Content Notes: descriptions of police brutality and violence from law enforcement that includes sexual violence and violence against vulnerable people like children. Screenshots that mention harassment that include racism, threats, harassers urging people to self harm, and doxxing.
I also swear a lot and in a way that can be read as “at” the people who pull the nonsense I’m talking about.
Genuinely, I can hardly think of a clearer example of what fandom brain rot does to a person than the repeated insistence across multiple fandoms that ACAB – “All Cops Are Bastards” – somehow includes people on the internet who are critical of fandom at any level including just… being critical of racism in fandom and media in public.
The thing is that yes, ACAB as a term existed well before the horrific events of Summer 2020, the time period when lots of people on your social media feeds decided to put the acronym in their bios and display names for the first time… But it has never revolved around anything other than rejecting the violence that law enforcement/policing does as a system.
As Victoria Gagliardo-Silver wrote in her op-ed “What I mean when I say I want to abolish the police“:
Something is very, very wrong in American police culture. This is why the saying “ACAB” — or “All cops are b*ds” — has become a popular rallying cry. It doesn’t actually mean every single cop is a bad cop, just like saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean white lives don’t. “ACAB” means every single police officer is complicit in a system that actively devalues the lives of people of color. Bad cops are encouraged in their harm by the silence of the ones who see themselves as “good.”
Holding one police officer accountable every time a black person is killed by police is not enough. The issue isn’t “a few bad apples”; it’s a tree that is rotting from the inside out, spreading its poison.
ACAB serves as a punchy shorthand referring to the way that there can’t be such a thing as “good cops” in a field fueled by violence including fatal antiblackness, sexual violence, theft, bigotry beyond all of that, and just… an entitlement to other people’s lives in literal cases.
I understand that with this somewhat valid fear of random people harassing others over fandom – a thing that happens no matter what you’re into – it is tempting to not just accuse people of policing your fandom experience… but to compare them to the real police.
“Fandom police” as a term has been around for ages too… but it’s the way it’s being used now to refer to fans as actual cops that’s literally the problem.
Because what’s happening in multiple fandoms: people are purposefully connecting people who range from genuine harassers to people of color talking about racism… to cops. Real cops.
People aren’t leaving it at “don’t police how I do my fandom stuff/stop beefing with me over my fandom thing” or “stop telling me I’m not a real fan if I don’t do this specific thing”.
They’re specifically comparing other fans to REAL COPS, hence the annoying and frustrating rise of “ACAB includes fancops/fandom police”.
(Note About The Slideshow: Aside from a few screenshots that are not mine/from a very helpful research assistant, names have not been cropped out because people keep accusing me of lying about what people in fandom do and so… you get screenshots showing the people doing the thing. Additionally, some of the people are clearly hurting and are reacting to harm and harassment done in the name of fandom. I understand that. No one deserves harassment in fandom. I also believe firmly that what we are experiencing in fandom from bullies and harassers on multiple sides is still nothing like the very real systemic violence that people face from law enforcement worldwide. The comparison itself, not the frustration over harassment, is the problem.)
As you can see in the slideshow above: people are explicitly saying that “antis” – a term I will always point out is never actually or solidly defined in any fandom circles and is super mutable depending on who’s talking about who – and “fancops”/fandom police are policing fandom… just like the real cops we say ACAB about. (Which is not how… any of that works.)
Multiple people – including YouTube video essayists Princess Weekes and Sarah Z – have covered how “anti” as a term is functionally meaningless because it is rarely actually defined beyond “person who harasses others in fandom – which can include talking about bigotry in fandom”.
Thanks to this (lack of) context, people like myself who speak firmly (and almost exclusively) on racism in fandom or just dare to let themselves dislike a fandom favorite are forcibly lumped in with this context-free horde of horrible haters.
So if you criticize fandoms for being shamelessly racist… you’re now lumped in with people who have a reputation for violently abusing strangers for drawing Voltron Legendary Defenders NSFW content or who seriously shun others shipping a characters with a height or age difference.
