Today on the Mythcreant Podcast, we’re very mad! What are we mad about? We’re mad that you’re wrong, so wrong, about that thing you said! When you said a thing we liked was bad, it personally hurt us, and we’re angry. That’s right, this week we’re talking about fan rage, the background radiation of our lives. What causes fan rage? How can you spot it, and what kind of problems does it cause for storytellers? We talk about all that and more, plus a special moment where Wes and Oren learn the power of friendship.
Generously transcribed by Ursula. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.
Chris: This is the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris and with me is Oren and Wes. And now we are all mad!
Oren: [groans angrily]
Wes: Instantly mad!
Chris: Instantly mad! ‘Cause in the last podcast, Oren, you said bad things about the Star Wars prequels and –
Wes: It was genius that they wouldn’t accept that currency. Who needs it out there in the boonies.
Oren: Yes. And I’ve seen the error of my ways guys, I will never critique anything again. Good job.
Chris: All I’m saying, Oren, is that you should be able to make your own, better, movie. And if you can’t do that, then you have no business critiquing any movie.
Oren: That’s a very good point, actually. That’s why when I go to the store and something I buy from there doesn’t work, I make my own version of it. Like, I bought a lawnmower and it didn’t work and instead of returning it, I made my own lawnmower. That totally makes sense. I get it. I’m onboard.
Wes: We’re back in Galt’s Gulch where you have your infinite supply of energy. You can do whatever you want!
Oren: And handmade tractors are a very important part of Galt’s Gulch!
Chris: So, yeah, we’re going to talk about fan rage, which I consider to be the constant background noise of my life. [all laugh] It’s interesting – Mythcreants has been an interesting experience and people do get pissed off at us frequently for just being SJWs, but they get pissed off at us just as often, if not more, for criticizing their favorite stories.
Oren: I mean, I expected if I was going to get any kind of toxic behavior, it would be over my social justice posts. But no, it was mostly over my D&D posts. That was the only thing that I ever got a death threat for. And I was like, really? It’s going to be the D&D posts? It’s not going to be the one where I say that all your favorite stories are misogynist garbage? Oh, well, sure. Fine.
Wes: That’s just too overt, right? Clearly, subtle things trigger the rage.
Oren: Although to be fair to fan rage, as awful as it is, we do owe some of our success to it. It would have taken us longer to grow if people in the beginning hadn’t been hate-sharing our stuff.
Wes: Good point.
Oren: I don’t think that it’s that big of a factor now, but at the beginning when we were pretty obscure, people were hate-sharing our stuff to be like, “you see how terrible this SJW website is? It critiqued my favorite show.” Which just reminds me that you should be careful about sharing something that you hate, even if the purpose is specifically to dunk on it. I understand the satisfaction of doing that, but if it’s already an obscure thing, you might actually be spreading its reach further by doing that.
Chris: As much as we like criticizing stories, there is at least one story I can think of that we have not criticized because we don’t want any more people to know about it.
Oren: And we’re not going to tell you what it is!
Chris: We’re not going to tell you what it is, because it’s that bad.
Wes: Real quick – I don’t rage very often, but I just… is it such a foreign idea that you can like something and critique it? That just seems to make so much sense. I can really enjoy something and point out its weaknesses or things that I didn’t like in it and still enjoy the experience on the whole. Where is this stemming from that if Oren makes one tiny pot shot at something, everybody is suddenly up in arms and ready to throw him down the well or something?
Chris: I mean, I do think that a surprising number of people don’t understand that you are allowed to like something with flaws. Or they think that it says something about them, that if they like something and that thing is flawed, that means they’re not discerning or they don’t have good taste.
I think another factor is, aside from that, when we really love something, we become emotionally invested in seeing it succeed or it being perfect. And sometimes seeing somebody criticize the thing we love feels like it’s a threat to it, right? Where it won’t get a sequel or it won’t spread and do better or what have you.
Wes: Yeah. It’s kind of like – I don’t really sport, but the sport fan-ness of, “it’s my team and it’s not your team. I’m with this team through thick and thin and I am the one with the right to say anything. Not you.” Right? There’s this learned love that comes with the territory sometimes, or the perception of it.
Oren: And things that you like get wrapped up in your identity. That happens for everything. At the very least, I don’t think any of my critiques have started an actual brawl the way sports games sometimes do. I don’t think anyone’s actually gotten punched over one of my articles.
If anyone has been, please, let me know in the comments.
Wes: We would love to hear about that.
