The True Fan

Trolls at the Gates

Photo from

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Chuck Sipps, Arts and Life Editor

In recent years an increasingly alarming trend has arisen in fandom. Sometimes the role of a fan is that of an apologist, making excuses and ignoring all the faults of their chosen fandom. Other times they take on the job of an evangelist. They sing the praises of their fandom to any and all and adamantly declare that you must become a fan too. There are many more roles of a fan. Today we will focus on the role of the gatekeeper: the fan who decides what is and what is not part of their fandom as well as who is, was, or can be a fan. In recent times, and with the power of anonymity provided by the world wide web, gatekeeper fans have become far more prevalent and their gatekeeping methods far more volatile. While they usually don’t get paid for their gatekeeping, there is a price to their role.

‘Star Wars’, home to one of the largest fan bases in the world,  is made up of folks on both the dark and light side of fandom. 2017’s ‘The Last Jedi’ managed to fire up the ire of many Star Wars fans, with some claiming the film was a bastardization of ‘Star Wars. On the review site, over 200,000 fans have left their review of the film, a majority of which were negative. Here are a few samples. Richard L said, “A movie only a little kid would love.” Bill A says, “OMG, you really think this is a ‘Star Wars’ movie? It is a disgrace to the name!”  Matt J said, “I’m probably going to be called a disgruntled fanboy for my review but here is what I say to those who say that: You probably also think Episode II was a good movie as well or either didn’t watch episode I through VI and have no clue to the backstory of Star Wars and how everything plays out.” Gatekeeping on full display here, with “true fans” being the only ones able to separate the wheat from the chaff. This behavior will only serve to drive people away, not endear ‘Star Wars’ to the next generation.

The gatekeeping in ‘Star Wars’ isn’t only reserved for the fans but for the creative team and actors behind the various ‘Star Wars’ media as well. Let’s start with the actors. Jake Lloyd, who portrayed Anakin Skywalker in Episode I, shared with the Sun that, “Other children were really mean to me. They would make the sound of a lightsaber every time they saw me.” Because of this, Lloyd has retired from acting. Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in ‘The Last Jedi’, was forced to abandon her social media pages after the onslaught of cyberbullying to which she was subjected after the film’s release. Finally, Ahmed Best, who portrayed the infamous Jar Jar Binks in the prequel trilogy, had this to say in an interview with Wired, “I had death threats through the internet. I had people come up to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That is difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.” Three people, and many more, had their lives worsened because they didn’t live up to the impossible standards of the gatekeeper fan. The message is clear, “You didn’t live up to my ideals of Star Wars and now I must destroy you.’

This gatekeeping even extends to the filmmakers themselves. Rian Johnson has received a copious amount of criticism for his work directing ‘The Last Jedi.’ One of his most vicious detractors is the twitter account and website Remake The Last Jedi. The account achieved a brief window of infamy for its claims that it had a team of producers ready and willing to fund a remake of the film. While that is almost definitely not true, they further claimed that they would be taking written submissions from “true” fans and from these submissions cultivating the best story possible. The fact that this would never work didn’t stop numerous people from pledging support. When did a fan’s job stop being to simply partake and reflect?

This fan remake doesn’t begin and end with ‘Star Wars’ either. ‘Game of Thrones’ ended its eight-season run this year and it also faced a lot of fan backlash. A petition was started on to rewrite the final season and has received over 1,700,000 signatures. The pledges’ mission is to give the series a proper sendoff, as the showrunners have proven themselves to be woefully incompetent. There was also the ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ debacle. A trailer was released for the film and received such strong criticism for Sonics character design that the film has been delayed to change Sonic’s design. This sets a dangerous precedent. There are countless other cases of demands that creators “listen to the true fans.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the love that “true fans’ have for the infamous ‘Snyder Cut?’ Zack Snyder was the original director of ‘Justice League’ but was forced to bow out due to a family tragedy. Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon to finish the project. This led to a lot of changes that lightened the tone of the film and the end result was divisive. There is a vocal minority of the fanbase who insist that not only does a ‘Snyder Cut’ exist, it is the superior version of the film and if Warner Brothers weren’t “cowards” they would release it. Not even Marvel is immune to this as a similar situation occurred when Edgar Wright left ‘Ant-Man’ and was replaced by Payton Reed.

Even simple casting choices can lead to derision from gatekeeper fans. Recently Robert Pattinson was announced as the next ‘Batman’. Pattinson, best known for his role in ‘Twilight’ was immediately bombarded with calls to resign and petitions were crafted to recast the role along with the #notmybatman. This isn’t the first-time studios have been pressured to recast, nor is this the first time ‘Batman’ actors have been deemed “unworthy” by “true fans.” When Heath Ledger was announced as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ there were demands to recast, as there was no way that a Hollywood pretty boy like Ledger could bring the darkness necessary to be the Joker. Ledger won an Academy Award for his portrayal. Or what about when the “true fans” decided there was no way comedic actor Michael Keaton could adequately portray the caped crusader? They hand-wrote and delivered hundreds of thousands of letters to Warner Brothers with demands that Keaton be replaced. Keaton went on to perform one of the most beloved portrayals of the role. Perhaps “true fans” don’t really know what it is they want.            

A creator’s job is to create and release that creation into the world. Fans are then meant to consume the creation, critique it or praise it given the circumstances, and then move on. It is not the role of fans to remake something that disappoints them. Nor is it the creator’s problem if fans are disappointed in their work. Art is meant to elicit emotion and if a movie left you dissatisfied, the creator still did their job. If we continue to allow these types of campaigns and outcries to endure, it is not going to lead to better art but the very absence of it.

Just because some art is made for everyone doesn’t mean everyone needs to like it. It’s ok to not enjoy something, but it’s not ok to be a gatekeeper. If we keep new ideas and new creators locked out of the properties we love, it will lead to the stagnation of those properties. Rather than viciously attacking things you don’t like and people who don’t deserve it, try a more powerful tactic. The most influential thing you can do is voting with your wallet. If you see a preview and it doesn’t look good, don’t go see it. If you saw something and didn’t enjoy it, don’t spend any more money on it.

The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to quantify what it does and doesn’t mean to be a fan. Even gatekeepers, despite their misguided ideology, are still fans. But it isn’t the place for anyone but the individuals themselves to decide whether they are a fan or not. If we allow for a more open and welcoming fandom then all art will be better for it. Otherwise, we will be left in a barren wasteland devoid of creativity. Remember, there can’t be any gatekeepers if there isn’t any fandom left to guard.