We love science fiction and fantasy with a pure, burning adoration. And our love of these genres helps make them better, because we support our favorite creators, create our own works and trade cool ideas. But sometimes, fandom has a dark side. Sometimes, fans can fall into self-loathing, and this can lead to some destructive behavior patterns that actually corrode the awesomeness of SF and fantasy.
Here are 10 ways that self-hating fans can actually make the stories they love worse. I feel like I've probably been guilty of all of these at one time or another.
10. Leading a backlash against successful creators, and rooting for things to fail
A sure sign of a self-hating fan is that you turn that hatred against creators who actually manage to reach a larger audience. And it never fails — the moment a writer or director or producer starts to gain a serious fanbase and industry buzz, the haters start sharpening the chainsaws. I'm not talking about raising critiques of someone's work, or just recognizing that it's not your particular cup of tea — I'm talking about hating someone's work just because it's become flavor of the month and this particular creator has a lot of enthusiastic online fans. Which brings us to...
9. Complaining that your favorite thing is too popular now
Say you're a fan of Doctor Who, and you can remember the time, not long ago, when only a few special people knew the difference between Tom Baker and Colin Baker, or what a Cybermat was. And now everybody and their mom is a fan of Matt Smith, and they're rediscovering the classic series. It's easy to feel a bit put out that you're no longer the keeper of awesome secrets, or to have a hipstery moment of "I was into Doctor Who before it was cool" or whatever. But if you can't take pleasure in the fact that more people are enjoying the thing you like, and it's flourishing in the light of popular acclaim, then chances are there's a part of you that feels a kernel of shame for liking this show in the first place — and you were clinging to the notion that you had a special secret, as a kind of compensation. Let it go, because the more people like the things you like, the more awesome those things can be. (At least sometimes, more popularity equals more money, and more access to high-powered talent.)
8. Pretending to be into something way more obscure than what you actually like.
"Oh, well, all the regular people like Star Trek, but I'm only into Jason of Star Command. It's kind of an underground cult show, you probably haven't heard of it. The DVDs are out of print, too. It's more sophisticated than Star Trek, and it doesn't spoonfeed you explanations for everything. You probably wouldn't like it." (Or substitute Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel, I guess.) Again, nobody ever feels the need to disavow their love of the popular books, shows and movies, unless there's some weird self-reproach going on. And hipstery obscurantism only validates the notion that popular stuff is automatically schlock — which makes it more likely to become schlock, because that's what everybody expects anyway.
7. Claiming we're into health food when we're actually only into candy
Everybody claims to hate the Transformers movies, and yet somehow they make a billion dollars each. Meanwhile, everybody claims that they want to see more original, challenging, arty projects — but all too often, the non-franchise movies and off-the-wall TV shows and books languish in obscurity. Thing is, there's nothing wrong with loving junk food — junk food is yummy and awesome, and it can be quite good in its own way. (I was totally stoked about Lockout, which is the most sugary, deep-fried piece of junk food I've consumed in ages.) It's easy to understand why we all want to pretend we like "better" stuff than we actually do like — but it's corrosive. Not just because after a while, nobody will listen to us any more when we claim we want original projects instead of sequels and remakes — but also because we can't make a distinction between good junk food and bad junk food, unless we admit we like junk food.
6. Being defensive when creators from other genres try their hand at SF or fantasy
Sometimes it seems like there's a knee-jerk hostile reaction when, say, a "literary" author writes a genre book. Or when someone like Miranda July or Lars von Trier dabbles in science fiction themes. And it's certainly true that an author who's mostly been reading outside the genre runs the risk of regurgitating cliches, there's also the distinct possibility that a fresh perspective can yield some really new ideas and some new creative energy. And it's hard not to feel as though the hostility to these interlopers comes, at least in part, from a fear that they'll look down on the fans of these genres. (It doesn't help when you get the very occasional confirmation of this fear, from people like Glen Duncan. But who cares, anyway? Non-self-hating fans will just shrug, and then post a scathing refutation. See below.)