The people pointing out how useless that term – and its similarly murky synonyms in fandom – are for clear discourse are right and not only do they need to say it… but fandom at large needs to listen.
But anyway, if you are fandom-brained enough that you have seriously said (or agreed with the statement) that ACAB involves “fan cops”:
- Go to hell with a quickness, and,
- Do you understand that real cops aren’t just (or even remotely) “annoying or abusive about what fictional content you like to consume”?
Even the worst case descriptions of harassment in fandom that can be confirmed – threats, attempts at urging people to self-harm or harassing them until they do, targeted harassment, outing people to their families, doxxing, trying to get strangers fired over their content- aren’t profession-locked to cops.
They’re not even profession-locked to “antis” in fandom.
Please note that it has never been self-identified “antis” trying to get me fired from Teen Vogue in my time writing for them even though I have always shipped and publicly enjoyed “problematic” content in fandom.
“Antis”, in my time writing about racism in fandom, have never come for me for any of my work – even when I went on to wax poetic about age-gap ships or Omegaverse on main. It has always been the “other” camp, the “freedom to write whatever you want in/about fandom” camp, the “let women like villains” camp. Yes, even about my actual “problematic” fandom content.
But aside from Amber Goldsmith, the creep who claimed they filed a police report against me for harassing them – while actively and publicly lying on me, stalking me, and contacting my editor and her editor in an attempt to get me fired – none of those people are cops or cop-aspirational either. (I believe I mention that situation in Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day, so go check that out.)
They’re just racist assholes.
Because that’s not what cops are, that’s not what cops do, and the only reason you’d think cops are annoying assholes on par with the comedic version of the Spanish Inquisition is if you are so privileged that your experiences with cops are second or third hand… or you’re related to a cop or two and you think they’re one of the good ones.
Cops don’t just fight people online over content. What a willfully naive thing to say even if you don’t live in the United States. Yes, we’ve seen police departments and other forms of law enforcement resort to stan Twitter tactics on public social media.
But you know that’s not what police brutality and police violence actually is, right?
You know that’s not what cops actually do on the regular right?
Normalized police violence and overall bad behavior from law enforcement looks like:
- Ashley White being mauled by a police dog that was actually trained to bite Black people
- Stealing nude photos of women they find attractive from their phones and passing them around to each other
- Just… shooting people’s dogs (even when the dog isn’t an actual threat to the officers)
- Sexual violence against women
- Sexual violence against men like Abner Louima
- Handcuffing and otherwise restraining children who are usually not a threat to others
- Half of the people killed by law enforcement are disabled
- Asset forfeiture abuse that steals more from people than burglaries
- How often Black people are pulled over for the crime of “driving while Black”
- The murders of: George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless others by police officers who shot first and asked questions never
This is just in the United States. You can look on Wikipedia to actually find a thread about police brutality and violence in other countries because no matter how much you “ACAB includes Fancops/Antis” weenies like to pretend that fatal police brutality and antiblackness are region locked to the United States… it really isn’t.
None of this genuinely horrifying shit is comparable to people online harassing you for what you like to create and consume in fandom. None of it. Even the awful things people do to each other over fandom does not compare to what cops do to us all for fun and in the process of collecting a paycheck.
Police violence and systemic rot throughout, especially isn’t comparable to people of color in fandom speaking on racism they’re experiencing from people like you in fandom and the racist work you create and consume.
Because… Newsflash? Cops don’t actually fucking care about racism. Beyond that, cops actually have a huge problem with being… racists. You know, like full on white supremacists across this country’s history?
In Michael German’s “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement”, he notes that:
While the Mississippi Burning case was the most notorious, it was far from the last time white supremacist law enforcement officers engaged in racist violence. There is an unbroken chain of law enforcement involvement in violent, organized racist activity right up to the present. In the 1980s, the investigation of a KKK firebombing of a Black family’s home in Kentucky exposed a Jefferson County police officer as a Klan leader. In a deposition, the officer admitted that he directed a 40-member Klan subgroup called the Confederate Officers Patriot Squad (COPS), half of whom were police officers. He added that his involvement in the KKK was known to his police department and tolerated so long as he didn’t publicize it.
