By Jerry Chandler
Over my decades as a member of fandom, I’ve seen any number of bad fan stories told by both professionals and my fellow fans. Some accounts by pros of bad fan stories, such as Harlan Ellison’s Xenogenesis, have included the extreme end of bad interactions between fans and pros. Other bad fan interactions have been merely the trifling actions of the obnoxious members of fandom such as one fanwho felt he “had to” demand that Rob Liefeld apologize for his comic work and later gave him a copy of the original How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (bought new at the con they were both at) at an autograph table while being filmed by a friend and request that Liefeld learn from it. Some people might include the recent Phoenix Comicon incident in these lists, but I’d chalk that one far more up to a subject with severe mental issues.
As bad as some of the physical encounters outlined in essays like Xenogenesis unquestionably are, the worlds of widespread internet access and social media have given every “bad fan” and troll in the world the ability to harass and harangue creators in ways they never could have before, and with a frequency unlike anything seen in earlier eras. Not only do professional creators who are more accessible to fans online occasionally face a storm of hateful comments for days or weeks on end, but they also have t0 worry about those few special individuals who view their “outrage” as justification for doxxing a creator and his or her family. This can arguably be said to be in ways far worse than the occasional rude fan or the once in a blue moon extremely distasteful or physical actions by fans at public appearances.
For those of you who never followed the series. I’ll give you the very short version of events.
Creator Sui Ishida started the wildly popular manga some years ago now. On top of becoming a huge hit in Japan, it became something of a major hit in the UK and the US as well. People, as people should do when creators do their job well, became invested in the characters. The problem here is that many people became just a wee bit too invested in the characters.
Some fans decided that the correct course for storylines in the series would be for the male lead to eventually enter into a romantic relationship with another longtime series character, his male best friend. Eventually, Sui Ishida decided to pull the trigger on the relationship he had been building towards, but, much to the annoyance of a segment of Tokyo Ghoul fandom, the relationship was with the longtime female lead in the series. This drove a segment of TG fandom up a wall.
In and of itself, that’s fine. We have all at one time or another looked at a storyline or an unexpected plot twist in whatever we were following and found the new direction not to our immediate or long-term liking. Hell, I’m a fan of pro wrestling. I think it’s a requirement that pro wrestling fans complain about something not being done right with the booking at least once during every broadcast. Certainly, when things go totally against the expectations we have, when the storyline we’ve written in our head isn’t the one that plays out, fans can sometimes need more than just a moment of adjustment time to get a handle on the actual story the creators wanted to tell.
Where the segment of TG fandom went wrong was deciding that the fan fiction they’d written for themselves and for each other was the way the real story had to play out. It didn’t matter to them that it didn’t totally make sense. It was in their eyes the way things had to play out. When it didn’t go the way of their fanfic, they got nasty.
Parts of the TG fandom took to the internet and swarmed social media to attack Sui Ishida. Ishida was condemned as bigoted and homophobic. People who had been fans of the series were now proudly declaring that they were going to pirate the series from here on out, sharing it for free in the hopes of destroying the sales of the book. People were posting pictures and videos of themselves burning copies of the manga. People claimed that they were triggered by the crushing “act of homophobia” displayed in the book, even claiming it caused them PTSD. Some informed Ishida that he needed to die. Some stipulated suicide, others didn’t clarify if they were suggesting suicide or murder. Seriously, the reactions by some in the TG fandom was crazy enough to almost make some of the more extreme reactions to the Captain America as secret sleeper Hydra agent story look sane by comparison.
I don’t know if this kind of thing is becoming more common, if there are more people in fandom now who act like this than before. The baseline percentage of the lunatic fanatics in fandom may be no greater than it was decades ago. It may simply be that the world of social media allows that segment of fandom to find each other and form online wolfpacks that simply make their existence more obvious than before. Certainly, as I referenced before, it allows these fans to unite and attack whoever it is that did what they view as the greatest sin ever in far greater numbers with far greater ease than they could back in the pre-internet days. But, either way, it’s the incidents like this that indicate that more than a few people in fandom really, really need to get a grip in a major and immediate way.
The creators of the stories we enjoy really only owe one person the story they most want to see. That would be the creator of that story. Sometimes they’re nice and they give the fans a nod by writing into their stories something that fans have been asking for, but even then that’s a bonus rather than anything they actually owe the fans.
The only thing creators owe the fans- and this is still stretching the definition of the word “owe” -is an enjoyable ride through the worlds they can create. However, the thing with that is that fans are simply passengers along for the ride. The creator is the driver, and the creator is the only one who gets to chart the course. The only real options for fans are ultimately sitting back and enjoying the ride or getting out of the vehicle at the next stop and leaving that ride behind.
That’s it. No matter how entitled a fan may feel, they don’t get to chart the course. If the creator chooses to go somewhere the fan no longer wants to go, there is nothing appropriate or acceptable about wolf pack attacking the creator; especially not to the levels seen here.
It’s one of those double-edged sword issues creators face that occasionally makes me feel a little sorry for creators. Most creators absolutely want a fan following that has become invested in the characters they create and the stories they’re trying to tell. It’s actually a bit of a necessary thing when it comes to building a loyal, regular following. The problem with doing that- especially in an era where there seems to be greater numbers of fans suffering entitlement issues -is that you will always get those fans who get a little too invested and become a touch too proprietorial about something that isn’t actually theirs to feel proprietorial towards. So, you end up with incidents like the ones discussed by pros in any number of “bad fan” discussions or essays like Xenogenesis; or like the one seen in the reaction to the latest story developments in Tokyo Ghoul.
The good news is that the vast majority of fandom isn’t like this. The sad news is that many of the ones who are like this are still too large a part of fandom and will likely be the ones who will long be unable to understand how incredibly pathetic they appear when they act like this.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the Earth Station One Network’s The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.