Outrage Grifters Turn Toxic Fandom Into Profit And Notoriety On YouTube
There is a huge problem in fandom. People who grew up in the ‘dark times’ of the late 20th century, should all be delighted right now. Genre stories, from comic books to sci-fi to fantasy, are more prevalent than ever. Yet, many people still had an attitude that these stories were just nonsense for kids. If you had told a ten-year-old kid who cried at the cancellation news of the 1990 series The Flash that just 30 years later geek culture would dominate, he wouldn’t have believed you. (Even though I—er, I mean, this random kid—was predisposed to believing in time-travel.) Yet, instead of celebrating this pop culture dominance, certain ‘fans’ of these stories are poisoning it. And there is nowhere that this toxic fandom thrives more than on YouTube, as outrage grifters try to divide people with anger and hate.
During the season finale of The Mandalorian, anyone who loves Luke Skywalker likely shed a few tears and yelps of joy. It’s a moment that, in a sane world, would have connected the series to the larger Star Wars universe and united the fans. Yet, immediately, the negative discourse started. Some fans suggested Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian was an appeal to toxic fans who hated The Last Jedi. Even though it wasn’t, this is at least an appropriate discussion for fans to have. Yet, that’s not what we got.
It’s all part of a larger problem in fandom where the most toxic voices get the most attention. They attack fans, members of the entertainment press, and even the creators and actors who star in the things they don’t like. At a time when we should all delight in the popularity of nerdy stuff, toxic fandom thrives on YouTube and other social media.
Toxic Fandom on YouTube, from Star Wars to the Snyder Cut
A popular Star Wars fan on YouTube, who appeals to toxic fandom adherents, created some drama out of thin air to bolster his views and revenues. It’s too stupid to go into, but a person who works for Lucasfilm made an obvious joke about his performative crying in a livestream. Rather than just brushing this off, he made a video about it, tried to get the guy fired, and even landed on the front page of one of the Hollywood trades for his trouble. All this happened simply because this guy couldn’t take a joke. (Though, I suspect he knew it was a joke but decided to mine it for revenue anyway.)
Of course, this guy isn’t the worst toxic fandom cheerleader on YouTube. Plenty of others traffic in bald faced lies meant to appeal to fans whose complaints are less about story and more about racism, sexism, and gatekeeping. For example, take the shepherd of Star Wars, Kathleen Kennedy. She faces almost constant backlash from fans who dislike this or that about the franchise. Despite being an award-winning and accomplished producer, these ‘fans’ tend to be angry about the fact that she wants Star Wars to appeal to women as much as it has to men. Sure, Star Wars always appealed to all sorts of folks. Yet, they never showed little girls in commercials playing with action figures. Anything these dinguses don’t like is her fault, but they celebrate the men behind the stories they do like.
It’s not exclusive to Star Wars either. Fans who love Doctor Who, Star Trek, and other franchises with traditionally (small “l”) liberal politics are suddenly mad they exist in these stories. But then there are other toxic fans separate from ideology, like some of those passionate about the Justice League Snyder Cut.
The Toxic Fandom Menace Finally Gets Some Results Outside of YouTube Views
Image via HBO Max.
One can draw a pretty straight line between cruelty politics and the complaints from Star Wars haters who call themselves the Fandom Menace. However, toxic fandom on YouTube or other social media isn’t always ideological. The people passionate about Zack Snyder’s Justice League are not typically one political persuasion or another. Rather, they are passionately loyal to both Snyder and his grimdark vision of the DC Universe. For years, people would end up in the replies to random Warner Bros. tweets about DC stories (or anything, really) demanding the release of the Snyder Cut. They would harangue and argue with people who dared express doubt that the film would be released.
So, when it was announced that the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League was headed for HBO Max, fans rejoiced. However, some folks wondered if this was not a kind of “reward” for toxic fan behavior. To be clear, many of those who champion the Snyder Cut aren’t inherently toxic. This is mostly reserved for those who embrace toxic fandom for success on YouTube. One broadcaster who had the inside track with the director reminds me of the worst kind of political media. She is arrogant, gloats when she’s even remotely proven right, and spins like mad when her predictions fail to come to pass. She even tries to leverage her following to harass her critics on social media. The Justice League Snyder Cut release is only unfortunate because it gives credibility to a broadcaster who doesn’t deserve it.
How We Win: Celebrating What We Love, Not Dunking on What We Hate
Take it from me, the dark side is an easier sell than the light side, at least in media. If you listened to our WW84 podcast, you know I pretty much like everything I talk about. Yet, it would be much easier to traffic in negativity and saying stuff ‘sucks’ because that gets traction on social media. Tearing stuff down not only gets one “clicks and shares” from people who both agree and disagree. It also sells the lie that one is a “discerning” critic. It does nothing to benefit fandom at large, but it does raise the stock of the individual. Toxic fandom finds a home on YouTube because outrage is easier to stoke than joy.
I grew up at a time when the only big-budget comic book films were the Superman movies and Tim Burton’s Batman. I never thought we’d get to see the day that the stuff kids used to get noogies for enjoying on the playground would become the dominant force in pop culture. Instead of trying to decry people who’ve just discovered this stuff as not “real fans,” we should be celebrating all the choices we now have. Do you like hopeful tales of mythic superheroes? Then things like WW84 and the MCU are for you. More into dark, gritty tales? Well, there’s plenty of that out there as well. Every genre story doesn’t need to fit into a carefully defined box created by online gatekeepers.
Image via Lucasfilm
We often talk about superhero movie fatigue on the part of audiences and fans. Yet, we also need to worry about whether or not studios will feel it because of the divisive nature of fandom.
“At the point when work writing & directing big franchises has become the emotionally loaded equivalent of writing a new chapter of The Bible (with the probable danger of being stoned and called a blasphemer), then a lot of bolder minds are going to leave these films to hacks and corporate boards. The fervor of some attacks has an evangelical ferocity. Now, I get it cause for many folks, including me, the Star Wars saga holds tremendous spiritual power, similar to a religious text. But we must remember to try to handle our disappointments the way Yoda might, as opposed to Darth.”
If the only thing they can count on when releasing a new film or series is that toxic fandom on YouTube will tear themselves apart over it, they’ll just move on to something else. Stories set in these sci-fi and fantasy universes can, literally, continue forever. Yet, turning to toxic fandom to keep the YouTube money rolling in will ultimately destroy the game for everyone. On a more personal level, it can also drive away new fans who need these stories as much as we did when we were kids.
In a world where things seem to continue to get worse, we need superhero stories for kids more than ever. Even if one movie or interpretation isn’t to our liking, these heroes can never let us down. The last thing any fan should ever want to do is what bullies did to us back when liking this nerd stuff wasn’t as cool as it is today.
What do you think? Do you find YouTube contributes to toxic fandom? Share your thoughts, perspectives, and possible remedies in the comments below.
Featured image via Lucasfilm
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.