Monday, November 15, 2010

Why the Hate, Fans?

Happy Monday folks.  I thought I'd kick off this week by talking about something that has been bothering me for a while now:  Fandom gone bad.  I'm sure it's nothing new under the sun, but since the start of the series Stargate Universe, I've really started noticed this phenomenon a lot more.

What I've noticed is that online there is a huge presence of people who claim to be fans of a particular franchise (the two in particular that I see this in are Stargate and Star Wars, but then again, those are the two that I follow most closely online) very vocally bashing the hell out of a specific part of that franchise.  I'm not talking about the loving kind of bashing either, in the "we know you're capable of being or doing so much better, so why aren't you?" type of way.  That generally falls under the category of constructive criticism, and that I am fine with most of the time.  It's a necessary part of the creative process.  No, what I am talking about is the type of bashing that consists of people yelling at the top of their lungs (so to speak) online that whatever part of their beloved franchise they don't like not only sucks (in their opinion, though they rarely bother to clarify that point), but has also completely "ruined" the franchise.  Not "ruined the franchise for them" specifically, but that somehow one part of the whole has undone whatever good existed in the other parts in the first place.

Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot. 

I do not get this.  At all.  Let's take a look at Merriam-Webster's definition of the word fan as it applies here:

Definition of FAN

1: an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator
2: an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit) <science-fiction fans>

Origin of FAN

probably short for fanatic
First Known Use: 1682

Probably short for fanatic?  Okay, let's check out that one too:

Definition of FANATIC

1: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion <they're fanatic about politics>

I have to say, I am more than a little amused that the example used in the definition of fan specifically mentions science-fiction fans.  I didn't plan it that way, true story.  I also think it's very interesting that the definition of fanatic includes the phrase "uncritical," because that kind of gets down to the heart of the matter of what I mean.

Probably the most obvious example of what I am describing is the Star Wars prequels.  Star Wars fandom (already beginning to fracture with the release of the special edition versions of the original trilogy) was forever divided by the arrival of the sequels.  There are people that will no longer have anything to do with Star Wars because they hated the prequels so much.  Okay, and let's be honest, George Lucas has clearly realized that he can do whatever he wants to this franchise (which, admittedly, he can, because he created it) and millions upon millions of people will still give him money hand over fist.  This tends to produce a lot of less than stellar quality items.  But that's not really my point.

The rallying battle cry of the haters among the Star Wars fan community is "George Lucas raped my childhood!"  And dude, that's just not even funny.  I will admit, I kind of used to think it was a little funny, just because it is such a ridiculous thing to say, but then I realized that it's so not funny, not one little bit.  Because these people are serious.  They really think that what Lucas has done in releasing new versions of the original movies and releasing new movies, and changing cannon when he feels like it, has actually somehow lessened that original enjoyment that they once had upon watching Star Wars.  And they are equating it with rape of all things, one of the most horrible violations any person (man or woman) can experience.  Maybe it's lessened your memory of that enjoyment, or made you somehow ashamed that you once loved Star Wars so purely.  And if that's the case, I truly feel sorry for you, I really do.  But it has in no way actually violated your soul, and it is physically impossible for anyone to go backwards in time and take away that initial joy you had.  I have two suggested solutions for these sad individuals:

a) Man up and admit to yourself that deep down you still really love at least that part of Star Wars and just feel ashamed to admit it now that all of your friends/colleagues/online associates spend so much time trying to convince you that all of Star Wars now sucks.  But you still like it, so maybe you should just avoid the specific parts about it you don't like, or avoid the people who make you feel bad for being yourself.


b) Do some soul searching and realize that while past you did like Star Wars, present you no longer does.  This occurred through the combination of seeing the newer material and not liking it, and the events of your life between those two points.  As we grow up and go through life, our worldview changes, our interests change, things we once liked no longer appeal to us.  It is kind of the natural order.  It is OKAY to admit that you are no longer a fan of Star Wars.  Please do so and go away so I can continue to enjoy it in your absence.

