The problem with fan-bases…
This week I thought I would stray away from a particular format, and tackle a topic that has bothered me for quite a while about films and TV, the people who watch them. In case this entire blog isn’t evidence enough, I watch a lot of both, and of course I would define myself as a fan of many franchises, particularly television. For the most part, a fandom is a good thing; a group of grateful people showing appreciation for a piece of media that has brought them a lot of joy. However, I’ve encountered another sort of fan over the course of my viewership; the toxic fan.
Whilst most fans are lovely people who sincerely enjoy something just for it’s merits and are thrilled when more people watch the thing they enjoy, there are those who feel entitled to be the only ones watching. These toxic fans delight in exclusivity and much like the traditional image of a hipster, can’t stand anyone else knowing about the thing they love, as it diminishes their own importance. Never mind that lots of people have discovered something they enjoy, never mind that the creators will now get more money and be able to make their product better, no it’s all about you. A good example of a fan-base that has been tainted by a toxic minority is the Rick and Morty fans.
For those few of you who haven’t heard, Rick and Morty started off as a parody of Back to the Future before evolving into a biting satire and wickedly funny sitcom, created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It straddles the line between being crass and silly and yet clever and nihilistic. I resisted watching it for a long time, partly because of the huge pressure from friends to start watching it, and when I finally did, I found it was a hugely fun series. Then I noticed that some the throwaway silly jokes, such as Rick’s pointless catchphrases kept getting latched onto by fans. But no big deal, right? So what if some people like to repeat stupid phrases on the internet, why does it matter? I’m glad you asked. I bring it up to illustrate a lack of understanding of the joke. The catchphrases keep changing to mock the idea of a character having a single phrase to hook viewers. It’s not a sincere phrase, yet it is taken as such, and this creates problems, because it shows a blind emulation of things in the show without understanding them.
Recently, the show made a joke about Rick being motivated only at getting McDonald’s Szechuan dipping sauce, which was a temporary promotional item for the film Mulan. The joke is that we don’t know Rick’s true motivation and never will, so it could be the sauce for all we know. However, this spawned a desperation amongst fans to get hold of this sauce, to emulate their beloved Rick. This was fuelled by McDonald’s cashing in on the free publicity and selling the sauce in a limited run last week. The problem was that the fans were too many and McDonald’s couldn’t meet the demand, leading to actual riots. Over sauce. Sauce which can be bought in Asda or Walmart by the way. The problem is clear, a need to try and be Rick. The character of Rick is intentionally a horrible person. He’s grumpy arrogant, nihilistic and selfish and the comedy arrives from his complete lack of normal social restrictions, thanks to his overwhelming intellect. The character is flawed and interesting, and leave it to a few desperate fans to completely miss the point. A small vocal minority of fans think that because the show has clever writing, only very smart people can truly appreciate it. Never mind all the lowbrow fart jokes and visual gags that make it accessible to almost everyone. Never mind the fact that a lot of people love it, only true genii can understand this 20-minute cartoon.
I don’t say this to disparage the series, if anything it’s part of what I love about it. It’s clever and yet has something for everyone. But to suggest that the show is off limits, to have the arrogance to actually create a secret Facebook group for clever people who truly “get” the show (yes this really happened) is very toxic. It creates an exclusive atmosphere which turns off newcomers to the show, which could ironically hurt the very show you claim to love. People shouldn’t try to be emulating Rick. The point is that we aren’t him. We are more likely Jerry, or Morty, the normal people in the show, and it should be clear that someone who is willing to commit massive genocide when drunk, isn’t meant to be a role model.
However, the toxicity of the fan-base also applies to bigots. When some the third season episodes didn’t quite meet expectations, sexist fans immediately blamed the new female writers on the show and started harassing them online, despite the fact that each episode is collaboratively written. This immediate assumption that the smelly girls have dirtied your treasured TV show is as immature and possessive as it is pathetic. And don’t get me wrong, the majority of Rick and Morty fans are fine humans beings, but it’s always the loud minority which spoils things for the rest of us. In Rick and Morty’s case the minority has evolved from slightly annoying, to dangerously toxic, and unlike in the show, we should consider cutting our toxic side loose. These immature, misogynistic, whiny babies are giving the show and other fans a bad name, and I know I speak for all of us when I tell those who riot over sauce or harass women for daring to write on a TV show, to grow up, and just like a TV show for being good. Is that too much to ask?