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30 Going on 13: When Fandom Speak Goes Too Far

The cast of The Originals. Photo: CW
The cast of The Originals.
Photo: CW

The popularity of message boards online has exploded in the last few years and each year it grows larger, which in many ways has been a beautiful thing. In today’s world you can find other “geeks” with similar interests who don’t think you’re completely crazy. You know what I’m talking about! That moment you start talking about your favorite television show or book (and probably for too long) only to find in return a strange stare. It’s then you realize you’ve babbled on for too long and that person not only doesn’t care what you’re talking about, but now thinks you’re weird. Personally, I embrace the fact that people think I’m different. I’ve accepted it and I’m okay with it. But discussion online has created a new way to discuss art, film and literature.

But along with the positive, has also come a negative, one that is unfortunately spreading like wildfire.

And that’s middle school like behavior and bullying.

This bullying trend in fandom has started to really bother me (it’s rampant on Twitter right now where fans group together to bully other fans, writers, actors, etc…) because I keep seeing more and more of it. In fact, I’ve become downright disturbed by some of the behavior I’ve seen online. What should be a way to discuss art intelligently, has become a way for people to belittle each other. I guess that saying is somewhat true: Give someone a mask and they’ll show their true face.

From the safety of your computer at home you can wear a mask so to speak and say whatever you want; and probably not anything you’d say to someone’s face in person.

So I ask… whatever happened to civil discourse? Many times I have found myself turning to a message board because I want to discuss a recent book, film or television show (mostly because most people I know don’t want to talk about it, but I just have so much to say!) only to find that actual intelligent discussions of art online has become less common than it used to be. What you often (not always) find instead are people behaving like vultures waiting to swoop in and attack anything and everything you say (I’m looking at you IMDB message boards). Why? Simply because you have an opinion they don’t agree with. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So for my blog post today, I thought I’d go over some of the fandom behavior I frankly find a bit juvenile; or at least personally irritating. From the mildly annoying fandom speak that personally annoys me (you may not mind and in fact enjoy it) to the over the top severe, here are the fandom sayings, expressions or behavior I wish would just go away:

“If you didn’t like [fill in episode of TV Series you watch] then you’re not a true fan.”

What does that mean exactly? To be a “true” fan I have to like everything I see? Not only is this statement ridiculous, but it’s just annoying to have people say it to you simply because you criticized an episode of a show you typically like overall. I don’t have to agree with the creative direction of a series. They have the right to creatively write what they want to as writers which then also gives me the right to like or dislike what they created. That’s how any kind of art works.

What’s even more absurd about this expression is that the ones guilty of saying it are also guilty of criticizing said series “you” aren’t allowed to criticize because you’re not a “true” fan for not liking the episode they think is genius.

Doctor Who fandom is the perfect example of this. You don’t even want to know how many times I’ve seen fans criticizing Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies as showrunner for Doctor Who, only to quickly be attacked for their opinion. “If you didn’t like the 50th anniversary special then you’re not a true fan.” Blah…blah…blah. Some of these same people who were doing the attacking then go on tirades as to why the other guy was a horrible showrunner and then they’ll list all the episodes that “suck.” But somehow they’re still allowed to be a “true” fan because they watched Classic Who. I ask, since when was being a fan a hierarchy? If I’m a fan of something, then I’m a fan. I don’t need anyone else telling me how much of a fan I am. I don’t “have” to like everything (or agree with the crowd’s opinion) to still be a fan.

 “If you don’t like [insert episode] then you should stop watching.”

This may be the winner for most popular annoying fandom phrase. Guess what? If I really hated something I probably would stop watching. Though there are those times when you feel obligated to watch something to the end because you used to love it before (in your opinion of course) it became “awful.” Anyway, why do people always feel the need to say this? There really is no point to it.

