Pop Culture

We Must End Fanatical Fandom Evangelicalism

I knew I'd eventually find a use for this doodle.
I knew I'd eventually find a use for this doodle. Art by Jef Rouner
Odds are, something you love was made by a bastard. The Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandoms are all going through conflicts of conscience over the foibles of their creators right now, and it’s leading to some real existential panic. Am I a bad person for having this Hufflepuff tattoo? Must I burn my Joss Whedon DVD to appease the dark liberal god Tah Lo Rinz?

No, don’t burn your Buffy discs (especially since they’re really the only good way to watch the show since the HD remasters were screwed up). It’s not your personal love of a franchise that has to end, it’s fanatical fandom evangelicalism.

Evangelicalism is a somewhat poorly understood term in America where it is generally lumped in with whatever regressive thing organized groups of religious people are doing at the moment. It has a definite negative connotation. Protesting outside an abortion clinic is considered the work of evangelicals while Jimmy Carter building houses for the poor is not.

What the word means in this context is the importance of preaching over ritual. Fandom evangelicalism is what happens when personal or shared appreciation of a work is less important than the discourse around it. If you’ve ever spent hours watching YouTube videos about WandaVision or read the thousands of words I’ve written about Doctor Who here on this site, you’ve participated in fandom evangelicalism.

Obviously, it’s not an inherently bad thing, and I make a fair living off it myself. The problem arises with the need to spread the gospel to an audience that may not be receptive to it, and that’s where I think the more toxic emotional responses to the fall of people like J.K. Rowling are coming from.

No one is going to ever make you stop reading Harry Potter. They won’t come into your house and rip up your books, deface your fan art, or poop on your Hogwarts throw blanket (I have cats for that). Personal appreciation, the ritual, is still as intact as it ever was. Even if the dread liberal nanny state did do those things, it’s impossible to remove the love you felt in your heart the first time a story spoke to you. It’s a part of you forever.

However, what we’re running into is resistance to the idea of performative fandom and its effect on others. When you flash your Harry Potter profile pic, it makes the trans people you may run into wonder if you’re a fan or just someone that really gets behind J.K. Rowling’s transphobia. They don’t have a way to know the difference and finding out can be legitimately dangerous. The same goes for Buffydom. Are you a longtime fan who wants to express their love, or are you someone who thinks all the women accusing Joss Whedon of misconduct are liars? The latter can also be pretty dangerous.

When someone says, “You can’t like anything anymore because it’s problematic,” what they mean is, “I can’t talk about my stuff without someone telling them it makes them uncomfortable.” The two things are not equivalent. The first is an invented strawman to justify the persecution complexes shielding people from negative feelings about the second.

Look, it’s fun to induct people into fandoms. I get a great feeling whenever someone tells me they became a Whovian based on my enthusiasm for the series. That said, you don’t have an inherent right to demand people acknowledge your fandom as a good thing. No one owes you validation for the media you love, and they have a right to not want to experience it because the person behind it is skeevy.

This is especially true as these properties age. Buffy ended 18 years ago, and the new generation has their own shows to watch. They don’t owe any gratitude to what came before, and they have little interest in listening to Gen Xers demand fealty. To a lot of them, Buffy is just a show made by a guy who is now widely accused of abusing his cast. Trying to force them to see it the way you see it is no different than dragging them to a church they have no loyalty too, even if you think they should.

Love your problematic media. I do. Just don’t confuse your right to enjoy it with a right to proselytize about it to people who associate it with pain instead of pleasure. Read the room, join some fan pages, and don’t ever go to bat for millionaires because they already pay lawyers for that. We need fewer preachers and more readers these days.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner