Back when I made a TVtropes account, yes, that’s mine, no, it’s not good, I made the bold statement in the bio that ‘I probably hate your favourite thing.’
That was then, this is now, where I need to make it clear every time I open my mouth about a media entity that I’m not upsetting someone for pointing out things I dislike about something they like. And boy, that got me thinking about how much some things suck and the people who love it will tell you that.
Content Warning: I’m going to talk shit about Glee, Victorious, Homestuck, the Fight Game Community, pop music, X-Men, Power Rangers, Riverdale, Gotham, Sherlock, Supernatural, Star Wars, Kingdom Hearts, comic books in general, the Arrowverse, Yuri manga, and Marvel movies.
But not really.
I have been thinking a lot about how a number of big, dense, well-regarded fandoms that were very popular like, five years ago, there’s this recurrent line ‘Nobody hates our fandom quite like people in this fandom.’ It came to my attention again after I watched a two hour video breaking down the long-form narrative structure of Glee from season 1 through to the end, a show I really don’t think well of but I watched the video anyway because I don’t have good impulse control over schadenfreude.
But Glee was successful.
Glee was phenomenally successful. Even the bad bits. Even the racist bits!
Glee was a series that starts with a teacher touching kids inappropriately and moves on to another teacher lying to his wife before framing a kid with drugs they don’t own. It is a series that has has a central protagonist who learns nothing and achieves everything or a central protagonist who insists on the importance of teenagers twerking. Point is, Glee sucks. And if you want to hear about how it sucks, ask a Glee fan.
The same is true for many, many other things. Many other franchises or lore spaces or brandings or whatever – I’m sure that even Touhou fans will be able to tell you how much of Touhou is ridiculous (because as a doujin series, there’s a lot of Touhou being made by people who don’t agree about what’s important in Touhou). I love Dungeons & Dragons, which has never been made by non-ninnies and Fox loves Sonic: The Hedgehog, which
She’s never going to see that colon, it’s such a wasted joke.
Anyway, I think about this, and I think about how there are all these franchises that are convinced ‘oh wow, our fandom, our media form, is the worst and I can write you a thesis about it.’ What I think about is how, hey, if you can see how it sucks, if you noticed that it’s bad, why, uh, why isn’t that, like, shouldn’t that have an impact?
If you know about the bad bits of the show uhhh, what uhm, what lets you hold onto it? Why are you such an expert in it?
I mean, I know I am in a glass house here, not only do I know a shitload about the Bible, a book I consider actively abhorrent, but also, all the things I consider favourite media in many ways suck ass. I play City of Heroes and have firm opinions on Ranma 1/2. Point is, I know there’s nothing pure in this world and I know there’s no reason to see any particular media space as more or less defensible, and I dislike the idea of treating media consumption as an ethical litmus test. It more stands out to me when I see these fortresses of complicated multiplatform media that need hour long explainer videos and I find myself wondering what makes these things form,
and if I can weaponise that energy.
ha ha just kidding
Why is it that work that doesn’t do a good job of telling its story so successful at keeping people engaged with its story? And there’s a rationale that says hey, no, any media that keeps people engaged is doing a good job of telling its story, but let’s set that aside for now. Let’s talk about why people will complain and criticise about the story that they are engaged with but not disengage.
I have a notion here. Note that I use the word notion. Not a theory, not a hypothesis, not even a really rational hunch. It’s a notion. I think it might have something to it but I don’t know and I don’t think I have the tools to know.
I think that part of what lets these things like Kingdom Hearts work this way, despite the obvious storytelling failures, is that there’s a feeling of confrontation. The work has problems, so you grapple with it, you struggle to learn if it’s as dumb as it looks, you convince yourself there’s got to be more to it, you work hard on being convinced that, and if you’re lucky, you realise that, no, really, it is that dumb. There is a fight, there is that resistance to being easily understood. You have to keep there, hanging tight, because you’re getting something about it emotionally, even as your intellectual engagement with it is seeing all these problems.
That is: These franchises get these kinds of harshly critical megafans as a sort of fandom hatefuck.
But with that there’s also this kind of deep truth for media analysis, or at least, the kind of media analysis and criticism that you’ll see produced as content. That is: Incoherence is fucking irrelevant. We can talk about the way that media is coherent or incoherent, or how well it supports its points, but it’s not like people subconsciously are unweaving a matrix of interrelated elements necessarily.
Ultimately the toolset we have is diagnostic, not prescriptive. It feels like a hack thing to say, but good, honest, sincere hatred of media is really hard to make engaging. I could talk to you for an hour about how bad Longmire is, but who’s going to give a shit? It needs more than just disdain.
It needs to be interestingly hateable.