The Evolution of Anti-Critical Consumption/Thinking “Anti-Anti” Fandom

Someone sent me the following tweet the other day and I haven’t known peace since.

While I don’t know exactly what tweets the person was replying to and can’t put them in that context, what I can understand and extrapolate (conclude) from this screenshot is disturbing enough. (Note that I saw this tweet thread later and wonder if they’re related but no one can confirm for me.)

The first person: “Consume your media critically” go fuck yourself critically

The second person: Looking at something critically doesn’t mean being a stupid c*nt about it/trying to force it into somehow being “problematic” lol.

The first person again: Exactly, nowadays, it just means being an anti lol

Simply put, anti-fandom in fandom truly no longer holds with Jonathan Gray’s initial (or follow up) definition of “anti fandom” as “those who hate or dislike a given text, personality, or genre” in “Antifandom and the Moral Text: Television Without Pity and Textual Dislike”.

The behaviors he described across his body of work are no longer all that it takes to “count” as an anti fan. Despite the broad boundaries of antifandom as Gray describes it, somehow, modern fandom has opened the doors wider to encompass an even larger pool of potential (anti) fans.

At this point in modern fandom, anything you do can mean you’re an anti including, unfortunately… critically consuming media (and, I can only assume, talking to other people about how they could consider doing the bare minimum of critical engagement as well).

Do y’all understand how downright ridiculous that is?

In the reply from the first person in that screenshot, they’re actually saying “Exactly, nowadays, [looking at something critically] just means being an anti lol”.

Which isn’t that surprising to me, someone who’s had this “anti identity” thrust upon them simply for criticizing fandom behaviors done in defense of specific ships in various fandoms – an identity that is then used to excuse the type of harassment that I was assured that only “antis” did to other people.


I’ve been in fandom for a long time and I’ve actually watched, horrified, as the definition of an “anti fan” shifted in my fannish lifetime . When I was growing up, an anti (fan, shipper, etc) was someone who publicly roasted the popular thing and made their own fan content about hating it. (Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray anti fans are a standout, but there was a ton of anti-shipping with Buffy fans and huge ship wars with harassment even there and there were anti-fandoms around both M/M and M/F ships across fandoms.)

Around 2009-2012, the term “anti” shifted to include Black fans who had critical opinions of racism in fandom with the Merlin, Star Trek, Sleepy Hollow, and Teen Wolf fandoms.

For me, that’s where the problems began.

Black women and femmes pointing out racism in those fandoms were subject to not just the “anti” designation but long-term harassment campaigns and shunning in fandom. (But hilariously, none of the white fans who were doing things like calling Uhura “U-whore-a”, harassing Black fans, or violently killing off Black women characters in fanworks were ever considered antis.)

Then around 2014-2018 came the popular definition that “anyone who harasses anyone over ships/fandom content in any way” is an anti (fan/shipper). This is largely due to the Voltron Legendary Defenders fandom as the initial peak of online harassment over ships happened in that fandom, I believe.

Other examples included the DC fandom (Grayson anti-fandom was notorious for this), Rey/Kylo fandom (where both camps – people who shipped the thing and people who didn’t – were subject to still-ongoing harassment campaigns including slur usage, threats, and offline life being impacted), and video game fandoms like Undertale where the rumors about a dangerous needle-in-cookie incident came from.

And this all, wildly, gets us to where we’re at now…

Where critical thinking in fandom is anti-fandom in and of itself.

This is disturbing and it definitely isn’t normal.

It also isn’t even a useful approach to anti-fandom.

In 2019’s “How Do I Dislike Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” in Anti-Fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age, Jonathan Gray actually talked about wanting to readdress and redefine his definitive “anti fandom” model used widely and wildly to explain the vastly different factions across a variety of fandoms. Because, as he points out:

On the one hand, the model and the article construct fans and anti-fans of the same text as opposites when they may not be. Inasmuch as fans and anti-fans are both highly “charged” viewers (i.e., they care about the text), we might instead expect them at times to have more in common with each other than with non-fans. On the other hand, the model crudely lumps various practices, motivations, and affective positions into one big undifferentiated mass called the “anti-fan.” In the years since writing that article, I have come to regret not seeing more nuance and difference in anti-fandom .

