Marc Sykes on Toxic Fandom

Marc Sykes shares his thoughts on the state of fandom negativity.

Marc is a proud lifetime nerd, whose passion for all things geeky has led him to help organise conventions such as KitaCon, AmeCon, & AmeChibi, plus crew several LARP systems.
Whether it be books, movies, games (video or tabletop) or TV shows, the Party Pirate loves a good dive into the nerdiverse absorbing everything he sees along the way.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest collections of fiction to date. I’ve been reading the tales of this strange little world, riding on the back of four elephants and a giant turtle for over twenty years now. I literally grew up with the characters of the world, and when Pratchett died, I felt I had lost a friend and mentor. That’s how much the Discworld series means to me.

So, it was with some excitement that the news from BBC America came that a TV show would be created based on The Night Watch, a roughshod group of society’s outcasts employed as policemen in a city where crime is not only organised, but legal. Of course, I felt some trepidation about what was to come. Pratchett has had his worked considered for the screen many times, on one occasion he was asked if the Death element could be removed from Reaper Man, in which Death is the central character.

As always, I awaited further news and would hold off judgement until I had watched at least part of the series. Casting news gave hope of good decisions being made. Then BBC America released 5 pictures from the series. No form of context given to them, no suggestion of what may be occurring. The internet has blown up with it, but not in a good way. “Discworld fans are right to be nervous…” suggests The Guardian, whilst everywhere I looked on social media people immediately declared the series ruined.

Without context, or any clue what story these pictures tell, hoards of fans have already made up their minds about an entire show that is still in production. The Watch isn’t the only IP to suffer this. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Ghost In The Shell, the live action remakes of Disney classics, all have suffered a stream of toxic fans declaring the new work isn’t right, often with little or no actual knowledge of what is to come. This has often caused the people involved to shut themselves off from the fandoms they should be celebrating, with stars deleting social media accounts, and sometimes even shunning the entire IP.

This new face of fandom may be an inevitable part of the evolution of the fantasy/sci-fi world. Fandoms that were once laughed about and those who secretly enjoyed them are now the powerhouses of multi-billion franchises, and with that meteoric rise to the top, maybe we have forgotten that this is about enjoyment? As a kid I remember being careful about who I would talk to about my favourite subjects. Star Wars and Sega games where something to be excited about with a select few who would understand the enjoyment they provided, not the majority who thought it a waste of time, or even an embarrassing thing to poke fun of.


Now though, conventions celebrating the world of the nerd see thousands of attendees. Actors have made entire careers out of being a part of what would once have been cult shows and movies. 15 years ago, Robert Downey Jr was the actor everyone referred to when they thought of the burned-out addict celebrity. Now he is the man who fronted one of the greatest movie franchises of all time. The world has grown to love the things we secretly loved as kids, and for those of us who couldn’t openly enjoy those things when we were younger, maybe we feel we need to prove we have loved them longer and harder?

Fandoms are now full of people declaring what is true to their chosen focus, and what will ruin it. Arguments are no longer about who the best character is, but who the best fans are. A fandom pissing contest ready to begin whenever something stirs the pot, and the ultimate loser is the thing these fans profess to love so much. I have come to look at Star Wars (another childhood passion) as something I approach with great caution. So often have I tried to enjoy the new releases only to end up hearing someone prattle on about how Disney ruined the whole thing because their favourite character who appeared in one book no longer exists in the canon. Ultimately, these people have become gatekeepers, and they largely do their best to turn new fans away. “If you don’t like it the way I do, you aren’t allowed in!”. Fine. I’ll stay out.

This needs to stop, we need to remember the good things about our fandoms. At a recent Dungeons & Dragons session, the group I play with regularly welcomed a fresh player who wanted to see what the fuss was about. New the game, she looked to us for help, and five of us discussed with her and each other how we feel about it. Everyone had different ideas and opinions, different ways of playing, acting, deciding, but it was all done in a way that showed our new party member that the joy of D&D is there is one way to play… your own way.

I will be sticking to my original plan. I’ll wait until The Watch hits the screen, then decide if I like it or not. Maybe I will agree with the idea that something special has been ruined. Maybe, as so often has been the case, I will just enjoy a new take on beloved characters and ideas. So what if this isn’t the Vimes and Carrot of the original lore? Discworld is full of characters taken directly from other stories and given a twist or new angle! Pratchett often reached out to Jacqueline Simpson, a well-established expert of folklore, and with her guidance took some of our oldest stories and turned them into witty satire! Maybe it’s time someone had a go at doing the same to his work? Maybe we won’t get the same we got from the books, maybe we will get something much scarier… something new.

Marc Sykes

Marc used to do The Rock Show for Bunkazilla, but now he’s preparing for “The Next Project”…

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