Tag Archives: internet fame

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars

Why We SHOULDN’T Judge People For The (Stupid) Things They Say In Their Youth

We all say dumb things when we’re young. That’s not an opinion. That’s an inescapable fact, right up there with gravity, taxes, and the inherent sex appeal of Jennifer Lopez. I doubt anyone would argue that young, inexperienced people say foolish things that they later regret. Despite that, why do we belabor that foolishness later in life?

This is an increasingly relevant question in the era of social media. For much of human history, you could usually get away with saying the dumbest, crudest, most ill-informed shit anyone could possibly say at any age. That’s because peoples’ memories are exceedingly fallible, so much so that even the courts recognize that.

Then, the internet came along and, on top of all the free porn and cat videos, some of that filthy, misguided rhetoric ended up in the digital coffers that are frustratingly robust. It’s become a popular meme that “The internet never forgets.” However, I think it has graduated from meme to a fundamental law of the digital universe.

Like most things, there are benefits and drawbacks to having a system that can remember how foolish and pig-headed we all were in our youth. A little perspective in terms of who we once were and how far we’ve come can actually be healthy. That said, it can also undermine our ability to function as adults who once were pig-headed youth.

This brings me to Cenk Uygur, a media personality that I mentioned earlier this year in a post about winning arguments versus being right. He’s a member of an internet media group called The Young Turks and, for a time, they were at the cutting edge of a new kind of news media.

They were unapologetically progressive in their message, often poking fun at extreme right-wing personalities who probably said less foolish things in their youth. They also provided genuine insight that didn’t always make it into the cable news networks, which was part of why I found them appealing for a while.

Then, the 2016 election happened and The Young Turks began getting more extreme. They became less about covering the news that cable news networks ignored and more about bemoaning the fact that some of their politics were falling out of favor. Cenk Uygur, being one of the most outspoken of the bunch, became one of the loudest voices.

Now, I didn’t care for his exceedingly vocal tactics and have since unsubscribed to the Young Turks network. However, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Mr. Uygur when the laws of the digital universe caught up with him and revealed an old blog post that could only have been written by someone young, uniformed, inexperienced, and in this case, horny.

I won’t get into all the details of the post, since others have already done so. Even by the standards of an aspiring erotica/romance writer who has said more than his share of stupid things on the internet, it’s still pretty crude. Here is just a clip of what Mr. Uygur said.

“Obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.”

I don’t deny that the rhetoric is crass and offensive. I certainly wouldn’t blame any woman who felt offended reading it. However, and I know this is probably one of those things I’ll end up belaboring again at some point, people say stupid things when they’re young and/or misinformed.

Mr. Uygur may have been in his 30s when he wrote those, but I would still put it under the kind of ill-informed foolishness that we all experience in our youth and even as adults. It’s also worth noting that these blog posts occurred in the early 2000s before YouTube, FaceBook, social media, and cat memes. The internet was a very different place back then is what I’m saying.

Now, because of this crap that he wrote over a decade ago when he was in a different time, place, and mindset, Mr. Uygur is getting all sorts of criticism about this. Just this past week, he got kicked off the board of the Justice Democrats, a group he helped found, no less. Again, it’s not because of crime he committed in the present. It was because of something he wrote over a decade ago.

Think about that, for a moment. Imagine that your boss, parents, or enemies suddenly had access to records for all the stupid, profane, and flat out wrong things you’ve ever dared to say. Most of us, if we’re being honest with ourselves, would be sweating bullets at the prospect. I certainly would. I know there are things I’ve written and said that I would prefer not become public. Who else can claim otherwise?

I’ve often asked this question to some of my older friends and family. I try to get them to seriously contemplate how different their lives would’ve panned out if the internet, cell phones, and social media existed in its current form when they were young. Most don’t really give me a straight answer. A few honest people flat out tell me they would be screwed.

That’s an important perspective to have because our propensity to say and think stupid things goes beyond the internet’s ability to never forget. Youth, inexperience, and an overall limited understanding of the world are unavoidable . We don’t come out of the womb with a sense of context to the complexities of the world. We’re basically limited minds with limited perspectives trying to make sense of an unlimited world.

Have you ever heard a kid, teenager, or horny twenty-something pitch a fit about how the world hates them? Never mind the fact that they live in one of the most prosperous periods in human history and have access to more information than any generation before it. From their perspective, they might as well be a real-life Charlie Brown.

Most people, observing from the outside, would rightly roll their eyes at that sentiment. Even I don’t deny that I’ve engaged in that kind of whining in the past. At the time, though, that’s how it really felt. My perspectives and my understandings of the world were just too limited to convince me otherwise. It wasn’t a flaw in my thinking. It was just a lack of information.

That’s not to say there aren’t truly despicable people in the world who say and think these things, despite having no excuses for seeing the bigger picture. However, I would not put someone like Cenk Uygur, or most people for that matter, in that category.

He said something stupid and offensive years ago. He has since apologized for it and, as I’ve espoused before, we should make an effort to forgive him. People say stupid things when they’re young, dumb, and misinformed. No matter how powerful or robust the internet gets, people will continue saying stupid things. Until we can upgrade our caveman brains, that’s just the nature of who we are.

Accepting that also means understanding that, despite all the stupid things people say, there is a context to consider. Even in a world where the internet never lets us forget any of the stupid things we say or do, we shouldn’t judge someone solely on the basis of the dumbest things they’ve said.

That’s not to say writings like Mr. Uygur’s should be completely overlooked, but it shouldn’t take away from the man he is now and the man he’s trying to be. If we’re not willing to let people learn and grow from the dumb things they say, then nobody will be able to gain the perspective they need to stop saying dumb things in the first place.