Oren: I am not unfamiliar with the feelings that inspire fan rage. I sympathize to a certain extent. I have on occasion watched or read critiques of something I like and felt like this person was really wrong and misrepresenting the source material and just being bad and like morally failing somehow. I felt all those things. And I did not type them in the comments. I instead went off and did something else.
Wes: I was going to say, you wrote a perfect comment and changed hearts and minds.
Oren: I certainly don’t mind discussing media, even with people I disagree with, but I’ve gotten pretty good in general with understanding when I’m just mad. And that I probably shouldn’t engage with someone’s YouTube video in that state, because it’s not gonna help anybody, right? Even if I think they’re wrong, they might be wrong, but what is gained from me getting mad at them?
And the answer is, nothing. There’s not really any reason to do that. And granted, I have my own platform where I can talk about media any way I like, so I do have another outlet and not everyone has that, but still we all feel that feeling. The question is how you choose to express it.
Chris: So if I’m talking to somebody and I hear criticism of something I like and I find myself just starting to defend it, I like to, when possible, acknowledge someone else’s experience. Stop and do that. Because in many of these situations, even if you don’t consider something to be a significant storytelling problem, there’s a reason why somebody else reacted that way. And there’s probably something the story could theoretically have done better, even though no story is ever going to be perfect or please everyone.
This is a really important skill as a writer and in getting beta reading feedback: to look beyond how big the flaw is to why somebody thought that way. And to think how to correct that, and communicate effectively. So I like to try to stop and just be like, “Yes, your criticism is valid.” If I at all can. Or, “I see why you had that experience. I can imagine that some people might interpret this that way.” I stop and do those things before I continue with my own defenses and phrase them as, “I liked it because [blank].”
The other thing that I try to do is – this is really tricky – but to recognize the difference between what is actually blatantly written in the story and what you have interpreted from the story. So, you know, if I think that there’s a good explanation for something, but the characters haven’t actually said it and it’s not actually blatant, I’d be like, “okay, well, charitably, we could say that this is the explanation”, right? But it hasn’t actually been given to us by the storyteller. And it takes practice to realize the difference. But with a lot of fan raging, there’s usually a lot of assumptions about things in the story that are not actually canonically communicated by the storyteller. And giving room for those multiple interpretations I think is important.
Oren: Especially when it’s a story that’s been discussed a lot, and various fanons have evolved around it. At that point, people sometimes are bad at realizing that like, “Oh, right, this thing that I’ve just been accepting as true about the story for years is actually an elaborate headcanon that I built with some of my friends.” People are not always great at doing that.
What bothers me the most is when people try to disguise their fan rage with social justice language. I think that’s, for one thing, just irresponsible. That language is important and it exists for people who actually need it. So being like, “You can’t critique Star Trek because it was progressive in these episodes, how dare you” – that’s bad. Or, “You can’t say The Wheel of Time is sexist, because it has women in it and there are more of them than in Lord of the Rings. So.” Stuff like that. That happens a lot. I see people doing that and it’s really frustrating because, you know, we actually need to have conversations about these various social justice related topics and it’s harder to do that when people are co-opting that language just ‘cause they don’t like their precious fave being criticized.
Chris: It’s also important to say that even if a story has some very social justice positive messages in it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not messing up anywhere. Things are perfectly capable of standing out and being really groundbreaking in some areas while falling behind in others. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to do as critics, create an atmosphere and a culture where we can talk about everything’s flaws, and recognize that everything has flaws. And the more you do that, I think, the less your hackles get up when you hear a criticism of something that you like. Because it’s more normalized. It no longer means that it’s bad, it just means that everything has flaws. And it’s valuable to talk about them.
Wes: It’s your Mythcreants weekly reminder that nothing is sacred and we’re coming after it. [laughs]
You’re right though, Chris. Productive opportunities for constructive disagreement are rare, and they never happen on the internet. And I really like what you said about like normalizing this. Like, I can have a disagreement with Oren about a piece of media and Oren is not going to think that I’m disagreeing with him as a person. We know how critique works and we know that we can pick it apart, and I don’t think less of Oren because he likes some show that I don’t, because we’ve normalized that behavior.
Oren: Yeah. I mean, I’m even willing to be friends with people who don’t agree that Rogue One is the best Star Wars film, because I am the tolerant left.
Wes: You are super tolerant. I, on the other hand, am still only halfway through that movie and it’s been months, so.
Oren: Oh no! Wes, have you ever considered making your own Rogue One?
Wes: You know, I really should. I mean, how hard could it be?
Oren: Yeah, I mean, honestly, we’ll put a Kickstarter together. It’ll be great.
