This week’s decision by Twitter, to ban a number of the people who had been harassing Leslie Jones with racist and sexist tweets in response to her role in the new Ghostbusters movie is a victory for Fandom.
Social media has been a huge boon to the emergence of fan culture. It allows people to connect with each other, it allows for the sharing and crowdsourcing of fan fiction and art, it gives a space for people to share theories and ideas about what has happened or will happen in their favorite stories- it builds community. It also allows for fans to have direct communication with the people who create the things the love, primarily through social media like Twitter and Instagram. This can be wonderfully interactive, and give people a chance to feel more invested and connected to the people who make the things they love. But it can also turn ugly.
It can turn ugly out of love, when fandom turns into creepiness and stalking. And it can turn ugly out of hate, when fans make a particular actor/writer/director or the like into a target for their bile.
That’s what happened with Felicity Jones. She became a target for some of the worst racist and sexist attacks you can imagine, all because she dared star in a movie that was remaking something many people (myself included) loved.
The dicourse around this movie was already deeply probelmatic, and that’s a topic I’ve already talked about and will likely return to. But what really struck me here was how one particular person was targeted so directly. This wasn’t about hating an artistic project, this was about hating one particular person involved with it. And hating her to the extent that it became ok to utterly and totally dehumanize her.To throw away any shred of basic human respect or decency, and simply harras her until she felt the need to leave Twitter entirely.
I have my own strong opinions about the people who make some of the things I’m a fan of. My language about George Lucass at the time of the Prequels was less than charitable, and you would be hard pressed to find many posts on here that don’t make an offhand reference to how Zach Snyder should never be allowed to make a movie again. (Does that one count?) But I’m never going to reach out to either of them and try and make them feel bad for making movies I didn’t like. Nor would I ever let my feelings about their artistic vision turn into a chance to attack them personally.
Fandom is great, but it can often lead to or foster a sense of entitlement. Feeling like we have a right to demand that the things we love only be made by the people we choose, or that charecter arcs will go in the way we want, or that remakes or reboots will never happen, or only happen in the ways we wish. And we do have some power- we have the power to decide what we will and won’t give our time and money to, and to find respectful ways to let creators know our feelings, including our anger. But when we let that anger turn into personal attacks on creators, when we use social media as a forum for hate and harrasement because we don’t see any consequence to it- that is simply never ok.
By taking this step, Twitter is reminding us that access has limits. That the chance to interact easily and casually with anyone we want, including the people who create the things we love can be awesome, but also comes with a level of responsiblity. That we are not entitled to say anything we wish to anyone we wish regardless of any thought for how it might effect them, simply because we are a fan who thinks they have been done wrong.