Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fandom Has Always Been Broken (And Always Will Be), But My God, It Is Beautiful

Recently, Devin Faraci wrote a piece entitled “Fandom is Broken.” If you have the time — and patience with some very asinine remarks and deep swerves into irrelevant issues and unfair comparisons — you should read the piece. While I found some of his comments to be compelling and accurate, the fact is that Faraci places social media at the forefront of what he deems to be a “broken” fandom. His hypothesis is that fandom is currently broken and that the reason it is broken is because social media has caused its users to become narcissistic and entitled, demanding what they want when they want it from creators. Even if he doesn’t flat-out say this (and quite a few times, he comes very close), that is the implication. Faraci’s argument is that people who clamor because Captain America is no longer who they were told he was — no longer seemingly a part of the narrative they had connected with and the creators had depicted — are “entitled,” and “lesser than” fans who are simply just demanding what they feel they are owed, regardless of whether or not a creator deems it to be integral to the narrative at large.

I want to use this piece in order to pick this argument apart, bit by bit. I can see, in some instances in the piece, where Faraci is coming from. I’ve seen a lot of problems in the fourteen years I’ve been involved with Internet fandoms. And so I want to talk about the problems, certainly. But I also want to talk about the notion that these fan reactions are completely unfounded or “petulant,” as Faraci claims them to be. So let’s break down my discussion into a few, easy-to-digest segments.


I first want to start off with the negative, because I do think that Faraci makes a few attempts at something resembling a point. I hope, of course, that I cover this topic with the kind of tact that he lacked. Because Faraci does make a point about sects of fandoms who act entitled. I’ve felt that way about a lot of fandoms, including the Arrow fandom recently, whom I love dearly. I’ve seen tweets going so far as to say that because their favorite romantic pairing endured so much angst throughout the course of the season, restoration of that pairing is owed back to the fans next season (and the pairing owed back to them in a happy, permanent state to boot).

The line that any fandom toes in terms of social media and engaging creators is dicey. And it causes even those of us with the best of intentions to slip into what Faraci so scathingly describes, especially when posts or tweets use words such as “deserve” or “owe.” But I, of course, know that these desires stem from something that is not evil or self-centered as Faraci claims. And yet, rather than trust writers and the writers’ narrative, some fans decide to take it into their own hands to try and push creators toward a resolution that they feel is appropriate. Why does this happen? It happens when fandom loses faith in the writers and creators of something they love, plain and simple. The fandom would not be tweeting, asking for a happy romantic pairing if they believed the show would give it to them organically. They’re scared (and with good reason, often) that the show or movie or book they care about and defend won’t honor the thing they fell in love with to begin with.

It’s not just Twitter, however. I’ve seen message boards over a decade ago demand the creators that a character be killed off so that a non-canon ship could become a possibility. I’ve watched as friends have endured taunt after taunt and vile threat after vile threat for vocalizing the fact that comic book television adaptations are not the same thing as the comic books themselves. I’ve seen some pretty dark things in fandoms, and I’ve seen evidence of how fans can become a bit too proud of the thing they feel they’ve orchestrated. Sometimes fans do inappropriately attribute a show’s success or failure to something they like about it — a character or a romantic pairing or a storyline. And sometimes they conflate their personal preference with the success/failure of a particular show or story.

I’ve seen fans clamor on social media, wanting the things they want just so they can be appeased. I’ve seen petitions and more petitions, and hashtag campaigns (positive and negative). And so when Faraci calls out people who simply extend their hands to creators and say, with the voice of a child, “gimme what I want now,” I get that. I do. Because I’ve seen people like that in fandoms throughout the time I’ve been involved with it. I’ve seen people threaten to leave shows because characters are killed off. I’ve seen people stomp their feet because the season finale didn’t end the way they thought it should. I’ve seen a lot of things.

And while I take a lot of issue with fans who tweet creators, demanding that they act like their puppets and do whatever the fans want, whenever they want it, I think that Faraci is skirting a giant flaw in his theory — namely, he is inappropriately equating certain fans’ reactions to creators’ decisions as nothing more than just entitlement. But — more often than not — this is simply not the case.


