Oh, fandom. So passionate, so partisan—and, too often these days, so prolifically peevish. From Tumblr and Wattpad to more mainstream platforms like Twitter and Instagram, online communities have served as rallying points for stan armies: obsessives who comb over every interview and shred of non-news for information about the object of their adoration. But increasingly, fandoms' emotions have been curdling into a different kind of potion; something petty, entitled, conspiratorial, even abusive. So on the occasion of San Diego Comic-Con, one of the biggest fan events in the world, it's time for some tough love.
First, a note: this is a look at toxic strains that exist within a larger fandom, not an indictment of a given artist or person. Fandom is a pure and precious thing, and no one should feel conflicted about being invested in a pop-culture figure or property. If you express that investment by being a worse person, though—treating appreciation like warfare, demanding dogmatic purity tests, attacking people, or seeing yourself as some kind of a crusader—than it's probably time to take some time and re-assess things. We're sure nothing in the following catalog sounds like anything you've done in the name of fandom, right? Enjoy Comic-Con!
10. Barbz (Nicki Minaj Fandom)
The Barbz are a fiercely loyal sort. Case in point: In April, upon the release of Invasion of Privacy, a writer for British GQ explained how Cardi B had adopted Nicki Minaj’s style in a much more accessible way. “Nicki intimidates; Cardi endears,” she wrote. Minaj disciples responded with an all-out attack. The GQ staffer was flooded with malicious tweets, ranging from the direct (“I will kill u bitch”) to even more direct (“You better to delete that before we get your address and start hunting you and your family down!!”) The following month, the Barbz turned on one of their own when a self-proclaimed fan wondered aloud on Twitter: “You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content? No silly shit, just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc.” (Minaj took it further and DMed a disgustingly petty reply to the fan). For Barbz, fandom doesn’t allow for dissent—even when it's not dissent but a valid, healthy appraisal. This may come as a surprise, y'all, but love and criticism are not mutually exclusive.
9. Swifties (Taylor Swift Fandom)
Generally speaking, Taylor Swift’s fans aren’t bad—they just really love Swift and tend to be a little over-the-top about it. And most of the time, that’s what fandom is. (Also, this is a pop star who sends holiday presents to them; she’s earned their devotion.) But within that group, the “Bad Blood” singer has a few bad apples. There are those who go after Hayley Kiyoko for daring to point out that she shouldn’t be criticized for singing about women when Swift sings about men all the time. (Swift actually agrees with Kiyoko on that point.) There are Swifties who get bent out of shape when she doesn’t get nominated for enough awards. And then there are the white supremacists—fans Swift seems to have done nothing to court, but pop up anyway. Yeah, the ones who call her an “Aryan goddess”? Those are the ones who give her a bad reputation.
8. Zack Snyder Fans
Look, Zack Snyder's hardcore supporters have it rough. Or, well, they think they do. They’ve hitched their wagon to a star that occasionally blinks out. He’s made some OK movies (Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen) but he’s made even more that have been trashed by critics: Sucker Punch; Man of Steel; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That's led to a persecution complex among more than a few of his stans. While this kerfuffle has died down a bit with Snyder's step back from the spotlight—recently, he has shifted focus to make iPhone movies and produce the DC movies rather than direct them—the coming years represent a reckoning. James Wan’s Aquaman and Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman sequel are headed to theaters, and the receptions they get may determine whether critics have complaints with all DC movies, or just the ones with Snyder behind the camera. In the meantime, though, his own personal justice league will be there to defend it.
7. Rick and Morty Fans
Yes, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland created a funny, smart, challenging (god, those burps) cartoon. Yes, it delivers a bizarro Back to the Future ride through both spacetime and genre tropes. Yes, it's the most STEM-conscious animated show since Futurama. But sweet tapdancing Pickle Rick, you've never seen a TV fandom more noisome than this one. There's the "this show is so smart normies don't get it" self-congratulation that's so over-the-top it became a copypasta meme; there's the propensity to doxx the show's female writers and generally be such venal stains that Harmon despises them; there's the mass freakout after McDonald's ran out of limited-edition Szechuan dipping sauce. (Yes, that's correct.) While Adult Swim recently renewed the show for 70 new episodes, there's going to be quite a lull before anyone sees a new episode—here's hoping the fans grow up a little bit in the meantime.
6. #TeamBreezy (Chris Brown Fandom)
It’s been almost a decade since reports first surfaced of Chris Brown’s violent abuse of then-girlfriend Rihanna. Since then, Rihanna has rocketed to pop superstardom while Brown’s career has strided along, aided by a loyal following that borders on enablers. Despite an earnest-seeming redemption tour, reports of Brown’s violent behavior continue to bubble up: Brown’s ex-girlfriend filed for a restraining order; Brown went on a homophobic Twitter rant; Brown punched a fan in a nightclub; Brown locked a woman in his home, without a cell phone, so she could be sexually assaulted. (Brown’s camp denies that last accusation.) Yet, Team Breezy generally attributes such reports to misinformation and "haters." Fandoms are built on stand-by-your-man loyalty, but at some point it becomes impossible to love the art in good conscience. If the #MeToo movement is any indication, the times have changed since Rihanna’s bloody face headlined gossip sites. Willful ignorance is no longer an acceptable choice.