Cinema Elitism: “If you don’t like this film, then you don’t understand great cinema.” OR “If you didn’t get the episode then you should go watch…” (insert show they think is stupid so as to make you feel inferior)

I know everyone reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about whether from being the guilty party or being the one on the receiving end. Heck, we’ve all probably been a little bit guilty of it in one way or another. In defense mode, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of the first one at one time or another (or a few). But this kind of behavior is actually quite immature and rather juvenile. Just because someone has a different opinion than you doesn’t mean that they’re stupid and that you should make them feel that way. Nobody likes being condescended to, so I wish this particular fandom behavior (particularly the second one) would come to an abrupt end.

Calling a female character you don’t like Mary Sue

Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan in Smallville Photo: CW
Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan in Smallville
Photo: CW

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are in fact characters who are a “Mary Sue,” I just think they’re a lot rarer than people argue these days. Not to mention the meaning of a Mary Sue has changed over the years. Typically today, calling a character Mary Sue has become a way to insult a female character because people think they’re too perfect or overly idealized by the writers. Unfortunately, I think it’s crossed the lines into sexism. Nowadays what I’ll often see are people turning to this phrase in overabundance. If you hate a female character, she’s a Mary Sue (you don’t want to know how many times I saw this label directed toward Chloe Sullivan from Smallville who was a GREAT female character), if a female character gets in the way of your personal “ship,” she’s a Mary Sue.  If she’s not attractive enough then she’s a Mary Sue. I could go on. It’s become a way to belittle female characters and even the actresses who play them.

Another way people use the Mary Sue name is whenever a female character has a flaw that makes them feel more human but the audience doesn’t enjoy said flaw. Instead of recognizing the flaw as good characterization, some people will see it as evidence of her being a bad character and therefore with failing logic see it as evidence of her being a Mary Sue. So some people will critique a female character for actually being flawed and hate her for the flaw. But then they’ll turn it around and say she’s a Mary Sue simply because they don’t like her, when in fact because she’s flawed she isn’t a Mary Sue…if that makes sense.

In all, “Mary Sue” has become like a swear word in fandom. The term is thrown around freely and whenever I see it pop up, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Can’t people think of a better way to discuss a female character?

The overuse of the expression deus ex machina – (I admit to this being a personal annoyance)

“Doctor Who stories are resolved by a Time Lord who emerges from a Time Machine – they’re ALL deus ex machina.” – Steven Moffat, Doctor Who


This term is thrown around A LOT as a way to insult writers, and most people don’t even know what it means. Basically what it does mean in simple terms (from Wikipedia) is: “a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.”

Now where the confusion comes from is that many people think that because something happens in the end they didn’t expect or is in fact “silly” from their own point of view it’s deus ex machina. But usually people are wrong about this. Just because it’s “silly” doesn’t mean the end came out of nowhere. For instance, in Doctor Who when Rose becomes Bad Wolf in “Parting of the Ways” it is not Deus Ex Machina because the clues were placed throughout the entire first season. It’s there from episode one all the way to the end. So nothing was pulled out of thin air there, so no deus ex machina used. (That said, as Moffat pointed out in his quote, Doctor Who is technically one big deus ex machina. Translated, it literally means god in the machine. Hmmm.) One could argue that Doctor Who does use eucatastrophe to a degree which brings me to my next point.

Frodo and Sam in Return of the King: All hope seems lost... Photo: New Line
Frodo and Sam in Return of the King: All hope seems lost…
Photo: New Line

Another common confusion that happens is the difference between the very similar, but different deus ex machina and Tolkien’s creation “eucatastrophe.” The difference between the two comes down to the message. With eucastastrophe, there needs to be a complete lack of hope with the characters that there is no escape from their doom when SUDDENLY hope enters (also a bit like Rose/Bad Wolf appearing to save the Doctor just as all hope has been lost). Think The Two Towers when Gandalf appears at the end of the battle at Helm’s Deep or when the eagles show up to rescue Sam and Frodo. This isn’t bad writing, rather it’s used as a purposeful device to instill hope.

Now I don’t necessarily think that deus ex machina can NEVER be used. It can cleverly be used as a device for varying reasons such as comedy. But I don’t think we should keep throwing this expression around at will whenever we don’t like the ending of an episode. I see that far too often.

