“Toxic Fandom.” What is it? It is an accusation thrown around from filmmakers, critics, and the entertainment industry gatekeepers who want to combat fan criticism of a movie, television show, comic book, or novel that does not live up to the standards of the source materials fanbases love. I once thought it was fake, just an annoying attempt at finger-pointing, but now, I am convinced I was wrong.
Toxic Fandom is used, mostly by the annoying social justice whiners, er, warriors, to attack fans who do not like the retconning, changing, or rewriting of popular legacy characters in various expressions including film or comic books. Usually, the SJWs will find one or two or maybe even three posts from a weirdo who is screaming bigotry and then try to tie to the regular fans with some out-of-context post, at large in order to smear the fan bases. I use to think this was nothing more than a diversion. However, I have found out through recent events that this is very real, but not in the sphere where it is usually pointed out.
One of the biggest examples of this is with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Terminator director James Cameron attacked the franchise, citing expertise in filmmaking. Of course, the gatekeepers on social media jumped to Cameron’s defense, even after it was pointed out he was originally supposed to launch the MCU with his own version of “Spider-Man” that never got off the ground. Ironically, he’s turning his sci-fi fiasco Avatar into a five-film series.
We saw this repeated with Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg, who attacked streaming services producing films, only to become a spokesperson for Disney Plus. Actor Marc Maron attacked Marvel fans as well, hilariously after starring in Joker.
Of course, all of these examples paled in comparison to the attacks Silence director Martin Scorsese leveled against the comic book film genre.
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” the director of Goodfellas said in an interview. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
Fans, rightly so, defended their franchises against the attacks by Scorsese. Many overreacted, claiming Scorsese is not a good director, which is not true, obviously. He is incredibly talented, but his comments were clearly elitist and snobbish. MCU actors like Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, and Paul Rudd defended their work in the classiest way possible, choosing not to stoop to his level and simply discussed the merits of their work.
Each of these moments highlights something, the reaction of the gatekeepers in the movie critic and film buff world. In Cameron’s case, they all jumped on board and even ignored calls of hypocrisy. Same with Maron. Spielberg was cheered on by these gatekeepers, who ironically grew quiet when he received the paycheck from Mickey Mouse.
When asked why Scorsese was allowed to define “cinema” a resounding yell came back, “HE MADE MOVIES!” Obviously, this is not an argument, but the gatekeepers kept hammering at it. After Scorsese wrote his scree in The New York Times, where he tripled down, his fanboys and gals morphed the debate from the merits on the definition of “cinema” to calling fans, nerds, geeks, and general audiences children or “man-babies.” They did not let up or back down. Many even refused to debate his comments hypocritically declaring any criticism “ad hominem.”
Then came his movie. The Irishman streamed on Netlfix with a limited theatrical release. It was his latest character examination of a morally reprehensible person(s). It was genuinely a bad movie, one of the worst of the year. Self-righteous, overly long, poorly edited, a convoluted plot, yet somehow it ends up on all of the “best of” film lists. As an aside, no one asked Spielberg if he thought it was “cinema” since he took such a stand against streaming services. Anyway, when it was pointed out that Scorsese’s newest movie was a dud, the gatekeepers exploded.
The gatekeepers employed the same tactics in defending it that they accused other fans of using. I felt it personally with my commentary being called “objectively silly” because I dared to call a spade a spade. Obviously, I do not care, but it highlights a problem. The gatekeepers have long had a hold on what is considered a “good” or “bad” movie. With the insidious relationship with the Hollywood periodicals, media, randos who once wrote a screenplay, and every person who watched a silent film they had a hegemon on what constituted “cinema.”
The entertainment industry is now changing. The MCU has single-handedly changed the way movies are made. This has happened before. Silent movies started having sound, black and white become colorized, summer blockbusters hit the scene, 8mm became digital, and now cinematic universes are cropping up. This is not a bad thing, this is innovation. Sometimes it fades away, like Beta Max, and other times it sticks, like having sound. Yet, the gatekeepers are the ones resisting these advancements, nearly at every stage in order to keep “cinema” pure or something.
Instead of battling it out on the merits, they decry the changes as an affront to “cinema” and before, most people just shrugged, capitulated, or let them control the debate. With the advent of social media, they are getting pushback and they are not happy about it. They resort to name-calling, attacking the offending creators, or yelling about the audiences, you know, their customers, all to hold onto the power of suggestion.
This is not limited to a particular political affiliation. The Left hates it because it is pulling audiences away from their ideological drivel and the Right hates it out of a misguided attempt to hold onto tradition. Ironically, the Left claims to be for free expression and the Right claims to be for individualism, but when it comes to “cinema” they have a weird unity that promotes groupthink in the entertainment industry. They might differ on what makes quality, but they align quite often.
Toxic fandom is a real thing, but it is not with comic book fans, speculative fiction enthusiasts, or general audiences. It lies with these gatekeepers who claim to be fighting to keep “cinema” pure. For those of us who just want to enjoy a movie without being called “stupid,” “ignorant,” or told “we are letting filmmakers down” perhaps the solution is to just like what we like and talk about it. Instead of stooping to their level of name-calling or elitism, let’s show how the films we love move us emotionally, inspire us, or just give us a good time based on their merits as a film. That is, after all, what going to the movies is all about.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my movie review of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and Richard Jewell. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.