Wes: I have my energy machine! [laughs]
Oren: That is, I think, the number one problem with fan rage, that it turns toxic really quickly. Again, if someone said something you don’t like about a show that you love, in most cases, you probably shouldn’t respond to them at all.
Chris: This is something that I had to learn starting Mythcreants, that there’s no point in engaging with most people – now, granted, on the internet, there’s usually not much point in arguing with most people – but fan ragers, especially. Because they’re emotionally invested in you being wrong. It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter how well your point is made. They will never change their minds.
So Oren, I noticed your notes had a list of signs of fan ragers.
Oren: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. These are great. So, I’ve just gotten good at noticing these. The first one is that they agree with you on everything except the part where you critiqued the show they like.
Chris: We see so many comments that are like that on the site. “I loved everything except for when you talked about my favorite story in a bad way.” [laughs]
Oren: And don’t get me wrong, it is always possible that we are right about everything except that one example.
Oren: Not impossible, but you notice a pattern pretty quickly. Another one that comes up a lot is when someone posts unrelated or even contradictory arguments. A common one is when we say a story was confusing, someone will be like, “well, it’s fine for stories to be confusing. You just want them to be mundane and boring. But also, this one’s not confusing at all.” And it’s like, okay. I mean, those could technically both be true, but those are very different arguments, right? You get a lot of those and they’re just throwing whatever they can at the wall to see what sticks.
My favorite is when you get two fan ragers who are arguing that I’m wrong for different reasons, and then they start fighting. This happens in my Wheel of Time post a lot, because some people are like, “How dare you say The Wheel of Time is sexist. It’s a feminist masterpiece.” And others will be like, “How dare you say The Wheel of Time is sexist. Women are garbage.” And then they will start fighting. Or some people will be like, “How dare you say that Rand is a bad character. He’s intentionally flawed. It’s a commentary.” And then others will be like, “How dare you say that Rand is a bad character. He’s a perfect, beautiful boy.” And then they’ll start fighting and it’s beautiful.
So that’s great. But whenever someone is just throwing arguments at you that are not related to each other, it’s just because they want you to be wrong. They aren’t actually interested in discussing the facts of the situation. They recoil from something you said because it feels threatening to them in some personal way and they just need to fire off everything they’ve got at you in the hopes that one of them will make you wrong.
Then there’s the obvious sign of them just being really mad. People don’t generally discuss media critiques in shouting voices unless they’re upset. And then, of course, there is the “well, why don’t you do better?” argument, which we’ve been joking about. But that one comes up a lot. And that’s just a basic logical fallacy. That’s a ridiculous standard to hold anyone to, even if I had the money to make these films, which I don’t.
Chris: There’s a couple of other logical fallacies that are very frequently employed by fan ragers. There’s the idea that anything is that is popular must be perfect. And I guess it must be perfect in every way. Then there’s the idea that you cannot critique any portion of it unless you have consumed everything about it in its entirety. Which is, for Wheel of Time, something like 14 books. So it’s like you can’t critique the first Wheel of Time books until you read all 14 novels. By definition, only people who are huge fans and are actually willing to read 14 novels are allowed to actually talk about Wheel of Time.
Oren: I always point out which installment of a story I’m talking about. Because I think that does matter. I think that critiquing The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, is different than critiquing the whole thing. But that of course doesn’t really matter to fan ragers, because again, they just want me to be wrong. They’re not actually interested in the facts of the situation. One that I got this a lot on was when I was talking about underdeveloped love interests and I mentioned Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon. And a bunch of people were like, “How dare you not talk about her in the cartoon or the second movie?” I’m like, “Well, I’m talking about the first movie.”
Chris: And she is under developed in the first movie.
Oren: I’m not talking about the cartoon. I haven’t seen the cartoon. It’s not relevant. They’re like, “Yeah, but in the cartoon -”, and I’m like, “Okay. Sure.” Or when I’m like, “This Star Wars thing doesn’t make sense.” And they’re like, “Well, have you read the now non-canon EU Legends novel where it explained that? Checkmate.”
Wes: How could you not, Oren? Please.
Oren: It gets especially irritating when the people who are in charge of a particular IP say that the secondary material is canon, because of course it’s not in any way that actually matters. They’re never going to be like, “Well, we’re making this multimillion dollar movie, but we have to revise this plot point because it contradicts something we did in a comic.” They’re never going to do that. They’re going to do what they want to do for the movie. But they’ll tell you that the comic is canon because they want you to buy the comic. And then people go around being like, “Ah, well, you see, that question in the movie was explained in this comic.” And I’m like, I don’t care. If I have to do homework to read to watch my movie …
Chris: … it’s a bad movie.