Calling Writers Lazy

The reason this one bothers me so much is that most writers aren’t in fact lazy. Sure, does bad writing happen with inconsistencies, bad research and silly plot twists? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the writers are lazy. How often do I see people call a writer lazy simply because they don’t like the direction a series takes? I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this tossed about in a discussion and it always rubs me the wrong way.

Over The Top Shipper Speak

This one is more of a personal thing and I don’t want to take away from anyone’s fun, but it makes it difficult to get into discussions when people have abbreviated their discussions to acronyms so small that I can’t even interpret what people are saying anymore. Not to mention it’s become hard to tell the difference between a middle school teenager talking and an adult. The overabundance of “squees,” “OMG’s,” “the feels” and exaggerated reactions such as fainting and talking about how hot someone is, has lessened the amount of actual discussions surrounding a romance or a story. I can appreciate excitement (no one wants to get rid of the fun of enjoying a fictional romance or a character – say pinning to boards entirely devoted to Mr. Darcy), but when it’s all the time I just can’t get into these conversations. Maybe there could be a better balance. We can still have a sense of humor without going overboard.

Shipper Wars

Who cares if someone likes a different romantic couple than you do? I don’t know why people get so up in arms about this. We’re not entitled to how other people enjoy something. I like what I like so I think it’s fair to let other people like what they like. But fights between various shipper groups have become this huge thing. And it can be downright contentious.

“But they’re like brother and sister”

Felicity and Oliver from Arrow. Photo: CW
Felicity and Oliver from Arrow.
Photo: CW

This is more of a personal irritation, but I CANNOT stand this expression and it has become so common in a discussion. This phrase gets thrown around when a fan doesn’t like a particular romantic couple or “possible” romantic couple. Usually said couple is interfering with another couple they like. OR the fan doesn’t want any romance on the show whatsoever. The reason why this one bugs me is that if you really think about it, it’s insulting. One, they’re not in fact like brother and sister. If brothers and sisters were like that we’d all be a little disturbed. Morgan and Garcia flirting in Criminal Minds does not constitute a brother/sister relationship. The tension between Felicity and Oliver in Arrow does not a brother/sister relationship make no matter what side of the ship you’re on.

Joel and Zoe from Hart of Dixie. Photo: CW
Joel and Zoe from Hart of Dixie.
Photo: CW

This one also bothers me because I’ve seen many people use this phrase as a way to insult one half of the “couple” for not being as attractive as they think the other character deserves. Yes, I have actually seen this argument thrown out with Joel from Hart of Dixie in relation to Zoe. Now if you don’t watch the show, Joel and Zoe are a couple LIVING together (even though a good majority of the audience prefers her with Wade, local bad boy). So they are in fact definitely not like brother and sister. But because apparently he’s not attractive or interesting enough for Zoe, their relationship must be belittled to the status of brother and sister. Whether or not you like them, again, can’t we use a better way to discuss said relationship without insulting the actor and while also making sense? Also, just because one person can’t see the chemistry between actors doesn’t mean someone else can’t. Any two characters with any kind of romantic tension are not like brother and sister…EVER.

Not objectively looking at a character when they interfere with what you want.

Gabe and Catherine from Beauty and the Beast Photo: CW
Gabe and Catherine from Beauty and the Beast
Photo: CW

A great example of this is with Gabe from Beauty and the Beast. Sure, he’s kind of in the way of the Vincent/Catherine relationship which can anger a lot of people, but we all do know how the story ends, right? Gabe and Catherine are not going to end up together so why hate Gabe so much? It’s everyone’s right to hate a character, no doubt I’ve hated a few, but I wish we could discuss why in a more objective way. I see people throwing around comments about how evil he is. He’s not evil, at least not based on canonical evidence, and if the writers ever pull that out of the hat, I’ll loudly scream foul. (This did happen with Smallville when suddenly the writers turned Davis Bloome into a psychopath when there was no build up to it; now that’s deus ex machina with an evil twist).