I’ve tweeted this before, I’m sure, but not all anti-fandoms or anti-fans are coming from the same place.

An anti-fan of an idol group like BTS may spread rumors about the group to tank their sales or tarnish their reputation.They may even actively attempt to harm one or more members of the group. They likely won’t go after fans of the group unless they think that can harm the idol.

An anti-fan of a specific pairing or piece of media may spread rumors about the object of their ship (the creators or voice actors) or may harass people who enjoy it in “minor” to “major” ways..

An anti-fan of a thing in fandom (like a trope or a setting) may attack people who like the thing they don’t. If someone is an anti-fan of a show or they’re mad at the way a series has gone, they may attack the writers or cast.

Anti fans across different fandoms react differently depending on the object of their harassment and their investment in the source media/fandom object, but also depending on the source media itself.


Here’s the thing: I firmly believe that anti fandoms and fans as they’ve evolved in modern fandom are a problem. After all, people shouldn’t hurt or harass people over what they create in fandom.I

t’s a belief I’ve actually publicly shared for a very long time and I spoke out against evolving cultures of harassment in multiple fandoms especially when I was in the Voltron and DC fandoms. A lot of people miss it on purpose, but I have witnessed and documented moments of anti fandoms across the past decade or more, snarking about the way that people have actively misrepresented content in order to hurt other people in their fandoms.

However, as more and more strangers came to “know” me as an anti (or a fandom police/”fanpol”/fandom cop – a concerning thing to insist on calling a Black person talking about racism in a space, I feel), I realized that the evolution of anti-fandom now is more complicated than ever before and  that the racist anti fandoms that develop around people and characters of color rarely get clocked.

As I pointed out in Antiblackness & Anti Shipping (4/12/2021) + Additional Thoughts, pieces like Foz Meadows’ approach to anti-fandom rarely view or even mention long term racist harassment of Black/brown people (performers or fans) or aggressive mistreatment and misrepresentation of Black and brown characters in fanworks as anti-fandom in action.

Think about the Teen Wolf fandom: Tyler Posey has actually spoken about the decade of harassment he’s faced and that has hurt him deeply.

While fandom likes to argue that he’s not being subject to racism, please note that Tyler identifies as Mexican American and there is a noted racialized element to his treatment from fandom. There is still a dedicated and active “anti Scott McCall” tag on Tumblr and aggressive “anti Scott” and “anti Tyler” accounts (like this one). People have harassed him in various horrifying forms including trying to urge him to self harm after his mother passed away, leaking his OnlyFans content maliciously, and denying his queerness.

Despite making regular use of those anti tags and not running out devoted anti fans harassing Tyler, writing hate-fic for Scott where he’s humiliated and killed violently, or harassing Scott and Tyler fans… these clear haters are never considered antis in fandom.

Who is considered an anti in this fandom? People who like Scott and Tyler but dislike the way some Stiles and/or Derek fans have behaved across the past decade… even when the Scott or Tyler fans don’t do anything harmful to other fans. (Like me! People keep accusing me of being anti-sterek when… that’s my ship!)

Or how about the Star Wars fandom?

Yes, there are Rey/Kylo and Kylo/Hux anti fans that harass others because of what they ship.

They’re out there, they sometimes use valid criticism to hide harm over the years, and they are wrong to hurt people. There are some that reportedly go to extremes and may have even physically hurt others, something unacceptable at every level.

That being said: why aren’t Finn/Rey anti fans – you know, like the Rey/Kylo fans who take every opportunity to shit on Finn or the Finn/Rey relationship… or John Boyega and who harass Black and brown people to the point of trying to get them fired – ever seen as antis as well? Why is it that unrelated people in different fandoms will tweet things like “actually I hate the racism in Rey/Kylo fandom but… I will defend them from the antis”?