5. XXXtentacion Fans
On June 18, outside of a Broward County motorcycle dealership, 20-year-old Jahseh Onfroy was fatally gunned down by two assailants. At the time of his death, Onfroy, who rapped under the moniker XXXTentacion, had already amassed a rare kind of fame: He attracted deep love and even deeper hate with a ferocious mania. The allure of Onfroy’s dark matter inspired the type of fandom that spills into violent obsession. A recurring source of vitriol for the rapper, and an easy target for his rabid fanbase, was his ex-girlfriend, Geneva Ayala, who filed multiple charges against the rapper (including aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, and witness tampering). When it came to light that Ayala created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for hospital bills due to damage inflicted by Onfroy, his fans bullied her into exile: forcing her to delete Instagram, hacking her Twitter account, harassing her at work to the point that she was left with no option but to quit, and shutting down her GoFundMe (it was later reopened). Having made a name for himself on Soundcloud, where he often engaged issues of mental health in his music, Onfroy willingly embraced his demons (he once called himself “lil dylan roof” on Twitter, referencing the Charleston shooter who murdered nine parishioners in South Carolina in 2015). But even now, in death, XXX is a reminder that extreme fandom has the power to blind people to the blood on their own hands.
4. Logang (Logan Paul Fandom)
Let’s get this out of the way up front. Many, even most, of Logan Paul’s fans are literal children. And so if you ask us who is really responsible for their bad behavior, we’re going to have to say the fault is predominantly with Paul and, you know, other adults. But the Logang (or the Logangsters, depending on who you ask), like Lil Tay, are inventing a new category of internet villain: the terrifying baby troll. They do all the things adult trolls do—parrot back the sexist and racist things Pauls says, stalk him outside hotel rooms, and harass and troll the “haters” daring to criticize their deeply problematic idol—but they’re kids! So you can’t really fire back at them without being a jerk yourself. Listen, Logang: all Logan wants to do is sell you merch. He’s not really your friend. Can I interest you in a puppy video?
3. Bro Army (Pewdiepie Fandom)
First rule of non-toxic fandoms: Don’t call yourselves "bro," don’t call yourselves an "army," and definitely don’t call yourselves the Bro Army. People might assume you’re a bunch of flame-war-loving trolls who think girls are icky—and where YouTuber PewDiePie’s fans are concerned, everyone would be absolutely right. It’s not just that they’ve stuck with the Swedish gamer/alleged comedian as he peppered his videos with racial slurs, rape jokes, anti-Semitism, and homophobia for nearly a decade (though that’s bad enough). It’s also that they insist that PewDiePie somehow isn’t being hateful at all. Oh, and if you quote their hero back at them, they’ll wallpaper your social media accounts with thoughtful messages about how you suck—for years.
2. The Dark Side of Star Wars Fandom
The most recent eruption has been a hilariously non-ironic campaign to remake The Last Jedi, but that's sadly just the latest in a long line of online grossness from the entitled Sith-heads who are so keen on reclaiming the Star Wars universe . Somehow, Gamergate has come to a galaxy far, far away; hectoring, harassment, even death threats aimed at director Rian Johnson. To be clear, this is a tiny (if vocal) subset of Star Wars fandom, which on the whole is as joyous and inclusive as the universe is finally becoming. But to to quote our own Adam Rogers:
"Everyone has a right to opinions about movies. Everyone has a right, I guess, to throw those opinions in the face of the people who make those movies, though it does seem at minimum impolite. Everyone has the right to ask transnational entertainment companies to make the movies they want, and if those companies don’t respond, to stop giving the companies money. But harassment, threats, jokes about someone’s race or gender? A Jedi would fight someone who did that stuff. The Force binds us all together. Hatred and anger are the ways of the Dark Side; they may bring power, but at a cost. It harms individuals, debases the people who do it, and it breaks the Fellowship. In the end, the cost of that power will be powerlessness."
1. Elon Musk Acolytes
"Always punch up" is a good life motto. You’ll accomplish a lot by speaking truth to power; dissecting the misdeeds of a relative unknown, though, makes you look like a tool. That’s why, despite the plethora of dark and toxic fandoms that flourish on the fringes of the internet, the group that tops our list of nasties is devoted to a person at the internet's very center: Elon Musk. To his fan club, Musk is so much more than a charismatic artist, a talented musician, or, hey, a flawed but successful tech entrepreneur—he’s a messiah, a vestige of an age of retrograde masculinity, when a reasonably successful man could expect his ideas to remain unchecked and his words be read as gospel. And Musk wields his one-man metaphor status (and his 22.3 million follower army) to whack out any dissenting opinions. “Because before he commented on my tweet, it was floundering in relative obscurity,” science writer Erin Biba wrote in a piece for the Daily Beast. But after Musk’s dismissive response, Biba found herself drowning in hate mail and abuse. By letting his mob pick over opinions he does not like, Musk is able to control the narrative, playing up investigative reporting on Tesla’s poor labor practices as a misinformation campaign—or even, in some recent deleted tweets, insinuating that one of the people involved with the Thai cave rescue efforts is a pedophile. It’s bad to be thin-skinned, and terrible to play the underdog, but playing it while you ignite a million-man bullying campaign is reprehensible.
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