Fanbases are a great community to be a part of. You meet up or talk to people not just in your surrounding areas but possibly around the country or world that share your interests in a certain medium. Pop culture is a melting pot of people, no matter your race or gender, coming together to celebrate movies, television shows, games. You name it.
But with everything positive, there is also a flip side. A dark side.
There are parts of a fandom where the audience is not happy with the product that is put out to them. From new television shows to movies, fans will let you know if they are not pleased. In this era of social media with platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, it has become easier for studios to interact and listen to the audience. While that’s an excellent way to keep fans in the loop and get their take on things, there are a lot of spiteful people out in the world who go one step farther with comments and reactions that ruins the experience for others. A current example is the state of the Star Wars Universe.
After the franchise’s return to the big screen in 2015’s The Force Awakens, fans fell in love with the galaxy far, far away once again while bringing a new generation of viewers along the way. However, nothing is without criticism. Hardcore fans claimed that Episode VII felt too similar to A New Hope; with elements such as finding an unknown hero on a desert planet, a lost droid, and a bigger Death Star, it was easy to make those connections. Maybe director J.J. Abrams played things too safe but there was no denying that, similar to his 2009 reboot of Star Trek, the man knew the Star Wars mythology that he inherited.
Then we come to last year’s heavily criticized The Last Jedi. I stated that Rian Johnson’s contribution to the new trilogy was amazing, adding in his own style to the story and presenting something original; a direct response to the criticism of fans. Johnson’s movie took the franchise in a new direction with great success but critics and fans were still not happy, believing the franchise has been ruined. Many carried this anger into May’s Solo: A Star Wars Story and has expanded beyond making a silent statement in not supporting the most recent cinematic outing. Some fans have criticized new character, Rose, and directed their hatred to the actress, Kelly Marie Tran, to the point that the actor deleted her Instagram posts because of the abuse. The increasing racial and gender diversity of the Star Wars cast has been a best additions to the franchise since the revival, providing opportunities to wonderful actors.
With the announcement of the cast for the upcoming untitled Star Wars Episode IX, I was excited to read the list. However when I read the comments on Instagram, I found similar comments of residual dislike among the positive ones. Comments like “PLEASE DON’T RUIN IT AGAIN”, “Can’t wait for this disappointment”, and others saddened me. It makes me incredibly sad to see these comments and that the Star Wars fandom has become more toxic. While it is okay to love Star Wars and still have disagreements about what you like and dislike with others, it’s not okay to go to the lengths of online abusing actors and directors who have earned an opportunity to become a part of a legendary franchise. Like most movies and reboots made in this era of Twitter and Instagram, they face new levels of scrutiny, backlash, and support over many issues, sometimes beyond how a film did overall. But there is no reason it should go to the levels it did with Tran.
Fanbases should be a safe haven for fans to express themselves; whether the comments be positive or negative, the conversations should have healthy debates of one opinion against another. Because you are behind a keyboard should not be reason to make actors feel uncomfortable. Actors are artists and they develop thick skin because they face criticism every time for a casting call. When they are open to their fans through social media, I know that you can’t stop negative or critical comments but they shouldn’t go to abusive levels such as body shaming or attacking their ethnicity or gender. Every fanbase has its detractors but, as fans, we all need to be better and support the amazing work that actors pour their time and energy into to deliver a great product.
What do you all think about criticism of film and television? Leave a comment!
2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of the Fanbase”
Great article, Robert. I’ve thought a lot about this subject on my own before, too. It’s this same mentality and aggression towards George Lucas that finally drove him to sell LucasFilm in the first place. I understand everyone having their own vision of what their perfect version of their favorite franchises would be (myself included), but what I don’t understand is personally attacking a director or actor for not fitting into that mold that they created in their head. By setting specific expectations in their mind, if the film or series doesn’t meet those expectations, they take not meeting them as personal attacks and treat them as such. That’s why we get so many people claiming that this person or that studio “ruined their childhood” and often lashing out.
I’m in an interesting camp when it comes to the Star Wars series. I don’t hate the Prequel Trilogy and actually enjoy (most of) it but understand that there is vast room for improvement. And at the same time, I don’t love the Sequel Trilogy but like that the directors have tried to do their own thing with the two that are out so far and have been given the freedom to do so. Just because I don’t like where the new series has gone, doesn’t mean I attack those responsible for “ruining” a film franchise that is near and dear to my heart. I express my opinion and the matter, look for what I like among what I don’t, and hope that the next one will be more to my liking.
I’ve seen fan bases turn toxic and it’s very disheartening. In the last decade or two, with franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Stark Trek, and Star Wars (among many others) getting the blockbuster treatment, enjoying comic book characters or sci-fi series is much more common, or at least expressing your enjoyment has. Before, being a fan of said series was often kept under wraps and to yourself, only expressing it around those you know feel the same way and held like a hidden badge of honor. Now, people talk about them freely and with a wider audience, casual and serious fans alike. And lately, it seems things have come full circle. Those who would have said something behind closed doors are actively attacking others simply because they have the wiggle room to do so now.
One time years ago, I was talking with another one of my nerdier friends and we started talking Doctor Who. I made the comment that I’ve never watched Doctor Who and he looks at me and in a playful manner said, “You’ve never watched Doctor Who? You just lost your Nerd Card.” To which I glared at him and said, “Excuse me? Do you want me to go over all the nerdy fanbases I’m a part of that you aren’t?” And he just laughed and agreed that just because I don’t watch Doctor Who doesn’t mean I lose my imaginary Nerd Card.
That friendliness and jesting is one of the reasons why I like being apart of so many fanbases. Talking about our shared interests is so much fun and enlightening. I wish more people would be more accepting of other fans’ opinions, directors’ choices, and actors’ interpretations of characters, especially because many of them know what it’s like to feel like on the outskirts for their interests. It has become a dark side of the fanbase indeed.
Fun Fact: George Lucas didn’t want to direct the Prequel Trilogy movies. In fact, he only ever wanted to direct the first (A New Hope) and last (of the entire series) Star Wars movies. That’s why he gave Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand the director’s chair for Empire and Jedi. Then, when it came time to work on Phantom, Lucas asked around for a director but everyone he asked turned him down so he did them all himself. Could you imagine a Star Wars movie directed by Steven Spielberg? That would have been amazing.