Earlier today, I was involved in a small Twitter debate revolving around whether or not a high-profile Marvel character is a villain or not. Even though I never did say this character is a villain, this person kept insisting that I did, and let’s just say I ended up being blocked for my troubles.
I’m not here to discuss about personal woes or call out this person for their behaviour, though. I just want to address a few issues that I seem to encounter a lot in fandom these days. The title might be a dead giveaway to what those problems are, so let’s just get down to business.
I don’t get why someone should be an ‘apologist’ for a character. I’ve seen now and again people make excuses and silly arguments to justify a less-than-morally sound character’s actions. I even see people trying to justify outright despicable villains’ actions with increasingly ludicrous lines of reasoning.
On the flipside, I’ve seen people call out other people’s favourite characters for being ‘problematic’. They say character A is a child murderer, character B is abusive, character C licks goats, and you all should feel bad for liking them.
Newsflash, this is just fiction. These characters ARE NOT REAL. Mindblowing, right? I’ll give you a minute to process this new information.
In the meantime, here are screaming frogs to help it go down smoother.
Done? Good, let’s continue.
Liking or hating one character or other doesn’t make you ‘scum’ or ‘problematic’. Even if the character is an outright villain or a despicable person, it’s okay if you like them, more power to you. Liking Doctor Doom doesn’t mean you’re a megalomaniacal egomaniac bent on vendetta, liking the Joker doesn’t make you a psychotic abusive maniac with a twisted sense of humor. Even liking Batman doesn’t make you have to brood over dead parents and take in underage orphans to dress in tight and colourful outfits before training them to fight crime. Being able to separate fact from fiction is a basic human skill, I’m sure. If you can’t, I suggest you work on that.
It’s perfectly okay to like a character that’s deeply flawed and there’s no need to justify their actions. Mistakes are mistakes, and a character’s failings can kick off a character’s development into a better person. If all characters are without mistake, untouched by flaws, and is the paragon of virtue every time, all the time, fiction would be a boring, boring place. Flaws help define a character as much as, or even more than, their strengths. While their strengths are what we look up to, their mistakes and failings make them more relatable and more ‘accessible’. For most people (me included), it’s usually harder to relate and root for someone who’s already at the top compared to the ones on their ‘level’. This is one of the reasons why people love underdog stories. They want to see people beat the odds, not start on top and stay there for the rest of the story.
Even characters that are supposedly the epitome of humanity’s potential like Superman has his mistakes and bad days, and this is what humanizes him for most of us. Despite being an almost godly figure from another planet, at the end of the day Superman is Clark Kent, good ol’ American boy from Smallville living in the big city with career and romance problems.
If anything, being blind to a character’s flaws hinders one’s judgement regarding that character. You tend to get defensive if you put your favorite character on a pedestal and worship at their altar. Here’s a fun game: Take your favorite characters and list off their flaws. Once you’re done, list off the traits that you admire about them.
I’ll try this with one of my favorite characters, Elsa Bloodstone.
Elsa’s childhood was a harsh one, what with her abusive father grooming her from a young age to succeed her, berating and almost outright torturing her for every misstep. Even as an adult, this harsh upbringing still shows in how she throws herself into the mouth of danger every single time heedless of the consequence to show her long-dead father she wasn’t weak. But on the other hand, she grew up to be a driven, intelligent, and fierce woman with a wide range of skills who slaughters things that go bump in the night by the dozen. Eventually, she managed to overcome her daddy issues, becoming a better person than her father ever was.
After doing this, you might see that seeing characters recognise what they’ve been doing wrong and doing what is necessary to rectify them and become a better person is an enjoyable journey. Isn’t that what we delve into fiction for? To see these characters go through hardship and pain, fail miserably and be at hope’s end, only for them to rise up against all odds and triumph in the end? Sure, a fluffy, happy story is fun, but even too much of that gets boring eventually. Hell, even Dora the Explorer runs into difficulties in her exploring once in a while! Get your heads out of your arses and understand that flawed characters doesn’t mean they couldn’t be loved. In fact, flaws are what make characters more fun to like.
Which brings us to our next point, I’ll be brief about this. I’ve seen the word ‘fake fans’ thrown around several times today. Being a fan means to like something, how can you fake that? I’ve seen the word thrown from ‘comic elitists’ toward ‘movie fans’, and from ‘movie fans’ to…I dunno, someone. But the point is that whatever you like, however much, whether you’ve just watched the movie five minutes ago or knew the fandom since you were a kid, you’re a fan and nothing can change that. Some people may hate the movies and stick to the comics, while others are exclusively movie-watchers and can’t be bothered to read the comics. So what? Shouldn’t we bond over what we like, instead of throwing shit all over what others like?
That said, I’ve always been an advocate of comics, and try to educate the ‘casual movie watchers’ on comics often. Some I’ve successfully converted into reading comics, while some others just go ‘Ah, alright’ and move on. I don’t mind either way, sharing what you love is natural, after all. What I can’t stand are the ones that go ‘COMICS ARE BEST GO COMICS TAKE YOUR MOVIES AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS’ and the ones that go ‘MOVIES ARE THE BEST OMG ACTOR A IS SO HANDSOME THE COMICS ARE BORING’, which usually are the same people who reject any attempts to correct and/or add to their knowledge with vitriol. I usually end up distancing myself from these kinds of people as far as possible. I don’t mind ignorance, but I hate willful ignorance with a passion. Alright, you don’t care about the comics, why not just say it to me nicely and let it end at that instead of calling me out and talking about me behind my back? Hell, I appreciate it if people contradict me and tell me how my opinion is gobshite and should be shoved where the sun don’t shine in a respectful manner.
Bottom line is, fandom should be a fun place where everyone can like anything without being called out by anyone and share what they like without fear of being called a ‘fake fan’, ‘poser’, ‘filthy casual’, or whatever it is you kids are saying these days. Even if there are disagreements, it’s best if they are dealt with respectfully and without backtalking. Or maybe I’m just old and that’s how fandom works these days. A bunch of people sharing what they like with howling monkeys slinging shit at everyone else from the sidelines.
So to avoid this:
Why not ask ourselves this?
DISCLAIMER: This is purely an opinion piece, and not meant to call out any individual and/or parties by name, just addressing the state of fandom at large. If anyone would like to disagree with me, my channels are below. Just keep it respectful.