click bait headlines, this crictism could be rejected with a comment like “oh of course the man doesn’t like Galadriel doing everything Aragorn could” or something akin to that. It would even give me pause for thought because let’s face it, bigotry is embedded deep within our subconscious from an early age, in one way or another. Maybe there is a case to be made for traditional fans of fantasy (men, mostly white) having a blind-spot and actively trying to gate-keep a genre, without even releasing the extent of what they’re doing. It is genuinely a valid concern.

The question then arises as to where that leaves us however. We shouldn’t accept inferior art just because it promotes diversity or a particular ideology. That’s woefully condescending and allows any creators to invalidate criticisms without anything more than the label of “toxic fandom”. But we must also acknowledge that while not all modern criticisms lean towards toxicity, a fair number still do. We’ve seen this through review bombing of movies, books, and TV shows yet to even be released, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (when the trailer showed a Black stormtrooper), Captain Marvel and She Hulk. We’ve seen this in the way fans of certain singers (Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Harry Styles) react whenever someone criticises them in the mildest fashion (e.g. 24 writers credited to a recent Beyoncé song- you just don’t get it- Queen B knows what she’s doing). We see this through cult of personalities springing up around certain celebrities like Johnny Depp (and yes I know, Amber Heard was toxic but fans were willing to overlook every single dodgy thing Johnny did or sad with freakish devotion).

Toxic fandom is a thing; it’s just not everything though. And by denouncing large portions of a fan base, I don’t think Marvel or Disney or Prime will be doing themselves any favours. Rather, an open discussion is needed in order to articulate where valid criticisms differ from petty, tribalistic ones. Amazon can continue spending all the money in the world but it can’t buy the respect and devotion deservedly earned by JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson before. (But look, I’ll keep watching.)

Streaming Wars: Netflix’s Reign Coming To An End?

Streaming Wars: Netflix’s Reign Coming To An End?

With reports of 200,000 lost subscribers in its first quarter this year, Netflix’s stock has plunged lower than its average original movie rating. Excuses have been made, including the widespread use of password sharing (which has always been a factor) as well as the growth of competition in other streaming services and recent economic turmoil. To this end, they have warned the time may come to crack down on said sharing and maybe even consider ad-based revenue options (something that was initially marked as the anthisises of their model). Suffice to say, I can’t imagine these tactics winning any more admirers, especially considering how much their monthly subscription rates have increased in recent years. Indeed, it may be that Netflix has reached its peak and is on a decline, no matter what.

The problems lie externally as well as internally. How many other services are available now? The major contenders are Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Disney+, and Peacock. They have many attractions Netflix doesn’t and are (on average) cheaper, if with less content. (Just to note; film buffs hate this word and I’m not fond of it either as it cheapens the craft but for the purposes of discussing all this, we’ll stick with it.) Internally, the problem also arises from the model Netflix has adopted; to get as much content up as possible (no matter the quality). It seems like they have an original movie out every week now, as well as a plethora of true-crime docs-series, original TV series, and more. The choice is overwhelming. And many a watcher is dismayed when a show they do like gets cancelled after a couple of seasons. On this latter point, it may simply be a case of low numbers (which Netflix doesn’t release) but it could also be that unless it’s super popular (like “Stranger Things”) it’s not a cost-effective approach to drawing in and retaining subscribers. For one, actors’ salaries usually rise (by contract) at this point and two, it doesn’t move you on as fast to something else. Netflix starts up something straight away before you’ve even taken in a minute of end credits (undercutting the emotional tone of what you’ve just finished).

Plus, let’s face it- most of Netflix’s output isn’t that good. It’s C-grade fodder for filling time. Especially their movies- looking you at Kissing Booth, Kissing Booth 2, and Kissing Booth 3. HBO Max, undoubtedly, produces much higher quality material. Apple TV, despite a low range of original content, is showing promise in its investments. Disney+ is a whole other ball game, if primarily focused on franchises and animation. Prime, while messier, has a vast network of shows and movies that are close to rivalling Netflix (plus it’s cheaper). We’re heading into subjective territory here but the point is clear; there’s plenty of capable alternatives.

These alternatives have also taken back some of their original material from Netflix (at least in the US where Peacock and Hulu are available). This means beloved shows like “The Office” have been lost and considering the fandom there, that’s a major factor. A lot of people binge and re-watch that show regularly. These are natural retention properties. At least, they’re still holding onto Friends and Seinfeld. For now.

This piece has been harsh on Netflix, chiefly because they’re the kings of streaming still and have a soulless model… but in truth, the main point of interest in these streaming wars lies in the fact that the choice of platform is becoming as overwhelming as the choice of content on them. If you throw yourself back to the 2000s, piracy was the major issue. It remains one, though it became less talked about in this avenue because the likes of Netflix made things so cheap. Similar to the effect of Spotify on the music industry. Now, to get a hold of all the most desired content (“Succession” on HBO, “The Boys” on Prime, “Stranger Things” on Netflix, “The Office” on Peacock”, etc.) requires multiple accounts. It’s almost become counter-active in its appeal. This had led many to consider whether cable could be due a lucrative comeback to the top?

I’m not sure. Many shows are now streamed weekly but because Netflix popularised binge-watching (by releasing a season at once), the average viewer has probably lost a modicum of patience. On the other hand, Disney+ has opted to make their Marvel shows a week-by-week watch, like the good old days, and has seen dramatic success. HBO too follows that line. Maybe it’s as simple then as individual viewers making their mind up about what they truly want; prioritising their preference, based on budget- choosing one or a couple of platforms? This could result in a plain of healthy competition, where Netflix no longer leads. Undoubtedly however, we will see several platforms fall by the wayside (Peacock holding on to due “The Office” for now). Maybe (optimistically), Netflix will invest time in making better movies and less stuff like “Red Notice”, “Spenser Confidential”, “Bright”, and “Tall Girl”.