I loathe monoliths. I loathe any structure where there is monotony and little diversity. I’m all for uniformity and solidarity when the cause serves the greater good, but when a popular opinion demands to reign supreme over the minority and as a result vitriol and backlash is distributed to the minority party simply because they do not agree, then I have a problem with that.
A big one.
The group or hive mind mentality in geek fandom is something that I always found to be fascinating. I always considered us geeks or nerds as the “other”. We are the non-conformists, we are the anti-status quo, and we are the rebels in our own right. We march to the beat of our own drum and we embrace our eccentricities. That is why I love being so much a part of this culture, because I never quite fit into the hive.
So let’s begin this discussion with a discourse that took place over the comic book TV show The Flash and its Black female protagonist Iris West.
Last week, I was tweeting with friends while watching the 80s Saturday morning sitcom Saved By The Bell, and I made a reference to the character on the hit CW series The Flash Iris West. You could say that my sentiment about her was not exactly in favor of her character, but with good reason. As of late, I have been disappointed with how Iris West has been written on The Flash, and as a result, it has caused me to dislike her character. In the beginning of the series, Iris West was intriguing and the dynamic between her and Barry Allen was exactly what I was looking for in this new series. I also liked the idea that although Iris was involved with Eddie Thawne, that she was still torn for her affection for her childhood friend Barry. However, I noticed the writing waned a bit as the storylines between Caitlin Snow, Cisco Ramon and Dr. Harrison Wells began to swell and build. The love saga between Eddie, Iris, and Barry slowly began to diminish.
Barry and Iris had scenes here and there, but not to a large extent as it did during the beginning of the season. As Iris’ character pushed further into the background, the scenes that did feature her did not serve her well. In my opinion at many times, it felt like she was just there and served little purpose to the story. However, now the writers are finally giving Iris something to do which is help to investigate what is going on at S.T.A.R. Labs and put her journalistic skills to good use. Whether you see it as “snooping” or “investigating”, I’m glad that Iris has a purpose at this point, rather than to serve as a romantic arc for Barry.
Here is my issue with Iris West at this point, which is really not West—but more or less the way they wrote her scene. Now to get you up to speed Iris West is in a relationship with Eddie Thawne and has been since the pilot aired. Barry Allen is secretly in love with West, but never seems to have the courage to tell her the truth. At this point, we’re not quite certain if Iris herself is in love with Barry since once again she hasn’t exactly had much screen time to convey any motive to depict that she loves Barry over Eddie. The only thing that we know as a TV audience (we’re not speaking of canon here) is that Barry loves a girl that is involved in a committed relationship with another guy.
We have yet to see what is happening on the opposite side of the swinging pendulum, to grasp what kind of feelings Iris has for Barry.
Enter Linda Park.
Linda Park meets Barry at a bar and the two exchange numbers. They began to casually date. It appears that Barry is making an attempt to move on from Iris and find a new relationship. However, his heart wavers at times and he finds himself still attracted to Iris. Iris who may I remind you again, has not yet been established as a character who has stronger feelings for Barry over Eddie. She has a brief exchange with Linda that turned me off. Linda who works at the same newspaper as Iris, asks for advice about Barry, knowing the two are mutual friends. Iris tells Linda, that he’s still pining after someone else and Linda walks away defeated. Linda later decides to try to allow Barry to move on and tries to break it off with him.
My problem with this specific moment was that nowhere in Iris’ history has it ever illustrated the fact that she was a person capable of compromising the relationship of another person to serve her own selfish interests.
This is what made me mad. And yes, I took it out on the character too because there used to be a time when you watched a soap opera or a movie and you would yell at the character on the screen when you disagreed with their motives. I do the same thing now, the only difference is I use Twitter as my conduit to vent my frustration.
And therein lies my new problem.
Twitter is a public forum. It is a space that allows a myriad of opinions everywhere and at any time to flow like a heavy waterfall into your time line. I tweeted my disdain for what was happening with Iris, and suddenly a flock of some “Iris stans” (a stan is a stalker fan) tweeted to me at once about their contempt for my opinion. For anonymity purposes I won’t post their tweets here. To put it simply, I was struck by a barrage of tweets from unhappy stans that disagreed with me.
I’m okay with disagreements on Twitter. As a matter of fact, I encounter them every day. However, when a discourse becomes uncivilized and you launch an attack of insults because my opinions are not in alignment with yours, then I have to question is this really about fandom or is this something else? I’ve seen this kind of dialog take place before between fans of Scandal and Sleepy Hollow. There are many people so inundated in their fandom, that everything they believe about a character is gospel and any contrasting opinion is doomed to a lifetime of hellfire and brimstone.
This group mind and/or hive mentality has an abusive component that definitely can be construed as harassment. We have seen this kind thing happening in the Gamergate community. Now I certainly don’t want to compare fans of Iris West with the misogynistic and racist tweets I’ve seen come out of the Gamergate community, but the idea of a collective pushing an agenda to tweet incessantly to one person simply because they don’t agree with your opinion, is a form of harassment. An article on The Slate discusses how on Twitter no matter whom you unfollow, mute, or block, someone you do follow will sooner or later draw your attention to an outrage and encourage you to join the condemnation. This is the kind of behavior I’ve noticed with this specific part of the fandom community.