If Gabe were to be looked at objectively as a character one would see a beautifully layered character who is an orphan and was also a beast until Catherine saved him and brought him back to life as a human. He may have taken some wrong turns as a beast in his desperation, but now he’s all about redemption. He’s thoughtful, sweet, patient and truly penitent for his past. Who can really blame him for falling in love with the “beauty” character who saved him from being a beast? She transformed him physically, so now he’s transforming himself spiritually. Just because as an audience we want “Beauty” to end up with a different “Beast” doesn’t mean Gabe is an awful character. Do we have to like him? No. Of course not. But rational discussions of his character would be appreciated. The same hatred has been geared toward Joel from Hart of Dixie.

Sometimes people hate these characters so much the actors get attacked! And that is an unfortunate thing. This happened last year with Bridget Regan when she guest starred on Beauty and the Beast as Alex, a girl from Vincent’s past. Or even with Alona Tal during the second season of Supernatural when she played Jo, a character hated for a while because she was a love interest for Dean. Right now, it’s also happening with Leah Pipes from The Originals…which leads me to my next point.

Only Reacting to a Show from a Shipper’s Perspective and Getting Mean About it

Dean and Jo Photo: CW
Dean and Jo
Photo: CW

I have no actual issue with someone who enjoys a show from a shipping perspective. That’s their right. I mean, I get rooting for a romantic relationship; I definitely do…A LOT. But what I do have a problem with is how some people react when something doesn’t go their shipping way and they then take it out on the writers. At times some of the fans have gone overboard with it to the point of bullying the writers (like calling Julie Plec an “evil whore” for instance) when there isn’t a scene of their favorite couple in an episode, or when the writers take a direction that doesn’t include their ship. Sometimes I worry that these very loud shippers who are attacking the show, the characters, even the actors will affect the actual series. Look what happened in season 2 of Supernatural when Jo and Ellen were written out. The characters weren’t looked at objectively and were instead only looked at from an anti-shipping perspective. Eric Kripke listened to these loud fans and wrote them out. But they were great characters and Jo deserved a chance to find herself in more than four episodes in season two. Thankfully, Kripke brought her back in season 5 to make amends. Sometimes what feels organically right for a story is ignored because of entitled reactions from some of the fans which may or may not (it’s hard to tell how many people like or dislike something when there’s so much chatter) represent the majority. So like what you like and enjoy something how you will, but don’t take it out on the writers when what you want doesn’t happen. If you’re really upset about it, write a blog post about how and why you disagree with said direction. Just don’t attack other people.

Trying to force Fanon into Canon 

Chloe and Oliver from Smallville Photo: CW
Chloe and Oliver from Smallville
Photo: CW

Hey, I’ve got nothing wrong with fanon. We all like things or want things to happen in a movie, book or show that never does. But there’s a difference between liking something that doesn’t exist and then trying to get creators to change their vision to match your own. There’s a place for fan fiction, fan videos and fan groups, but I don’t like when writers are attacked for not putting a couple together a particular group wants when there’s no canonical evidence for it. Some of these loud groups become convinced they’re the majority, when in fact they’re just the loudest. I say enjoy your fanon, but let the writers create their story. Most of these “ships” are never going to happen. Enjoy your ship, but don’t feel entitled to it. It is fanon after all. That said, maybe you’ll get lucky and the writers will think your fanon suddenly should be canon. It worked out for the Chloe/Oliver fans. I know because I was one!

Personal Attacks

When two people are discussing something (often online), some people go for the low blows particularly when they don’t have a good argument for what they’re talking about or simply because they don’t like or agree with the other opinion. They pull out the personal attacks and then begin to assume all kinds of things about the other person which becomes insulting on so many levels. “I bet you’re old, fat, ugly and don’t have a boyfriend.” “I bet you live in your parent’s basement.” Or some people just take the passive aggressive route to get a rise out of you. In any case, this type of behavior has gotten out of hand and is completely unacceptable.

