The Dangers of Fandom and How to Be an Awesome Fan

MTV News put out an interview today with two of our favorite authors, Cassandra Clare and Maggie Stiefvater, discussing how fans often dehumanize the creators, especially female creators, of the very thing they love. Here at DG, we’re all fans of something and we also have strong opinions about what it means to be a fan and what is and is not appropriate fan behavior.

Me at a Cassandra Clare and Holly Black signing at BookCon 2014.
Me at a Cassandra Clare and Holly Black signing at BookCon 2014.

In the interview, Clare and Stiefvater discuss their experiences as highly-accessible authors on the internet and Clare’s decision to withdraw from social media due to heated fandom pressures. Stiefvater, in her wonderful way with analogies, describes it as being like the happy couple at a wedding trying to greet everybody, but with so many guests, it’s impossible to give them all equal attention. Clare talks about how the power dynamic between author and fan and her desire to treat her fans equally means that she refuses to take sides in fandom debates. The Mortal Instruments fandom is currently in a tizzy over the movie casting versus the Shadowhunters TV show casting, and they were dragging Clare into their debates on twitter and tumblr. She said in the interview, “I came to realize I was going to be called in over and over to mediate disputes to which there was no right answer, and that my not having the right answer would necessarily breed this certain intense type of hostility, so I took a break.”

They also discussed the changing climate of the internet, how it seems fans are expressing themselves more negatively than in the past. Stiefvater describes it as someone having “peed in the internet pool,” an insidious spread of negativity causing a “shift to a place where being enthusiastic and positive is no longer cool.” Clare thinks the advent of twitter is in part responsible for this change, as people send out flash judgements with no time for research or reflection.

Stiefvater makes a distinction between a “fan” and a “reader.” Her Shiver trilogy has millions of readers, but not so much of a cohesive fandom, and she hardly receives hate mail about it. The Raven Cycle, on the other hand, has a definitive fandom, which generates tons of hate mail. She merely notes the correlation without hazarding a reason for it, but it’s an interesting idea to contemplate.

The Geekettes met Maggie Steifvater at BookExpo and she is a wonderful human being.
The Geekettes met Maggie Steifvater at BookExpo and she is a wonderful human being.

Both Clare and Stiefvater believe that their status as women affects the way they are treated by fans and the expectation they are held to. Stiefvater explains that female authors are expected to always be nice and never aggressive online. She says, “It seems like this should spare them the slings and arrows of online misfortune. But in reality, it just takes away our weapons.” If you follow her on anything, you know she’s not afraid to stand up for herself, but the double standard still exists. Clare points out that while both of them have largely female fanbases, these women and girls are taught by society that “successful women are monsters, and that any woman who acknowledges her hard work or success is to be deplored and dehumanized.” Stiefvater agrees that she is usually perceived as either a demon or a queen but rarely as a person. Lastly, Clare discusses the tension between being taught as a woman to try to please everyone, and her need to stay true to her work and write what she wants.

In a section on “How to be an awesome fan,” Stiefvater called on her fans to regard her as an individual, and Clare asked fans to be kind to each other and themselves, among other suggestions. Here are some of my personal thoughts on how to be an awesome fan:

In every fan’s life comes a time when the creator of their beloved book/show/whatever does something to disappoint, such as killing of a favorite character, breaking up a couple you ship, or ending the series when you still want more.

These are things an awesome fan does when that happens:

  1. Put your feelings aside for a moment and see if you can understand from the author’s point of view why that decision was necessary for the plot, character development, or atmosphere of the story.
  2. If you really find the decision unacceptable and inexcusable, stop reading the series/watching the show/whatever. Nobody is forcing you to stay with something you no longer like.
  3. If you can’t bear to leave behind a fandom that was so important to you but you can’t handle the new direction it’s going, try reading/writing some alternate-ending fan fiction.

Things an awesome fan never ever does:

  1. Send hate mail. Of any sort, but especially threats of violence. There are ways to express your disappointment if you must, without coating it in vitriol.
  2. Smash the creator’s hand at a book signing (Cassandra Clare describes this actually happening to her and I’m appalled). You’re enacting physical violence on a real human being because of the fate of a fictional character — really?

According to Merriam-Webster, fan means “an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or pursuit).” I would also add “supporter” to the definition. Being a fan is supposed to be a positive thing and when fans act nastily towards the creator of the thing they love, it baffles me and breaks my heart a little bit. Please remember that creators are only human and you should treat them as such. They gave you something great to build a fandom around but they don’t owe you anything. If they disappoint you, then move on. Don’t be a jerk about it. Be an awesome fan.

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One thought on “The Dangers of Fandom and How to Be an Awesome Fan

  1. This is funny because right after I read the Clare/Stiefvater article I watched Orange is The New Black season 3 where Crazy Eyes is writing her own “novel” and dealing with her “fan” inmates opinions as to who should end up with who. It was everything the authors were talking about, only with humor.

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