For the past year I have been fine tuning my thoughts on what the fuck is wrong with so much of nerd/pop culture. Misogyny is a huge part, and I find that a lot of the worse fans are sexist assholes, but I also find a lot of perfectly not-sexist assholes who truly believe deep down that a female version of a character is some sort of heresy. I have struggled to put my finger on this weird narrow vision. I finally found some answers when I was studying religions and I wanted to put these thoughts down somewhere.
There is a certain kind of fan that treats pop culture not as entertainment to be observed, enjoyed and discarded as they would other entertainments, but as something closer to religion. More specifically, they treat their chosen religion as something that is burned into holy stone and cannot be deviated from. They approach their pop culture the same way a fanatical Christian would treat the Bible as something to be taken literally. My term for this is Orthodox Fan.
Examples of Orthodox Fandom,
Believing that since a character that first appeared in the racist past as a white male, then any recreation of that character as anything other than a white male is wrong.
Rebooting a character created fifty years ago to include anything from the present day is some sort of terrible idea.
Movies or shows featuring different actors than the ones who originally portrayed a character.
Extreme reactions against anyone applying any sort of logic to a movie series that was made for kids.
I kick myself for not seeing this earlier as the very word, ‘fan’, is derivative from ‘fanatic’. That is what these bad kinds of fans are, they are fanatics. Sure, there is racism and sexism involved, but I think the cause of their sexism and racism in fandom has more to do with their fanatical adherence to the source material.
An Orthodox Fan often have the trait of loving something without ever absorbing the message of the thing they are a fan of. This happens a lot in religion as well. Everyone knows of that person who quotes religious scripture to justify their own desires, We all know of people who claim to follow Christ but seem to be lacking in any Christian qualities. These hypocrites see themselves as the true believers because deep down, they hear and repeat the words without ever absorbing the message. Orthodox Fans behave much the same way.
Star Trek is a science fiction show about the power of diversity and bringing different people together. Orthodox Star Trek fans think it is a show about these white guys who were smart and banged chicks. They see the idea of women in charge or non-white heroes as unrealistic.
Superheroes are about people who feel the call to protect the world and help others. Orthodox Superhero Fans think is a medium where guys wearing spandex punch other guys in spandex. Warner Brothers catered to Orthodox Superhero Fans with their terrible movies until the Wonder Woman movie. This was a movie with an actual fucking message and lo and behold, people liked it.
Star Wars is about, umm. That’s a good question. I sometimes think Star Wars has a really nasty fandom because other than good guys-fight-bad-guys, I couldn’t tell you what message or higher calling Star Wars is trying to instruct. It is truly just an excuse for big space battles and laser sword fights. Think fast, other than take down the Empire, what does the rebellion stand for? What is the political leaning of the Empire other than a dictatorship? Why the fuck are droids slaves that even the good guys abuse? The Orthodoxy is strong in their fans because other than buy more Star Wars stuff, there is no grand meaning.
Which brings us to the nasty secret about pop culture franchises and their fans. At their very basic root, most of pop culture is created by companies looking to make money. The ones that resonate with people often have themes or messages but these are just designed to attract people into liking it enough to spend more money. Ultimately, nerd culture is a giant consumer’s market. Orthodox Fans treat it as a religion, but only as a religion that they give lip service to without having to actually believe in anything. To these fans, the ultimate act of worship is buying shit.
Not all fans are like this, of course. There are great fans out there. Real fans are cosplayers of color who embrace these white characters and make them their own. Real fans are inspired by fictional heroes to help out in their community and to look out for one another. Real fans are happy to watch their favorite media creation change and grow to include more people. Real fans would never attack another fan for being “wrong” in their fandom.
You know, some fans truly don’t give a shit and they are cool too. Enjoy your vampire bounty-hunter show as an escape from your bad day and don’t feel obligated to do jack shit except enjoy it. You’re a fan too and you know, I think I love you most of all because you are never going to harass someone on Twitter because they cosplayed as a Hispanic version of your vampire bounty-hunter.
So yeah, this is my grand Orthodox Fan theory. It is not meant to excuse bad behavior but maybe this kind of flawed thinking will be easier to recognize in yourself and others.