We, as fans, can be passionate about what we love. We, as fans, should be passionate about what we love. What’s love without passion?! However, there’s a fine line between passionate love and destructive possession. If romantic love turns possessive we recognize it as an abusive relationship. This same sort of destructive possession exists in fandoms. The Ghostbusters are girls! Princess Leia isn’t being recast for Episode IX! Harry should have been with Hermione! Steve Rogers is Hydra! George Lucas made Prequels! Riri Williams is Iron Man! SOMETHING IS NOT HOW I WANT IT TO BE!!! We’re all welcome to our own opinions. We all have the right to not read/watch something we don’t like. But we have no right to spew toxicity all over the internet/real life when something upsets us. This morning I read an article illustrating this problem of the ownership we presume to have, as fans, over what we love in a saddening new light. As such, I felt compelled to write this post.
I was catching up on some of my nerd news this morning when I learned of the tragedy of Zack and Deborah Snyder losing their twenty-year-old daughter Autumn to suicide. In the wake of this heartbreak, both Zack and Deborah (who serves as a producer on all Zack’s films) decided to walk away from the final stages of production on this November’s DCEU tent pole film Justice League. In the wake of this decision, Joss Whedon graciously offered to come in and write/direct the few additional scenes Snyder wanted to add after he screened a rough cut of his film.
Obviously, my mind has been on the Snyder family for much of the day. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. I’ve been praying for them as I’ve thought of them wrestling with the painful new normal of their lives. However, I’ve also struggled with something Snyder said when sharing his personal tragedy with the world. Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter, “Here’s the thing, I never planned to make this public. I thought it would just be in the family, a private matter, our private sorrow that we would deal with. When it became obvious that I need to take a break, I knew there would be narratives created on the internet. They’ll do what they do. The truth is…I’m past caring about that kind of thing now.”
So…Zack Snyder felt compelled to share his family’s private suffering with the world…because of internet trolls. Are you kidding me? When I read that I immediately began to consider the way I am online, what I write for this site or others, and how I am when I’m critical of a piece of art I don’t like. I think this needs to be a wake-up call to EVERYONE who participates in talking, tweeting, commenting, writing, or whatever about this sort of stuff. We all need to evaluate and constantly re-evaluate our actions. Because the cold, hard truth is we as a community are responsible for Zack Snyder feeling compelled to share this. And we all know he’s 100% right. Had he stepped away from work on Justice League and Joss Whedon came in to finish up, the internet (both fan trolling and actual “news sites” alike) would have exploded. They would have dissected his work and his abilities in an even harsher light than they normally do. Perhaps, unwanted digging to get to “the truth” of why he left may’ve even exposed the reality of his family’s suffering, as they mourned, without their wanting it shared. I wish this was all hyperbolic worst-case-scenario speculation. But we know it isn’t.
AND NONE OF THIS IS OKAY.
His fears have already been proven correct. In the wake of this tragedy, internet commenters are already behaving as horrible human beings. The comment section of The Hollywood Reporter‘s article that broke the story quickly devolves into a discussion of Snyder’s abilities as a director and whether or not they liked his films. Four of the nine commenters on ScyFyWire (the site where I first read of this tragedy this morning), begin with stating either a) how happy they were Joss Whedon’s taking over or b) how they weren’t a fan of Snyder’s work before they express their condolences. The article from Entertainment Weekly had people calling each other out for their insensitivity so it was a mix of genuine concern, being snarky about Snyder/Whedon, and then trolling the trolls. And on The Verge, only four of the twenty-seven comments simply expressed condolences and prayers for Snyder, with a fifth doing so by way of making a snarky aside at the commenter above who did so. The other twenty-two comments are some form of a) debating/trolling Whedon’s ability and b) evaluating Snyder’s decision to go back to work before stepping away.
To be blunt, who the fuck do we think we are?? I really don’t remember this being a problem when I was a kid. I think much of this heightened level of vitriol stems from the growth of the internet and social media – platforms that give us a false sense of the importance of our own opinions. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve made some wonderful friends through social media (not to mention finding new readers) and the internet’s potential for the rapid learning and sharing of information is wonderful. But along with that we, as a culture, have also developed a belief in the infallibility of our opinions we can instantly and publicly. Simultaneously we’ve lost the ability to hear other’s opinions. Is this all only a result of the internet and social media? Of course not. But how much clarity, depth, and nuance can one really express in 140 characters? And, in 140 characters, how much time do we really spend appreciating another’s point of view at the expense of just stating our own? We, as a culture, are buying into our own inerrancy at an alarming pace and we are losing the ability to truly see a viewpoint other than our own. We’re not only losing the ability to see another’s point of view but we’re losing the desire to even try.
