Here's something that I've been thinking a lot about lately, after a handful of incidents on different social media platforms.
People who feel the need to tell others that they're not allowed to like something really grate on my nerves.
The something in question can be anything from a hobby, a franchise, a movie, a book or book series, a tv show, an anime, a character, a relationship, a food, their culture, their favorite sport or sports teams, whatever.Comic by Adam Ellis
I don't mean respectful disagreement, as in "I don't agree with you for x, y, and z reasons," or even "that's not my cup of tea, but glad you're enjoying it." There's a way to express disagreement or dislike of something without attacking someone else for liking it. I'm also not talking about good-natured teasing of someone you know well.
I'm talking about people who feel it's their job to be the "fun police". Who think that if they don't enjoy something, no one should because somehow that thing is inherently bad just because they dislike it. Who reply to posts about something only with "Anyone who likes XYZ is an idiot" or "It sucks", without offering even a discussion point or something to encourage some kind of discourse. Who belittle people for the things they love, and hurl angry insults or disparaging comments at anyone expressing an opposing viewpoint.
It's not just in fandom circles. Plenty of people are told that their hobbies or interests are "strange", or hear the classic "aren't you too old for that?" or "you should grow up" from their peers. In fandom, it's often more specific, including disdain or hatred for a particular series, calling things "overrated" or mocking them for being "mainstream", "ship wars", or hatred for specific characters. (Disclaimer: I know I was guilty of this kind of behavior myself when I was younger, before I realized what I was doing.)
Of course, you have every right to like or not like anything you want. But it costs me nothing to just scroll past a post about something I don't like and move on with my day. If the poster is asking for opinions, I will respectfully explain what I do and/or don't like about it.
The key here is respect and empathy. There is often too little of that on the Internet. I've reached the point now where I can respect and admire people's passion for the things they love, even if I don't share it. If someone posts an article or a video or a fanwork about something they love, I will try to appreciate it even if I'm not a fan myself. Because really, that passion is something that unites us across fandoms.
I think at least part of the problem is that people take any opposing viewpoint as an attack, on both sides. The us vs them mentality comes out in full-force. This kind of attitude festers in comment sections on blogs and YouTube, and on Tumblr. Add to this the kind of trolling and cruelty that happens in any anonymous Internet spaces, and it's easy to see why people can feel attacked.
So what does this mean? It means fandoms are often splintered and it can be hard to find community sometimes. Many fans, myself included, retreat into their own safe spaces where they have tools to help restrict who can see or comment on their work. Many stop creating or sharing altogether. Overall, it leads to less communication and dialogue about both the positives and the negatives of our fandoms, and that cannot be good, either for individuals or for fandom as a whole.
What can we do to fix it? That's a harder question. I welcome more thoughts on this. Because I think it's something that's up to each of us as individual fans to think about and to help foster the kind of fandom environments that we want to see.