Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fandom: Why do battle lines have to be drawn?

Fandom is a funny thing. As an academic, fandom is complicated.
For instance, I can watch, and enjoy a movie or television show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I can be a fan of it and at the same time, I can dissect it, and deconstruct it, and analyze it. Both are enjoyable to me. Often, it's just a matter of putting on a different hat.
This juxtaposition was reinforced for me this weekend. This weekend, both Star Trek Into Darkness and the Doctor Who series 7 finale, premiered. Two gigantic fandoms collided. And the Internet has been abuzz with fans on both sides duking it out. Battle lines have been drawn, and shots fired. And I had a front row seat.

I am a staff writer for 8 Days a Geek, a website that caters to geeks, providing reviews on the latest apps and technology toys, comics, movies, television shows, and books. Because I'm a geek girl at heart, I tend to write reviews of things of movies and tv shows. Just this past week, I've written reviews of Iron Man 3, Arrow, Doctor Who, and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Because of the nature of the website, and the audience, I write very differently than when I write academic articles. My audience is fellow geeks, not academics, so I don't cite my reviews, I don't bog it down with theorists, or references. I try to write solid reviews for people like me- other geeks. And I am a geek, a Trekker to be specific- I grew up watching ST: TOS, I used Spock as my campaigning strategy when I ran for class officer in high school, I wanted to be Wesley Crusher when I grew up. I can kick your ass on trivia. I was a loyal fan of Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine. I had issues with Enterprise, but I enjoyed it because it was MORE Star Trek. I love the movies, even the crappy ones. So, I'm a fan.

However, once I posted my review, another academic made sure I saw his review of Star Trek Into Darkness ‘Star Trek: Wrath of Fan’.
To say that they are very different reviews is an understatement. His is part of a larger work about reboots, and is aimed at an academic audience. And I acknowledge a lot of his points- the new Star Trek does forward a lot of the sexist ideals from the original series, which is interesting to me, because incarnations after the original series made pretty big strides in regards to this, so it's definitely a step back. It got me thinking about WHY they'd made this choice- was it just a result of the film playing with homage? Was it an inadvertent forward? Is it a symptom of films in general? I did not have the same reaction to the "whitewashing" of Khan, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, but that's me in general. I don't see race, so I tend not to notice it in films or tv. Do I think there should be more diversity in media? Of course, our media should reflect reality. Do I think there should be more diversity in sexual roles? Again, of course. On the flip side, I'm often more interested in the story being told, so depending on the story, there are some things I overlook if the story is good. I can recognize that there are issues, but still enjoy the story- again, it's a matter of changing hats.

But even knowing how rabid fans can be, I've been surprised at the vitriol of the response over Star Trek Into Darkness. With things like this, you're always going to have fans drawing battle lines, people pick sides, and argue their side LOUDLY. As though we were in Ancient Rome, and whoever yells the loudest is proved right.
I got into a shouting match yesterday with one of my oldest friends over a tv show. And it immediately devolved into "Well you can think that but you'd be wrong, and I'm right". It's an old argument with us- he always takes that stance, and I ignore him. But in light of the opening of Star Trek Into Darkness, and the fan response, it got me thinking. Because this is how most fan arguments go- 
"I'm right and you're wrong."
"No, I'm right and you're wrong"
Rinse, repeat.  

Why? Most fans I know are smart people, they're well read, they get all the intertextual references, they're upper level folks. So what is it about fandom that turns these people into foaming at the mouth fanatics, as in "A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, esp. for an extreme religious or political cause"? Too often the last couple of days, I've seen good friends tearing each other to shreds over differing opinions on a movie or tv show, and then back it up with an insincere, "Just kidding".
Why can't fans look at other reviews and opinions and take something away from them? Realizing we're all fans? I'm not saying I'm going to change my mind about anything, but I LIKE seeing other people's readings of movies and tv shows. I always take something away from it. And, shouldn't that be what we do? Why can't ALL readings have a place? 

The geek in me squeed during through most of Star Trek Into Darkness.  So please, send me your differing opinions, because I love learning from others, and supporting other academics, but to (mis)quote another cult favorite- 


  1. Fandom, to me, has always been about emotional attachments and entrenched in debates about taste. And when reboots are involved, notions of authenticity come into play. I know a lot of Trek fans were offended by Abrams' interview (I believe it was with Jon Stewart) where he said he never got into Star Trek because it was too philosophical, and therein lies the distinction. Admit that you like Abrams' version of Trek and you're immediately relegated to be the 'inauthentic' fan who didn't know better because original Trek was so much better, etc. (bearing in mind if Abrams were to one day reboot X-Files, I might react in kind as well).

    It's repeated with every reboot - when I was doing my PhD research, one of people I was interviewing was explaining the same thing that was happening in the BSG fandom as well. The reboot will always be accused of having taken something away from the original. And interestingly enough, Ron Moore hated the technobabble of Star Trek & made it a point when he was rebooting BSG to not follow in that direction (he even wrote a manifesto about it, which I believe is/was floating around on the interwebs) but as far as I know, Trekkers didn't try to take his head off...

