Engaging with strangers online over shared interests is a part of being in the pop culture world. If you follow a particular aspect of entertainment – a musician, TV show, movie or book – you are in a fandom.
And while not every decision made by our fictional and real-life heroes is liked, respecting other people’s opinions keeps the fandom universe happy and healthy. It should be a big, happy family but, unfortunately, every family has members who ruin everything for others.
Those people are toxic fans. While they are small in numbers, they hijack and take over their fandoms with their incoherent babbling that ranges from racism to death threats because someone either disagreed with them or things didn’t go their way.
This entitlement is rife among toxic fans. These fans believe that creators owe their success to them so everything should go their way. In fact, toxic fans wrongly believe that they possess the content and that it was created just for them. If anyone, including the creators, ruins their gradient, they will attack and defend their territory.
This is common when looking at romantic pairings, most commonly known as ‘ships‘. If creators do not pair up the desired ships, all hell will break loose. Hateful messages and death threats begin, directed at those who work behind-the-scenes and the leading stars.
Don’t even think about agreeing with the creators on the pairing or you will become the next target.
Sigh. The next over-the-top shipper who thinks I’m talking about their precious ship and sends me a death threat tonight is gonna get a call from the cops at 4am
— ✨Herr Professor Doctor Doctor Bex Taylor-Klaus✨ (@IBexWeBex) July 26, 2018
There is a very clear sense of superiority among toxic fans. Normal fans will see them as people who just have an opposing opinion so they ignore and allow it, but toxic fans believe that if someone is not as obsessed or intense as them, that person is not a “real fan” in their eyes and must be ostracized. Toxic fans will then create an environment of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘them’ are then slapped with derogatory terms such as ‘casual’, ‘normies’ or ‘Muggles’ as a means of exclusion.
So how does this even happen?
Toxic fans will only look up what is relevant to them. They ignore and block out everything else and focus on only what they want to see, creating an echo chamber, and refusing to acknowledge any opinion that diverges from their own. Think of it as radicalization – if someone is seeing and made to believe one thing, everything else is wrong in their eyes. They will fight for what they believe is the truth, regardless of the abuse and harassment they have to throw out.
So what happens when toxic fans run rampant?
The voice actors of the popular TV reboot, Voltron: Legendary Defender, no longer interact with their fans (which limited the number of conventions they attended) as much as they initially did at the start of the show run in 2016. This is because they were harassed and abused online and received countless death threats just for having their own opinions on their own characters’ journeys, personalities, and development.
The Voltron team works hard to provide you with an entertaining show about the importance of teamwork & compassion. If you feel the need to threaten anyone (be they fan or crew) the message of the show is sadly lost on you. Please hug a dog ASAP & take a break from the Internet. https://t.co/yFcuN10YvJ
— AJ LoCascio 💜🧡 (@AJLoCascio) August 11, 2018
Another example? The latest trilogy of Star Wars movies saw two of the female leads (Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran) being chased off of social media by women and men alike. While Ridley’s character Rey was subjected to sexist abuse since her debut in the series, she herself was also shredded by “fans” when she stated she was incredibly moved by a tribute to victims of gun violence at an award show. She was then told to “stay in her lane” and not to get “political” or “liberal”.
Tran’s character Rose (who was the first woman of color to have a lead role in the Star Wars movies) was also subjected to racist and sexist comments from men. Both women played characters who were not the damsels-in-distress that were seen in previous versions of Star Wars and this was obviously too much for these male fans to handle.
Being a toxic fan, then, is nothing to be proud of nor is it an accomplishment or proof of love for a series.
If you don’t like Star Wars or the characters understand that there are decisions makers and harassing the actors/ actresses will do nothing. You’re not entitled to politeness when your approach is rude. Even if you paid for a ticket! 🤷🏾♂️
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) June 12, 2018
Done with this disingenuous bullshit. You know the difference between not liking a movie and hatefully harassing a woman so bad she has to get off social media. And you know which of those two we’re talking about here.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) June 5, 2018
In fact, being in a fandom should instill a sense of belonging, respect, and camaraderie with others who share your interests. It’s great fun to interact with the creators and artists that bring your imagination to life and to bond and discuss with complete strangers. So should the fun be ruined for the masses because of a minority? We might never be able to understand toxic fans but we can do more to tackle them by simply ignoring them and defending the creators and artists from their vitriol.
I hope that casual and real fans can claim back the territory from these toxic fans and make fandoms fun again – for everyone.