Let’s be clear here: racism from a fandom collective should be indefensible – and if the racists in Rey/Kylo fandom are hurting and harassing others in defense of a fandom and ship, shouldn’t they be “antis” too? Yet they never are.

However, the Black/brown people defending themselves and characters or celebrities that look like them from these actual anti fans… We’re always redefined as “antis”, “haters”, and, as of late, “fancops” to excuse the harassment we get for daring to think and talk critically about what has been done to us and characters that look like us.

In Kristen Warner’s “(Black female) fans strike back: The Emergence of the Iris West Defense Squad”, she points out that

While it is more than likely that many Iris West fans are also Abbie Mills fans and, quite possibly, Bonnie Bennett of The Vampire Diaries fans, it is equally plausible that the need to collaborate on protecting their heroines is shared from a frustration of invisibility within their fandoms. Fighting against that invisibility through the labor of building Trending topics on Twitter pushes their constitutive cause of Black female representation to the fore. Hashtags like #IrisWestDeservesBetter work because the Abbie Mills Defense Squad fans used it first to gain attention both within the fandom and with the producers and pop culture writers. In that instance, Black female fans rejected MIlls’ being sidelined in favor of a white supporting character and created the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter hashtag that trended on Twitter for days. IWDS fans Kerri Evans and Britta Darling wrote an op-ed on Black female fans and described the result of that campaign: “Ratings tanked as they tuned out. As the show teetered on the brink of cancellation, executives promised their black women fan base that in the coming episodes Abbie would regain her lead status and be included in important plotlines again” (Evans and Darling 2015).

The response to the “defense squads” protecting Black women actresses and characters has always been to accuse us of ruining fandom, of harassment, and of not letting people “ship and let ship”. People continue to call the Iris West Defense Squad “anti Snowbarry” – something that ignores the escalating and awful harassment that those shippers have enacted on WestAllen fans and Candice Patton herself from the jump.

It’s apparently “anti behavior” to document and call out misogynoir… but not to enact it in defense of a different ship? Okay.

How about what happened when New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman quoted Rep. Paul Gosar, chastising him for mocking people criticizing him sharing his staff’s racist anti-immigrant Attack on Titan parody that saw AOC get hunted and killed as an inhuman titan?

His quote tweets and replies were full of people who were denying the impact that cartoons specifically have had on history. He was redefined, actively, as an “anti” including being hosted by a notorious “antis’ hot takes” account with a wide reach… that was also retweeting pro-Rittenhouse content on their fandom platform.

When it comes to Black/brown people being harassed or hated in/by fandom – especially if we talk about race and racism -, no one gives a shit. There’s always an excuse that validates how we’re mistreated by a fandom space. Usually, it is that we are outsiders to fandom or we’re haters trying to control fandom, or we’re not nice or –

Suddenly, when a person of color doesn’t like the racism built into fandoms across decades, then it’s fine for the “anti harassment in fandom” squad to harass them to hell and back. Because in the “fight against antis” the ends they desire, justify the means taken to achieve them.

As I’ve been documenting: from the start of the year, people in multiple fandoms have spent months publicly planning to try and get me fired from Teen Vogue and spreading lies about me harassing them/others – while also trying to cobble together proof because they don’t have enough on me.

The majority of those people publicly identify as people opposed to anti-fandom/shipping.

Previously, they called themselves “anti-antis” (an old/dated term), but now, it’s “pro shipping”: a fandom position born out of the Voltron Legendary Defender fandom’s anti-fandom and how that super toxic fandom inspired others to (sometimes violently) harass countless others for the “crime” of shipping problematic content. (Links to some of my documentation: here  + here + here.) This “anti anti shipping/fandom” subculture publicly claims to be against harassment in fandom and define “antis” in fandom as people who harass others over fiction or shipping. But that’s not true.