While there is some of this “entitlement” prevalent in fandom as I noted above, the vast majority of fans do not get vocally upset without just cause. Instead, they become enraged with creators when these creators make erratic, out-of-character decisions for the sake of ratings or network approval. Take the new controversy surrounding Captain America being a HYDRA double agent, for instance. Faraci cites this in his piece as an example of how fans act petulant, just wanting a happy ending for their hero and no drama. In accusing fandom of reacting because they don’t understand story or the purpose of it, Faraci manages to insult a huge fanbase who has a very valid criticism and a very firm grasp on the idea of a heroic narrative. Nothing about this narrative — about what the creators presented to be true about Steve Rogers/Captain America in the comics — makes sense. Nothing about the way that the How I Met Your Mother EPs ended their series made sense. And the fandom, in both cases, called the creators out on their fatal flaws.

Fandom is astute, and we know story better than the general public. We’re able to track narratives and character progression/regression. So when Oliver Queen lies after years of progress and opening up, the fandom becomes upset. The creators are backsliding their characters in order to serve a shoddy narrative that makes no sense, given everything they told us to be true of their characters and motivations. When fans criticize the thing they love, it’s not because they hate creators — it’s because they LOVE their “thing” so much that they understand it on a very personal level. Faraci brushes aside the notion that this is why fans get upset. He says as much in his piece. Instead, he decides that the reason people become irate is because they’re irrational — because being too close to creators and having too much access has given them a sense of power.


Faraci claims that fandom has become “consumerist” and that this is what has caused the decline in quality of products like television shows, movies, etc. I think he grossly misunderstands the world of business if he believes that fans are the ones who have the ultimate say in what creators do or do not produce, and is even more obtuse if he believes fandom is ultimately pulling network executives’ strings. In fact, here is what he claims:
I wish this was the part of the essay where I come to you with a hopeful pep talk about how we can all be better, but I just don't see a positive solution. If anything, I see things getting worse – creators walling themselves off from fans while corporate masters happily throw vision and storytelling under the bus to appease the people who can get hashtags trending.
As I read through this article, this is the part that really infuriated me because I literally do not understand where the evidence for this statement above comes from. At all. Pop culture has always been a consumerist sphere. That’s exactly why magazines and comic books and television and film studios are BUSINESSES. Creators may be removing themselves from social media, but the idea that corporations “throw vision and storytelling under the buss to appease the people who can get hashtags trending” is the end result of creators removing themselves from social media is rather head-scratching. Where is the evidence of this happening? And in certain circumstances, why is this idea of network executives gaining the ear of the fandom via creators being presented as a bad thing?

I’ll take Community as an example. For all of its faults later on, this is a show that incredibly and impeccably bridged the gap between consumer and ownership. For a few years, Community was this tiny little show on NBC that garnered nowhere near enough ratings or eyeballs for NBC executives to remotely care about it. The series premiere garnered 7.89 million viewers in the U.S. By the second season premiere, only around 60% of that original audience was watching. And by the time the season five finale aired on NBC, that number was abysmal (2.87 million).

NBC had absolutely no reason to renew Community unless it was making them money. Networks are businesses, after all. And when an episode aired in season three where a character named Abed claimed his favorite show would be on for “six seasons and a movie,” that phrase and the hashtag #SixSeasonsAndAMovie became a rallying cry for the online fandom. But what was extremely interesting was to watch how the progression of the hashtag went from being a thing fans used to talk about the show, to a thing that the show used at the end of the following season. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie came full circle — started by the fans, it was eventually integrated into a part of the show’s canon, embraced by the creators in the best way possible. And that hashtag birthed a movement that ended up saving the show. The fandom caught the ear of the creators, but only because of that immensely close connection with the EPs and the cast themselves.

The fandom didn’t stop there, though. In order to save the show, they knew they would need more than a hashtag. But the hashtag became the foundation of a movement — a way to strategically figure out what was necessary to save the show. Namely: advertisers. NBC did not “appease the people who would get hashtags trending” because they got hashtags trending. In fact, it’s extremely odd that these and Sony executives even cared a little bit about the Community fandom. Quite frankly, network executives don’t need to listen to fans. But that brings us to my next point...


Fandom is becoming much smarter than Faraci gives us credit for. Because we’re graduating with business degrees and combining our love for our television shows and ships with logical and practical methods for being heard is the norm. The Community fandom rallied together, but did not directly tweet NBC executives. Sure, they staged an event outside of the Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, but whenever the show aired, the fans were smart enough to watch live and tweet the advertisers. Because we were intelligent enough to know that we should follow the money in order to follow the success or demise of our favorite show. We didn’t tweet the advertisers because we wanted to change the minds of the creators or stop them from following through with a story or a plot. We contacted them because we wanted to prove that our devotion was real, and that it was worthy of investment.

