When Good Fandoms Go Bad: Thoughts on Curbing Enthusiasm

Fandom, by its very nature, is about extremes.  If you’re going to be ridiculously enthusiastic about something, you can’t exactly do that by halves.  Fans have a lot of strong opinions about the goings-on of their favorite series/characters/actors/etc., and a lot of very real and powerful emotions wrapped up in those opinions.

This is only sort of related, but it’s also Benedict Cumberbatch and rainbows, so YOU’RE WELCOME, INTERNET.

It is inevitable, then, that conflicts about nerdy/fandom-related topics generate a LOT of intense reactions on the internet.  These reactions can range anywhere from “THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER I CAN’T EVEN CONTAIN MY JOY SQUEEEEEE!!!” to “I HATE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING THAT GENERATED THIS PROBLEM IN MY LIFE AND NOW I AM GOING TO BE SAD/ANGRY FOREVER.”  The caps lock is not meant to annoy you, it is simply left in for the sake of realism: people get very very excited and/or upset about fandom-related discussions.

Now, some of this is all in good fun.  After all, overreaction is kind of hilarious.  Just last night, I was having  a wonderful time on a favorite nerd news forum getting overly worked up about the fact that Michael Bay is still going to be producing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and he’s hired Megan Fox on for a role in the film.  Will my rage make any difference at all in the long run? Of course not.  Is it still fun to toss around gifs of Hulk pummeling Loki to symbolically express how stupid it is that Michael Bay is still allowed to destroy beloved childhood franchises for his own explosion-centered delight?  Yes.  It’s a LOT of fun.

Puny Bay.

The problem, though, is when fans take nerdrage and channel it into something far darker, something that crosses the boundaries of comedy and moves directly into frightening and unacceptable territory: harassing and abusing other people.

I ran across this post in my tumblr feed this week.  Mild language warning if you go read it, but I’ll summarize: this Sherlock fan is mourning the hateful reactions of some other fans, who attacked a tumblr user for innocently posting about the release date for a new season of his favorite series.  She desperately wants to disassociate herself from the crazy people, from the loud people who are in the minority, who make normal (if extremely enthusiastic) fans look like hormone-fueled lunatics.

In subsequent posts, this girl and other tumblr users discussed the need to unite as a force for encouragement and support for other people.  They want to show the world (or at least the internet) that while the crazy folks might be the loudest faction, they are not the largest faction, and there is a lot of good clean fun to be enjoyed in fandom.  I wholeheartedly agree with her conclusions.  I am all for encouragement and sensible, evenheaded enthusiasm that does not morph into hateful screaming.

Of course, this is not a problem unique to the geek/fandom universe.  When I see this Sherlock fan putting her head in her hands and begging the rest of the world to realize that “we’re not all like that,” I can’t help but think of the many times that I have done the same thing upon hearing about the latest loud and hateful reaction of some fanatical (or not-so-fanatical) sect of the Christian church.  Rather than taking the time to listen, to love, and to respond to others in holiness, too often we Christians have released statements of hate, anger, and condemnation.  I don’t have to bring up current events, your mind has already filled in several recent stories as you have read these past few sentences.

Unfortunately, the faith faces the same problem that fandoms do: the crazy ones may not be the largest faction, but they are usually the loudest.  And those of us who love the Lord and seek to live that out in loving, evenheaded ways find ourselves with our faces buried in our hands, praying to God that the people we come across realize “we’re not all like that.”

What we the church need is the same kind of plan that these Sherlock fans devised to bring encouragement to those harassed by members of their very own fandom: we need to become a force of love.  We need to be a little louder with our kindness.  We need to step into the brokenness of every situation and just be able to say “I value you.  I care about you.  I may disagree with you, or even object to how you are living, but that does not make you a less worthy person in my sight.  You are loved by the Creator of the universe, and so you will be loved by me.”

Wherever you are this weekend, maybe you can be a force of love for somebody that really needs it.  You never know what kind of craziness they’ve had to put up with.

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