Oren: It doesn’t matter if it was explained in a comic. Also, when I actually go and check, it almost never is. It’s never a good explanation, even if there is one. So there’s that. That’s a big one.
Chris: I did an interesting experiment with some of my critique posts. So these critique posts where I break down the beginning of popular books get lots of fan ragers. And they’re all making the same like logical fallacies, like we talked about, over and over again, every time. So I decided to see what would happen if I just preventively argue back against them. If that would actually change, or if they would still do that. In a post where I was talking about Name of the Wind, I was like, okay, if you’re going to make the popularity argument, you have to admit that Fifty Shades of Gray is way better than Name of the Wind.
Oren: Look how many more copies it sold!
Chris: And of course, as to be expected, nobody made that argument in the comments anymore. They just made the other argument, where I have to read the entire thing. So in another post, I’m like, okay, here’s why the reading the entire thing argument is bad. And then they’ll just shift to the popularity argument.
Wes: I mean, it’s nice that they’re reading the entire post.
Chris: That was actually the biggest surprise of this experiment, the fact that they were actually reading enough of the post to even see that those arguments were there to refute them. I guess hate-reading must be more popular than I thought.
Oren: So, one thing I want to mention particularly is the damage that fan rage has for storytellers. It’s bad enough for a general audience, because stories will only get better if we demand they get better. But for a storyteller in particular, if you are incapable of analyzing stories you like and seeing what they did right and what they did wrong, then you are just doomed to repeat their mistakes. And unless you can perfectly capture the things they did right and also the exact circumstances under which they were marketed, those mistakes will doom you, because you’ll be just doing everything they did wrong and then probably not have the things that made them popular in the first place.
Chris: I think of it as practice because a lot of writers – not all writers, but a lot of writers – love their own work, and have very high emotional investment in their own work.
Oren: Chris, it’s rude to call me out like that.
Chris: So learning how to critically analyze and accept criticisms of stories that you love that you did not write is basically practice for being able to think objectively when an editor gives you a feedback, or when a beta reader gives you feedback, and being able to actually, stop, breathe, and look at what they’re talking about. Think about it for a while and possibly make some changes.
Wes: I just love that you’re giving us all mindfulness advice and talking about training empathy. It’s like, okay, Chris is telling us how to be good humans, everybody. Let’s just carry on.
Chris: [laughing] If only it were so simple as, “Oh, Chris told me how to be a good human. I’m totally a good human now.”
Wes: But you’re like, “Take a breath, listen to somebody else’s perspective, consider their point of view, and then maybe respond.” That’s so appropriate.
Chris: And definitely I’ve had those times where I’ve gotten feedback from an editor and just gone [makes angry sound] and had to go away.
Wes: Chris, you shouldn’t call me out like that.
Chris: Go away, come back, read it again, then I’m usually fine. But, you know, when we get defensive, we also interpret somebody’s tone as being much more aggressive and mean and negative than we would otherwise. We talked about this in another podcast, there’s a synergistic – technically it’s called a positive feedback loop, even if it’s mean and negative – where when you like something, you interpret everything more favorably and when you don’t like something, you interpret everything more negatively. And that’s true when you’re reading criticism or getting feedback from an editor.
But obviously it’s not as simple as, “Oh, this podcast fixed my fan rage.”
Oren: Yeah. Although I kind of wish it would. Just because – I touched on this briefly, but I just want to come back to it – fan rage goes from making illogical arguments to toxic harassment very quickly. And you just have to pause for a second and realize that this person criticizing the thing you like almost certainly has no power to hurt it. If you like South Park and someone criticizes South Park, South Park’s fine, it’s not going to get taken off the air because someone broke down its themes and did a critical analysis of it. That’s just not going to happen. It’s the same with any popular media.
But unleashing fan rage on someone who does that, particularly if they are in any way marginalized, is just a great way to make their life hell. And that’s not something you want to be a part of. That’s why, when a reviewer reviews something in a way I don’t like, I don’t write an angry comment, because it’s not serving any purpose and it just has a chance of contributing to making their life unpleasant, which I don’t think is a requirement because they said something negative about a show I like.
Chris: Another funny thing is that we also sometimes get people who specifically want to know if we have read such and such story and what we think about it. These are almost always someone’s favorite novel or something. Not everybody has fan rage issues, I mean, most people get fan rage sometimes in some situations, but not everybody is worried about criticism of their favorite novel. But a lot of people are, and it’s always interesting when we get these requests because it’s like, be careful what you wish for. “We want to know what you think of it.” Do you though? Do you really want to know? For me at least, I’m very much like, “Okay, but if I told you what I thought of your favorite novel, you would probably get mad at me.” And that’s not really what I want from this interaction.
