Activism 101: Toxic Fandoms

I saw a user icon on LiveJournal once that said, “Fandom is like being in second grade forever.” …I skipped second grade. Still, I’d reason that that’s an astute enough observation, having known plenty of bratty eight-year-olds in my time. Though I could be wrong! I could be wrong.

Here at Hathor, the staff have written extensively on gaming culture, comics culture, children’s entertainment, SF/F serial, movie, and literature fandoms, and “real-life” issues of institutionalized bigotry, harassment, and the ways in which Western macrocultural spheres view human rights and equality issues of the multifaceted and multi-faced Other. However, this article is more about what being in second grade forever does to yourself. How do you navigate a cafeteria full of vicious preteens learning long-division? Will you get to sit with your friends and catch up on what Miles Morales signifies; or will you sit reading by yourself, ostracised by Li’l Glenn Beck and Louie Dobbs; or will you be driven to the brink?

I’m not here to go over the various ways in which other people online can reek. I would need a color wheel, and slides, and some kind of mnemonic device, and this would easily extend for several pages– besides which, we’ve been over it before. I’m here to acknowledge that sometimes you need to take a step back and clear your own head before diving back into the fray, because sometimes, fandom can be a little overwhelming. And that there’s nothing wrong with needing a minute– because as much as the terms “real world” and “irl” are tossed around to differentiate between virtual communities and physical ones, I think the web’s been around long enough that we can say it is as much a part of everyday life in the comparatively affluent Internet-connected world as any brick-and-mortar establishment or cultural ritual that predates it.

The problem just isn’t always other fans. Sometimes, the problem is the material itself.

A good example of that is the current season of True Blood. There are a lot of things about the show that are still a lot of fun, to be sure, and fans who have stuck around for the past three-plus years, and/or who have read the books may consciously decide to wait out a rough patch in anticipation of better times, or out of a sense of nostalgia. For me, the show crossed the line from “fun way to spend a Sunday night” to “oh God not this again” within a few hours of broadcast. Something that had been an entertaining diversion and an interesting conversation topic– in “real life” and online– had turned into a dreaded chore, and I have enough of those already.

This isn’t to say other people can’t or shouldn’t enjoy True Blood. I have my own reasons for quitting Alan Ball’s latest project, which I’ll break down in a minute, but that doesn’t mean my hang-ups are universal. True Blood itself became toxic for me to even participate in fandom, even though there are some hilarious folks out there among the fans, the actors included. It’s definitely not a judgment call on the genre, either. I think there’s still a lot of blood left (ha) in the vampire/supernatural romance fields, and seeing that ground covered by people whose names don’t rhyme with Talon Stall would be awesome (for me, at least). I do think HBO turns out a lot of cool stuff. True Blood just isn’t doing it for me anymore.

I got tired. I got tired of the Very Ethnic/Othered Magic storylines (including a Very Native Storyline complete with Very Native Backstory and Very Native Flutes & Drums and BONUS! additional Very Mayan Storyline, along with Lafayette’s unexplored-thus-far psychic abilities and the… odd treatment of TV Wiccan Necromancy), and of, literally, every time Tara/Toni’s girlfriend Naomi came on screen someone feeling the need to point out her Asianness. I got tired of Tara always getting storylines so messed-up that I have to wonder if Ball has something against her actress. I got tired of paper-thin soap opera plots having extra-wide loopholes dependent on more than half the cast not feeling like using their fantasy-enhanced senses at any given time. I got tired of feeling like the only person who thought Sookie at turns infantilizing and sexualizing a metaphorically brain-damaged amnesiac who is fully dependent on her is fucked up. I got tired of rape threats, rape jokes, and onscreen rapes– where the count got so high I had to remind myself to count non-violent rapes in the tally. I got tired of hating all the characters’ guts.

And– in a show that is throwing all of this horribleness out every week, this is going to sound terrible— I got tired of being bored. For as monstrous/”edgy” as all the rape and blood and murder makes True Blood, it is one evil-twins plot away from a hastily slapped-together telenovela. Case in point: this weekend’s episode is supposed to feature the long-awaited Shower Scene with Eric and Sookie, but I hear tell that there is going to be a twist to the scene that no one will see coming! I call M. Night Shyamalan gimmicky shenanigans. Real cash money says Sookie’s on her period. Edgy! Dangerous! Maybe if Ball was feeling really avant-garde that day, there will be oral. Gasp! Boring kink is boring, yo. It’s a vampire romance. If the menses taboo is only being broached four years in, you aren’t allowed to call yourself “edgy,” I’m sorry.

Fandom shouldn’t be grueling, or tedious. Any hobby that you put work into should have some kind of equivalent reward, even if it’s a sense of accomplishment, or enjoyment of the work itself. True Blood just made me feel like I needed a shower and a cookie and a few re-writes. I needed to take a minute.

And that’s okay.


  1. Maria says

    I do think sometimes the problem IS the other fans, as well, particularly because with True Blood it’s pretty hard to have a convo about rape culture with all the fangirl squee going around.

  2. Patrick McGraw says

    I would need a color wheel, and slides, and some kind of mnemonic device,

    Please accept this Internet.

  3. says

    I’ve added an “Activist 101” tag to this post because I think it’s relevant to some of the problems that series is highlighting. And I’d like to add is that what Gena is very delicately saying here is actually that she won’t be writing True Blood reviews for this site anymore because some of our commenters are so busy squeeing about male nudity and sexualization that they overlook some of the rape culture issues the show is promoting with some of those moments. (It’s okay to enjoy the nudity AND recognize how it’s problematic in the larger context, of course – but that’s not what we were seeing on those posts.)

    This is also a good example of what we call “activist burnout” behind the scenes. Sometimes when threads go horribly wrong on this site, this safe space, you feel utterly hopeless. I’m happy to say that in the threads where this began to become an issue, it didn’t get to the point where any commenters were defending anything problematic or attacking Gena for criticizing. It just reached a point where the next episode had a particularly problematic/squee moment, and we didn’t really want to test where that might lead. It’s too depressing.