This begins, as it often does, with a tumblr post.
Tumblr user allofthefeelings made a quick little post about power fantasies, framing them as the reason why fandom is the way it is with all these aggressive, fighty people. And I agree and disagree simultaneously. The entire post is so small that I am going to paste it below:
I think it’s really important to talk about how different people have different power fantasies.
- For some people, the idea of someone redeeming a villain is a power fantasy.
- For other people, the idea of a villain being defeated is a power fantasy.
- And for other people, the idea of a character owning their villainy is a power fantasy.
I would argue a lot of fandom conflicts re: villains come from people being unable to see that their fantasies, which put them in control of a narrative (and all three of these are designed to give the author or reader control of the narrative in different ways) are someone else’s horror stories.
Let’s get into it!
Allofthefeelings is correct that different people’s power fantasies contribute to an environment of fandom that’s hostile to people who don’t have that specific fantasy. The thing is, I think that we should build this out broadly to look beyond villains (which I think isn’t an incorrect approach but very limited despite that) to the ways people have, want, and grab for power within fandom spaces.
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A good villain or anti-hero can make a fandom. Often flawed and fearless, they speak to our inner struggles and successes in a way that heroes alone might not be able to tap into, and as a result, they spark many modern-day fandom experiences. We want to be them, smooch them, fight them — and sometimes all three at once, depending on how attractive and/or infuriating they are.
On Loki, Anti-Heroes, and Who Gets to Be a Lovable Villain
To this day, I’ll never quite understand how “hating villains” became a part of my fandom mythology until it’s something “everyone” knows about me. That I hate villains
Me. Noted Thrawn-thirster. Me. Trieze Kushrenada mega-fan. Me. Dormant Hannigram shipper. Me. Eternal Jason Todd apologist. (He literally didn’t do anything wrong even when… he technically did do some bad shit after his resurrection.)
I mean… I get that it’s because it’s easier to make stuff up about me than to like… try to learn anything about me that wasn’t spoonfed to them by one of my rabid anti-fans. But it’s weird because my beef has really never been with villains or anti-heroes themselves, but with how their loudest fans are not… always great and choose to minimize the things that make their faves good (but bad) in the quest to claim and maintain the moral high ground. (Except for the Joker. I do hate him and dislike his fandom. But that’s partially connected to the Jason Todd thing.)
I love villains and antiheroes. Their aggressive fandoms who think these characters can’t do anything wrong and haven’t been bad once- especially the ones who insist on crawling up my butt to make their beef personal when mine isn’t? Those can launch themselves into the nearest lake and swim until they chill out. But villains and anti-heroes are cool to me for all the best possible reasons. I love the menace they bring to the table, the way that many are allowed to be more complex than the heroes are, and how much fun they get to have.
Like I wound up watching Castlevania for Hector and Isaac, those two messy necromancers. I own… so many Thrawn things because he’s hot and horrible. I actually liked Kylo Ren before his fandom and The Last Jedi ruined him for me. I am also a Harley Quinn apologist and while she has done MANY things wrong, I’m just glad she’s having fun and getting to kiss Poison Ivy sometimes.
Anyway, I’m really proud of this piece. If you can share it on your social media/with interested readers, or otherwise retweet it, please do:
If left unchecked, there’s no limit to how many times I’ll bring up Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn (the 2016 novel and its titular character) in a conversation about Star Wars.
Thrawn is hands down my favorite villain in the Star Wars universe and I think he’s an incredibly well-written villain that’s the straight up star of his own set of books. Like I literally wish I could write a villain as good as Thrawn, a character who is interesting and compelling while also frustrating enough to make you want to beat the holy heck out of him.
I’d like to blame my friend Justen for my whole Thrawn… thing. He’s encouraged my Thrawn obsession for the longest time now and he’d be the easiest person to pin my Thrawn-obsession on. Except, that wouldn’t be fair or entirely true. Read More »
From Hannibal Lecter eating the rude across the northeastern United States to Loki’s attempts to subjugate the human race and Kylo Ren’s patricide and misogyny, fandom just loves to look at villains who have committed atrocities and decide that they’re in fact complex characters who just need a redemption arc to set them on the right track (because they have a good reason for what they did/the heroes of the series are in fact the real villain) …
But only if they’re white dudes.
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Content Notes: This post is ostensibly about abuse (and how fandom assigns “abuse/r” labels based on the role a character plays in their respective narrative). I also quote dialogue between Jessica Jones and her abuser Kilgrave and discuss abuse related to Batman and the Joker. But the entire post is about abuse and it may trigger survivors so… Read carefully.
It’s a bit worrying that to huge swathes of fandom, the words “villain” and “antagonist” are now synonymous with “abuser”.
I’m a lurker by nature, so I’m always watching the way that fandom clings to or discards trends or tropes in their favorite source media and the fanworks that they produce about them. One thing I’ve noticed is that recently, within certain fandom spaces, the words “villain” and “antagonist” are more and more frequently conflated with the word “abuser”, something which I find worrying and frustrating.
In many fandoms, I’ve seen villains called “abusive” just by virtue of their being the villains. I’ve also started to see the terms “abuse”, “abuser”, and “abuse apologist” being thrown around willy-nilly to try to somehow show fans the error of their shipping ways (usually by calling them names or suggesting that they’re as bad as the fictional villains – or real life abusers in the accuser’s past).
Only that’s not how any of that actually works, but that’s not stopping it from happening in several fandoms that I’m in or have been adjacent to and I have… thoughts.
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