When I started writing this piece I was going to call it the extremes of anti-fandom; however after going on a few blogs and keeping a closer-than-ever eye on my social media feeds (as if that was possible) my sentiment now is that anti-fandom, or at least the way in which it exists on the internet today, is extremism in and of itself.
2014 gave us the rise and rise of discussions, and the resulting blogs, centered around “Your Fave is Problematic” (YFIP); discourse meant to expose any bigotry: homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, cultural appropriation, Islamophobia etc spewed by some of your favourite celebrities. When I started to notice and follow the trend on social media I was initially outraged at some of the opinions my favourite celebrities held. Outrage quickly turned into pure rage; something of a “critical fan” was born in me, and I wasn’t even close to be the only one. At my very worst, I could not share work by an artist before I’d done research on whether they were “problematic”. My “faves” who still had not been exposed as “problematic” were on constant watch.
I waited with bated breath for them to say something offensive so I had reason to rant about them or cut them off completely. Rage turned into nauseating self-righteousness. I had an epiphany after one of my favourite rappers, Kendrick Lamar (go ahead and take a shot if you guessed it would be him) made some disappointing, for the lack of a better word, comments on black respectability politics when asked about the ongoing Ferguson riots. Something to the effect of “black people should respect themselves”; I’m assuming although I admittedly lack significant context not having been present at the interview, he meant with respect to the protests and rampant police violence. This was it, this was the defining moment of my cyber social activism. This one hit hard. What was I going to do?
The next two days involved me co-signing numerous articles and tweets criticising Kendrick’s comments, and not much else. It wasn’t until I had a heated argument with a dear and brilliant friend, who is as much of a fan of Kendrick as I, as well as more a forgiving one, did I have an epiphany.
The YFIP wave is problematic itself, in that the conversations we are having are a dead-end. They are a lazy route to resignation. That is, it is easier, albeit senseless to say “my favourite artist is a homophobe, this is the end of my association with them” than to actually advocate for homosexual people’s rights. It gives us a false sense of social activism. It does nothing; or very little. Furthermore, we need to consider who is being targeted in such criticism; take the barrage of think pieces attacking Beyonce’s feminism from many white feminist sites who later disproportionately lauded Emma Watson’s speech on feminism. Emma Watson who herself, could be open to as many, although dissimilar criticisms as Beyonce. Disliking a celebrity from the get go and then exposing how problematic they are makes your intentions questionable.
Many of the YFIP informed discussions also fail to recognise a celebrity’s willingness to apologise and learn. Many of us have at one point held bigoted views on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Many of us still do. When does our own willingness to acknowledge our own faults come in? As much as any fan should be a critic, and certainly many actions by celebrities should not be forgivable, what this new trend has done is to make the term “problematic” nebulous. We have put people with fairly harmless misogynistic views for example (although they too need to be reprimanded) in the same laundry list as paedophiles, whose actions have far more reaching consequences. The whole operation has become murky, and distracting. We are wasting important dialogue on actual issues of race, gender, sexuality on trivial and trivial issues for which even a resolution would do little for the fight against systematic oppression.
Angela Davis, renowned political activist and scholar, said recently in an interview with The Guardian that it was more important to focus on institutionalised oppression than the individual acts of violence and discrimination that come from it. Movements such as YFIP have and will continue to take valuable resources and energy away from the actually destructive aspects of our society. This isn’t to say do not hold anybody responsible for bigotry or hate talk; rather look at it in a larger context. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and if we can hold the society that creates such attitudes more accountable than the individuals who display them, we would make far more progress.