Toxic Fandom

A few days ago, an old college acquaintance posted a conversation she’d had with one of her teenage children. They’re both fans of an author who has had a large gap between books in a series. Their conversation was a joking exchange about tying the writer to a chair until they completed the next book.

I am a fan of that same series, and I’m also eager for the next book to be published. While I know their exchange was meant mostly in fun, I also know that the writer in question has a rather large fan base that has turned toxic over this issue.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve heard several reputable, informed sources say that this writer’s next book was delayed because of mental health and family issues. And that the constant demands of “Give me the next book” from the fans have added to the delays.

Given that background, I decided to politely take my old acquaintance to task for her comments.

As an avid reader and music lover, I am passionate about a lot of writers and musicians. I know I’ve been guilty of getting frustrated with artists who have long delays between new work.

In the past, I was impatient with artists who took lengthy breaks in their careers. I’ve also been pissed when a writer or musician changes direction from what I loved into new territory that I find less appealing.

But, as Dr. Angelou said, “when you know better, you do better.”

Now that I’m taking my writing seriously and have learned about the hard work it takes to sustain a creative career, I have a LOT more sympathy for any creative person who has had health or family issues disrupt their careers. Life happens, and sometimes the blows it lands make being creative next to impossible.

And, I’m also a lot more empathetic for artists who completely change direction from what they’ve created in the past. I think most artists are constantly asking questions and wanting to learn about, well, everything. That drive to explore and learn leads to new interests. And I think it’s only natural that we will reflect it in the work we produce.

I think two societal trends have led to an increase in toxic fandom. The first is, of course, social media. Too many of us (myself included) feel entitled to spout whatever half-baked bullshit bubbles to the surface without considering its consequences.

In other words, we’re willing to post stuff on social media that we’d never said to a person’s face because we know we’d likely get punched or slapped if we did.

The other issue is, I think, that too many people aren’t involved in the arts. And I blame that on the constant cutting of arts funding in schools.

I don’t mean that every person should be an artist. Some people are talented artists, and they’re the ones who set trends and leave a mark on history. Other people aren’t creative and don’t really have any interest in learning about artistic works. A lot of us are somewhere in the middle, working at creative projects but as a sideline to our other careers.

The problem is, fewer people are exposed to any artistic work in school, and so we’re losing an understanding of just how hard creative work can be. Add that lack of knowledge to our growing impatience and demands for instant gratification and you get toxic fans demanding that their favorite creatives “dance, monkey, dance!”

I’m not sure how to reverse the trend, but I’d love to have a conversation about it. Please drop me a note with your ideas.

(Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash)

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