How to Tell if You're a Toxic Fan

We've all encountered them: those so-called "fans" who never, ever praise the things they love, but instead have only hate and vitriol to spew, and spew it they will, given any chance, any excuse, any outlet. They'll insinuate themselves into conversations celebrating the latest installment of a franchise, only to eventually chime in with, "Let me tell you what the problem was." This is toxic fandom, and it's becoming a major problem that will eventually cause a critical mass of collapse in many of the things we all love so dearly.

The worst part about these people is that most of them absolutely refuse to believe that they are, in fact, toxic fans. After all, don't they have the right to their opinion, too? Who are you to tell them they're not fans? How dare you call them toxic? You're the loser who just blindly follows everything and can't see the clear flaws in front of you. Are you that fragile and shallow that you can't handle a dissenting opinion?

Toxic fandom has a lot of levels, from people who just can't accept that they're being Negative Nancies to those actively looking to stir up real life trouble. You can still be a toxic fan, but not be as bad as the guys who drove Daisy Ridley off of social media.

Some of these people then demand some sort of proof that they're being toxic. With that in mind, and the (probably false) assumption that there are those out there who want to stop being toxic, here are some signs you just might be a toxic fan.

You Haven't Complemented a Property in Months or even Years

Seriously, stop and think about it. When was the last time you posted a glowing review of something, without feeling compelled to also point out its "glaring" flaws? When was the last time you just enjoyed something, without the qualifier, "despite its flaws?" If you really haven't actually enjoyed a property in quite some time, but have spent an exhorbitant amount of time complaining about just might be a toxic fan. 

You've Used One or More of These Phrases...

"I used to love it."
"I really wanted to love it."
"I tried to see what everyone loves about it."
"At first I didn't have an issue, but then when I thought about it..."
"...totally cliche."
"...just fan service."
"...plot armor."
"...fortunately, I don't base my opinions on what other people think."

You Get Called out, Then Go Vaguebook

If someone calls you out on behaving in a toxic manner, you throw a vague insult at them, and then go vaguebook about how someone called you out on being toxic, and that person clearly just can't handle those with variant opinions, knowing full-well that person will see the vaguebook and hopefully out themselves as "the one" might be a toxic fan.

Look, nobody likes to be called out on that, but chances are, if someone calls you out, you are actually behaving in a toxic fandom manner. Instead of insulting them and then running to play the victim, stop and think about why you got called out. You can walk away from the discussion and let it end there, and just be aware that it happened. If it's someone you've had largely positive reactions with in the past, that should hit home even more. 

You Intellectualize Your Hatred

You post long diatribes about the supposedly rational justification for your disdain for the property, which largely serve, when it comes down to it, to insult and belittle anyone who is not intellectually advanced enough to see how much said property ruined your life and childhood. But never directly, because, you see, when someone takes offense to you decrying the property as banal, impotent, childish, or full of cliches, what in the world would make them think you're talking about them? You totally respect their right to enjoy stupid, idiotic things, don't you? 

That's called passive aggressiveness. And it's toxic. 

Just as bad, if not worse, is thinly masking your hate by adding something like, "but I totally respect your right to enjoy it," at the end. You've just spent a paragraph vaguely calling me stupid and childish by way of saying that I enjoy stupid and childish things, but you respect my right to be stupid and childish. You're not making it any better, nor are you actually being respectful. You're just setting yourself up to be able to accuse me of being disrespectful, defensive, and not being able to handle dissenting opinions. 

You Look for Positive Discussions about the Subject of Your Hate, and Launch into Why You Hate It

This, possibly, is the largest indicator of toxic behavior. You spread negativity into completely positive discussions. You take something that everyone on the discussion is feeling good about, and turn it into something people get angry over. Then you accuse them of being unreasonable and defensive, after you've actually attacked the topic at hand. After all, you reason, it's social media--shouldn't they be able to handle rational discussion? 

You're Bitter That Your Pet Property Has Gone Mainstream, and You Resent People Who Are New Fans

This is called entitlement. You think that somehow, on some level, you own the property in question, that having been a fan of it for years or decades makes you special. You refuse to acknowledge the fact that these properties are generated as a business, and that people making money off of them is not a crime. You further refuse to acknowledge that without new fans pumping money into it, we wouldn't have the property like we did. 

Current comics are an example. Toxic fans throw tantrums online that the movie didn't slavishly follow the comic from 40 years ago, while dismissing new fans because, "I was reading this stuff while you were in diapers. Who are you to take over my thing?" You act like you could've done a better job, and yet, you haven't actually put anything except anger and criticism out there. 

You Actually Haven't Enjoyed the Property in a Long Time, Yet You Keep Going

You've convinced yourself that this time might be better, but deep down inside you've already decided it won't, and from the moment the lights go down you're watching for flaws, checking off boxes in your mind that you're going to complain about later. No matter what happens, you refuse to believe that it's not being made for you, and you refuse to stop going. You're actually happer being angry than you would be walking away altogether. But your anger only bears fruit if you can inflict it on others. 

You Threaten and Call for Boycotts and Protests, but Never Actually Follow Through

You're a keyboard warrior. You call for boycotts on social media. You decry the filmmakers as hacks, or even worse, as legitimate threats to society (racist, misandrist, misogyinist, what-have-you), but really, it just stays on Facebook. Then, the moment you can latch onto a single article that seems to imply a movie might be underperforming, you cry "Victory!" 

Even worse, when the article you've chosen turns out to be inaccurate, you still hold onto it with a death grip, citing it as often as possible, while dismissing any evidence to the contrary. This one is bordering on the worst of toxic fandom. There's a guy in a big white building on Pennsylvania Avenue that does it, but not with fandom...with everything. Don't be like that guy. 

Fandom Is Supposed to Be Entertaining

This is the part nobody will listen to, but it's a simple fact: these things--movies, television, books, comics, music--they are there to entertain us. If they're entertaining us, great! If they're not, why are you putting yourself through this? It's not a crime to say, "You know what? Star Wars isn't for me anymore," and just walk away. But continuing to go back, time and again, episode after episode, somehow trying to convince yourself that things will be different this time, while deep inside preparing to seethe with rage? That's not helping you or anyone else. Nor is refusing to admit to yourself that's what you're doing. 

It's Not Healthy

A pamphlet published by Narcotics Anonymous in 1981 had a quote that is often misattributed to Albert Einstein. The quote said, "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." While I don't think it's quite that simple, nor am I trying to insult people, the takeaway is that repeating the same behavior over and over again when all it does is cause you anger and disappointment is simply not healthy. Not for you, and not for any of the people you interact with on a daily basis. 

In the blog I linked at the top, I said the following, which I'll post here in the desperate hope that one or two people will finally get it: 

I had a discussion recently online about fan rage, and I pointed out that someone said to me, "Why don't I have the right to rant about how much something sucks? Why is your love of it okay and my disdain wrong?"

I responded, "Because we live in a world that's already too negative, angry, and toxic. My love is bringing positivity into the world. Your negativity and inability to let other people enjoy things is only making the problem worse, darker, and more negative."

It's a shit world we live in right now. Don't make it worse. Celebrate the things you love, and just walk away from the things you hate. We need to change the tone of discussion. I don't honestly believe anyone wants to be negative, but social media has set up this system where we cannot admit we're behaving badly. We must hold on to our right to express vitriol at all costs. Think about how much better the world would be if, the next time everyone was about to post about how much something largely immaterial, like a book, movie, TV show, or album sucked, instead stepped back and posted about something they think is totally awesome? 

Just a thought. 


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