Before we even get to my run-ins with this fandom-pilled collective, we can look at all of those discourse accounts that create nothing in fandom except… discourse. And launch their incredibly aggressive, relatively massive followings towards people with smaller/no followings – or people whose followings aren’t as extremely online and therefore aren’t able to be weaponized as foot soldiers in the fandom war. This includes teenagers and people of color just complaining on their own that they dislike things, mind you. Not just verifiable bullies or harassers.

Then there’s how hundreds of people in that subgroup have spent months (or as long as 2-3 years, in some cases) harassing and slandering me in the name of freedom in fandom/fanworks – or standing by and supporting those who have. None of those people are ever called “antis” themselves.

Even though they are anti fans… of me and what little of my work they have been exposed to and have engaged with.

They’re actively behaving like the people they claim to be against – false accusations of violence, call out posts blowing up minor or one-sided conflict into claims of abuse and harassment, fixating on what (they think) I ship, attempts to get me fired, slurs, threats, etc – but because there’s a belief that “[looking at something critically] just means being an anti”, it’s okay.

They’re not seen as “anti fans” to wider fandom. They’re just handling one.

Me.


This all comes back to how anti-fandom and antis in 2021 (but starting in early 2018/2019) have been linked with critical thinking and criticism being unwanted in fandom to where it’s treated as harshly as actually harassing people.

Across the past few years of (anti) fandom, there’s a trajectory of behavior and responses:

First: Anti fandom/anti fans has become defined as involving people engaging in harassment of someone (or multiple someones) because of their interest in or participation in the creation of a specific thing (a pairing, a piece of media, or a trope). To quote one tumblr user, “antis by definition harass people” by using slurs, threats, doxxing, suicide baiting, and attempts to get people fired from their jobs or to get them killed by outing them to people offline.

Second: Anyone who speaks/thinks critically or airs dislike of something or someone in fandom in any capacity or at any volume is an anti and explicitly a bad person in fandom no matter what

(ex: a teenager with 2 followers saying they dislike “daddy kink” is seen as just as bad as anyone sending gore or threats to shippers they dislike and they’re both as bad as someone with 12000 followers mocking a specific “daddy kink” artist for their work because they “deserve it” for being “gross”).

Third: If you criticize issues in fandom, the way I do with racism from fans and in media we consume or create, you are automatically an anti on par with the people who do harass others in fandom over their content and are complicit in harassment of or violence towards people.

Fourth: If you are someone that other people have deemed an anti for any reason, even if you have never actually harassed someone at all (much less for “what they like or create in fandom”), you are now responsible for and complicit in harassment in all of fandom over dark, complex, or “problematic” content.

(ex: a Black artist in February 2021 said that death shouldn’t be used as a “gotcha” in fandom discourse (referring to how people use Zamii’s self harm attempt to blame antis for… everything even though apparently Zamii’s mental health crisis had additional components to it) was then accused of harassing a stranger (in a fandom she’s not in,  doesn’t know, and might not have existed as such) into committing suicide by @lizcourserants on twitter and thousands of her followers. She was harassed – including being accused of manslaughter and of driving a child to self harm and even threatened at one point – until she left Twitter entirely. These are impartial screenshots on my end because @lizcourserants had just finished harassing me and trying to get me fired from Teen Vogue two weeks before over my use of “PickMe”, so I didn’t document as much as I should’ve.)

Fifth: anything other people in any other fandom (even people in fandoms you’re not in and have never spoken to or about) then decide to do to you or say about you in the name of protecting freedom in fandom is fine because you are now an anti… you now are against fandom and should be destroyed in the process of protecting fandom.

This trajectory is not just seen as a logical pushback to the anti sexual content, anti-fandom behaviors that picked up speed in 2015 around the time of the Voltron Legendary Defenders fandom. This trajectory is also a function of racism utilized by people in fandom to obstruct or derail conversations about racism in fandom and media. After all, they’re presenting an argument where antis are bad violent people who want to hurt others and then aggressively redefine criticism as anti fandom… so anti racism attempts in fandom (including fans of color simply talking amongst ourselves about racism) must be anti-fandom and therefore oppressive itself.  


