A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale.png

We’ve talked about fandoms, criticism, cynicism and hype so today let’s wrap up the discussion with a little chat about forced positivity, totem culture and why criticism again does not negate enjoyment.

In all honesty, I thought I was finished with this topic. I got my feelings out of my system. I was done talking about how delicate modern fandom is. Oh, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. It started with a friendly little talk about Harry Potter. I was talking about the popular magical franchise with my coworkers. We’re all sorted into different houses. We have different opinions of the movies versus the books. And then I mentioned that I felt the series was still a bit tired. I brought up points that it despite what the novels do well still continue to perpetuate biblical-esque oversimplifications of good and evil. I said that it continues to shun a diverse cast to focus more on the homogenous main cast. I said that while I loved the movies and read most of the books that it still was like so many other young adults novels, slinging a storied narrative with unilaterally good and unilaterally evil characters except for Snape but we don’t talk about Snape. And after listing the valid complaints that I had, my coworker went on to say rather simply:

Well, I still like it. It sounds like you’re a hater.

Dear reader, how I clutched my pearls.

Me? A hater?

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being the type of fan that never hates something senselessly. I always give something at least 3 episodes (if it’s a tv show or anime), the first 3 chapters (in the case of manga and comic books or novels) and at least the first 30 minutes or so of a movie. I always give something a chance. I research voice actors, writers, directors, intention and all. If I’m going to comment on anything: positive or negative, I try my best to speak to the topic with some ethos.

A hater to me has always been someone who needlessly is critical to the point of being obtuse. And since I pride myself on being an informed fan hurt my ego to the core. And it brought up a more important question. Even though I said I liked this series, can I apparently have no negative opinions on it? When did liking a thing mean that is has to be perfect in every way?

In the last post I mentioned more than once that the shows I care about the most I am the most critical of. I can see the cracks in Fullmetal Alchemist even though that anime got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I can admit that Axis Powers:Hetalia is a silly totem anime to had but it kept me and my friends close during a time when we were all so far away. I can admit that. But Harry Potter is one especially that seems almost too big to discuss. So many people have had their lives changed by a story about wizards, magic and a world that provided a home away from home for so many. Even in my darkest of hours, Hogwarts was a place that I could escape to when my own home was just as bad as the Dursleys. But just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that I can’t see its flaws. Unfortunately, this totem culture with Harry Potter and other media artifacts are frustrating. I love deep conversations and you can’t have a conversation when someone cannot or will not see their beloved body of work complexly. But because so many escaped with Harry Potter, coped with Harry Potter, made friends, families and memories with Harry Potter but that does not mean that it’s perfect: even if it was immensely important to you personally.

Now, here’s where I put some of my own personal flaws on the board. I admit that just because I find totem culture exhausting, that does not give me the right to be disrespectful and I’m willing to admit that if there’s a series I don’t like (looking at you, Yuri on Ice and Attack on Titan) that my opinions can be harsh, unyielding and overbearing. So, call a spade a spade, if I’m mean, I’m mean. However, if I have valid criticisms and present them well, it’s just as rude to be dismissive just because a piece of media means a lot to you.

Speaking of valid criticism, let’s talk about forced positivity. I’ve talked a few times about Internet critics and the juggernauts of fan culture and their either hyperbolic hatred of all things (Looking at you, CinemaSins and Nostalgia Chick) or their emphatic love of all things (Looking at you, Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwick). I take particular umbrage with Chris Hardwick. I’ve been a fan of his since he was the only true nerd on G4 and his particular brand of nerd comedy and at the time obscure references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Doctor Who were welcomed to a nerd like me who ended up making similar references only to find them falling flat upon my usual familial audience. And then he became popular. Suddenly Nerdist wasn’t just a blog or a screenname: it was a brand. And now as he partners with The Walking Dead and other big studio productions, Chris Hardwick suddenly could not comment on anything negative about the shows he mentioned or reviewed for fear of alienating fans and advertisers. And while sure, plenty of things are better than ever before when it comes to movies, comics, books and games but certainly something can be not as good. Certainly, some of these properties have flaws. Nope, not if you watch The Talking Dead, a show Hardwick hosts with help from AMC. So of course, each episode of The Walking Dead is a monolithic wonder. Each one perfect, special and magical. Even the episode where it’s literally just an hour of walking in the woods. Or even a more recent movie like Suicide Squad. Anyone who loves comics, movies or comic book movies can admit that at best this movie had flaws and at worst was an acid-spitting neon death trap but if you hear from Kevin Smith (the unappointed patron saint of nerd culture) it was a damn masterpiece. I’d like to know which movie he saw. The film I saw was far from a masterpiece. I think the idea of forced positivity is actually quite interesting and many Youtubers have discussed it as well as more than one very well-written article on the subject. There is a feeling that you must if you are online, be positive. And for many of us that struggle with mental illness, faking happiness or joy for a property or product just doesn’t help. If you show me an anime while I’m not in a great head space, it’s unfair then to say that it’s my fault for just not enjoying it or not enjoying it to your level.