    All this reminds me of the extremely bitter shipper wars back in the day with Buffy and Angel. If you ship Angel with Cordelia and not with Buffy, you're considered a 'fake' fan, a newbie who did not watch Buffy from the beginning (despite the fact that a lot of people have been long-time fans).

  2. This is going to be me, the fan, more than me, the academic, talking (although it's probably not possible to fully extricate the one from the other). I agree with Bertha - these issues always seem to circulate around questions of authenticity; writ large (and while even I can never fully jettison authenticity), authenticity, in one sense, is just one iteration of a drive to establish cultural capital - to get a leg up on someone else, to establish a hierarchy of taste and position oneself on it (preferably a rung or three higher than someone else). I think it's something to which we're all vulnerable, but, as you say, it comes at the expense of a diversity of opinion, and I kind of wonder if the online medium doesn't exacerbate it - we're all kind of implicitly asked (compelled?) to weigh in on things online, which, on the one hand, contributes to that diversity of opinion, but on the other hand it also facilitates this kind of angry encounter...

    I dunno. The real reason I wanted to respond was less to do with these arguments in the main, and more to focus on the whitewashing issue, which is very interesting to me. My Tumblr (as you can imagine) has been peppered with truly angry posting about the whitewashing of Khan - and these are BC fans, mind you, who love him and love his performance, but HATE that Abrams kept the character and changed his race. And I get it, although I feel singularly ill-equipped to comment on it as a (very) white woman.

    But I was talking with my very not-white, and very old-school Trek fan husband last night; first, I spoiled him (he said I could, because I just needed to talk about this with him), and then he promptly launched into a 45 minute monologue on the Eugenics Wars and the physics (?) of alternate timelines. I kid you not. He's clearly been thinking about this stuff for YEARS, to judge by what he was saying.

    But not once did race come up; or, at least, not until I asked him specifically about it. M. is disabled - he has cerebral palsy that manifests visibly in his legs. He walks with a cane when he walks, but most of his outside-the-home movement involves one of those small scooters. And while he's very much ethnically Japanese/Korean, his first identification is as a disabled person - a subject position, if you will, that's outside of all 'normals' - Asian, White, whatever. Now, I don't know if this figures in to the Khan thing or not (he says not, I think it does, but I'm presumptuous that way), but he simply didn't care that the role had been recast. "As long as it's a good actor," he said (and I laughed and laughed, and he looked over at my pile of Japanese magazines with BC on the cover, and he rolled his eyes), but he really meant that.

  3. And the thing that drives me crazy is that it's something I feel like I can't talk about out loud, for fear of not only getting into arguments, but being labeled a racist in the process. And this isn't just a race-based thing; god forbid a woman like something in a way that's not explicitly (or implicitly) 'feminist' - as if there is one mode of engagement available to all women. To wit: the only thing that bugs me about babes in bikinis in STID is that it's a pretty blunt-edged instrument through which to engage fan interest, and I can't help but want the producers to be more...intelligent. To think more highly of the fans, rather than pander to the lowest common denominator. But it's not something I'm prepared to boycott the film over; I roll my eyes, bring it up in class as an example of contemporary marketing strategy, roll my eyes some more, and move on. But there are quarters - particularly, I'd argue within academia - in which failure to acknowledge and wrestle with this stuff would brand me some kind of traitor to the cause. And I find that... limiting. I'm not an 'authentic' person - I don't think anyone is, really, although I think it's easier for some people in certain social contexts to convince themselves they are than others - and so I perceive all this insistence that fans adhere to the One True Interpretation to be annoying at best, and really rather fascist at worst.

    1. I hear you, I was leery to post this, as I was sure the back lash would be huge.
      That being said, I like engaging with others- their opinion, and their readings.
      I too wish the females were written better, BUT I say that about everything, and like you, not willing to boycott over. Again, I can put on different hats, and enjoy things in different ways.
      In academic circles, my "fluffy" reviews at 8DAG discount that I can have other views, but I like to always come back to Will Brooker, and the thought that ALL the texts make up the world.

  4. I know that it's "the nature of the beast", and I get that. But I wish fans could argue a point, without it sinking so low. I'm passionate about stuff, but don't think tearing people down or making them lesser somehow makes me a better fan.

    As to the J.J Abrams interview, those snippets are actually taken out of context, as was seen by Wil Wheaton's tumblr post

    1. I think Wil Wheaton's concluding line says it all, and yes, I know Abrams has said that he eventually became a fan through the process of making the film. If I remember correctly, it was both Orci and Kurtzman (the writers), along with Bryan Burk who first convinced him to get involved with Trek. (Also, full disclosure: I'm an Abrams/Bad Robot fangirl since Alias and the 2009 film made me less ambivalent about Trek itself).

      So yes, this is my roundabout way of saying I agree with you in wishing that fans could argue a point without sinking to wank. Alas, that's like wishing for world peace. :)