Attacking the actors, writers, directors, etc…

Leap Pipes as Cami from The Originals Photo: CW
Leap Pipes as Cami from The Originals
Photo: CW

As a way to point out hatred for a particular character, some people go beyond character criticism (although some people even go overboard with that; take calling characters whores and the like) and jump into the world of attacking the creative people behind the character. Anyone can be attacked, but the most popular targets are the actors (and especially the women) and writers. Their looks are attacked, their body size, their sexual history, etc…Actors are called fat, slut, chav, etc…The other day, I kid you not, someone tried to say that Leah Pipes as Cami from The Originals looked like she was forty years old and that Klaus should only interact with someone hot like Caroline. Let’s be real, Leah Pipes is a beautiful girl in her twenties and certainly doesn’t look like she’s forty (not that being forty is a bad thing). So why do we do this? Why do we act like mean girls in middle school? It just baffles me.

Refusing to see a film adaptation based on a book when they don’t cast your envisioned choice.

Because that’s realistic! I’m completely baffled by the amount of fans who boycott films because they didn’t pick the actor they wanted in a specific role. Just look at a bunch of The Vampire Academy fans refusing to see the film because Ben Barnes wasn’t cast in the lead. I think it’s great they actually cast a real Russian actor in the role. His accent made the character authentic, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, what this boycotting does is lower the amount of money the movie makes and then hurts the possibility of other adaptations for YA books being made in the future. Even if the movie turns out to be horrible, shouldn’t we support it so other like films will be made in the future?

Rooting for Movies, Shows, Books to Fail

Why do some of us do this? This one is so common, I can’t even count. And many people are rooting for failure for things they’ve never seen or read. I find this to be a complete waste of energy.

Belittling other fandoms because you think it’s stupid

Edward and Bella from Twilight. Photo: Summit
Edward and Bella from Twilight.
Photo: Summit

Let’s take a look at the definition of a “Twihard” from the urban dictionary: Stupid obsessive people (mostly teenage girls) who are in love with fictional characters and wouldn’t know a good book if it punched them in the face.

Now I know that’s the definition from an urban dictionary and isn’t meant to be taken seriously but this behavior toward a “Twihard” has become commonplace. This is how people in general have come to talk about Twilight fans. Even if you hate the books or the movies to the point of loathing, what is the point of saying things like this?

Just on the surface, this definition is disturbing on so many levels. It’s violent, insulting AND geared toward teenage girls. What is Twilight anyway? It’s literally a YA sensation novel. That’s it. It’s not meant to be great art. I can guarantee there are many people who enjoy Twilight (now many people secretly because they’ve been shamed) and also love great literature. It’s like saying you can’t enjoy both Casablanca and whatever big blockbuster is out during the summer. Yet the level of aggression toward this series as well as toward the fans and the author has become over the top. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t obnoxious behavior coming from some of these Twiharders, but that is beside the point.

Look at the hatred geared toward Kristen Stewart as an actress. There are so many jokes going around about her “face” that has crossed over into absolute meanness. I don’t care how famous she is, having people attack her like that constantly is bullyish.

And Finally…

The Assumption that because you like David Tennant as the Doctor, or Rose Tyler as a companion, then you are a silly schoolgirl with an obsessive crush on David Tennant and are a crazy “shipper” of the Doctor and Rose and hate all other companions besides Rose, hate all other Doctors and in general are immature and stupid.

The Doctor and Rose Photo: BBC
The Doctor and Rose
Photo: BBC

Did I get that right? Yes, I like David Tennant as the Doctor. Yes, I like Rose Tyler as a companion. Yes, I enjoyed their love story (though I don’t consider myself to be an obsessive shipper). And no, I don’t hate all other Doctors. Christopher Eccleston is also tied for my favorite, though I still like the other Doctors. And yes, I do love most of the other companions besides Rose. Donna is tied with Rose for my favorite companion (though most of the others are so close behind so as to enter into some of my favorite characters of all time…ever. And that includes Martha Jones even though I also like Rose and rooted for the Doctor and Rose romantically…)

And with all that said, does it even matter if someone only liked David Tennant as the Doctor? It is an opinion and a personal viewpoint. Why do we feel so entitled to control other people’s opinions?

