I didn’t think that the day would end in controversy. Certainly that wasn’t my goal, at least at that time. It was a relatively chilly and cloudy day, par for the course of an admittedly blasé Wisconsin winter. After a rigorous battle reorganizing the linen closet, matching pillowcases with sheets and folding more towels than we obviously needed since I am a rather dry fellow already, I sat down only to become embroiled in a pop-culture melee with my youngest son, Ruprecht (name changed for no real reason other than it sounded funny.)
Ruprecht: So Dad, you had Transformers toys, right?
Me: Yes, I did.
R: How many?
M: What you see is what you get. The ones you and your brother are playing with are the only ones I ever had.
M: Well, Transformers were pricey even then, so the few I had I got for birthday or Christmas gifts. My folks usually went with Go-Bots anyway as they were cheaper.
R: But didn’t you want more of them?
M: I suppose so, but I liked M.A.S.K. more so I wanted those vehicles more than Transformers.
R: (In shock) But…but you at least wanted Ultra-Magnus, right?
R: WHHHHAAAAATT?! Why didn’t you want Ultra-Magnus?!
M: Because I didn’t really like the later Transformers, like Galvatron or Wreck Gar or Hot Rod. I thought they stunk.
R: But Daaaaaaa-ad! Ultra-Magnus is cool!
M: And that’s great that you like watching him, but I never really liked him, so I didn’t want him or those other guys.
R: Why didn’t you like Hot Rod?!
M: Compared to Optimus Prime, he was terrible.
R: But I like him!!!
M: And that’s fine, dude. You can like him all day long. I don’t have to like what you like. That’s okay.
R: I ‘spose.
M: Good. (I insert a well-timed pause here) Besides…M.A.S.K. was cooler than Transformers anyway.
R: Daaaaaa-ad! No it wasn’t!
Ruprecht’s mother and my lovely bride: (To me, in a tone that suggests ever-dwindling patience levels) Dear, I think you’re done.
M: Okay, okay… Fine. But Ruprecht, M.A.S.K. is at least cooler than Silverhawks.
RM&MLB (an admitted Silverhawks fan): Now you’re wrong on that one!
R: No, Mom! Dad’s right!
And before you know it, I’m back in the linen closet, resigned to my fate as I fold more sheets than a Civil War hospital could have ever used, happy that at least some common ground was gained.
My youngest son is eight years old. He likes what he likes and Transformers are near the top of the “He Really Likes This” list. That’s fine. He can whip these vehicles into robots and vice versa faster than I ever could dream of doing as a kid. Good for him. Not really my cup of tea, but I’m no enemy of the nostalgia fairies when they come a-fluttering into my home. If he wants to watch the Sharkticons battle it out, he can go right on ahead, but I’m taking a pass.
Now go back and peruse the exchange my son had with me. Look it over. Now replace my son with someone who is 24 years old and loves Star Trek: Discovery or Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi or the whatever-the-hell-number the newest Doctor Who is and put me on the opposite side of the argument. And blammo! This conversation immediately changes to become emblematic of toxic fandom and I’m just plain wrong, evil, racist, sexist, carbon-emission polluting, meat-eating, puppy-burning, Tulsi Gabbard-voting, lawn Jarts-playing jagoff, etc.
But “toxic fandom”? That phrase was the reason I started plunking on my keyboard today. Toxic fandom? Toxic? Grow up. Toxic is something to describe a wasteful nuclear power by-product. Toxic is for child abusers and violent spouses. Let me make it even simpler: Round-Up is toxic, my not really caring for the Ghostbusters reboot is not. By misapplying the word, you significantly reduce the power that word normally would have.
All fandoms have things that they disagree on. Every last one of them. But this doesn’t make them “toxic”. Some like Kirk more, some like Picard more. Some prefer Bon Scott in AC/DC, others go for Brian Johnson. Some like Bo and Luke Duke, while others would rather see Coy and Vance Duke. (Actually, ignore that last point. While I’m sure they’re wonderful guys, no one ever really enjoyed Coy and Vance. Season 5 of The Dukes of Hazzard was a traumatic one for so many of us back then. It was our source of kid-PTSD. Pray for us. The flashbacks are the worst.)
