Why do fans get so up-in-arms about works of fiction? Why do fans take it so personally if they do or do not like a given work?
As a Transformers fan, I have no love for the live-action movies. Even Bumblebee – which is a legitimately good movie by all metrics – just didn’t do a lot for me. As I said, it’s very good. Good story, good acting, good production, good action, decent pacing, etc. It’s not amazing but it’s good. *I* didn’t particularly care for it, but my opinion of it doesn’t keep me from recognizing it as a genuinely good film, both in general and as a Transformers movie.
But the previous four live-action movies (I say four because I never even got around to watching Last Knight) left me with nothing but disdain. Excepting a few standouts (a couple of lines here and there, a few scenes, some concepts not really taken to fruition, Stanley Tucci and John Turturro being awesome, etc), there’s pretty much nothing about those movies I care for. Worse than that, I actively dislike them. Critiques far more well-versed than I have addressed these issues, but the nihilism and general disdain for the subject matter and audiences alike that is on display in these movies is overwhelming.
Yet, I don’t mind them existing. I don’t begrudge a fan for enjoying them (though I might challenge their artistic tastes). Nothing about them ruins my love of Gen-1 or Beast Wars or Prime or the series I consider to be (vastly) better.
That’s the great thing about fiction: it’s make-believe. It’s made-up. You can rather easily discount what you wish. Yes, a story must have internal consistency and discounting elements of a story within its own makeup is beyond problematic. But when you deal with tales that span volumes and installments and incarnations and interpretations, what is so hard about saying ‘yeah, I didn’t like that’ and moving on?
I didn’t like Batman vs Superman, but that hasn’t affected my enjoying the 1989 Batman, or the 1977 Superman, or other movies in the franchise. The 1960s Batman TV series doesn’t challenge my love of Batman the Animated Series, nor do I hold either somehow accountable for or answerable to Teen Titans. I actively dislike the New 52 (hell, I don’t even know if it’s still around or not), but don’t begrudge the concept.
I grew up on Star Trek. I love the Next Generation and the Original Series. Deep Space Nine? Meh, I’m only passingly familiar with it but I wasn’t overwhelmed by what I saw (didn’t dislike it). Voyager I can do without. Enterprise was, at times, okay (sometimes terrific, often awful). Discovery? Haven’t watched it. I saw the pilot and it didn’t do a lot for me. I just didn’t feel inclined to keep going.
Ultraman is the inverse. I like Ultraman a lot, or I thought I did. I grew up watching Towards the Future, and then I would later watch other series in the Ultraman franchise. Turns out, I really just like Towards the Future. And guess what? That’s fine. I still consider myself an Ultraman fan just liking that one show. I dig elements of others, but not much besides Towards the Future has really resonated with me. Now, I’ve never met a gatekeeper of the Ultraman franchise, but if I did meet somebody who informed me I wasn’t a real Ultraman fan until I’ve watched all Ultraman Leo, I’d consider them sad and leave them to their obvious self-misery.
I could go on and on, but at the end of the day, the theme is that art – even related art – doesn’t have to adhere to some mutually-complementary system. Fandom, likewise, is made up of enjoying what you enjoy, not some sum-total of your combined opinion of an entire franchise. You can be a Star Trek fan based off of just like one or two series, or maybe even just liking the movies. You can be a Batman fan based off just the Dark Knight films.
When you become a fan, you do not become beholden to the franchise, like some kind of guardian or gatekeeper. You are not entrusted with anything except your own preferences and enjoyment. As such, if you don’t like something, you don’t have to engage in it.
Fans seem up in arms over a lot of things these days and I don’t get it. How do the Star Wars Prequel Trilogies harm your enjoyment of the Original Trilogy? How does General Holdo affect your love of the Clone Wars animated series?
I suspect part of it has to do with the growing tide of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are, in my opinion, the result of uncertain and scary times. People who cling to conspiracy theories are expressing a deep-seated fear of the world around them. Conspiracy theories help them make sense of a world that is chaotic, unpredictable, and frightening. Just as ancient peoples would make sacrifices to a volcano they couldn’t understand, modern people insist the CIA is behind false flag operations to curtail gun ownership or that the earth is actually flat. These people aren’t brainless or dumb or any trivialized explanation: they’re scared. They’re scared of a world that is increasingly confronting them with a reality that is, genuinely unsettling.
I suspect gatekeepers and angry fanboys and the like are likewise guarding vestiges of a world that at one time made sense. They were Star Wars fans because Star Wars was unassailably good. Three movies that were the cornerstone of modern cinema and modern sci-fi (discounting all those other movies they made). Those three movies were perfect. Now, with new movies, fans are confronted with the reality that maybe, just maybe, their beloved franchise isn’t beyond reproach. Maybe it has flaws. Maybe, just maybe, they have to appreciate it as the art that it is, not the gospel truth they wish it was.
Art is not a work of totality. You can be a fan of something and not love all of it. Yet, somehow, many fans take it personal when a work is produced that they don’t directly love completely. This is narrow, this is exclusionary, and it is ultimately toxic.
Enjoyment doesn’t need to be interdependent. Enjoyment doesn’t need some master, overarching element to make it ‘work’ or ‘not work’. Sometimes, you can just enjoy Superman and Superman II and Superman Returns, and just not worry about the rest of the movies. In fact, you might have an easier time that way.
Put more succinctly: just shut up and watch the movie.