This week, the crew examines toxic fan culture and share their experiences, as well as possible causes and what we can all do to change attitudes.
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Hosts: Grace, Jarrah, and Sue
Notes and References:
- “Kelly Marie Tran of Star Wars Left Instagram and Fanboy Culture May Be to Blame” by Victoria Christie at Flare
- “The Rise of Toxic Fandom: Why People are Ruining the Pop Culture They Love” by Cameron Williams at Junkee.
- “For Alt-Right Trolls, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is an Unsafe Space'” by Manu Saadia at the New Yorker.
- “Star Wars and the Battle of the Ever More Toxic Fan Culture” by Adam Rogers at Wired.
- Trekkiefeminist campaign for a comments policy on the official Star Trek Facebook page.
- “Toxic Twitter: The Solution” report from Amnesty International.
- “How the Alt-Right and Toxic Trolls Hijacked Geek Pop Culture” by Jordan Zakarin at SYFY Wire.
- “Chase Comes to Town” interview with Chase Masterson at the Madrid Metropolitan.
- “Racism, Misogyny and Death Threats: How Star Wars Fans Turned to the Dark Side” by Brandon Katz at Observer.
As a man, I wanted to thank you for this episode. Honestly this is one of the few fansites I can trust will not turn into that toxic trash. As a boy growing up I recieved many insults from the same fans you describe here. I had many very dark thoughts because of it. The modern word they use now is “simp.” I always perceived it that since I was kind and dorky that I was a terrible person and a failure as a man. I wish you guys talked about Star Wars and LoTR and GoT (before it had that awful last season) too! I value your perspectives so much and I just want to hear more. Keep doing what you do 🙂
Try being a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog.
I think everyone now knows the story of Sonic.
I am guy approaching his late twenties now who is both a panromantic asexual and on the autism spectrum. Add in being a fan of Sega’s number one franchise and you are immediately a subaltern. You can’t go anywhere without participants of “Cringe Culture” calling the entire fandom autistic and cringeworthy or saying that “Sonic was never good” as popularized by IGN.
I have a very complicated love-hate relationship with Sonic’s fandom. On one side of the coin, I would die for the resilience, imagination, and the people who take Sonic’s messages of being true to yourself to heart. However, on the other side, I ponder why I stay if the vocal minority is never going to be happy. In the midst of all this, I struggle with people OUTSIDE of the fandom who do the policing.
I stumbled on your page while searching for ways to address this very issue. I agree that in face to face situations, it’s important to call out the behavior. (Licking people’s hands? That is SO WEIRD. And totally need to be called out. Plus all of the other, much worse behaviors you described). But what about online, specifically on Instagram? They say they have a zero tolerance policy towards harassment, but if you report cyber harassment to them, 9 times out of 10, you get a cheery response saying, “this comment did not violate community guidelines, but thanks for letting us know!” This is the kind of response I’ve gotten when reporting pornographic threats, death threats, photoshopped pictures of severed heads, accounts created for the sole purpose of harassing someone into deleting their account, threats to make friends “disappear,” and self harm threats. This cheerful response is also sometimes accompanied by the suggestion to block the offending account (done already) or to make my account private (defeats the purpose of running a public fan account). If some of these threats were made in person, I would call law enforcement. But how is that enforceable online? And across international borders? All I can do is contact a useless SNS platform.
My suggestion to Instagram is to actually uphold their stated policies. And to add the possibility of blocking an entire IP address (to stop harassers from just making another account from the same phone). If you know of a place where I can call out IG on these issues, I’m all ears. They don’t make it easy for users to leave feedback.