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Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses

A Quick Guide To Dealing With Internet Trolls

The late, great Benjamin Franklin once said, “[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That little pearl of wisdom has held up remarkably well over the years, especially when democrats are in charge or when despots need more money for their gold-plated toilet seats.

However, if Mr. Franklin were alive today, he’d have to amend that quote in a very specific way. While it’s still true that the only certainty is death and taxes, there is one other inescapable force that makes even the forces of nature tremble. It’s a force so powerful that it can reduce the best of us into wounded puppies begging for a band-aid.

What is this force, you ask? Get ready to embrace the horror because it will affect us moving forward. In fact, it’ll affect us more and more as the pace of technological advancement accelerates. It conjures dread, fear, annoyance, and frustration. It is the ultimate shit stain of the internet and technology in general. They are the true beasts of the 21st century.

Yes, I’m talking about Internet Trolls.

I’ll give everyone a moment to either cringe in horror or roll their eyes. Some of us have experience with internet trolls. Some of us may have even done our share of trolling in the past, although we’ll never admit in public that it qualified as trolling. Like a kid trying to get out of chores, we’ll make any excuse not to be associated with this horror. That doesn’t make us any less guilty of it.

I freely admit that I’ve done my share of trolling in the past. I’m not proud of it, but I’m only human. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I hope that shows in my erotica/romance novels. If it doesn’t, then I’m not doing my job.

We humans are passionate creatures. We always have been. We probably always will be on some levels, despite the efforts of movies like “Equilibrium.” It’s only recently that we’ve had a tool, namely the internet, to convey our passion all over the world about every possible subject from sports to pets to how we style our pubic hair.

I don’t consider this a bad thing. I’m not those who think the internet makes people into monsters or trolls. I believe that humans always had these sentiments to some degree. We just never had a chance to express them on a larger scale. The internet helps us reveal the breadth of our passions. There’s going to be the good and the bad. We can’t avoid either, nor should we.

So in many respects, internet trolls are like the sewer systems of a city. It smells, it’s ugly, and it’s flowing with shit, but it needs to be there. It needs to function for the city to function. You can whine about it all you want, and some people do, but you can’t escape it.

If we can’t escape it, then how do we deal with it? How do we deal with these digital demons that attempt to suck the fun out of anything and everything we hold dear? It’s actually easier than you think, at least for the non-famous population. For the famous crowd, it’s a little trickier, but not by much.

Since I can’t relate to famous people that much, I’ll stick to what I know before I dare to speculate. I’ve been on the internet for over 20 years and I’ve seen it grow and evolve, from the early AOL days to the fall of MySpace. In that time, I’ve picked up on a few techniques to combat internet trolls. Here are just a few:

  1. Assume there will be trolls wherever there’s an opportunity and don’t get overly upset when they show up
  2. Never assume a troll is being one hundred percent sincere, nor should you assume that the troll is one hundred percent knowledgeable either
  3. A troll that makes threats is serious, but a troll actually carrying out these threats is exceedingly rare so keep that in mind
  4. Above all, deny the troll any and all forms of attention or reactions, as this is the primary fuel in which a troll operates
  5. Apathy is the most potent weapon against internet trolls

There are probably more techniques that are unique to certain situations. There’s probably a whole host of tips and tricks to deal with certain trolls that go to much greater lengths to harass others. Those cases aren’t typical.

How can I be so sure of this? Again, apply a little caveman logic and it’s obvious. Human beings have a lot of remarkable mental and physical traits, breasts and balls being some of the most notable. However, when it comes to our attention span, human beings are incredibly lacking.

The average human attention span is not that great and some even argue (albeit not very effectively) that it’s shrinking due to technology. A troll operates at the very basic of levels in terms of human capacity. That means a troll’s attention span should not be overestimated. The internet is full of so many distractions, cat videos being just one of them. A troll that doesn’t get a reaction isn’t going to stay interested for very long.

In the end, the greatest weapon that any of us can use against internet trolls is apathy. That is a troll’s ultimate kryptonite. When a troll goes to such great lengths to harass and demean, but earns nothing but a blank gaze in the end, it’s downright toxic. Their brains simply cannot process why they are wasting time and energy that could be better spent hunting for tigers and seeking fertile mates. It’s caveman logic at its finest.

This is a sentiment echoed by those who have a somewhat larger social media presence. Being a lifelong comic book fan, I frequent comic book message boards and social media. I see a lot of trolling, to say the least. Comic book fans are a passionate bunch, as we learned during the Avengers: Age of Ultron controversy surrounding Black Widow.

This leads me to Tom Brevoort, an accomplished editor at Marvel and a genuinely interesting guy. I’ve met him in person at comic cons. He’s great at what he does and the way he deals with fans is nothing short of astonishing. A couple years back, he responded to a question that effectively proves my point.

When Mr. Brevoort was asked, “What does Marvel fear more? Angry fans or apathetic fans?” he responded as follows:

“Apathetic fans, definitely. When fans are angry, we’re selling comics.”

That’s a refreshing bit of honesty from someone who often has to be coy about his business. It also emphasizes the power of apathy, both in terms of dealing with trolls and dealing with public visibility. That saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity is somewhat accurate, but it’s incomplete in that it ignores how human passions operate.

So with that in mind, use these techniques whenever necessary. If you’re a celebrity, it may be somewhat trickier because internet trolls can sometimes turn into dangerous stalkers, which is an entirely different problem that I’m not equipped to deal with. For those like me, who are a long way away from being famous, this should help make your internet experience more tolerable.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights