On fandom and social justice and insincerity.

I’ve been so frustrated with the state of social-justice-minded pop culture blogs (and websites) lately. And by lately, I mean for a long, long time. The overall tone has become bitterness and cynicism. A lot of people have discovered Social Justice rhetoric to be an excellent tool to win online arguments, to claim the moral highground in petty fandom squabbles. The fact that these arguments are used so much these days in ship wars is truly saddening. For example, I recently came a cross a person who made a lot of angry posts accusing others of misogyny, of sidelining a specific female character. But that person wasn’t concerned about that female character at all, but rather upset that not enough people were shipping their favourite m/m pairing. This need to co-opt social justice rhetoric, to feign concern, to use issues of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. to guilt-trip and shame others, without actually giving a fuck about those issues oneself … it’s seriously poisoned all online discussions these days, and that sucks.

It’s become this battle of who is right or wrong, who is the most virtuous fan, who only likes ~perfectly unproblematic~ things. It favours knee-jerk responses, superficiality, bias and – worst of all – it polarizes fandom instead of letting us openly and freely share our different points of view. It’s a stupidly depressing state of affairs, especially as fandom is supposedly a thing that brings people together, people from different wakes of life, from all over the world, united by their shared interest in a piece of fiction, a hobby, something they love.

And here we are dismissing each other’s identities, insulting them, picking petty fights and using real-life tragedies and injustices to score stupid points in stupid online arguments.

What’s lacking in this climate is actual empathy and sensitivity. It is useless and anti-intellectual the way things are. It actually encourages a division of fans into groups, and judging their value based on those groups. It’s perverting a good idea (treating marginalized people as authorities on issues related to their identity) and turning it into a monster shadow of itself: now being a minority means you’re always right, even on topics you know nothing about. So now you have people who play gatekeepers and try to control who is granted the coveted “minority status”. Like Americans who insist that Muslim Europeans aren’t dark-skinned enough for their discrimination to count. And on the other hand, you have kids who realize that without a minority status of some kind, their thoughts and opinions will not be accepted in fandom, so they try to portray some normal personality trait as a mental illness, unique gender identity or rare sexual orientation. It’s making a mockery of real-life issues.

And we’re all just drifting apart.

I cannot remember the last time when a fandom essay or article managed to change my mind, to tell me something new or make me question my beliefs. They’re not written to convince or enlighten. They’re written to reinforce previously held ideas. They’re not meant to open your mind but to close it down. Because everyone takes everything personal when it comes to fandom media criticism. It’s not just a movie – it’s my favourite movie and anybody who criticizes it is attacking me!!!

A few days ago, a book from my university days fell into my hands: Tzvetan Todorov’s La conquête de l’Amérique. La question d l’autre. As I recall, in it he describes our attitude towards “the other” – to any group we consider separate from ourselves – as multi-faceted and complex. And just reading a few pages – boy, I’ve missed this sort of writing and thinking that isn’t trying to quickly prove or disprove something, but seems genuinely interested in exploring a complex issue? Not trying to find absolute truths and insist on their rightousness, but to ask questions and make you think. Gah.

We really need to get over the moral judgment – and over ourselves – and start actually giving a fuck.




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