Even if it is a subtle approach with restraint, if you disagree with my opinion just say you agree to disagree and move on. I usually end all of my arguments with “I agree to disagree” because otherwise we will go on for hours over something so asinine, that I feel guilty for ruining my productivity for the day.
The motive for the amalgamation of fans likely vary from the fact that many fans adored the character of Iris West in the comics. Iris after all has close to a 60 year history in the comic universe. There is also the fact that Iris is played by a Black actress by the name of Candice Patton. In a world where there is large disparity of women of color in TV, it’s refreshing to see a Black female character on screen. I wrote an article about my love for seeing women like me and Iris West was one of many that were mentioned. I was called out by one tweeter for being a hypocrite because I run a Black nerd website. My Black female solidarity came into question simply because I had a difference of opinion with respect to Iris West. Of course had the Twitter discourse been more civilized and some of the “Iris stans” listened to one iota of a second of what I was trying to communicate to them in 140 characters or less, then they would understand that I was in fact on their side.
I also want Iris to win.
I want to love her and not feel compelled to dislike her simply because the writing falls flat in development of her character.
I love fandom communities. I consider myself to be a part of many. However, when fans reduce themselves to having a selfish and warped sense of entitlement about their favorite character to the point that they are being completely disrespectful to other fans, than that is where I draw the line. There is nothing more that can spoil a good entertaining experience than someone who is too caught up in themselves rather than electing to share the experience with others.
The bigger issue is, why do some fans feel entitled to attack others for having an opinion? Even if a fan has an unfavorable opinion about a particular character, what gives another person the right to tell them that they are wrong, when it’s simply an opinion? Our society has become so polarized when it comes to everything now from our religion, to our politics, to our ethical beliefs, and it is now creeping deeper into fandom. I’m a bit oblivious to the Tumblr fan communities that I am told are notorious for this kind of behavior, but when I see it leaking into Twitter which is where I spend a significant amount of time ranting and raving over various fandoms, I can’t help but feel a little concerned about this.
I was asked by ReBecca Theodore-Vachon (also known as @filmfatale_nyc on Twitter) to appear on her podcast that she co-hosts along with Candice Frederick and Kimberly Renee called Cinema In Noir. We had a brief discussion about our experiences with this particular fandom community and how they responded to each of us on Twitter. As it turned out, my tweets weren’t the only ones being targeted by this group, but so were many other fans including ReBecca. We both understood why there was an outcry and get the fact that women of color in prime time TV are rare and should be written well in the extraordinary circumstance they are represented. Bu at the end of the day, what does this purpose does fan bullying serve?
Rebecca also had words for any of the Twitter Iris fans listening by stating: “They are not doing Candice Patton any favors. I totally understand that you are an advocate for her and her character, but when you act ugly like that, that reflects on her. And that’s not going to endear people to her character anymore”.
I couldn’t agree more. Showing contempt for fellow Flash fans simply because they disagree with your collective is actually counterintuitive to the show and every one associated with it. I don’t know if fans will feel less inclined to watch the show because of this behavior, but I do know for certain that if the nasty hive behavior persists, many fans who live-tweet the show may feel less compelled to do so for fear of online harassment.
Less live-tweeting could quite possibly constitute lower ratings.
As far as the monolith conversation goes, as mentioned before– I hate them. And again this bears repeating, but I don’t like monotony either. I don’t think I’ve had the same job for more than 2 years and I’m not a bred for the mundane. I like diversity, change, the other, and things that are unique. It’s okay to like something different from everyone else. It’s okay to dislike a female character or a character of color if you think they are being underserved or if there is poor quality. It’s okay to step outside of the box and not succumb the pressure of group thinking. We are designed to be unique individuals with our own sense of identity.
I will be candid and say that I think Black women are the victims of being framed into a box, which is why Black Girl Nerds was created. Black women are stereotyped significantly and we are always painted with a broad brush. I’m expected to somehow like and dislike the same things every Black women does because we share the same hue and gender. I am also somehow or another expected to show racial and gender solidarity towards another Black woman on screen because…“well she’s a Black right? And she’s a girl right? So I have to like her.”
As I mentioned before, I don’t dislike Iris West, but I also will not pander to a crowd that feels compelled to judge me or anyone else simply because I’m not in agreement with their beliefs. There are Black female characters who I adore and there are others who I find lackluster and not that interesting. It almost sounds silly arguing for having a unique opinion, but it seems that this is what we’ve come to as more women of color are being represented on TV. I know several Black women who don’t watch Scandal and many more who are not fans of Olivia Pope. Should I chastise them for not being in love with a character who I so happen to love? Should their blackness be questioned because they are not watching the show? Are they a traitor to their race and gender because they are not caping for Olivia Pope?
Yes, this sounds incredibly ridiculous, but believe it or not there are members of the fandom community out there who believe that you are many or all of these things simply because you do not show racial and/or gender solidarity. So therefore you are not part of their monolith. You’re not for us, you’re against us. You are now banished from the hive.
As human beings we are conditioned to naturally gravitate to groups. That is how communities are formed and how family units are created. We need other people around us to make us feel loved and supported. However, the idea to have a society of entitlement that serves your interest instead of others is not the positive aspect of community. I’m not a part of the group, the monolith, nor the borg. I’m just me and I will never EVER apologize for that.
Stay tuned for part 2 by author Monique Jones of COLOR as discusses her perspective about the fandom community as it relates to music and TV.