Posting stuff on the site that we’ve read and decided to critique for everybody is one thing. But somebody asking us about their personal favorite book – and they’re always so hopeful, because they love it – and it’s like, I’m sorry. I probably won’t love it like you do. I’ll probably tear it to shreds and that would be sad for you.
Oren: It’s kind of what I do, man.
My favorite bit of weird fan rage logic, is the whole “it’s popular, it must be right” argument. It’s like, well, guess whose blog is more popular than your comment? It’s mine. Does that mean I must be right? [Chris and Wes laugh] I don’t get it. Why does the logic not apply now? Very confused.
Wes: You’ll have to throw some analytics reports at them like, “Check out all these page views, buddy.”
Oren: “Let me explain to you how you’re actually helping us show up on search results by leaving your angry comments.”
Wes: I was trying to think of a positive example of fan rage, and I think this qualifies: Did you guys see the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie? The internet collectively started foaming at the mouth with fury, and so they were like, “Okay, we’re redoing it”. And they redid the CGI on Sonic and Sonic looks better now. I find that interesting, that they could actually take that real time feedback and be like, “Okay, we got it wrong. We’re redoing it.” And it seems like the reception has been “Thank you”. Which is a really weird thing to happen.
Oren: Okay, so what that is, at least in my mind, is very different than fan rage. To me, this is critique. The first trailers of Sonic came out, it looked horrifying, people critiqued it and they were like, “Oh, you’re right. That actually is bad.” It was basically a free focus group for them. Unfortunately it turns out that they used unethical working practices to make those fixes. But that’s a whole other problem. So in that case, that’s mass criticism. Now, mass criticism can also turn toxic if you go and harass the writer of a movie you didn’t like. Hot take: don’t do that!
Although people do sometimes try to equate toxic behavior with legitimate criticism. That’s a favorite of people who are fan raging about the prequels. They’ll be like, “well, Star Wars fans are really toxic, and all this anger about the prequels is toxic.” And okay, Star Wars fans can absolutely be toxic. But the idea that critiquing the prequels, which were made by George Lucas’s multibillion dollar film company is bad, because it might hurt George Lucas’s feelings – that’s just nonsense.
Chris: It is worth trying to distill the difference between criticism or critique and being abusive. The purpose of criticism or critique is to instruct people about problems that could be improved and communicate that. And you know, with my critique posts on the site, I get playful about it and make jokes, because that makes it more entertaining for people. Some people sometimes think of those jokes as just being mean, but that’s why we choose only bestselling books to critique. That’s not for the writer. We don’t call attention or try to get the writer to read our critique posts.
Oren: Because they’re not for the writer. They’re for an audience. With the Sonic example, it’s the difference between posting online in a public venue, or even on the official trailer page, that this is bad and ugly and you don’t like it, because that’s just you expressing your opinion. In the case of the trailer page, that’s specifically what it is there for: to gauge reactions. Versus finding the private social media of one of the animators and being like, “You did a bad job!” Don’t do that. That’s bad. Even if you aren’t actively abusive, that’s still just a crappy thing to do.
Chris: Yeah. The abuse of actors is just like, oh man. It’s never acceptable to abuse actors for the roles that they’re in. And unfortunately, that happens a lot when roles get really unpopular.
Oren: Or even writers. I’m never going to go and find the writers of stuff that I hated and tell them they’re bad people to their face. I’m just not going to do that. I might mention them when it’s relevant in a critique and say they did a bad job. But I wouldn’t go to their private social media or to their house and explain to them my opinion on the thing that they wrote.
Wes: But you could probably change so many hearts and minds!
Oren: Yeah, that’s the way to do it. Absolutely. Someone give me George R. R. Martin’s address. I have some complaints. I have some notes! [laughs]
Chris: Try to keep the focus on their work and how you think about their work and what problems do you see there, what things you like also. And do not try to make assumptions about the person behind that work.
Sometimes at Mythcreants we make guesses about what could have been the intent. You know, how did this strange story occurrence happen? How did this weird storytelling example occur? And we might make guesses about what the process was or something like that, but for the most part, we don’t try to make assumptions about the person behind the work too much. We try to focus on the work.
Oren: And on that note, we are going to have to end this podcast because we are over our time. Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Hopefully those comments are now less likely to be fan rage, maybe! We’ll see. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.
P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?