But I have some ideas of where totem culture and being too defensive came from. Fan culture has a history of being far from kind. While the outside world was mean to nerds, geeks and fans for years, we also became quite mean to each other. The early years of fan culture created strong ships and massive canons to guard those ships. I have lost plenty of ships, destroyed headcanons and even changed my opinions on shows by weathering the storm of early fan culture. But not every fan took that struggle as a positive. Some took those constant fan battles and bullying and it has made them defensive and afraid of criticism. I’ve heard this time and time again:

Don’t attack my ship.

It’s an admittance of weakness. It’s saying that you don’t want to engage in war. It’s saying you much rather sail the seas of fan culture without incident. You take down your canons, your masts and sail on.

But what so many of those who say “don’t attack my ship” miss out on is the ability to harden your fleet. Sure, sometimes a ship get destroyed. Canons are wrecked. Dreams are dashed upon the cold hard rocks of fandoms, true canon and battles over OTPs. I lost so many ships, Internet and forum battles and came out of that a hardened, knowledge and worldly fan. I resisted the urge to simply revel in echo chambers and I have surrounded myself with people that not only most of the time disagree with me but people who I actually share little in common with.

From that proving ground, I was able to discuss what I like effectively, criticize without cruelty and discuss without hurting others. And while I can respect that some saw a battleground of lost fan ships and decided it was best not to participate in the war, I encourage every fan to at least try and have a discussion about a series or property they like a lot. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been effectively fruitless. I can’t always get someone to see my side and I can’t always get someone to change my mind. That however doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful for the conversation.

Stay kind, fandom. Stay open. Have conversations. Embrace other opinions. And most importantly, have fun.

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22 thoughts on “A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

  1. I know that feel. I will rabidly defend Yu Yu Halusho to the death as one of the best manga/anime ever conceived. Additionally, I will doggedly critique Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Eternity series because it could have been so much better than it was. Yu Yu Hakusho has been nigh unassailable, and Jordanians have an untenable defense. I’m comfortable with being the antagonist, and I thank you reaffirming our necessity to fandoms.

    • Right! I just had a great conversation with a friend over whether Batman is really the villain of his own series. He questioned me, my fandom and my love of this character and dammit it was thrilling! Having to pull pages and look at timelines sure made me question in the moment but in the long run seriously reaffirmed my love of this franchise. Canons fortify ships and ships thrive in combat.

      • I’ve always posited that Bruce only became Batman because his parents were rich and that his crusade was fueled by a hate-fire that was entirely selfish. “Rage doesn’t fuel the fighter’s soul, it incinerates it.” If he really wanted to fight crime he would have come up with more permanent solutions for the super villains he put away. Instead, he was happy to let them escape so as to keep his fight alive and his purpose unabated.

      • If you want a lovable vigilante…I’d say go for Iron Man at during the Golden Era. Demon in a Bottle timeline where he’s far from a super hero and he’s just a rich guy with problems.

    • No, it’s fine and this. This conversation is why I LOVE fandoms and fan communities. We have to foster these lovingly passionate conversations that may or may not always agree. These differing ideas is what makes our world so colorful…we can’t lose this. I don’t want fandoms to ever lose this.

      • A writing mentor told me a long time ago that we don’t own our ideas or the universes we create, but we have license to take them wherever we desire. For that reason I can enjoy Batman or other IPs while believing them to fit my worldview. The big difference being I don’t require the author take my ideas into their world and put them on paper. I read the author’s story to see where they steer their plot because… it entertains me.