Please feel free to look me in the eye and tell me exactly how someone calling you a “freak” for liking something “problematic” – a thing they shouldn’t do anyway – is comparable to police officers who used their presence in law enforcement to instill and advance a climate of fear and bigotry that often has fatal consequences.
One of the biggest issues with fandom in my lifetime is how self centered people are. This “ACAB includes fancops/antis/POC who talk about racism in fandom” bullshit is actually a huge marker of that.
You are not oppressed because other queer people or women or POC don’t like and even dare to criticize your favorite “problematic” pairing. You are not experiencing police brutality or anything similar to that because people use their own social media and blogs to talk about what they don’t like about the things you like.
The fact that you think that is because you’re entitled and self-centered and you can’t imagine that the thing that really does hurt you – and usually shouldn’t be something people do to or about you/your thing – isn’t actually that big a deal comparatively. So you have to make it a big deal.
You have to make it as big a deal as fatal police brutality.
But it’s not.
And people who this stuff know it, but they have to cling to legitimacy and appeal to vulnerable fans – including other fans of color – who are under attack within fandom and from fans and that means co-opting serious issues like looming authoritarianism and a fear of censorship to fit their needs and to prey on fandom’s valid concerns.
One of my repeat harassers campaigned for the term “fancop” last year to replace “antis”. Please look at this absolute nonsense which I have replicated in part:
I personally propose that “anti-antis” should start calling ourselves “anti-fanpol/cops.” It, like “fanpol/cops” has the advantage of being fairly self-explanatory and easier to figure out. It’s right there in the name, “anti fandom police.” Furthermore, it would automatically associate us with the anti-authoritarianism within fandom that we seek to represent.
Naturally, antis are going to refuse this terminology – at least at first (though in the ATLA some fanpol have already embraced it). They are going to try and redefine terms again, or try to continue using the old terminology. Do not play along. Do not back down. Continue using explicit, specific terminology instead of using vague terms like “anti” or “anti-anti,” which all too easily allow goalposts to be moved.
I have, however, seen people, including members of our community, argue that the term “fanpol/cop” may be insensitive to those who belong to minority groups, since they often do have to worry about very real police violence. This is something worth considering, and we need to be willing to listen to feedback about that. On the other hand, one might also say that authoritarian behaviour in fandom is unacceptable no matter who it’s coming from, and that if you police your fellow fans, your spade deserves to be called a spade. So I think there still needs to be some discussion on that.
Aside from the red flags about how people manipulate discourse in the second paragraph excerpted (remember that for many years in more-modern fandom, Black fans have talked about how we had the label of “anti” thrust upon us for talking about racism in fandom until some did accept it), please look closely at this post.
It’s a relabeling campaign not because the wrong people – like me, Ashley Reese, literally anyone who publicly says they don’t like the fandom favorite in any capacity even if they’re not harassing people – gets lumped up in “anti”, but because it’s not catchy and descriptive enough.
But neither is “fandom police” because… what is a fandom cop in reality? What do they actually mean by that?
If I squint at the definition sort of given in the above post, it’s someone who just… tries to police fandom and what we can like in fandom or what makes us real fans in fandom. Again, it is a term that has been used for about a decade or two. Maybe more.
However, as we’ve covered from back in February 2021 when Rey/Kylo shippers and anti censorship/pro harassment weenie racists tried to get me fired from Teen Vogue the first time: people literally will expand that definition to mean anything and folks won’t ask for real sources.
People are out here calling me – someone who doesn’t actually even attempt to police fandom at any level actually – a “known fancop” because I write about racism and racist fanworks in fandom. Speaking and thinking critically about racism in fandom is seen as policing fandom in the same way hateful comments over a “problematic” ship or gorespams because you’re into daddy doms are –
But then on top of that, as I’ve pointed out with previous coverage of how people talk about anti fans, racists in fandom who attack people of color for shipping the characters that look like them or who spend months or even years harassing public figures of color… are never called antis.