Fandom is still — and will always be — reactionary, for the most part. Creators produce things, we respond to them, and then that is it. Most fandoms will never have such a large influence and sway in terms of storytelling that creators end up with their hands tied by network executives who demand they listen to the fans’ whims and wants. I could be completely off-base here, but I sincerely doubt that the fans are the ones in charge of creators like puppet masters. Network executives, movie studios, and those who are financial backers of these products are.

Network executives don’t have their ear to Twitter, either. At least none in my experience do. It’s my assumption that they have far too many other higher-level decisions to make than follow a trending hashtag and make decisions based on @stuckylover95 and his or her followers. Network executives follow the money, so storytelling initiatives can — and often are — controlled by what executives believe will earn them the most money in the long run, whether or not that actually reflects fandoms’ wants. Sometimes executives want to shake things up and creators have no say in that, it’s true. Sometimes creators get fired because they push back on what network executives demand. Sometimes writers and creators do have to bend to the whims of network executives who see what people talk about in their homes and on social sites.

But Faraci’s gross misunderstanding of how the entertainment business works (or at least his presentation of it) unfairly paints fandom as the one, loud problematic voice that leads to bad products. Bad writing leads to bad products. Bad timing leads to bad products. Bad decision-making leads to bad products. But I feel like you’d be hard-pressed to find an executive or a high-up creative influencer out there who would say that it is because of users on Facebook that they forced their creators to reconstruct a narrative and, as a result, the entire trajectory of their product changed. That might be true in some instances, but those are very few and far between, as far as I’m aware.

If anything, executives enjoy sticking with what works, rather than arbitrarily shaking up the status quo because of a trending Twitter hashtag. They want to earn money consistently, after all.


I also want to address something that I found problematic (shocker) in what Faraci said:
The corporatized nature of the stories we consume has led fans - already having a hard time understanding the idea of an artist's vision - to assume almost total ownership of the stuff they love.
The problem is that Faraci ONLY presents the idea of “ownership” as a negative thing. If you, as a creator, are able to construct a narrative or craft characters that your audience feels personal ownership of, then you’re absolutely doing the right thing. Any creator or artist will tell you that. You WANT people to care about your show or your book or your movie. The worst thing that could happen is for your audience to sit back and do nothing. You want people to be so invested that they lean into your stories and become engulfed in them. Obviously, people should be able to separate fiction from reality, but that’s whole other post.

The problem here is that Faraci defines “fans” as “people who already have difficulty understanding an artist’s vision and only latch onto something that connects to them personally.” Then, by this definition, he assumes the problem is that people take things far too personally and cannot separate their love and obsession from the purpose of the artist’s vision. Except, again, we’re not talking about the decision to have a character go to a party in a scene or drink coffee black, instead of with sugar.

Fandom becomes vocal when the creators begin steering their narrative in a way that is contradictory to everything fandom has been told to be true. And Faraci’s absolutely appalling and patronizing view of fans lends him to believe some pretty dangerous things: namely that if a fandom is vocal about something they dislike, it must be because they’re too attached and can’t understand an artist’s vision. It’s like standing side-by-side in a gallery with Faraci, after being promised to see a painting of the Mona Lisa. Instead, you’re met with a gross misrepresentation of the work of art — something that vaguely resembles the thing you loved but being sold to you as identical. And when you vocalize the fact that this is not the thing you fell in love with, Faraci turns to you and says: “Ugh, of course you think that. You love the Mona Lisa too much. You just don’t get the artist’s vision, do you?”

Of course, that’s absurd! The problem is not in the final product, but in the way that everything we know to be true of the Mona Lisa would not match this thing we are told is identical to it. And so it is true with fandom: we do not, for the most part, get vocal without just cause. We understand characters, because we love them and have followed their narrative journeys. So when a comic book says that Steve Rogers has been a double agent for HYDRA this entire time, the fandom becomes enraged. They’ve been happily consuming what they believe to be a narrative about justice and heroism, only to be told that it was all a lie. That’s the kind of fandom betrayal that led to such a vocal reaction — from all of the critics, too — after the How I Met Your Mother series finale. The creators destroyed everything they told the fandom to be true of their characters for the last nine years, all for the sake of some original plot that they planned when they assumed the show would only last three years.

