The WTF Week That Was In Fandom & What’s Going On: A Nuanced Commentary

The same week tickets are selling out fast for Celebration in Chicago, Star Wars fandom’s dumpster fire turned into the Towering Inferno.  It started with a brawl over one of Rebel Force Radio’s hosts criticizing author Chuck Wendig’s tweets about “sh*tty Star Wars fans” and their behavior.  Then it went nuclear after actress Kelly Marie Tran (who played Rose in TLJ) abruptly deleted her Instagram posts after months of getting served haterade by various trolls.  (Tran hasn’t issued a public statement but some comments by those who know her seem to indicate that it was at least in part because of the negativity.)  In the wake of that incident, some very good things and some very bad things have happened.

The good news is that at least some people and the media are starting to realize there’s something rotten in the state of fandom and it has been for a long time.  It’s not hard to figure out the same kind of entitled harassment that plagued Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, Hayden Christensen, George Lucas, Katie Lucas, and even to a lesser degree Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman was at play against Tran.  The difference is that today there’s the social media getaway car and the trolls are now comfortable using sexist and racist jibes against their targets.  (Don’t tell me no because I saw with my own two eyes just last week on Twitter someone refer to her as a “fat Asian bitch.”)  I also think that we’re finally having this come to Yoda moment because the target was a minority and a woman.  It’s just too bad the media, which had its own hand in trashing prequel actors in the past, and fandom didn’t have that kind of compassion for a 10-year-old boy who’s now out of the public eye and living with schizophrenia.

The bad news is that I’ve seen a lot of commentary that lacks self-awareness and reflect a lot of the underlying attitudes of why things like this happen in the first place.  Sure you can agree that harassing an actor is wrong but that should be the point of your think piece, not to reiterate for the umpteenth time how much you hated her character or what you thought went wrong in TLJ.  Other think pieces, either by fans or by pros in the media, seem to go the Chuck Wendig route and blame all white men, the “alt-right,” and anyone else who’s not on their team politically.  This is unhelpful and will push fans further apart.  People aren’t mean by dint of their sex or skin color or their politics and by the way, how does anyone know who these trolls are?  It also ignores the bullying I’ve seen perpetrated against fans of a certain popular ship by females as well as fanboys, many of which are self-styled “woke” types.  Third, a lot of fans don’t seem terribly inclined to change their own behavior.  You can’t in one breath complain they don’t treat what you love about Star Wars with respect and then in the next, treat what someone loves about Star Wars with disrespect.

You see, I believe the root of the ugliness among fans lie in the following:

A.  A lack of empathy and understanding for fellow fans’ passions and interests.

B.  Anger over the lack of control over story direction.

C.  Bitterness over not getting their way.

Fans have to understand that they don’t have to love everything and they don’t have to agree with everything.  There are tons of ways to express yourself.  But they should also realize that after a while, bitterness and anger are boring, depressing, and useless.  You don’t win anything.  And it doesn’t help what you love about Star Wars when the news is bad.  There’s something deranged about cheering on bad news.  I hated that burn-down-the-village attitude prequel haters had in the past and I hate it now.  I’ve been to Resentmentville and really it’s not much fun.  I’m happy now to be over that.  If Star Wars doesn’t make you happy anymore, find something else that does.  Take a break from it.  And stop trying to wreck things for other fans who are enjoying themselves now.  Stop using fake moral superiority to put down someone else.

Lucasfilm can’t listen to everybody.  They make a decision and they have to commit to it.  Nobody is going to personally apologize because you didn’t like a particular movie, show, or character.  No matter how many people you drive off from running Lucasfilm, Jesus isn’t going to show up and run it exactly the way you want it.  I’m not saying Lucasfilm is above criticism.  Far from that…I’m getting to the content creator side in a second.  What I am saying is going on YouTube and calling Kathleen Kennedy a see-you-next-Tuesday and forming stupid boycotts makes you unreasonable and not at all worth listening to.  You don’t owe them your undying alliegance but they don’t owe you validation for your personal views either.

Now on the other side of that coin, I’m worried that not only fans are going to walk away with the wrong lessons about this and therefore come up with the wrong solutions, content creators/Lucasfilm will as well.  I’d actually concurred with some of Wendig’s points in his Twitter rant.  Fans shouldn’t be jerks to authors or film directors on social media.  Death threats are out-of-line.  I don’t have a problem when Rian Johnson for example takes an obtuse troll to town.  There are people who are sincere in their engagements and people who are just being a-holes.  I’ve had to deal with that myself and really, you don’t owe them anything.

However, Wendig went too far and started bringing in partisan politics.  Content creators shouldn’t be assuming their critics’ politics, their sex, or their intentions.  I love TLJ now but I don’t think it was fair for JJ Abrams to say those who didn’t like the film just have a problem with women.  Sure, some MRA types didn’t like the movie for that reason and a stupid “woman-free” cut of TLJ got undue attention from the media (So was Kylo Ren just talking to himself the whole time?  Are we to think Finn and Poe were the only people in the Resistance?  Luke was having an acid trip on Ahch-To?).  But I also know people who had other non-misogynstic reasons for disliking the film.  I worry that what we’re seeing is the beginning of a siege mentality at Lucasfilm, the kind that has recently plagued the comics industry.  Like I said, I was blocked by a former editor at Marvel because I followed somebody she didn’t like.  This is not a healthy way to have a relationship with the fan base.  Moreover, Lucasfilm has to be wary of letting Star Wars become a culture war football.  There’s pressure on the left now for Lucasfilm to “double-down” and win against those evil white men ruining everything while the alt-right and even mainstream conservatives are using the evil white men stuff to show their readers, “Look, they hate you.”  Nobody wins in this scenario; culture war footballs end up getting destroyed.

I’m going to come up with a fan and creator behavior manifesto.  Not that I expect anyone to pay attention to it, but I think it would help.

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