So they’re not going to be called fancops either – even though they behave similarly to the people they claim to be fighting against in fandom and are also trying their hardest to control or limit other people’s rights to say, ship, like (or dislike), and speak about what they want in fandom.
(Consider how many Shiro/Keith fans who were harassed for their ship back in the days of the very scary Voltron Legendary Defender fandom turned around only to… harass people who ship Shiro with anyone else in fandom.)
Then, despite the fake-gracious acknowledgement up there that perhaps “fanpol/cop might be insensitive to people who have to deal with police violence”, she then goes on to brush it off because “if you police your fellow fans, you deserve the label that fits” – despite (supposedly jokingly) rejecting “fandom Frollo” because it might offend… The Frollo fandom.
But, a few things come up:
- By that logic… what are we calling her, someone with a long history of harassing Black fans in the Star Wars fandom on Tumblr and who has repeatedly tried to destroy my actual life with lies and in defense of open racists/her silly space wizards ship? Like what can I call her? (I have a few ideas but if I share them, people will then try to complain at me.)
- People of color in fandom have talked for years about how when we speak up about racism in fandom spaces (from fans and in fanworks) we are relabeled as social justice warriors, haters, “antis”, and now fancops/fandom police… and then that relabeling always allows people to then usher us out of the fandom space by harassing us violently.
- Personally, it is immensely triggering to be called a fandom cop for talking about racism in fandom and media. I know firsthand that cops don’t really care about racism and they do partake in it/perform it. When I have spoken up about how much I didn’t want to be called a “fanpol/fancop” (back in June 2020 in particular) specifically because people were accusing me of being Like a real cop for wanting less or no racism in fandoms and fanworks, people like the OP of that post have… publicly mocked me and said I deserved it for “behaving” like a fancop – which isn’t true on any level.
And these are all people who demand that people not redefine words like “pedo” to excuse hurting people over content… but here they are doing just that. They are also seeking to control fandom landscapes and make them into their own image – but since they’re doing it in a way that appeals to what white queer/women’s fandom wants… it’s okay that they’re behaving like baddies because ACAB, am I right?
Except… Saying “ACAB includes fandom cops/fandom police” is a refusal to acknowledge that the stuff we go through in fandom – yes, even the really bad and genuinely horrifying stuff – isn’t even remotely as bad as what cops and other forms of law enforcement get paid to do to us on the regular.
It’s disrespectful to marginalized people – especially to Black and brown people – who fandom at large is frequently choosing to demonize and reframe as our own oppressors if we ever have an ounce of criticism of fandom.
“ACAB includes fandom cops” is selfish, it’s disrespectful, it’s dehumanizing (to people of color in fandom, not to cops), and it is yet another way that white fandom orients everything to be about itself and its needs at the direct expense of marginalized people who aren’t useful enough.
It’s along the same lines of folks redefining the word TERF to mean “a person that doesn’t like my specific fandom thing” to the point where Sarah Z and her co-writer Emily were repeatedly labeled as such for such noted TERF rhetoric like “please stop developing poorly defined moral reasons to excuse harassing people who dis/like the thing you dis/like”.
It’s a way to excuse hurting people and dehumanizing them without needing to account for your own behavior and how, in the process of defending your thing, you’ve become a bully in fandom/over fiction.
And here’s a reminder for you: people in fandom doing their best to stop you from peacefully engaging in your favorite fandom thing aren’t actually cops or comparable to them. If they’re not coming to you and telling you what to do about your thing, they’re not even policing you in the slang/colloquial sense.
But if they are? Then they’re assholes and many of them are bullies. Trust me, it’s okay to get specific and say that they are and what they’ve done to you or others rather than dropping these murky buzz words that ultimately are meaningless and wind up hurting people who are also just trying to do their thing in fandom.
And if you insist on saying “ACAB includes fandom cops” because you really think assholes on the internet and other marginalized people talking about real issues they deal with in different fandoms are actually comparable to the horrifying violence of law enforcement everywhere… Especially Black/brown people saying they dislike this and they find it disrespectful?
Go to hell.