Creators WANT fans to take ownership of their art — that’s why actors and creators love seeing fanart and fanvideos. It’s why fanfiction has boomed since the Internet appeared. Community writer Megan Ganz was astounded when she attended an art show years ago which was comprised of fanart that had been made about the show, featuring its characters. For her, the idea that a fan would see something she created and be spurred to create their own works of art was touching and revolutionary. It inspired her and gave her hope. That is why fandom is vocal, Faraci — because we have seen the good that our creators can do, and we recognize when something in the narrative is amiss.

We engage because we care, not because we hate.


These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn't be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?
Faraci spends some of his piece bragging about confronting his tormenters, like it’s something we should applaud him for. The whole problem with this article, really, is the irony in the fact that Faraci wants to be lauded as someone who is brilliantly calling out “problems” — it’s evident in the way he writes this piece, separating himself from fandom by defining them as the “other” and himself as the lone ranger that he feels he deserves to be excluded from the problem. And though maybe he hasn’t ever sent a death threat to someone on Twitter or mailed in a hateful letter, that doesn’t mean that Faraci can simply pretend he isn’t a part of a fandom — any fandom — and therefore not a part of the problem.

But this idea that he presents us with is nothing new, and Faraci presents it like it is some revolutionary concept. The idea of “mob mentality” (which is what fandom is, when it is at its very worst) has been around for centuries. And therein lies the problem with Faraci’s argument — or, at least, with the way he presents it: there is absolutely nothing original about his content or what he is saying; he is simply choosing to talk about it in the most patronizing, insulting way in order to gain readership.

This “Fandom is Broken” article could have been a vehicle for Faraci to really express some genuine concerns. Instead, his patronizing voice damages all of his credibility. He’s looking down, high and mighty, with disgust on something he feels is broken and deplorable, all while reaping its benefits. How do you think we found your piece, Mr. Faraci? Oh, that’s right — social media. You can’t claim to write an inflammatory piece and “not know” it would blow up the way it did.

And nothing irritates me more than people who pretend they’re something they are not.


Fandom has been driving wedges between creators and themselves for ages. Because when you break them down, fandoms are comprised of PEOPLE. Of course fandom is flawed, Faraci — people are flawed! Ever since there was an idea or thought to behold, people have held opposing views on those thoughts and ideas. Before the Internet, people argued face-to-face (and they still do). Now, it is simply easier for those who disagree with opinions and beliefs to express them within 140 characters. Creators and actors and social influencers are closer to us than ever before, yes, but that does not mean that they have not had issues with fans until now or that the issues are somehow getting worse. Fandom was broken long before Faraci’s piece and it will continue to be broken. A broken system is broken because it’s made up of broken people, not because the ideas — necessarily — are broken.

Do people within fandoms occasionally overreach or overestimate their reach when it comes to influence on a television show, movie, or plot thread in a comic book? Absolutely. But this is not the first time this has happened. Before the social media boom, people wrote letters and stalked their celebrities and stood outside of movies, rallying with handmade posters. Let’s not pretend, Mr. Faraci, that social media is what has made fandom broken (or more broken). Your favorite creators are more accessible, yes, but faulting fandom at large for problematic individuals is the kind of overgeneralization that is dangerous in our day and age. And to disassociate form it and believe yourself to be somehow above that kind of problematic thinking is even worse.

But you know what? Passion is amazing. And that’s the best part of being in a fandom: the energy and their desire to influence. Fandoms have done so much good, too, but Faraci doesn’t talk about those fandoms or their efforts in his post. He doesn’t talk about the way fandoms have raised incredible amounts of money for amazing causes. He doesn’t talk about how they use their talents in order to help give back to the people who give so much to them. He doesn’t talk about their innovation or the way they’ve united together. He doesn’t discuss the fact that they help and support one another, rallying together when someone is hurt or in need. He doesn’t talk about the friendships formed, the marriages that have happened, or the way that creators have reached out to people in fandoms in order to express how much they care.

Fandom is broken. But it was not recently broken. It was broken the moment the first person who disliked something in a fandom decided to do something unproductive as a way to resolve it. That is when fandom broke. Not with the invention of Facebook or Twitter. And not when Faraci wrote that article.

And while fandom is broken, it’s still beautiful. Absolutely, positively, freaking beautiful. And nothing will ever change that.


