At The CineMasoCast, we are no strangers to the issue of toxic fans. Even though our “Prime Directive” is to review movies and TV shows from the lay perspectives of average geek fans, this article on toxic fandom is not our first rodeo. Throughout our storied history, we have made a valiant effort to call out toxic fandom for what it is and address its root causes. We recognize that movies are not always just pure escapism entertainment and that societal expectations make a difference. Apparently, as it turns out, we have to continue this discussion. Because, Captain Marvel.
As everyone by now has already heard, toxic fans waged an online hate campaign against Captain Marvel before the movie was ever released. Brie Larson, who is not only the lead actress but also a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement, commented that she would like more diversity in journalism and promotional tours. Toxic fans accused her of attacking white men personally and ruined things for Rotten Tomatoes.
And yet, for all the time and energy that the toxic fans devoted to venting their hate, they accomplished……wait for it……
Captain Marvel is already one of the top ten grossing movies in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Considering that the MCU has about two dozen movies (and counting) as of press time, that’s no mean feat. If it leaves the top ten over the next couple years, as more MCU movies get made and collect phat bank, the point still stands. For that matter, in case nobody noticed, of all the movies to receive toxic fandom over the last few years, the gender-flipped Ghostbusters remake was the only one that actually bombed. You would like to think that that’s the end of the story. Good guys won. Bad guys lost. Roll credits (with cute post credits scene).
But you’d be wrong.
We have already an online hate campaign against Star Wars IX, and the toxic fans didn’t wait around for the movie to even so much as get a title. In all likelihood this movie too will be a box office blowout. Come on. It’s a Star Wars movie. Not only that, it’s nothing less than the culmination of an epic storyline that took nine movies, two spinoffs, and a bunch of TV shows to get there. A toxic fan base the size of the Empire couldn’t sink such a movie. Knowing this, what’s the point?
Just as a broad base, wild ass guess, let’s hypothetically stipulate that the rage is the point. I’m referring to long-term tactical objectives like venting, attention, and personal validation. It’s not necessary to agree with a toxic fan’s viewpoint. Not in the least. But it is necessary to understand where they’re coming from in order to hold them accountable, show them a better way, and if need be, take away their social media oxygen. For a toxic fan, everything that occurs proves their point. If they campaign against a movie and the movie flops, they won the argument; if the movie succeeds, they retain their status as the embattled underdogs.
The phrase “embattled underdog” is how many of us geeks would sum up our entire life experience. Here’s the thing, though: Most of us grow up and come to terms with it. Sometimes along the way we say dumb things that hurt others, at which point we sincerely apologize, take full personal responsibility, and learn from the experience. What we as geeks don’t do (usually) is become racist/sexist/sociopathic bullies ourselves just to cling to our visions of fandom.
In all fairness, toxic fandom isn’t always political in nature. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t call out racism and sexism in geekdom when it does occur. Consider, for instance, the pure and simple textbook misogyny behind review-bombing Captain Marvel. There are political/social debates in pop culture worth having, but the bottom line is that inclusion is the solution, not the problem.
The good news is that toxic fans are a loud minority; #NotAllFans. They don’t have the money or numbers to dictate pop culture trends long-term. All of the social, political change they complain about will occur even while they rant. We are getting more female and minority leads, no matter what they do. White male violence with fan-service cheesecake is not going away, either. Pop culture is expanding and changing over time, as well it should.
In the meantime, we cannot afford to become complacent. Toxic fandom is still dangerous and will be for an unfortunately long time to come. That means we must remain vigilant, educate ourselves on the difference between healthy sarcasm and hate speech, and above all else lead our geekdom world by personal example. As introverted or socially anxious as we often are, it’s not always possible or advisable to confront toxic fans head on. But in our own way that works for us, we have to run toward the conversation rather than away from it.