Monday, June 19, 2017

FANDOM: On Hater Culture

I work a lot of conventions, and I also wear my fandom on my sleeve. So whenever I'm out in public in any sort of visible way, I am going to be actively demonstrating what I like -- be it through an event I'm working for or a piece of merch on my person.

In recent years, I've noticed a decisive shift in how I'm engaged with in public in a fan setting. Some have said it's because I'm a woman, but I get this behaviour fairly evenly regardless of the gender of the person engaging. And what I notice is that, when I'm engaged on a fannish level, there is an equal likelihood of the opening line being about what the person likes or what the person hates.

To me, this is a little bewildering. I mean yes, I do have gripe sessions with friends, but seeing a like-minded individual in a crowd does not generally make me want to go "Yes! Another fan of this thing! Let's open with my problems with the thing!" Genuinely, the only time I've ever found friendship via leading with something bad was commiserating with fellow chronically ill people.

And overall, I've generally just noticed that there is a weird sort of wide swing to fandom's criticism. Is there a thing? Does a person like it? Time to talk about why it's bad. I've always taken notice of it, but it's at a new level now that I'm an industry person whose name is known by, I don't know, two or three strangers. When it becomes personal, you see even more readily people will fight, accuse, and insult. And while I've nothing against taking people to task for things poorly done (God, how else would entertainment evolve?), I think there's been a tonal shift in genre fandom as a whole that, if it continues down this route, will make talking to each other impossible in a few years' time.

In short -- a terrible thing to say on a blog post that's about to get long -- there are a lot of things we have forgotten about how we engage in entertainment.

Disliking something doesn't make you a hater.

So, there are really three general ways I've found to categorize "why" you dislike something: ethical, subjective, and subliminal.

An ethical dislike means that what you're engaging in actively seems to promote a morality or worldview that you see as harmful. This isn't the same as depicting it, because simply depicting a Nazi in a movie, even in a humorous light, doesn't mean the filmmaker is okay with Nazis (see: The Producers). For me, Fifty Shades of Grey.

A subjective dislike means that there's no great overarching reason why it's bad, but in your life there is a negative connotation. The lead looks like your ex. You personally don't enjoy this director's work. You're not a fan of rom-coms. Basically anything that is a deal-breaker for you but might not be for anyone else. For me, anything with Jim Carrey.

And a subliminal dislike is when you just genuinely have no idea why you aren't a fan of something. You gave it a try. It just didn't click. If someone asked you to explain what didn't work for you, you really couldn't. You just can't get into it. For me, card games like Munchkin.

Those feelings are all valid. And disliking something based on any of those doesn't make you bad. The situation of not connecting emotionally with a piece of art or entertainment is not inherently a crime. Not engaging for a reason not shared by someone else? Also not a crime. Put a pin in this. We'll be coming back to it.

Going to bat for something doesn't make you a nice person.

I heavily, heavily encourage every single one of you to go out and get James Goss's book Haterz. It's like $3 on Kindle, you have nothing to lose. Without spoiling too much, it's a dark little fiction about a guy who is given the job of killing off various Types who make the Internet -- and the world at large -- a lousy place to be. The book presents a two-pronged lesson about nature of various personalities and how to deal with them, and the final chapter is something of a gut-punch for you if you engaged fully up until then.

Specifically, I want to go back to my absolute favourite chapter (the only one I'll spoil), in which our protagonist is given the job of murdering a pop idol fangirl. Why? She's one of those that goes to the mat, taking down "haters," building a community and turning people against each other. The protagonist is bloodthirsty, but even he can't kill a teenager. So he kidnaps the pop idol, straps him to an electric chair, rigs up a Twitter setup so a small, non-lethal shock is delivered anytime someone sends a tweet registering as hate on his behalf, and has him put out a video saying that if his fans can be nice for one hour, he will be released.

Unsurprisingly, he dies in a matter of seconds.

There are two truths of entertainers. One is that criticism does hurt them because they are human. The other is that they don't need you to fight their battles. I spent a goodly amount of time wanting to pile-drive people who insulted friends of mine who are writers, actors, directors... before realizing that you know? They're adults. They don't need me out there kicking ass and making people shut up. In fact, that is probably the last thing they want.