But people seem unwilling to do either of these things.  Instead, they walk around telling anyone who will listen how they're such a big fan and Lucas has ruined everything and anything that's not the Holy Original Trilogy (or whatever part of the franchise they loved so much) is just absolute crap.  But that's not enough.  In this lovely day and age we live in, there is also the INTERNET.  Oh these hater fans love the internet.  They go online and find perfectly innocent and pleasant discussions about some aspect of Star Wars and then proceed to rip everything everyone else has said to complete shreds.  Usually in an extremely rude and derogatory fashion.  Also usually, and even more sadly, once one person does this, a whole bunch more, who were maybe just lurking and thinking of it quietly in their heads, get the nerve to join in.  Pretty soon the discussion is completely ruined for anyone who was just trying to have a nice chat about what they like about Star Wars, and not only that, if they are normal humans with normal human reactions, they end up walking away from their computer with a big seething ball of hurt, frustration, and anger.  You can only imagine how that goes on to influence the rest of someone's day.

Look, at the risk of someone jumping in with the "free speech argument" here, I completely agree that everyone is entitled to have and even express their own opinion about the quality or validity of any particular aspect of Star Wars (or whatever franchise is applicable).  What I can't approve of, and what I honestly don't understand is when people who claim that they like, or even love, a franchise, are so determined to trash it at every opportunity just based on one part of it.  It's not just that, it's that they make the effort to go up to a group of people (online or otherwise) who clearly enjoy what they are discussing, and barge in to start telling them all that they are wrong, and then go on to elaborate why.

Dude.  They're not wrong.  Enjoyment is a subjective feeling.  They enjoy something, you don't.  Respect that and move on.

Why, why, why would anybody spend so much time and energy thinking about and discussing something they don't like?  Wouldn't it just be more enjoyable and better for your soul to find something you do like and get on with enjoying that instead?  (I will point out here that I am also completely perplexed by internet trolls.  How anyone gets enjoyment out of that kind of behavior perplexes and worries me.)

What's even worse is that, given how vocal these people are, they not only tend to bring little black rainclouds wherever they go, they also have a really good shot of hurting the franchise as a whole.  You know, that thing they claim they love, and would love so much more if it wasn't for this one glaring flaw?  I mean yeah, let's face it, Star Wars the franchise is pretty much unsinkable at this point, but other franchises aren't.

This is where I get into Stargate.  I'll be honest with you here.  While the bashing of Star Wars still pretty much baffles me (not that I don't think it has flaws, just, as I've said, I don't understand why people are wasting their time obsessing over the flaws), it has such a global fan community, literally spanning generations, that the law of averages says there's probably going to be quite a few nutjobs running around in that crowd.

But the Stargate fan community lately?  There I am not only baffled, I am just plain disappointed.  One of the reasons I have always so loudly proclaimed my allegiance as a Stargate fan is that all of the people I have dealt with online, these have always been extremely polite to and respectful of one another.

Enter Stargate Universe.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I really enjoy SGU.  I think it's a pretty darn good show.  Is it different from Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis?  Heck yeah.  Is it any better than those shows?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I still maintain that the season one episode "Time" is at least in my top three favorite episodes of Stargate anything and might actually hold the number one spot.  But SGU got a bad rap from the start.

The announcement that it would start filming for the next television season wasn't just announced around the same time as the announcement that Atlantis had been canceled but in the same press release.  This led a lot of fans to believe that Atlantis was canceled in favor of SGU, which wasn't the case at all.  Not only did the two decisions have nothing to do with each other, they weren't even made in the same time periods--it's just that they were announced together.

To add another series of slaps in the face to dejected Atlantis fans, press releases for SGU often contained worrying marketing babble about aiming for a younger demographic with a much younger cast (earning the show the unfortunate nickname of Stargate 90210) and about changing up the formula by adopting a completely new tone, radically different from the previous two series.  Once the premise of the series was announced, a lot of people started referring to it as Stargate Voyager, which set off a whole new round of worries.  There were also lots of hints about trying to draw in a new crowd of viewers altogether, which a lot of people took to mean that the existing fanbase wasn't valued rather than that the network was trying to add to the existing audience by broadening the appeal.

There was some violent online backlash at this point, with a lot of people vowing they would never watch anything on the channel again after it canceled Atlantis, and a lot of people griping that they didn't want anything to do with the new show.  But for the most part, a lot of us adopted the "wait and see" strategy.  After all, the only way to find out if the show was going to be any good or not would be to actually watch it, right?

So the show aired, and lots of people liked it.  Lots of people didn't.  In an ideal universe (or at least one that made a bit more sense), the people who didn't like it would either give it a few more episodes to see if it would grow on them and then drop it when it didn't, or would stop watching it after the first episode and leave it at that.  Either way, that should have been the end of the story for those people.  Perhaps they might make the occasional comment online, when the topic came up, that they don't watch the show because it never really appealed to them, and that would be that.

