I’ve written about poor fan behavior more than once on this blog. This time I’m not here so much to talk about the specifics of their bad behavior, but about the behavior itself.
Years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote a troubling essay titled “Xenogenesis.” In that essay he recounted some of the horrible things that had been done to various writers… things that had been done by fans. I’ve never like reading this essay, precisely because it makes me wonder about my own behavior, yet at the same time that is exactly why I re-read it every time I go to a convention, because the truth is things have only gotten worse in the days since Ellison’s essay. Someone dressed in a Tribble costume shot Claudia Christian. Fortunately the gun was filled with blanks, but that doesn’t make what happened any “better.” A jackass in a yellow hat tried to “punk” Rob Liefeld at a convention, and then crowed about it on the internet. While it is true that a good number of individuals, fans and pros, came down on him for his idiocy, a great many people applauded his boorish behavior. Ethan Van Sciver had art stolen off his table at a convention. At Dragon*Con this past weekend a bunch of “bros” felt the need to shout “Wesly Crusher!” upon seeing Wil Wheaton.
The fact that Mr. Wheaton had an otherwise enjoyable experience beyond this incident is not the point. The point is that the incidents never should have happened at all, and the behavior gets even worse when we look at the internet.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ignorant, hateful comments directed at comics professionals on places like Bleeding Cool or Newsarama. The calls for harassment and violence, be that toward the yellow hat-wearing jackass, or even someone as despicable as Rob Granito, are also a frequent, troubling part of our discourse. And a non-existant Heaven help you if you fire back. When Mark Waid went off on Granito there were people taking umbrage at what Waid did. Because obviously someone getting up set because Granito was trying to bolster his own rep by namedropping a recently dead man’s name is just so unbelievable.
Even more troublesome than the behaviors themselves are the fact that these people are more and more our face. When I do check a story on a comic’s site, it is this kind of behavior that I expect to see. We could certainly try going the No True Scotsman route and denying ownership of these individuals as part of our community, but what does that do to address the problem? The same is true of simply saying, “these assholes are the exception, most fans are great.” Because even if it is true that these assholes are the exception, they are still what people see when they see our community. These members of our community alienate us from professionals, from each other, and from people who might want to participate in our community.
As a community we need to make it understood that we will not be tolerant of certain behaviors. People are still free to say what we want, but we need to make it clear that we simply won’t tolerate their behavior. I know the geek creedo is supposed to be all about inclusiveness, despite the fact that geek culture is and always has been cliquish, but lines have to be drawn. If fanboys want to piss in the pool I see no problem with making sure it’s their own, isolated pool they do it in.
The rest of us also need to remember that no matter how much money we spend, no matter how invested we become in these stories and characters, we’re not actually owed a damn thing. Nothing. This doesn’t mean that creators, companies, and celebrities are above critique, or even of being the butt of a joke. I happen to think Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men was one of the worst things I have ever read, and what I’ve seen of Firefly left me feeling that it was one of the worst shows to ever be on Television. I have no problem with saying so. That does not, however, entitle me to abuse Mr. Whedon either on line or in the flesh.
I am well aware that this is not a perfect world, and I am far and away from being a perfect person. There will always be assholes everywhere, and because there will always be assholes everywhere a portion of those assholes will be geeks. What we can do is our best to ensure that the worst elements of our community, both in person and online, are the outliers.