And that sort of behaviour, if unchecked, becomes abusive quickly, especially when you start bringing subjective and subliminal dislike into the equation.

It's okay to disagree on entertainment.

The majority of my family loves The Big Bang Theory. I have a subjective dislike of it (all the female characters like me I've seen turn out to be objectively bad people, and it's uncomfortable). Shockingly, that's okay.

I love Mystery Science Theater 3000 and have friends who work on the new series. A co-worker has an ethical dislike of it (he believes the money should be put into restoration and preservation of the films being riffed). That can be uncomfortable when someone has an ethical dislike of how your friend makes their money. But it's also okay.

And I have no idea why I Just Can't with things like Mad Men and Spongebob and other things that are popular. I tried them and it didn't fly. I can't give you a good reason. I probably don't have one.

What happens across the board is generally respect. We don't make each other watch the things. We don't talk about the things at or with each other. We don't harass each other for liking the things or try to force each other into liking the things, any more than we'd shove guacamole in front of someone who genuinely doesn't like avocado and demand they try it one more time, they just didn't have the right bowl last time.

Disagreements on entertainment help it evolve. 

Going back to my Fandom Prime, Doctor Who. If you want to talk about a place with disagreements, oh boy. Wade into social media for a few minutes and you'll see fans calling for the deaths of people they don't like working on the show. Actual humans with spouses and children. Actual humans who can see what's being said about them.

Here's the thing, though. Handled properly, complaints about the nature of a piece of entertainment can help it improve. The Talons of Weng-Chiang was an amazing serial, but it had some serious problems. Mostly in that it was really really freaking racist. The new series is not perfect, because asking anyone to be flawless and "unproblematic" in all things is a tall order. But if young fans in the 70s and 80s hadn't noticed that white people were playing Chinese people in really horrible makeup, or women were getting unfulfilling roles, we wouldn't have the show as it is now. Which may not be perfect, but is evolving.

Ginger Hoesly and I were disappointed at the state of the paranormal romance genre. Instead of posting long Tumblr diatribes, we made our own in the way we wanted to see it -- discovering in the process that we'd made something lots of people really wanted, too. Which isn't to say "If you don't like it, make your own" (though totally consider it because it's fun and a learning process). But it is to say if you don't like something in a very deep way and you can't not let the world know... find a way to do so in a way that helps the genre.

Could be a letter to the creators. Could be a new product. Could be a thought-out and researched blog post. But what it never is, is yelling at fans who do like it as it is.

The timing is often more important than the message.

People who like to fight me on this point tend to ask me the same question: "If someone came up to you wanting to talk eagerly about a show you absolutely hate, would you just pretend for their sake?" The answer? Yes. Yes I bloody well would. And I have.

There are arcs of Doctor Who I would happily leave buried that are quite popular. But if a con attendee wants to come up and tell me those characters were the best and that season was the best, then by God, I am going to summon up whatever I happened to like about that arc and be happy with them. Because this is a fan who found another fan in public and wants to connect.

I will never say that a person who dislikes something shouldn't speak their mind, because taste is subjective and it's allowed to be. And because sometimes that dislike can help creators get to the root of something that should change or evolve. But when in a social setting, unless that is the agreed-upon topic, launching in with hate is... why? Why would you do that to someone?

I'll never forget the fella who went to town on me at a con simply because I said I was looking forward to the next Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a five-minute diatribe brought about simply because I was happy about a thing he disliked. It was out of nowhere, and I was more shocked than hurt.

If someone is happy and wants to share that happiness with you, let them be happy. There are times and places for you to air your grievances in more productive ways.

And finally, just honestly... I know there are people out there who enjoy a good brisk fight. Not everyone is one of those people. I'm not one of those people. If you're looking to get the blood pumping, take it to Reddit. You can't just launch into a conversation and decide everyone there will enjoy engaging you in Healthy Debate™.

I know most of my blog posts tend to boil down to "be excellent to each other," but sometimes I feel that's the message we all need most.