Sorry for being Johnny Come-lately on this but this is something I’ve been pondering for a while. Thanks for reminding us that many of these behaviors aren’t new at all. That said I do have a question/comment. I do think what is new is that there’s a level of organization behind these toxic fans that we haven’t seen before, especially in the post Gamergate world we’re living in. This is even more worrisome to me in light of this study (https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/4/17937172/last-jedi-russian-troll-study-politics-social-media) which indicated an active state sponsored trolling campaign which drove the “backlash” against the Last Jedi. What happened with Kelly Marie Tran is way different and much more of an organized thing than the old days when there was that lone crazy obsessed stalker fan.
I guess the only way to hit back is to just keep doing what you’re doing. Standing up and expressing your opinion. I liked your point about how these people claim to speak for all of us when in reality that’s not remotely possible. Each of us has our own opinion and none of us can speak for anybody else.
I just listened to this episode and I was wondering a bit about the anecdote of Marina Sirtis and the licked hand. I can fully understand that this would be one of the worst experiences.
But adding the “if you are not Karl Urban” is exactly the problem, right? If you’re hot, it’s okay. If she’s interested, it’s a compliment, if not it’s sexual harassment. If you’re famous, they just let you do it. Why exactly would it be okay for Karl Urban? For Marina Sirtis maybe as they could be friends, but in general?
I don’t understand how there can be any qualifier in that situation that makes it okay, besides “if I consented beforehand”.
You’re absolutely right, Mario. Just wanted to repeat the anecdote as it happened, but you’re right that getting licked without consent is never a compliment 🙂
Great and important episode. I just want to clarify something that bothered me. When you were talking about able bodied people taking the elevator, I think you should have mentioned that you cannot tell if people are able bodied. I have hypermobility. My daughter has EDS. She looks fine but cannot climb stairs.
It’s super important to not make assumptions and gatekeep disability.
Granted most of those people weren’t imvisibly disabled. But some were.
Thanks Trixie! Important point. I was just trying to highlight a specific example about a couple of people I knew who need elevators because they rely on wheelchairs to get around. But of course people with invisible disabilities would experience issues too, and I definitely didn’t intend to discount that. Appreciate the feedback. -Jarrah
I get why it doesn’t look great for the first black lead of a Star Trek show to start off as a lower rank than Kirk or Picard, though I might attempt to argue that DS9 was trying to break away somewhat from the Star Trek mold and not every show has to have a captain as its main protagonist. I mean, look at Discovery. Then again, I don’t know that it doesn’t send some unintentionally unfortunate message that every time we have a Star Trek show with a black lead, they start out as a lower rank. I will admit that unlike Burnham, who has a fairly unique character arc, Sisko being a commander was a little arbitrary. He could just as easily have been a captain from the very beginning and it wouldn’t have had any bearing on the plot. It wouldn’t have hurt to promote him much sooner… maybe even at the end of “Emissary.”
This was a very interesting episode, though also pretty distressing to hear these various personal accounts. I listened to Jarrah and Sue when they were guests on Mission Log Live a few weeks back and was kind of looking forward to perhaps a brief discussion of this topic then, as hinted at by Ken Ray, but then it never came up, possibly because to much time was eaten up by a caller who just wanted to talk about the previous ep of Mission Log. But there probably wouldn’t have been enough time to properly tackle the subject then anyway.
Toxicity in fandom is something I’ve become increasingly aware of and concerned about, especially in light of relatively recent developments, such as the announcement of Discovery and Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor, etc. It bewilders and depresses me that supposed fans of these various sci-fi franchises can display opinions and behavior that is so at odds with the stuff they claim to love. When the cast for Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot was announced a couple years back, I saw some deplorable comments about the news that Judy Robinson was to be played by a black actress. I said at the time that this was why I preferred Star Trek: because you wouldn’t be likely to find many Trekkies railing against diversity. How naive I was.
