When Devin Faraci wrote an article entitled “Fandom is broken”, there was a moment where I expected him to actually talk about the ways that fandom was actually broken.
Sure, he does mention how fan entitlement leads to threats against creators, but he also equates queer people asking for representation in the form of #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCapABoyfriend (which has issues I’m going to mention later but still) and Jewish people angry about the Hydra!Cap with trolls foaming at the mouth about lady Ghostbusters.
He doesn’t talk about how these same trolls hunt down and harass women and people of color in the industry or fandom on the regular, or how the decision to make Captain America a secret Hydra agent was one calculated to upset and offend people, that Marvel essentially got the reactions that they wanted for that specific book.
No, the only markers that Faraci takes as indicators of how broken fandom is are trolls and marginalized people who want positive representation.
Other people wiser and wittier than me have deconstructed Faraci’s arguments (especially his snide comments about/attitude to fanfic), talked about the false equivalences he makes, written about how reacting to something developed and intended to shock and hurt isn’t “entitlement”, and pointed out how Faraci is actually part of his own problem (when it comes to harassing creators and entitlement), that’s not the point of this post.
The point of this post is to talk at how fandom – the wide institution where fans of stuff come together to talk about how much they love or loath the content they’re reading – is and has always been broken, especially if you’re not white, “healthy”, cis, and straight.
I read Faraci’s article.
And I knew from even before then that fan entitlement –actual fan entitlement where creators are attacked and lies are attached to their names, not marginalized folk hungry for representation – is a problem. (Duh!) But it’s not the only problem fandom has and it’s not even close to being the biggest.
Here’s the thing: I’m an outspoken, queer Black person in fandom who has zero problem talking about how fandom continues to fail me. As a result, fandom has always been broken to me.
It was broken to me from day one when I read a book or watched a movie with a character of color and then went searching for fan fiction only to find nothing worth reading. It was broken to me when the reaction to me calling out people in fandom for bad behavior leaves me shunned and talked about in forums where people gleefully insulted everything from my intelligence to my appearance (And these were forums helmed by people who otherwise prided themselves on being liberal and progressive!).
Fandom was broken to me when, as a Black asexual, I kept seeing fandom twist itself up in knots to explain why one black character after another was asexual – and how that rendered them unfit for a loving relationship with any other character.
I knew that fandom was broken the first time I got my first death threat for looking at fandom critically and talking about a ship I felt was being used to erase a main character of color.
Fandom was broken to me when I realized that I could never allow anonymous comments or unmoderated comments on any blog I ever ran because I would get disgustingly hateful responses from people who fashioned themselves as champions of an enlightened fandom.
It was broken to me when I had to watch white feminists spew racist nonsense to excuse their continuing erasure and dismissal of Finn in Star Wars as they lifted Kylo Ren up and celebrated him above Finn.
It was broken to me when I saw a BNF write sixteen thousand words of racist and dismissive meta that rewrote fandom history and erased POC in order to basically pat white fandom on the back and say “it’s okay not to write those scary people of color because the nasty social justice warriors won’t like what you write any way”.
And many people of color in fandom – many of whom are older than me and have been in fandom longer – have seen this.
They’ve seen how fandom is essentially sustained by propping up one white dude slash ship after another, how white feminism rears its ugly head time and time again and tells fans of color to sit down and shut the fuck up when white women are fighting for representation because it’s going to be our turn soon enough.
When Faraci says “fandom is broken” as he largely directs his taunts towards members of marginalized communities who are taking a stand against things that are just plain wrong, what he’s really saying is that “fandom is broken now because these women and ~minorities~ are now more vocal about fighting for what they want to see in the media they consume”.
He’s looking at one thing –one small thing that has been present in fans since the first time that someone looked at a poem or a piece of literature and had opinions on it – and saying that fan entitlement is why fandom is broken now.
Meanwhile, in 2006, the awesome Te was already calling fandom out for attaching “Generic Ghetto voice” to Black male characters like Gunn and Pete Ross who didn’t even have those voices in their respective canons.
How about the hot mess that was Racefail ’09? You know, where creators in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre showed exactly how entitled they were when it came to policing fans that were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with their racism?
Meanwhile, the Dragon Age fandom is full of white racists harassing fans of color off of tumblr because they want to have their digital brown paper dolls while shunning and harassing fans of color for daring to make Inquisitors/Wardens/Hawkes that look like them.
The DC comics fandom is currently celebrating the return of one white legacy character (Wally West) as the champion the deaths of multiple racebent ones (Helena Bertinelli and the n52’s Wally West) and largely ignoring the newest Black member of the Batfamily.
In the Marvel fandom, they swear they just want to #GiveCapABoyfriend (something that Faraci sees as the epitome of fannish entitlement), but in reality, they just want to give him a white one. Something that decentralizes the Black men in Steve’s life and desexualizes them as well.
(Or how about the posts that either paint Steve as the pinnacle of white liberal antiracism or have him stopping short of calling Nick Fury a nigger and marveling at how he’s so capable of running an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D.).
The Star Wars fandom keeps trying to pretend that all of the racism that fandom has had to deal with comes from white guys in the same vein of those dudes that hate the Ghostbusters reboot.
However, there’s a direct correlation between the rise of Rey/Kylo Ren as shipped by non-Black members of fandom and the people who felt that Finn (former Stormtrooper who worked in Sanitation) had no business even touching Rey (potential Skywalker) because he wasn’t worthy – something that had a clearly racialized element on top of that.
In fandom in general (the big institution), we see racists, misogynists, and abusers coddled and protected by their fanbases because they create good content. When the source media screws up, fandom rushes to protect it at the direct expense of fans of color that speak out against it.
Here’s the thing: Faraci can’t talk about all the ways that fandom is broken because he’s managed to be part of the brokenness and an outsider in fandom spaces at the same time. He can’t talk about what he doesn’t know or care about and he doesn’t know or care about things like racism or misogyny and how they play out in fandom.
And until Faraci (and everyone else who wants to do a hard look into fandom while not being a part of the actual fandom spaces they’re critiquing) starts looking deeper at fandom as more than a mockable space where marginalized folk write shippy slash fanfiction, think pieces about how “broken” fandom is that move to frame diversity-hungry marginalized folk as just as bad as violent trolls who make harassment into a game are going to continue to fall flat because fandom has a lot more going for it (and going wrong in it) that that.
Fandom is broken in so many ways and I think it’s been broken for a long time, but fan entitlement is not even close to being one of the biggest of its fractured pieces.