Am I imagining things, or has the Internet been excessively vitriolic lately?
I’m no stranger to fandoms bickering among themselves and critics trying to stir up trouble by claiming their opinions are the right opinions, but it’s reached epidemic proportions during the last few weeks. And it’s getting exhausting.
I’ve always believed that the beauty of fiction is that it’s open to interpretation. We all view fiction through the prisms of our own experiences. As such, our interpretations say a lot about who we are. We often reveal more about ourselves in talking about fiction than we do when we try to talk about our own life experiences.
There’s an inherent vulnerability in talking about the fictional works, characters, and relationships that mean the most to us. That’s why respect is so important when it comes to discussing fiction. If someone has a different opinion, that doesn’t make them “idiotic,” “crazy,” or “delusional” (all words I’ve seen casually thrown around in the last few days). It simply means they see the world—and, as a consequence, a piece of a fandom—differently than you do.
In my experience, I’m at my most vulnerable as a writer when I talk about the characters, relationships, and works of fiction that I love the most. In the increasingly negative culture of Internet-driven fandom, it takes real bravery to admit to loving, being inspired by, or feeling an emotional attachment to something. Sadly, it’s those sincere admissions of emotional attachment that I’m seeing torn down and ridiculed the most. I’m never going to argue that the media doesn’t need people to look at it critically, but there’s a clear line between criticism and condescension, between discourse and degradation—and that line is one I keep seeing people cross without even a second thought.
It’s fine to interpret a character, a relationship, or an entire work of fiction as problematic, but not everyone has to see it that way—just like not everyone has to see things positively. For every group of fans that interprets a character or relationship as “disgusting,” another group sees it as “inspiring.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about a work of fiction, and no one opinion is morally superior to another. No one should tell another person how to feel or that what they feel is wrong just because it’s different.
I’ve seen too many people lately who have been made to feel guilty or ashamed for liking something because another group of fans finds fault with it. I’ve seen too many people called “naïve” for enjoying things just because someone doesn’t share their opinion. I’ve seen too many young women whose emotional investment is turned into an insult or joke because feeling deeply and positively about certain genres of fiction has become something to be mocked instead of something to be celebrated. Teenage girls have enough self-esteem issues to begin with thanks to the society around them. Do we really need to make them feel weaker, less intelligent, or like an embarrassment to feminism because they find hope in stories some people don’t particularly care for?
Enthusiasm should be encouraged, not stifled. It’s easy to fall back on sarcasm, negativity, and disdain when someone likes something you don’t. It’s harder to take the time to ask—or even just think about—why that person loves what they love so deeply. I’ll bet the answer is a heck of a lot more interesting than the standard stereotype of people only liking something because of a cute boy or pretty girl.
The same can be said for understanding and respecting why someone doesn’t like something you like. Everyone brings both their positive and negative life experiences to their interpretations of fiction, and it affects both their likes and dislikes. For as much as it bothers me to see people belittle others for liking what they like, it equally bothers me to see people insult others for disliking something. It’s never okay to attack someone for critiquing something you happen to enjoy.
Disagreement is a good thing; it fosters excellent discussions and opens people’s minds to new worldviews. I love when people thoughtfully and respectfully disagree with me and with each other here at NGN. But the key words there are thoughtfully and respectfully. What we’re so lucky to have here at NGN is so rare in other corners of the Internet.
I know I’m preaching to the choir by writing this post here, on what’s become one of the most respectful places of discussion I’ve seen on the Internet. But I also want to take this time to say thank you for being a shining exception to all of the vitriol I’ve been witnessing lately. You seem to remember what so many forget when they turn on their computers (and it’s something I pledge to never lose sight of): Behind every username, Tumblr URL, and credit on a TV or movie screen is a real person who deserves to be treated with respect.
In short, sometimes the Internet is the worst, but I’m grateful to all of you who’ve helped make NGN a happy escape from the swirling storm clouds of fandom dramatics.