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?
13 thoughts on “Fandom’s Gone Too Far: Our Destructive Sense of Ownership”
I used to be rather bad at hearing the opinions of others (I was a strong Marvel Fanboy in the beginning). I like to think I’ve improved but your post has raised some personal questions which will require some quiet reflection.
I completely agree with your standing on trolling. I often find myself utterly baffled at how harsh people can be in the comment sections of articles.
Hearing about “fans” responses to the Snyder’s awful lost is honestly sickening. I can’t even begin to imagine the situation they are in and it’s a time like this when fans should be offering support to a family that have played a huge role in bringing beloved characters to life, not critiquing his work for goodness sake!
This post hits the nail well and truly on the head.
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“It’s times like this when fans should be offering support to a family that have played a huge role in bringing beloved characters to life” – AMEN my friend. We’ve got to come together in and through love, now and always.
I always appreciate your comments my friend but I’m especially thankful for it on a post like this. Thank you.
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Thank you. Both for the kind words and so elegantly wording what had to be said, as you always do.
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This is a brilliantly well-written Post.
I had not heard this news when I 1st saw this Post last night. Th “fans” reaction is bewildering, but no longer shocking to me. Th proliferation of “social” media has brought out th worst in people – th ability to (anonymously) attack from an undisclosed distance, taken advantage of to such a rampant extent, has become all too easy.
A more disaffected society – people have more insecurities in life than ever before – means that to demean, defame, and damn (th 3 Ds…?) has become more common than expressing positive feelings such as care, compassion and civility
During my stay in Southeast Asia, meditation helped me thro some dark times; sounds like meditation should be practiced by a greater no. of people!
Thank u, Michael
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Care, compassion, and civility – I like that! I also like what you said about being bewildered but no longer shocked. You’re absolutely right…and that’s a sad commentary on where we’re at. I think you’re captured the nefarious side of the internet as well.
But, like you said, there are tools that can help us cultivate a better frame of mind! I couldn’t agree more with you on meditation. I find it’s so much easier for me to take a few moments, breathe, and open myself in a caring, loving, and compassionate way when my spiritual life is healthy and active. Meditation is a vital tool for that spiritual, prayerful health.
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It gives me no pleasure in knowing that I have captured that side; I have distanced myself from Facebook et al – th mediocrity of it all is insufferable. Thus, I refrain from keeping a smartphone.
Keep th tools away from th fools
Keep breathing – make mine mindful
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I often wonder if we’ll be able to turn the tide, to use this ability to connect in a way that’s anchored in compassion, mercy, and love. Or is this disconnect that exists in social media always going to lead to these sort of horrid actions? I hope there’s a way out there but, at the end of the day, nothing will ever be able to beat real human interaction. When you’re looking into the eyes of another person, connecting with them in an authentic way, it really changes how you connect. I think part of the problem social media and the internet creates is people forget they are talking to REAL PEOPLE.
There’s certainly healing and hope in mindfulness though. Mindfulness is something we all need a little more of.
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I cannot help but wonder – and I am thinking out loud as I write this, forming my thoughts as I go – if social media/the internet have neutered the capacity for compassion, mercy, and love. While I readily agree in the need to anchor our thoughts and actions in these qualities – qualities that are reinforced through a continual commitment to mindfulness and, I would add, meditation – I am never-the-less torn over whether they can fully be expressed on the internet. My reasoning is this: our interactions with “REAL PEOPLE” are first and foremost filtered through the screen by which we write. Even now, as I address you, I am not really addressing YOU. Instead, I am addressing your online double, your simulacrum. As well, what you will read from me in this comment – be it in an hour or a day from now – will be my own simulacrum. In other words, I cannot help but wonder if – the moment we go online – we stop being real.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that you are not really real. Rather, it is to suggest that the qualities and emotions we feel for one another in “real life” may not, and perhaps never will, translate precisely into online interactions. They are, in some ways, shapes, and forms, stripped of their real meanings/definitions (not to mention that two people, interacting on opposite sides of the globe, might not even have the same meaning of the same word).
I suppose what I am ultimately getting at is the necessity to 1) ground our human qualities of love, compassion, and mercy in real-world situations and interactions and 2) to find a way to effectively translate those qualities into online interactions, knowing full well that how we do that will, inevitably, take on a different form in our “fandoms” or other online communities. As you say in the comment above, when we look into someones eyes we can connect with them “in an authentic way.” Thus, what does “in an authentic way” mean on the internet? How do we do that in an age which will only grow more, and not less, technologically grounded?
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“I fear th day that technology will surpass our human interaction. Th world will have a generation of idiots” – Albert Einstein
I already did a Post a while back about my losing battle w mod technology. Entitled? Breaking Brad
I wish peeps wld look into my eyes… cos then they won’t frickin walk into me whilst fiddling w their gadgets – bah!
Most of th conversation of “real” peeps centres on what they learnt from their phones anyway!
Uff, spare me…
I’m headin back to my meditation chamber, man
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I remember going on a date in college and being really turned off by this girl checking her phone all the time. I kept thinking, “Those texts can wait! I’m a real human being, right in front of you!” I found it all very rude. Sadly, now society’s gone to the place where it’s seen as rude to NOT check and reply on your phone right away. It’s saddening and unnerving to look around any public place and see how often people are glued to their screens and not experiencing what’s living and breathing around them at the moment.
As a friend of mine likes to say, “Get your head out of your Apple!” Only then can we fully live, fully experience what’s around us.
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That girl was certainly disrespectful!
It is reassuring that u share my view about how people shld experience something other than a phone screen
Th only time I keep up w tech gadgets is if I have to write about them for an online job.
One Life. LIVE IT
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Great post and a needed one. It’s sad the way fans take ownership over movies. I briefly hinted at that in my last post where I thanked George Lucas for creating star wars. People love to hate him for creating the prequels (when those same fans were so excited about new star wars movies leading up to 1999) or for “selling out” to Disney. They forget he gave us this beautiful and wonderful universe to begin with. And in the end, you can hear Lucas’ bitterness over the fans treatment in interviews. It’s so sad.
This situation is more sad because it involves a terrible tragedy and he felt compelled to talk about it due to Internet speculation, to put it nicely.
Anyway, I loved reading this. Thanks for the well written post reminding us fans to… Take a step back.
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I appreciate the kind words and the support – this was one of those posts that just kind of flowed out of me and it ended up being a very important one to me.
I completely agree with what you said about Lucas. I think that Star Wars fans are consistently some of the worst perpetrators of this sort of hate and anger. Not all of them, of course, but it is certainly a vocal minority. At times, I’ve seen stuff that make me feel bad to call myself a Star Wars fan.
But maybe it’s a matter of fans and fandoms? Fandoms are “places” and, as such, can be exclusionary. But fans are “individuals” who are sharing in a celebration of what they love. Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but it’s how I’m drawing the line at the moment in my head to make it easier to sort through all of this.