Instead, the people that didn't like SGU took to the internet in droves.  They griped about the lack of strong female characters in the show (even though off the top of my head I can think of five who are in just about every episode, when at any given time on either of the other two shows there were never more than two female leads floating around).  They griped about sex in supply closets and one character starting up a new relationship upon meeting someone new and more interesting to him than his current casual fling.  They said it was trying to be too much like Battlestar Galactica and not enough like Stargate.  They griped that it wasn't as funny as the other shows, even though the situation the characters find themselves in really isn't one that lends itself to levity. 

Then they got really nasty.  They started making online attacks on the actual actors, rather than the characters they played.  There was a plethora of disparaging remarks about one of the actresses (not her character, but herself) simply because she happens to be well-endowed.  The mother of Brian J. Smith, one of the lead actors, who has always been very gracious and polite to fans online, had to stop reading anything about the show online because it was so hurtful to her to read what people were saying about her son--not his acting, not the show he was in or the character he played--but actually about him

The comments on every article on Gateworld about the new show devolved into a list of who could outnasty who and say the meanest things.  I'm not talking about reasonable, well thought out, well argued discussions.  There were no agreements to disagree.  It was just a whole lot of "I'm right and you're wrong," with the trolls absolutely trying to hammer their point home and get in the last word.  Honestly asked questions of "If you don't like the show, why are you still watching it?" were met with derision and cries of "free speech, bitches."  Well, yes, free speech, but not really.  It is a moderated website, designed for fans of the franchise.  People who are not fans really have no place there, not if they aren't willing to express their own opinions in a respectful manner.  This was usually responded to with an even more immature reply.

As I said before, constructive criticism is fine, and necessary.  Lively discussion is welcome, but is only possible if all parties respect the rights of the others to their opinions.  But that is not what this was.  Gone was the friendly, open, and polite community I found when I first stumbled into Stargate fandom.  It got to the point where the Gateworld moderators had to issue a change in policy.  They no longer tolerate those kinds of comments.  Any found or reported are deleted immediately.  They are not censoring all criticism, but they did put their foot down at the absolute lack of respect for all opinions.

Of course, this prompted those who just wanted to bitch about SGU to create their own freaking website, just to get together and bitch about SGU.  More power to them, I guess.  I am glad that they are there and that is not a website I am ever likely to stumble upon, so I don't have to read it, yay!  It's totally their right, but again, I just don't get it.  Why go to all of that effort.  If you don't like something, why do you care so much that other people do?  What am I missing here?

Apparently, one of the self-proclaimed goals of this website/community is to get SGU canceled.  I have seen more than one delusional comment on several websites that maybe if SGU gets canceled, Syfy will finally "wise up" and brink back Atlantis.  Sigh.  Not gonna happen folks.  Life doesn't work that way.  And that goes doubly so for network television.  Jericho and Family Guy were happy flukes, but flukes they were.

And these people who have started their own website to get SGU canceled claim that they love the Stargate franchise and want to get rid of this blot on its record so that we can get something better, like a new series, or the revival of Atlantis, or at least the release of the two DVD movies for SG-1 and Atlantis that are hanging out in development hell due to the MGM bankruptcy fiasco.  Sigh.  Life doesn't work like that either, folks.

If it gets canceled, it gets canceled, and that would suck, but a lot of people involved with Syfy and with SGU have gone on the record explaining that the cancellation of SGU would pretty much be the end of the franchise.  We might, might still get the DVD movies that have already been scripted, but that would be it.  No new series.  And no, Atlantis isn't coming back.

Look, I love Atlantis.  It is still my all-time favorite television show, and unless they make a new iteration of Stargate that is all Lorne, all the time, (with a healthy dose of McKay and maybe some Zelenka and Sheppard thrown in for good measure), it's going to remain my favorite iteration of the Stargate franchise.  But it's not coming back.  Buy the DVDs, invest in some of the audio plays and tie-in novels (a lot of them are actually really great), and read or write some fan fiction to get your fix.  But give up the ghost.

And in the meantime, can you please not ruin it for the rest of us who are actually enjoying SGU?  If you're not a fan, you're not a fan.  Might I humbly suggest you find something new to be a fan of and go obsess about that instead?  It will do wonders for the world.  And probably for you, too.

Word Count Update:  26,782 out of 50,000 (Past the halfway point, woohoo!)

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