In 2018, the word “fandom” has become the new “f-word.”
Box-office and home-video sales tracking website the Numbers saw a massive uptick in traffic after multiple outlets linked to their Blu-ray sales list. Sitting atop the list of best-selling Blu-ray films of 2018 was the much-lauded Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
This stunning revelation sent the Star Wars fandom into yet another hurricane of finger-pointing, conspiracy theorizing and vitriolic tweets sent toward prominent people in the Star Wars community.
How could a movie so apparently hated by fans — getting a 45 per cent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes while receiving a 91 per cent critic score — be the best-selling home release of the year? Were fans buying the film in droves to burn en masse like a recent rash of Nike protests?
Or did the majority of Star Wars fans simply like the movie?
Chuck Wendig — author of the bestselling Star Wars trilogy Aftermath — may have said it best on Twitter.
“There is a loud, sniveling faction of small-minded turd-bubbles who want you to believe the movie is so cataclysmically bad they’ll fire Kathleen Kennedy and it’s the real reason why Kelly Marie Tran quit social media and the [Star Wars] brand is ruined,” Wendig said in response to the negative narrative around the Last Jedi.
What Wendig is trying to say is that there is a toxic element of the Star Wars fandom destroying it from the inside, and someone needs to stand up to this “sniveling faction of small-minded turd-bubbles.”
Most often the outrage surrounds a supposed Hollywood takeover by ‘social justice warriors’ (SJWs). Disgruntled community members feel that diversity is being forced down their throats and takes the fan out of the experience. Meanwhile creators and the so-called SJWs only mean to include minority voices in the conversation.
Queer relationships and people of colour are a part of our everyday world, yet these toxic fans feel they are the ones victimized when creatives integrate this fact into new stories.
Kelly Marie Tran and the anti-SJWs
The Star Wars fan base is not toxic on the whole, but it is getting there.
Adam Rogers of Wired wrote a piece detailing a trip to San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, which was the first year he noticed the tipping point of nerd culture. Walking around the show floor that year, Rogers noticed that the majority of attendees were female.
He also noticed that the young men at the convention were, in his words, “audibly grumbling” about the female contingent.
A decade later, we are constantly inundated online with the toxicity of nerdy fandom’s countless tweets railing against “forced diversity,” “an SJW takeover” — “SJW” often used as an insult — and “the marginalization of straight white men.”
The fact is the majority of the fandom saw this coming and did nothing to stop it. Now we need to deal with those consequences.
The creators themselves have begun to lead the way on this issue. Along with Wendig, actress Kelly Marie Tran has become an outspoken critic of toxic fandom.
Tran deleted all her posts on Instagram in June after receiving consistent racist and sexist comments about her portrayal of Rose Tico.
She was the first woman of colour to have a starring role in a Star Wars film and her harassment follows similar comments directed at co-star John Boyega who was subject to racist backlash over his role in the franchise.
In an op-ed written for the New York Times, Tran opened up about the abuse she received.
“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” Tran wrote.
“Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of colour already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.”
However, as great as it is that creators in these highly visible and increasingly toxic communities are taking a stand for change, more needs to be done.
The true silent majority: the average fan
With creators like Wendig and Tran speaking out against the online harassment, we are getting two vocal minorities clashing in a massive battlefield.
We have toxic fanboys and outspoken creators clashing on social media, in blogs and through YouTube videos over who gets to define the discourse of the Star Wars fandom.
Herein lies the problem, but the solution is simple: fans need to speak up and pick a side.
Toxicity has been allowed to fester on message boards and in Twitter feeds for decades, and this online component is the main problem. The internet is giving a small minority of voices a megaphone to spew hateful rhetoric and, when they do, all of fandom is in the splash zone.
The conventional wisdom is to “vote with your wallet,” and that certainly has been working. Star Wars and Marvel movies turn in huge profits at the box office and there seems to be no end in sight, but that only solves part of the problem.
Profit shows that there is a market, but the climate surrounding that market determines who wants to be involved. If a brilliant mind like Last Jedi director Rian Johnson faced years of death threats for trying something new, other similarly talented people will think twice about signing on.
The Star Wars fandom in particular has had real, life-altering impacts on the creators involved. Hayden Christensen largely quit acting following his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd’s turn at the same character drove him down a self-destructive path and Ahmed Best — who played the much-reviled Jar Jar Binks — contemplated suicide after facing abuse online and in the media.
If nobody wants to be a part of the property you love because you allow a small subset of your community to control the discourse and fill their email and Twitter mentions with disgusting hate, there is nobody to blame but yourself.
Not all fans are toxic, not all fandoms are problematic, but there needs to be a concerted effort made by the majority of fans to define their particular culture. If you hate something, be nice about it. If you love something, let the creators know.
And if your favourite fan theory is proven untrue, don’t throw racial slurs around. Be an adult and deal with it.
So stand up, flex your tweeting fingers and get to work spreading love, not hate.