When I first began to formulate this blog post in my head, the core of what I wanted to write about was something I observed in online fandom: the policing of preference and desire, and the seeming need to couch fandom debates in moral rhetoric. My desire was to focus on the absurd degree by which fans try to justify their tastes by presenting some greater benefit or boon to humankind.
However, I’m not the only one who’s been ruminating on the subject. A recent article about essentially weaponized anti-fandom had explored the subject in depth, the author tracing their observation of this disturbing trend through the pains of trying to transplant the islands of LiveJournal to the complex web of Tumblr. Anti-fandom goes from being passion with a negative bent to a cold and calculated scalpel designed to influence and threaten fans, critics, and creators alike. The article has forced me to approach this post a little differently than I had intended. To that end, I still want to think out loud about that concept of forced justification, but more as the other side of the coin compared to what is described by that author.
Critical analysis of preferences in storytelling and art, be they one’s own or the preferences of others, is an important part of the relationship between creative endeavors and their effects on people and society. It’s not wrong that a series like Tintin, which early on featured racist caricatures, would fall under rightful scrutiny, and that those decisions open up important conversations, or that superhero comics are having to confront the sexism and racism that has been entrenched in its veins on both content and creator levels. However, there has been a trend of fans who try very hard to prove that their particular fandoms are fundamentally superior (or indeed that others are inferior), as if fandom reflects wholly one’s dedication to the moral fiber of society. Perhaps it’s all an act, as the article implies, a feigning of outrage to achieve a selfish goal, but I believe there are also fans who feel that they cannot like something unless it gels 100% with how they view themselves on that moral level.
This is a potentially harmful philosophy to abide by, not just for those who are potentially attacked by this sort of fan, but directly dangerous to the fan themselves. When a “problematic fave” enters the conversation, the situation descends to whether or not liking something in fantasy reflects some moral or personal shortcoming. From there, it’s a short step to accusing each other of not believing in the greater good strongly enough.
When we still don’t have real answers as to how people’s relationship with fiction affects everyone (whether broadly or on an individual basis), it comes across as a desperate desire to not be on the wrong side of the barrel. Either that, or they risk ending up like the character Nishikinomiya Anna from the anime/light novel Shimoneta. Anna, who was raised from childhood to be the perfect representative of moral fastidiousness, turns out to be dangerous and depraved in certain ways. However, because she was brought up to believe that she is pure and just, she rationalizes her behavior as being inherently moral because she is inherently moral herself.
My concern is that in an environment where there is (rightful) social pressure to be more open and to not hold beliefs that demean other people, it can become all too easy to believe that every word you say carries deep significance to such an extent that people feel they cannot be frivolous. If one feels that their words must reflect their fundamental being, then it also becomes dangerous to think that every piece of entertainment you consume has to be morally justified, as if it fits into a greater picture of a consistent and righteous self. It makes me think that these fans feel disdain for the fact that humans are often contradictory, and rather than understand and accept that, they see admonishing their peers for their inconsistency as the better choice.