In the end, multiple things can be true simultaneously.

  • Some anti fans named themselves “antis” or “anti ____” and there are small clusters of “communities” formed around hating a thing really hard that lead to harassing other people and hurting them badly. (Largely on TikTok and Twitter, but there are pockets on Tumblr.)
  • There are racists in fandom who have latched onto the proshipper or anti-anti identity in order to excuse openly racist behavior towards fans and performers of color. They use the same arguments against CRT and hate speech laws – a fear of authoritarians “controlling” others and of censorship – to push/promote racism in fandom.
  • No one should be harassed in fandom for what they create in fandom as a form of self expression and exploration. Simultaneously, speaking on racism (including in fanworks), pointing out bad behavior in fandom, or even saying “I think this thing is icky and I don’t get why people like it” aren’t automatically harassment.
  • Racism and other forms of bigotry should not be welcome in fandom or in what we create for and consume within fandom. (This is not about stories depicting characters facing racism and bigotry in a story that unpacks that or even complex topics portrayed poorly, but things like retaliatory racism in response to people talking about racism they deal with in fandom or racism/bigotry as kink.)
  • “Anti” is a useless term since it’s increasingly applied to random people who didn’t choose it for themselves and who are literally just airing their own issues with a given thing in fandom and it is often used to dehumanize and excuse harassing other people.
  • Without reasonable criticism – which doesn’t even need to be shared widely, people get to be critical on their own time and in their own spaces – fandom will stagnate. Additionally, if all the other content is allowed in fandom but not criticism… can you actually say fandom is an “anything goes” landscape?
  • Critique should have its own home in fandom. We are allowed to think about what we consume and we are allowed to criticize things. Critical thinking/analysis aren’t “anti things” or a sign of being an anti. If you think that… Well that’s unfortunate.

About Stitch

Stitch writes about what needs to be written.
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5 Responses to The Evolution of Anti-Critical Consumption/Thinking “Anti-Anti” Fandom

  1. This was a great post! Both informative and thought-provoking, and it helped me put together some pieces of fandom history–like the term ‘anti’–that I hadn’t quite put together, or even realized I was missing. It’s been a couple years now since I’ve actively engaged with fandom (beyond browsing AO3 and reading your blog, basically, lol), but last time I was, was also the first time I’d run into the term ‘anti’. This was circa… 2018-ish, in FMA fandom, where at the time and in the parts I was in it was strongly associated with the specific brand of self-proclaimed anti-shipper who was against specific ships with age gaps (and you can guess the kinds of accusations they levelled at fans of said ships), so any of the older versions were completely unknown to me until now. 🙂

    … Yeah it’s been way too long since I commented on a blog post or anything because I’m now fighting grandmother-on-facebook urges to sign off with an “all the best” lol.

    Like

  2. aqilaqamar says:

    Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:
    This is an effective analysis of how racism and horrible actions are excused within fandoms. It should be noted that usually people called out for egregious actions are marginalised themselves. The White/European/Western fans hardly ever face any sort of response or any sort of pointing out.

    Like

  3. aqilaqamar says:

    I think some of it was already there before Voltron: Legendary Defender. We see the nascent roots of this in Steven Universe, Adventure Time and Legend of Korra fandoms. As many of those fans migrated to VLD fandoms. So, Thank you for like showing the modern history of the “anti” and how it should be within one’s right to critically consume fandom.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up, 1-7 December 2021: Trans VTuber Love, Cupid Parasite, and Lack of Women at Nintendo - Anime Feminist

  5. militantlyromantic says:

    This really irons out a lot of the questions I’ve been mulling and helps with analysis of some of your other pieces. Those last three bullets are *chef’s kiss*

    Liked by 1 person

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