  1. While I think the author of the original article went a little to far. I don't think he was that off.

    I think at least this season I've seen a lot of Fandoms go out of control and scream wild claims of OCC writing when really they have just been ignoring the traits of a character because it wasn't effecting the lead or their ship. Then when it is they start calling the writers hacks or sending death threats. I mean that is insane, I totally understand not liking a story or direction of a show it has happened to me I just stop watching I don't threaten the writers. The other thing I have noticed is people making up wild stories about knowing inside information from sources on the show as if people who work for the show talk to people on Tumbler about legal contracts and story boards all of this is done to spark drama.

    Now is this most people no but when its the loudest you can see how he could get to his article. The sad fact is the loudest people get the attention and with that they are representative of the group so while no most people in fandoms are sane the loudest aren't and so fandoms earned the bad rap.

  2. I certainly think that there are parts of fandom that are seriously broken and I think that social media does amplify those negative sides of the creator/watcher dynamic. I think a strong critique can be made of social media and its effects on the culture at large (it's why I don't use Twitter or Facebook myself). However, I don't think this article you reference achieved any of that. It was not a careful analysis or strong argument. I'm not sure I know what he was trying to achieve, outside of gaining attention and causing more shouting.

    My biggest problem with online discourse about media is that people spend too much time talking about the creators/authors and not enough time just concentrating on the story. We cannot know for sure much about the writing process or what the author "meant". We do all have the same access to the work itself so let's just get to grips with that and talk about what makes the STORY good or bad, awkward or effective, powerful or inane. We can make up as many narratives about the motivations or actions of executives or creators as we like but it seems to be mostly hearsay or speculation. The story is the thing.

    Authors these days need to do a large amount of self-promotion via social media. Publishers do not have the budget and there are so many new names and books and tv shows out there that everyone has to fight for their bit of attention. That is the business and creators need to know their trade and how it works. I know that is their reality but I also know that I am not truly invited into their lives nor do I have any claim on them. Creators do not "owe" me anything. I put my time and attention where I choose if I find their work to be pleasing or powerful. If they cease to produce or the quality of a show suffers then I will go elsewhere. But I'm not going to yell at the creators about it. I also do not "owe" them anything. I do not have to idly sit by and swallow whatever story they decide to tell because they are the "genius" and I am just the fan. I can critique with the best of them if I see problems in the story.

    I can see how interactions with fans can be hugely inspiring. I can also see how they could be completely exhausting and distracting. If a writer is in the midst of working why would they want to be on social media? It's hard enough to concentrate and focus in this world. Why add the additional clamouring of the internet at that point? I worked in a bookstore for years and had interactions with authors that were enjoyable and also weird and strained. I am not interested in meeting my idols as much any more. I just want to read the story and I enjoy discussing the story with other readers/watchers if the discussion is good. And considering how introverted many creators are do we really want them to spend their energy on social interaction? It will leave them with much less time and energy to create. It's part of why I don't use social media much. That much stimulation and interaction (even virtual) is exhausting. If creators are "walling themselves" away maybe they are just learning as they get more experience of the fast and loud world of social media that they have to carefully balance their priorities if they actually want to get any creating done.

  3. I agree with F, although even he’s a little radical and I agree with you too (some parts).
    Taking the example of Captain America, I’m a great fan of the character, and I found it so ridiculous to whole Hydra thing, but he's right, the fans have no patience to see where the story will lead.
    I'm 100% sure this is a trick of the writers and Steve’s not really Hydra, he's brainwashed or something.
    And have so many fans who see in story what they want to see, rather than what the writers are telling, used the Cap example again, although I ship Stucky, they’re a lot of fans stating with 100% certainty that Steve is bisexual, this is not true, this is something coming from the fandom and they’re demand something that isn’t on screen.
    I can only speak for tumblr because I don’t have twitter, while I love tumblr, there’s a lot fandom there that focus more on something more that actually is or what they wanted to be that what the story really is.
    fandom don’t have patience to wait for a character development, a couple, or an arc.

    “And in certain circumstances, why is this idea of network executives gaining the ear of the fandom via creators being presented as a bad thing?”

    Fanservice is real, I think naive not to think not, especially in the CW’s show, ok, show were made to please the fans, it’s deniable, but let's be honest, the writers would invested in Olicity if wasn’t because of the fandom? I used liked the couple, but Olicity is a little of fan service, Hook & Emma is a little of fanservice, giving more screen time for character is fanservice, to what extent a writer does fanservice is a mystery for each show.
    But we can still thank that still exists show out there and writers who know how to tell stories of their own ways and at the same time anticipate the needs of fans.

    Fandom have bad side too. But, thank you for writing a text for defending fandom, why yes, we have good side too.