I think I’m done with internet fan communities.
This year, I’ve seen two pop culture goliaths – the release of Avengers: Endgame and the end of Game Of Thrones – absolutely swamped by ill feeling both before and after their release.
About a week before the release of Avengers: Endgame, a version of the story was leaked on to the website 4Chan, then migrated its way onto Reddit, where it was devoured by a waiting community. The leak turned out to be correct; I’d been following the commentary, but I went back and read the leaks after seeing – and loving – the movie. But I was one of the lucky ones.
By the time Endgame hit theatres, Reddit was chock-full of anonymous posters who spat pure hatred about the story, based only on the leaked information. It was alarming how many people were willing to pass judgment based on a sparse text description of a three hour film. It tainted the fan community online as fans began to expect the worst. It made no sense. But it passed.
This past couple of weeks has also been challenging as a fan of Game Of Thrones.
While I do think there are legitimate criticisms of how the show ended, it felt like the fan communities online turned into an echo chamber, with words like “bad writing” and “destroyed character arc” resonating around and around.
Take the sub-reddit /r/FreeFolk, a spin-off from the main Game Of Thrones sub-reddit that allows posting of spoilers, swearing, and so on. Before the final season began, /r/FreeFolk was a hilarious collection of memes and commentary on the show – the community there was made up of true fans who really loved the show.
But several things happened seemingly at once (spoilers ahead). First, the Night King was killed earlier in the season than most fans were expecting, and by a character most people were not expecting. Fans were surprised, sure, and some a little disappointed that the assumed major villain was gone with so much time left. But most were optimistic about the episodes to come.
Then, at some point in the week that followed, a number of elaborate (and accurate) spoilers leaked that laid out what was going to happen for the remainder of the season. Fans visited /r/FreeFolk in droves to despair at what they perceived as a betrayal of the characters and the show – remember, all without actually seeing the episodes in question.
The fourth episode came and went, proving the leaks were accurate, and the community went into meltdown. One fan created a petition to rewrite the show which now has around 1.3 million signatures. Everything was suddenly negative. It began to bleed into other sub-reddits about the show. The tone seemed to change on all social media. And by the time a coffee cup was spotted in a couple of frames, the internet had decided what it thought.
I unsubscribed from /r/FreeFolk and /r/GameOfThrones ahead of Episode 5.
If I were to guess, I’d say both of these negative backlashes – the Thrones one ongoing; the Endgame one doused out of existence by how good the film is – came from the same place: a false impression of where ownership of art resides.
The truth is, I think, that art doesn’t belong to the consumer; it belongs to the creator. Blockbuster films and global television hits are still art. And the fans don’t own it.
Creators of mass-marketed pop culture like to say “this was for the fans” but it isn’t. Not really. I’m sure the reaction of fans is a consideration. But we didn’t watch the fans’ version of Endgame; we watched Marvel Studios’ version. We didn’t watch the fans version of Game Of Thrones’ finale; we watched David Benioff and DB Weiss’ version.
As consumers, we can pass judgment. We can dislike the pop culture we’re consuming. These waves of negativity turned foul when those perpetuating it began to see their opinions as objectively correct, and dissenting opinions as objectively wrong. That isn’t opinion. That is arrogance.
These are far from the only examples. You only need to go back as far as 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to find another large-scale toxic and misguided backlash.
Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and cannot enjoy.
If you thought Game Of Thrones had the best ending ever, I’m happy that you enjoyed it, even if I disagree. And if that kind of respectfulness can’t exist in online fan communities, then I’m going to have to withdraw from them.
I like what I like. I’m not going to allow my experience to be tainted by sheer arrogance.