Twitter debates, comment section sparring, Facebook feuds…it’s all so often an exercise in narcissism. We need to be heard. We need to be right. So we shout. And when we aren’t happy with something…watch out. Kalie’s commented to me on more than one occasion that the hatred that grows in “fans” of comics or Star Wars when something happens they aren’t happy with surprises her. How, she’ll wonder, can someone be so angry at something they supposedly love? Honestly, I struggle with that too. Because, at the end of the day, we have no right to demand something be made to please us. We have every right to not consume art we don’t like. But the sick, twisted narcissism at the root of us demanding every character, every story, every incarnation of something we love conform to our picture-perfect expectation is unhealthy, inaccurate, and unacceptable.
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Man Of Steel‘s depiction of Superman and Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice certainly didn’t grab me. But does Zack Snyder owe me anything? Must he justify his choices to me? Has he “ruined” the character/saga/mythology? Should my opinion shape what he creates? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding NO. He, as a filmmaker, has never been my cup of tea. But as an artist he should be authentic to his own vision. This is true of everyone who makes movies, writes comics, produces TV shows, and so on. When did we, as a culture, develop this delusional idea that we so completely own these characters and stories that we can demean, defame, and damn those who present a version we don’t like?
The fact that this culture of demand/trolling/hatred has grown to the point where Zack Snyder, while trying to deal with so great a tragedy, felt compelled to share it to try and stem the tide of trolling speculation (a tide, I might add, that is still coming in articles about his grief and tragedy) is unacceptable. It’s indefensible too. When I teach my students about Catholic Social Teaching, the fourth theme is “Rights and Responsibilities.” This theme states our rights as human beings are only limited by our responsibilities to others. So, do we have the right to freedom of speech? Do we have the right to express our displeasure, disappointment, and distaste? Of course we do. But that right is and will always be limited by our responsibility to treat everyone with the inherent respect and dignity they have as a human being made in the image and likeness of God. When our speech comes at the expense of the integrity of another human being, then we no longer have the right to it. But we do have the responsibility to stop.
This vitriolic trolling that is, sadly and maddeningly, a daily part of life on the internet is spewed into the world with no sense of that responsibility to other human beings. As such, it is wrong. Period. Full stop. That’s all she wrote. Our ultimate responsibility, boiled down to its most basic level and premise, is to LOVE. Loving communion with God, others, and ourselves is the ultimate goal of life. We all have a responsibility to love and to make sure we are living in as loving a way as possible, each and every second of every day. We all have the responsibility to get up each morning and challenge ourselves to love more today than we did the day before. That’s what we’re called to as human beings, all made in God’s image. We are called to love. We are made to love.
I’m praying for the Snyder family in their time of trial. I’m also praying that the sheer heartbreaking insanity of his having to clarify this whole thing can help open our eyes to how far we’re falling in our love of our geek-tastic passions. Hate or trolling or caustic judgment has no place in anything we “love” because hate and trolling and caustic judgment cannot be done in or through love. They’re antithetical. We love something and we celebrate that love…or we hate/troll/judge. We can’t have it both ways. We have to choose. Who will we be? I’d argue we need to treat each other better. We need to let go of this disastrous, selfish, delusional idea that because we enjoy something it’s somehow ours and we have the right to dissect, judge, or condemn it or that it needs to always conform to our own specifications.
Speaking of stepping away from Justice League Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter, “In my mind, I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was the way through it. The demands of this job are pretty intense. It is all-consuming. And in the last two months, I’ve come to the realization…I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me. They are all having a hard time. I’m having a hard time. I want the movie to be amazing, and I’m a fan, but that all pales pretty quickly in comparison. I know the fans are going to be worried about the movie, but there are seven other kids that need me. In the end, it’s just a movie. It’s a great movie. But it’s just a movie.” Zack Snyder understands what’s important. Do we?