The Toxic Side of Fandom

Being a fan of fantasy is awesome. Dragons, magic, epic battles: I love all of it and have done for as long as I can remember. Growing up, enjoying fantasy and sci-fi felt like I was part of a subculture and I was overjoyed when I found fellow fantasy fans geeking out over the books, films, or TV series I devoured. Trips to comic book shops, Warhammer shops, or conventions opened my eyes to the sheer amount of people who were passionate about fantasy and it was always fun to discuss ideas and theories of what might happen next in a book or who should play certain characters in the latest film adaptation. Some people would mock us but if anything, I felt that brought the community I was in together. There was a sense of belonging. A team spirit. Over the years, being a geek has become cooler and more mainstream. The growth of all things geeky and the changes in how we communicate have led to certain pockets of fans sprouting up full of negativity and the loud toxic nature of these vocal groups is off-putting to both newcomers and older fans, sometimes tainting experiences that would otherwise be enjoyable.

Now, I love discussions and debate. The world would be a boring place if we all liked the same things. A bit of variety is needed. But it is the way in which some fans (and I will stress that it is a small number) seem to get personal with their insults when they don’t like something that is worrying. It’s fine to not like something but surely there is a better use of time and energy than to sit on a computer and insult cast members, writers, directors and other fans when disagreeing with a decision that will have minimal impact on your life? The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon both had successful first seasons released this year. As a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, I was, like millions of others, very excited to step back into these amazing worlds. The negativity to The Rings of Power was loud. Complaints about the increase in diversity were similar to complaints Star Wars fans made around the same time they forced an actress to quit social media due to their harassment.

The arguments against people of colour and non-binary cast members were upsetting to read and I am well aware as a white male that if I was starting to feel sickened and upset by these horrible comments then other people would be feeling a lot worse. Fans of fantasy who may not have had many opportunities to see people like themselves in such shows would now be feeling hated and marginalized by these vocal ‘fans’ who for some reason felt it their right to argue about what people should look like in a made-up world filled with dragons, elves, and other such fantastical beings. I loved House of the Dragon and I found The Rings of Power enjoyable and comforting. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind but I will always have Lord of the Rings to fall back on. When posting mostly positive reviews, it was always interesting to see comments pop up about how much people hated the shows. I’m fine with people disagreeing with me about a series, not everyone is going to love the things I do but I was unnerved by how passionately people hated the show and how they felt the need to get across their hate as much as they could. Reviews should lead to a debate and I love to read about what people have liked and disliked but it confuses me to see so called fans spend their time and energy writing about how much they hate something and then getting personal with their insults. I’m not an Ed Sheeran fan but I’m not going to comment under posts of his fans saying how much I dislike his music. There are better things to do.

Fans are passionate. Channeling that passion in the right way is important. If you have read George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles then you are probably, like me, eagerly awaiting the next book in those series. We have waited many years for the next instalments and although I would love to have them in my hands right now, I know that it is something I am not in control of. The abuse some fans have levelled at both authors is, for want of a better word, disgusting. Death threats and foul language fill up any thread I see about The Winds of Winter and The Door of Stone and it pushes me away from communities that I would have once loved being a part of. The negativity can be all consuming. Both authors have commented on the abuse they receive and it is something that is just not necessary. The wait for both books may take many more years. In the meantime, there are thousands of amazing books that could be read and amazing, positive communities capable of signposting readers to comparable books. TBR piles grow and grow so the wait for one or two books shouldn’t become an obsession. Fan complaints have led to a much needed improvement in the design of Sonic and a director’s cut of the Justice League movie that for me was miles better than the disappointing first attempt. Fans should speak about what they would like and discuss what can be improved but at the end of it all, people will like what they like and that’s that. It’s time to just let people enjoy things as they are instead of arguing and wasting time in a futile attempt to force them to feel the same way.

For me, grimdark is at its best when dealing with morally grey characters. I love it when a writer can show the shades of humanity and that everyone makes mistakes but it is how you learn from them that makes you who you are. I hope those fans of fantasy and sci-fi, who spend their time feeling so much hate, have a chance to reflect and think before they post. Our time on Earth is limited and if we don’t want to live in a grimdark world like the ones we read about, then surely we should spend that time promoting positivity.

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Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

Aaron S. Jones is the author of Memories of Blood and Shadow, and The Broken Gods trilogy. He is Head of School at a school in Kent, UK and when he is not tearing his hair out at students struggling with their, they're and there, he is tearing his hair out as he dies for the thousandth time on Elden Ring. You can find him on Twitter @HereticASjones where he is most likely procrastinating for hours at a time instead of focusing on his Orc murder mystery.