Summing Up

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to attack anyone with this blog, I just wanted to point out some of the behavior in fandom that at times has become a little annoying and at times even mean. Perhaps we’re all guilty (myself included) of some things on this list and that’s okay. Or perhaps you even enjoy a couple things on this list (shipper speak – I’m not judging), but this is my own wishlist…So while a few of these things on the list are just personal dislikes, others are extreme and I’m sure most of us wish they would go away for good so we could all enjoy a fun atmosphere where friendly, intellectual discussion can dominate. Not that there can’t be a good heated debate from time to time. Now that I’m all for!

What fandom expressions or behavior do you wish would go away? Did I leave any off my list? Let me know in the comments.



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By on February 7th, 2014

About Amber Topping

Amber works as a writer and digital publisher full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

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4 thoughts on “30 Going on 13: When Fandom Speak Goes Too Far”

  1. Excellent points all around! But I’m going to try to force myself to stick to two here.
    First, “Mary Sue” is a terrible term. I’ve all but stopped reading reviews on Good Reads because so many “reviewers” give well written and entertaining books single-star ratings purely because they believe the lead female character to be a Mary Sue. And their reasons are always in line with your points of them being “too perfect”, “not flawed enough”, “too flawed”, “too pretty”, too anything, really. And half the time they miss the point of the character being flawed or pretty or average or what-have-you. Awful term. Belgh.
    Second, I think a lot of people use the term “deus ex machina” only because it’s something they vaguely remember learning about in school that has something to do with an unexpected ending. They probably think it will give their opinion merit when they use this fancy sounding term because it sounds smart. Deus ex machina literally means “God from a machine”. It’s Greek. All those Greek playwrights from way back in the day who wrote about their Gods and Goddesses messing around with the lives of mortals would get their stories so convoluted and mixed up that they wouldn’t be able to figure out how to end their story. So they literally had one of the gods appear on stage via a machine (probably some sort of pulley system) and set everything straight in a few sentences so that the play could finally be over. It’s literally forcing an ending where one wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Pulling together carefully laid plot points into a brilliant ending is NOT deus ex machina.

    Ok, I’m done now. Thank you for writing such an interesting article that covers so many points I agree wholeheartedly with. And thank you for reading this little rant.

  2. I just find it funny that the only mention of Olicity in this article about fandom bullying is to defend them. I mean, the Oliciter fandom is the worst I have seen. It constantly bullies Katie Cassidy on Twitter because her character is the main threat to their ship. I’m talking comments about her looks, how she need Jesus and rehab because she actually defended her characters place in the lead characters life. They send character hate against her character to the writers, producers, fans and are always demanding more Olicity with threats to stop watching and “sink the show” if they don’t get Olicity. The Felicity stans have even told the producers of the new Flash series (who also produce Arrow) that they are “guaranteed a hit if Felicity headlines”.

    • I’m not picking out one fandom or another, they’re ALL guilty of this type of behavior which is the problem. I give examples, but that’s just a small sampling. That said, are all Felicity and Oliver fans like this? Of course not. That’s just loud online groups. I of course don’t agree with that behavior. That’s what this whole article is about. I have a whole section on attacking or bullying actresses. If I were to make a list of every single fandom and what the “rude” ones act like I’d be here all day. Honestly, you may want to step away from the nasty Olicity fans and realize that there are many fans who like Feilicity and do not act like that. Never in my article do I defend these “Olicity” groups you talk about…EVER. In fact, I do quite the opposite. I’m not here to attack any one fandom but to point out behavior seen in EVERY fandom I don’t agree with. So please don’t accuse me of defending bullying in any way because my whole article is about the opposite. Read my article objectively and what I’m actually saying. My point with Oliver and Felicity was simply an example about one type of fandom behavior that I find annoying…aka the whole brother/sister argument. Is that defending the bad behavior of some Oliver/Felicity fans? NO. Don’t even mention them. Personally, I’ve seen this nasty, bullyish behavior everywhere. It’s just not one group who’s the most guilty.

  3. Wow, no mention of Once Upon a Time? That show and its fandom is guilty of pretty much every offense on this list. Oh, great shout-out to Rose and Ten fans. I love their love story, but I’m also a serious Sarah Jane fan. Sarah Jane ROCKS!


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