I have a confession to make.
At some point over the last few days — I won't say when — I sat in front of my laptop, reading negative comment after comment on various articles. I watched the death threats getting shot like baseballs from a pitching machine at Marvel writer Nick Spencer, whose only crime was to pen a Captain America comic that some people didn't agree with. I watched more death threats being dropped at the feet of the dev team of video game No Man's Sky after the announcement that their anticipated game was getting its release date bumped back. And even more death threats heaped upon Kotaku writer Jason Schreier for simply reporting the news of the delay. In the wake of all this, I read Devin Faraci's thought-provoking piece on how fandom is broken.
If Fandom Is Broken, Then What's The Point?
And, for the first time ever in my career of writing about the geek culture that I love, I felt overwhelmed. The despair of futility washed over me as I wondered to myself: What's the point?
What's the point in writing about the things you love only to have a crazy contingency of fans always doing their best to ruin them for you? What's the point in being in an industry that wears you down, bit by bit? What's the point when you receive a threat, and your first, fucked-up thought is to tell yourself, as I did: Well, at least I don't get it as bad as other people I know? What's the point in creating, when those who create can never win with fans?
The point is this: Shortly after I hit that nadir, two of our Movie Pilot Creators, Traelon Randolph and Evan Lee, published an epic superhero fan cast of both staff and Creators, complete with a complex story that included each and every character. It was a collaborative, time-intensive labor of love, something built not out of requirement or assignment, but simply for the sake of putting something creative out there into the world.
It's all too easy, if you spend a fair amount of time on the internet (much less work on the internet for a living) to become burned out by the seemingly endless cycle of outrage in fandom. Remembering what it is you love so much about something can often get lost in the flood of negativity that is all too common; passion is dulled over time when it seems the angry and unhinged voices drown out the positive, encouraging ones.
But I assure you, there is a point and it is worth it. Creating is always worth it. We might be stuck in a cycle of outrage culture right now, but we're also smack in the middle of a time in which fans are more creative and inventive and engaged than ever before, and that's a great thing. In between the negative comments, there are incredible artists, dedicated cosplayers, thoughtful theorists, and thousands of fans who are out there creating content for no other reason than that they want to, thousands of professionals who are creating because it's what drives them, what makes them get out of bed in the morning.
Our Own Brains Sabotage Us — But We Can Counter That
The problem is their voices aren't as loud or as remembered. There is a phenomenon known as negativity bias, and it's the reason that all those negative comments seem to be so much more pervasive than any positive discourse. Without getting into the complexities of social psychology and cognition, essentially, our brains are hard-wired such that, all things being more or less equal, we are inclined to remember and be more affected by negative emotions than by positive ones. It's why positive comments are forgotten shortly after we read or hear them, but criticism lingers long after it's given.
But if you understand that the loudness of the negativity is because our brains are sabotaging us, then it's easier to push past the toxic aspects of fandom to focus on the amazing parts. Fans are creating their own independent comics with unique stories, like this one from Movie Pilot's own Joey Esposito. Or this incredible Wonder Woman cosplay from Panterona Cosplay, or Leo Camacho, who took the thing he loved and made it his life. Or how cosplay is changing video game culture for the better, period. Or YouTube creators like Ismahawk, who put all their time and effort into their wildly popular original videos. And we've seen so much amazing fan art, like this realistic Pokémon from Simon Gangl, that we often forget just how talented these artists are.
Focus On The People Doing Great Things Instead Of The Ones Screaming Into The Void
While entertainment professionals are under attack from the unhinged portion of the internet, there is a much larger segment of the fan population that is finding inspiration in these same people. The difference is, they're quietly getting down to the business of creation instead of wasting energy shouting loudly into the void of social media. For every angry voice that exists to tear something down and destroy it, there are a dozen of others who are happily working on building something up.
We all got into the things we love because of exactly that — we loved them. We found solace in them, identified with them, sometimes escaped in them, maybe even grew stronger from them. We found like-minded people who embraced the same things just as fervently; our tribe, and it was like being able to draw breath for the first time. We would happily spend hours talking about our passions rather than lamenting on how they were being ruined forever. That is true from famous comic book writers and directors and video game developers to the most fledgling fan. The common thread that bound all of us in a fandom together was love of something. What happened to that?
If you, like me, have been overwhelmed as of late by the crazy and the hate and the vitriol, then take a step back to regroup, if you must. Tune out the mean-spirited trolls. Focus on the people from your tribe who just want to love and be excited about the same things as you. The former is fanaticism; the latter, fandom. And we've been letting the bullies in the first group run the show for too damn long. Don't let them break the best parts of fandom, the beautiful parts. Because there's really so much there that's of value, built by good people with great, daring ideas who just want to put incredible things out there into the world. Right now, there's so much out there that's worth fighting for. Why would you ever want to stop?