When niche pop culture becomes mainstream and global communication being as accessible as it is, connecting and finding friends through fandom is so different from the BB and usenet groups of the Internet’s early days. There are various social media platforms where fans can share fan works and discover people with likeminded interests. Fandom is a happy place where people who don’t feel they can find their people IRL (in real life). When I worked a corporate job, it was unusual for a female to be into nichey and nerdy. The closest she can be was to have Hello Kitty decorations without the scrutinization. Fandom can be a safe place where people can be themselves without apology. However, what happens when fandom turns into the very environment you wanted to get away from? What do you do when fandom becomes toxic?
It’s very easy to say that there are bad apples in every bunch, especially for larger fandoms. However, once major crisis happens, the fandom is under scrutiny by those outside. For example, Homestuck cosplayers decided to bathe in a hot tub while in grey paint. To this day, many veteran cosplayers I know have this anecdote associated with Homestuck. Many people were turned off by Hetalia when cosplayers did a Sieg Heil salute in a public mall on Passover.
The most recent fandom I had to step back from is Sailor Moon. While I did help organize Sailor Moon Day Los Angeles last year, the fandom was getting too much for me to handle. Moonies would bash other magical girl shows such as Pretty Cure calling it a cheap knockoff or dismissing Pretty Cure’s inspirations from Sailor Moon. Spoiler: Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon were done by the same studio and have the same licensor for toys. I wasn’t a huge fan of people saying that their fandom is superior to anything inferior. It’s one thing to have pride in our fandom, it’s another to put other fandoms down to make yours look good.
In other instances, especially when a fandom grows large, it does attract unscrupulous people in. One of the reasons why I a personal practitioner of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that many alt right otaku have attached themselves onto the LOGH fandom. In the case of Sailor Moon, specifically the Los Angeles community, I had to deal with racist cosplayers and burlesque performers who have slut shamed sex workers other than themselves. In the case of the latter, I know there a lot of cool burlesque performers out east, but when it comes to the west coast, I’ll stick with the professionals, not amateur nerd night. It goes back to the superiority complex I had mentioned about; when people think they’re better for the sake of putting others down.
There is also that feeling of entitlement of claiming stake within the intellectual property. A few years ago, Frozen fans raged on to Disney to let Elsa have a girlfriend in the sequel. While I do cross-ship Elsa with Cass (Tangled: Ever After), I’m not entitled to what the creators plan to do. Bullying creators on Twitter and Tumblr has been commonplace for the likes of Disney animation, Voltron, and Steven Universe. While social media has been a great way to connect with creators, as fans, we shouldn’t abuse this connection to bully and pressure creators to bow to our demands.
In fandom bullying is terrible. One of the most recent fandom bullyings has been what has transgressed with International Sailor Moon Day. Under new ownership, Emily G is the official spokesperson and moderator for all events. To give readers context, Emily G handles the vetting and processing of cities to have Sailor Moon themed fan celebrations. International Sailor Moon Day has no affiliation with Viz, Toei, or the official Sailor Moon fanclub. Many outsiders see this as gatekeeping. In 2017, there was a conflict within the Sailor Moon Los Angeles community with two events. This post isn’t one to say who was right or wrong, but how Emily G handled it.
Any rationale person would have their post-event social media post say something along the lines of, “Thank you for coming out! We hope to see you next year.” Instead, the main post had to do with a personal conflict between organizers in the Los Angeles area. Emily G, in her post, begun naming names, shared private conversations, and enabled others to do the same. Those who were joining in on the mob hate were doing it in the name of Sailor Moon. However, the tide turned when other people started calling her out. I’ve witnessed SOS’ Prince Uranus fiasco, many a Sailor Moon cosplay group drama, Amazoness Quartet Web Reviewers harassing me when I was just learning HTML when I was 13, etc. I never seen the Moonie community turn this ugly.
No one is entitled to rule fandom. Period. Fandom belongs to the people, not one single person should be the go-to.
It’s also okay to walk away from fandom, either on a temporary or permanent basis, if it is getting too much. When something you love becomes toxic, it’s no longer about the love. It’s perfectly normal to keep your sanity in check first, you don’t have to stay. There’s several fandoms where I’ve been a “personal practitioner.” I get asked, “Why do you love Steven Universe? Those fans are crazy!” But I still can appreciate and live out the message of accepting one another. I’ve had many valuable interactions with the cast, this is one I cannot completely abandon because of bad apples. I get asked, “Why do you love My Little Pony? There’s a lot of fuckbois in it!” But I’ve also met some of the most friendliest and creative people through MLP. (I just don’t care for the later seasons)
When something you love turns rotten, I advise you to reflect on what you loved about it. What lessons have you taken from it and implemented into your life? How has it shaped you as a person? How has it changed your worldview? How has it helped you cope through darkest times? How would the main character react if they saw the drama that happened in the fandom? For me, I look at my personal experiences with creators, actors, and the life lessons taken out of it. While I understand the need to be in a place where you belong, it’s also okay to walk away when things are going wrong. Sometimes it’s better to be alone than with the wrong people. However, there are the instances where the right people do come along. I met amazing Sailor Moon cosplayers from Las Vegas and throughout the east coast that have adopted me into their groups. I remember the good because the good will always outweigh the negative. Living out the message of the fandom is much more important to me than to being accepted by a community.