By Pete R.
There are seismic changes happening within many different fandoms. Abe Riesman at Vulture wrote a fantastic article about how his tweenage sister represents the new face of comic fans; the top selling comics and graphic novels now are geared towards kids and teens and are not linked to Marvel or DC. Meanwhile, many people of all ethnicities, ages, genders, orientations have become comic fans through the Marvel or DC (mostly Marvel) cinematic universes. This fanbase is creating something––and expecting different things––than the fanbase that grew out of the comic book store. Buck-Cap FanFic never would have come out of Marvel’s print runs of Captain America, but is almost necessitated by the chemistry between Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan. At the same time, a Marvel exec back in April suggested that sales of comic books were slumping because there was “too much diversity” in their lineup.
As fandoms continue to grow and change, industries will (and will need to) grow and change to meet their needs. Yet at the same time, older fans might resent the new fans, or the changes that are occurring in their media. The current rhetoric of the GOP and the alt-right only intensify a feeling of assault on all sides for white men, and their last bastions of supremacy––comic books, video games––are being in their eyes co-opted. This is especially true with the total victory of nerd culture in the last decade. In a short amount of time, something that was mocked has become something nearly universally celebrated. Just look at how the Star Wars fans are portrayed in Fanboys and compare that to the cheering throngs waiting for A Force Awakens, Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, or the upcoming The Last Jedi. Previously, being a nerd was hard and gave those who went through the experience a shared sense of solidarity. Now that everyone can celebrate their inner geek without going through serious trials and tribble-ations, the old guard has a feeling of resentment and possessiveness. This is the new phase of the toxic “questioning and testing the geek-girl’s credentials” that shows up in movies like Fanboys and happens constantly in real life.
Laying my cards on the table: the changes we’re seeing are clearly for the best. Culture is not zero-sum. Women creators are not “taking jobs away” from men. Telling stories about women or queer people or people of color (or queer or female people of color) is not somehow hurting white men. There will be plenty of media for white men to consume where they (we; I’m a white man) get to be the heroes and the point of view characters. I’m writing this shortly after the BBC announced that the 13th incarnation of Doctor Who will be a women. I am sad that Peter Capaldi is leaving and excited to see what Jodie Whittaker brings to the role. But unfortunately, others have been and will continue to rage against what they see as the dying of “their” culture.
Discussing fandoms requires looking at both the positive community that fandoms create and the toxic environments they can foster. If you’re planning on discussing fandoms in an academic setting with students or teens, make sure to look at the problems that can occur within fandoms. Even if you’re not planning on discussing it formally, being aware of the dangers of toxic fandoms is important when interacting with any teen who is involved in fandoms, especially women, teens of color, and LGBT teens. They may have found a safe community to revel in, or they may have stumbled into a harmful community that harasses them. Sometimes those communities are one and the same. Hopefully we can help teens navigate the pros and cons of whatever brings them joy and help guide the next generation of fans to be open, inviting, and willing to accept whatever change inevitably continues to come down the pipeline.