  2. Excellent post. Indeed, I “love” a lot of series (including Yuri on Ice — looking at you Amanda, ehem), but I’m by no means blind to these series’ flaws. One Piece is my favourite series so far, yet I can’t help but cringe whenever those bouncy boobs & skimpy outfits fill my screen. Anyway, I agree with you that a fan need not always be positive. The toxic part of the fandom is filled with brutal haters who’ll literally destroy you to shreds for not echoing what the majority is shouting. I swam deeply there during my teenage years, so I know how it feels to be both on the giving & receiving end of fan brutality, but it became too toxic and fortunately, I matured (I hope). The aniblogging community here is healthier and and more open, so I’m grateful to be part of it. Although we can’t completely avoid those brutal haters now and then. One of my main goals as a blogger is to caution newer anime fans (and even older ones) from the toxic part of the fandom, and to encourage this community to be more positive when dealing with disagreeing opinions. There’s a lot of negative stereotypes within the fandom, and it’s sad whenever I encounter our fellow fans who end up letting these labels become their identities. Most of the time, this is no problem but it hurts the entire fandom members when we’re all seen as obsessive NEETS who live in online forums spouting graphic swear and hate words our parents would be horrified to hear coming from our actual mouths. Anyway, I think I’ve veered away from your post a bit. Great post. Cheers!

    • I think I’d have far fewer negative things to say about YoI if HALF of the fans were as mature as you are. 🙂 Really, the series to me is fairly harmless but the fandom…heavens, the fandom…thanks for your comment and I do my best to take the battle scars I got from the old shipping wars of the early 2000s and try to use my powers for good as a panelist, blogger and fan personality. That’s what I’m always trying to do. I hope we get to have many more productive conversations in the future!

      • I must point out that the perception of “fan” seems to be a largely positive one, but we can’t forget it’s a contraction of the word “fanatic”. Whether you hate or love something — especially if you pursue it in order to be critical of or enjoy it — you are indeed a “fan”. 😀

      • My experience especially being one surrounded by non-fan people is that a “fan” of different nerd things is a far from always positive connotation. Because it is rooted in fanaticism, many fans are seen are rabid, annoying and generally not kind.

  3. This is a really cogent piece. On one hand, the positivity and wholesomeness of fandom/blogging is what originally brought me to the scene. On the other, I myself am utterly incapable of it. Additionally, I find it’s the debates that end up being most valuable: ‘here’s something controversial from [such-and-such], what did you think of it?’ (but that might just be the contrarian in me) There seems to be a specific niche for creative insults in the review scene, but outside of that we ought to be able to comment purely on the basis of subjective opinion, without being influenced by extremes or self-censorship.

    • I totally agree. I have plenty of things that I’m less than fond of but it should never be conveyed in a disrespectful or rude manner. Me thinking that Team Instinct in Pokemon Go is a far less superior team to mine being Mystic is never an excuse to be real life rude to someone. I think it’s just important to keep an open mind always and know that nothing is perfect, nothing is sacred and criticism does not negate enjoyment. I am THE MOST critical of things I love because nothing can shake my feelings towards those properties. If I have very little to say, that means whatever I saw/read/watched didn’t leave a mark on me at all.

  4. You’re a very articulate writer and here you’ve expressed something thought-provoking that many need to hear. Many don’t realize that you can still enjoy media while being aware of its flaws. I was surprised that you mentioned Nostalgia Chick (or Lindsay Ellis as she’s now known) as being too critical because she’s done many video essays breaking down things that she really likes (from Phantom of the Opera to Transformers). Did you mean the Nostalgia Chick character or just her in general?

    • I mean her character more. I do think she’s very critical in places where it isn’t needed but some of her perspectives and views I love. Her most recent video on Pocahontas blew me away. I think she as she has stepped away from Channel Awesome (Because Nostalgia Critic is the same sometimes) she’s been more balanced as far as her criticism.

      • I see what you mean, I think it’s been good for her since leaving the channel because she’s been able to do work that’s a lot more in depth. I’ve always preferred her to Nostalgia Critic because he usually skims the surface when it comes to analysis. I can’t really watch any of his serious videos because he often doesn’t say anything that makes you think. Some of his normal reviews are funny but the other ones end up sounding like something bland that Chris Stuckmann would come up with.

      • I totally agree and points for the Chris Stuckmann jab. I really love JustWrite and Lessons from the Screenplay for my serious film crit but especially with comic book and other franchise movies, I think having a base in the actual property helps so much. I’ll bring up Suicide Squad only because one of the only good things that movie did was bring Amanda Waller to life. EVERY critic complained that she as a character had no arc but she’s never had an arc in any of her comic appearances. Her arc is be imposing and intense and manipulative and she was all of those things. I wish more critics, especially online, had SOME knowledge of the work before critiquing.

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