I hate gatekeeping fans who try to arbitrate who can and can’t be a “true fan” However, that said, I do think that people who use phrases like “white genocide” don’t deserve to call themselves Star Trek fans. I consider myself a pretty tolerant person, but that tolerance doesn’t extend to bigots. I think the closest I’ve come to actual gatekeeping myself was years and years ago when I was a member of this small anime forum and there was a girl on there who was a fan of Enterprise and just Enterprise. I think I couldn’t help expressing my incredulity that anyone could be a fan of that series, which was maybe in its second season at the time, though I’d like to believe I wasn’t a jerk about it and I certainly would never have tried to imply that someone couldn’t be a fan of Star Trek just because they liked a show I wasn’t particularly crazy about.
I try to call out toxic behavior online when I see it, which is probably mercifully not as often as others because I’m not super active on social media. Honestly, though, I’m not sure how helpful my efforts actually are. I get way too irritated dealing with idiots and worry that engaging with them just makes me come across as stupid as well. But I figure somebody’s got to say something.
Just wanted to say how much I love your podcast. This topic needs to be discussed. Also, so many other podcasts wander off topic and go off on tangents whereas you always stick to the topic and have an in-depth, enlightening discussion. I love what you do!
First of all I do appreciate this Episode and it does point out that I as a fan need to be better about calling out inapproiate fan behavior. I never did I understand the toxic attitude some fans have. Like when I was a child I loved the ghostbusters and I was very intrigued by the remake and loved the remake. Did it ruin my childhood? Heck no.
I do have a story about toxic fan culture that happened to me on Twitter and caught me off guard earlier this year. So first I am a serious soccer fan, I love the sport. My local team has an awesome supporters culture that is very open and welcoming to everyone…… except nazis…. so when I am at a game I feel safe among these people. They accept my slightly nerdy ways and my oddness and don’t give I damn.
So I was starting research on a subject called promotion and relegation in soccer. And I was just starting and I put out on Twitter if anyone would like to reccomend atricles and links that might help me get more informed. Basically find a starting spot. And oh my word I got called lazy for not attempting to do stuff myself. I was called a fake fan for not knowing about the subject. And it slowly got worse to the point I just deleted the Tweet.
I didn’t really have a point behind telling the story but I wanted to share. I love your works and please keep being awesome.
My Star Trek is just that–mine. Everyone else can have and should have their own Star Trek. But no one is required to bow to my vision of and love of Trek. I do not understand the attacks against other series, other fans. Why the fanatical zeal that insists on me toeing someone else’s line?
This episode was disturbing. It is frightening that people are threatened and bullied and abused because their opinion is wrong in the “true” fans’ eyes. I try to avoid social media platforms because of all this bullying and posturing. I agree that I must call out this behavior when I see it. But what to do when I avoid the places in which it appears? Only be kind and considerate, always, to everyone. And stand up against entitlement. This is disconnected, but just finished listening and am a bit emotional.
Thank you for your podcast. I’ve been listening since I heard some of you interviewed on Mission Log. I thought I was an ally until I heard you episode on being one. Thanks for educating me. I’m trying to do better.
I think the fanatical zeal of branding people who like “wrong Trek” as not real fans is magnified by the issue of canon. For all the complaints the Star Wars prequels get, I haven’t seen anyone criticize them for introducing species like Gungans and Toydarians that we didn’t see in the OT. People got their panties in a twist when Enterprise and now Discovery introduced species we haven’t seen before. I don’t get that. There’s lots of countries on Earth people haven’t heard of, so why do Xindi violate canon? The Wired article they discussed said that new movies and series in geek fandom can feel like an existential threat to the stuff we grew up with. This feeling gets magnified a million times over with Trek prequels because they’re perceived as middle fingers to canon.
I don’t go to non-moderated groups so I’ve been lucky to avoid the worst of toxic fans. You’re right about the catch 22 it presents. We feel better staying in safe spaces but there are less opportunities to call out bullying.
These ladies have done a good job with educating me too. I thought I was a feminist but I wouldn’t have learned about my own unconscious sexism without certain episodes and articles they did. Plus, now I know there’s a hipster side to comic book fandom (as they drew parallels to people who turn on bands when go they mainstream).