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.)

The Left’s Chance To Take America

The Left’s Chance To Take America

2016 has been a dark year. We not only lost the man behind “Purple Rain,” but we got more than we could bargain for with the man who believes orange is more than just the new black. Now, with a little more than a week to go before what could be the most decisive day of the decade, we are confronted with what I like to call that last trek of the Fellowship; the part in which Samwise grits his teeth while carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. And just as a new age came from the ashes of that fiery climax, so too can we expect a sliver of hope on the horizon, if not a great beacon. But enough Lord of the Rings for now, let’s speak plainly; for if not only the Donald is defeated November 8 but the Republican majority is overthrown in the Senate/House of Representatives, America could begin to herald in a New Deal for the 21st Century- one led by Hillary Rodham but directed by that old favorite maverick, Bernie Sanders.

inperson_bernie4-web__850_592
The Gandalf of US Politics

Earlier this year, we wrote a piece on a plausible return to the left for America, in which we explored the possibility that the strength of Bernie’s rhetoric would push the Democratic party far enough to the left, that the next administration would mark the most progressive agenda since the time of Lyndon B. Johnson. Bernie’s eventual defeat was a crushing blow to many, especially among the young, who scattered their way about to Hillary, Jill Stein, and for some incredulous reason, Donald Trump. We figured at the time however that although Bernie had lost the nomination, he had dealt a significant blow to the once centrist stances of Hillary, ensuring that she would be held accountable for the promises she made on the campaign trail. In recent weeks, a lot more focus (though far from enough) has been placed on the Senate though, because of Speaker Paul Ryan’s warning to the GOP base: ‘[if] we lose.., do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee?’ Yup!

It must be noted of course that Bernie’s ascension to this highly sought podium is not guaranteed, but it is a strong possibility and thus, a strong opportunity for liberals. The logistics of taking the Senate are not at all daunting either; there are 34 seats up for grab this year (a term in the Senate lasts six years) of which 24 are held by Republicans. (It may interest you to know John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul will all be contesting their highly coveted seats). They need to take at least four of those away to bring the Republicans down to 50 seats and another one or two, if they want a majority (accounting for Independents). This miscalculated statement on the Speaker’s part has given rise to the #ThanksPaul emblem now spreading the Sander’s seed once again across the nation. As we all know however, a tweet or Facebook post is nice, but a vote is helpful.

paul_ryan_mtr-620x412
‘What Have I Done…’

Generally speaking, the Republicans have been better at marshaling their cohorts out to vote for mid-term elections and on other less exciting occasions (e.g. for town mayors). The result has been a systematic rightward shift for the country on a national, statewide, and local level, making it particularly difficult for the Democrats to gain any legislative ground, even with a majority. This changing dynamic can be traced back throughout America’s entire history but in 1980, the ball really got rolling with the GOP’s courtship of the Evangelical vote. Reagan’s revolution was not only one against the Soviets and the Carter administration, it was one built on Supply-Side (or ‘Trickle-Down’) economics and a distrust of Big government. The deficit grew but the brainwashing worked- people kept going out to vote Republican. When in 1994, after a particularly heartbreaking mid-term election, the Democratic President Bill Clinton, declared the ‘era’ of such government to be over, an unfortunate belief was ground into the American psyche, that some level of conservatism would always be needed. Obama’s rise then should have dispelled this notion, building on the promise of the Affordable Care Act the so-called audacity of ‘hope.’ He was abandoned in a significant respect however, by those who championed his cause in 2008, but felt deterred and disinterested by the nitty gritty bits of the legislative process- the public. So, three election terms later, will America’s liberals and moderates finally learn the imperative lesson? It’s not enough to solely elect a president, you need to elect his/her network on all levels. A slab of paint may make a wall look nice, but beyond that wall, you’ve still got Mordor.

mordors_duospire
Trump Tower

As it stands, the Senate is split between 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents. Polls are currently indicating a strong chance for a Democratic take over, though baffingly Marco Rubio is still leading in Florida, despite losing to Trump, criticizing him, then supporting him. With the House of Representatives then (in which all seats are contested every two years), there are presently 247 Republicans, 186 Democrats, and 3 vacant seats. A Democratic coup here is far less likely, though recent polls suggest they could take an extra 20 seats. President Johnson once said the difference between a Senator and Congressman was the difference between ‘chicken salad and chicken shit.’ It’s a darn good quote but as asserted earlier, every little difference matters. So come November 8, when the world wakes up to a new dawn or a poorly devised Hobbit trilogy, remember that the power to change the United States does not solely belong in one office.