5. Not speaking up and defending our favorite stories when people launch unfair critiques.
Every now and then, someone does decide to try and trot out some lazy stereotypes and broad-brush generalizations about science fiction and fantasy — the New York Times has established an annual "let's bash Game of Thrones" tradition, for example. And it's certainly not worth getting pissed or defensive when ignorant people are given a large forum to expose their ignorance. But we also shouldn't let the tiny part of ourselves that suspects these criticisms have a smidgen of merit keep us from responding — in a grown-up, intelligent fashion, of course. If we don't respond to this stuff, the snarks and grumkins win. And nobody wants that.
4. Getting squirrelly when people want to analyze what's really going on in these stories.
Moff's Law. It's not just a suggestion, it's a law. It's right there in the name. As the TVTropes page helpfully explains, Moff's Law doesn't mean that you have to analyze or deconstruct things to death — just that you shouldn't get upset when other people want to do it. If you're secure and self-assured in your love of The Phantom Menace, then you shouldn't care if other people want to bring up the weird subtext of Jar-Jar. By all means, defend River Song from her critics — but there's no reason to insist that criticizing/analyzing River Song is incompatible with enjoying her stories. If an in-depth discussion of Vampire Diaries' sexual politics is seriously hindering your ability to appreciate Naked Damon, then just stop reading. But don't let your insecurity dictate how everybody else can talk about the stories you enjoy. Because yes, sometimes, in-depth analysis can contribute to making stories better, in the end.
3. Looking down on some other group of fans
Whenever people feel uneasy about their own fandoms, the natural thing is to displace that onto hating some other group of fans. You might suspect, deep in your heart, that your love of Thundercats is silly — but hey, at least you're not a Twi-hard. And so on. This is not cool. By all means, offer a reasoned, informed critique of Twilight — there's plenty to criticize — but don't look down on the fans. Because trying to create hierarchies of fandoms just results in some people feeling unwelcome, which makes everything smaller and less interesting. And you know, the fine distinctions you're making between the brilliant thing that you like and the terrible thing that other people like will be lost on many, many people. They'll just hear that everything is terrible, and this translates, in the minds of creators, to "We shouldn't ever try to make things not terrible, because nobody will notice anyway.")
2. Not being able to appreciate cheesy, old-school stuff on its own terms.
Silver Age comics, classic 1960s and 1970s TV shows, old B-movies... most of this stuff hasn't aged well. And it doesn't quite live up to your rosy memories of seeing it as a kid on late-night TV or in the used comic bins or whatever. It's easy to be a bit embarrassed that you still like Space: 1999, with all of its blaring melodrama. At that point, you have two choices: poke fun at stuff, and like it ironically, which is a totally valid and entertaining response. Or cling to your rosy memories in the face of the evidence. Either way, you're not really appreciating the honestly thrilling and demented Space: 1999 on its own terms, as a crazy larger-than-life psychedelic puppet show, only with humans instead of marionettes. This is only a problem if we let our attitudes to old, dated stuff dictate our response to anything new — like, if we expect the new Space: 2099 remake to live up to our unrealistically rosy memories of the original, instead of building on the flawed but wonderful show it actually was.
1. Not recognizing when we're being enablers
Sometimes, when creators and big companies are falling into bad habits again and again, somebody needs to take their keys away. It takes a lot of self-respect to keep from being an enabler. It's easier just to let it slide one more time — to let a comic book company reboot its universe for the hundredth time, or have Satan go around annulling people's marriages. Or to pretend that the billionth contrived crossover is as interesting as the millionth was. It's hard to be the person who launches an intervention and helps everyone to say no to more movies based on random toys, board games and other weird bits of IP. (Like we said earlier, junk food is awesome. But some kinds of junk food are just better than others.) This is probably the ultimate sin of the self-hating fan — being an enabler, and not expecting creators to clean up their acts.