But arguments are healthy in fandom. If everyone just smiled and nodded and agreed with whatever product is out there, what do you end up with? You end up filled with not much fun. The creative output becomes altogether stagnant and stunted. The fan base turns into a sea of yes-people with their eyes closed and their wallets wide open, willing to take whatever is regurgitated right in their faces. (Actually, Disney is probably actively praying that this will ultimately happen in regards to their version of Star Wars.)
However nowadays, you apparently can’t just not like something anymore. In certain circles, disagreement now equals toxicity. And old fandoms, who are used to a lifetime of arguing/discussing the minutiae of an IP, rear up awfully fast when threatened. Yet this is understandable when the debate starts out with your being called a sexist because you simply don’t care for Captain Marvel as a hastily-arranged character that certainly didn’t earn the right to be awkwardly wedged into the final Avengers movies.
These fandoms have lived for epochs doing nothing but engaging in spirited debates while playing weekend Magic: The Gathering tournaments in comic book shop backrooms only to go home to their pirated Red Dwarf Region 2 VHS tapes, located next to their limited edition pewter D&D figurine sets and steampunk guns. Meanwhile, the other side can only resort to name-calling on the level of calling someone a “doodiehead” because they were caught complete unawares of the knowledge and passion of old school fans.
Personally, I wouldn’t tangle with a Doctor Who fan that can name every single “lost episode” and can accurately hum each iteration of the theme song throughout the decades. No sireebob; do that at your own risk. (Although I’ll go toe to toe with them in my being able to name James Bond movies based solely on the opening gun barrel sequence. Yeah, that’s right! Sit on that, you Whovian fans!) And since those criticizing the fandoms are predominantly well-versed only in their various agendas instead of the lore of whatever series is the point of contention, the name-calling comes to the fore as it is their only way to “win” an argument.
It doesn’t matter how much one talks about how Discovery really isn’t the Star Trek that Roddenberry envisaged or how Disney screwed up by not adjusting their trilogy to account for Carrie Fisher’s passing away, you are wrong for daring to criticize. Therefore the only response from these folks is, “You are toxic! Go away, you hateful troll. But be sure to pay for our product before you go.”
And there’s the rub. Don’t you know that you’re still expected to pay for this stuff, you stupid fan?! But it isn’t working. Did anyone notice that the reboot Ghostbusters toys sat on clearance shelves almost immediately? No one cared to buy it. Hasbro was left sucking wind due to having thousands of tons of unpurchased plastic devoted to the new Star Wars movies left behind, getting dusty on store shelves. Captain Marvel items withered away in cutout bins. Why get that rushed out figure when you can get an established Iron Man or veteran Thor instead? The fans weren’t going for it.
Now, you can be a fan of whatever you want to be a fan for. (For instance, I’m a fan of ending sentences with prepositions simply because it irritates some of you reading this.) However, if you’re a fan of being violent or abuse or rape or bashing fandoms with the overuse of the word “toxic”, then your fandom is garbage. Oh, and if you love anything about what Stalin or Castro or Mao Zedong or Hitler or (insert your pick of anyone using genocide, oppression, and/or suppression as a solution here) did, then your fandom pretty much sucks too.
But not caring for Star Trek: Picard because the show simply isn’t what you hoped it would be certainly doesn’t make one toxic. Perceptive maybe, correct certainly, but not toxic. So lighten up on the “toxic fandom”/political drivel when assessing a fan base’s critical reaction. At the end of the day, perhaps audiences just didn’t care for your Harley Quinn movie, all right? It could just be that it ended up being utter dog dirt despite the We-Think-It-Is-Still-1968-So-We’ll-Just-Change-The-Title-To-Rerelease-The-Same-Damn-Movie-line of thinking.
And then finally, here’s my main point: my wife liked Silverhawks. Silverhawks?! They were just shiny ThunderCats, right? Might as well be a fan of Sectaurs. Wait, you don’t remember Sectaurs? What?! C’mon! Some fan you turned out to be!