Monday, June 25, 2012

Things We Love to Hate

Today, we have some commentary from Mystic: a ponyfic author, a law student, an Aussie, and the only visitor to this blog who cares when I talk about professional cycling.  He's come up with an insightful bit of commentary on how many readers seem to react to stories they dislike--or more often, to stories they think they're supposed to dislike.  His thoughts, after the break.

I remember my first years of high school very distinctly. I was a nerd who loved to read – an unusual hobby in my community, or at least with my age group. I mean come on; reading is for eggheads, after all. Still, I always attempted to keep in touch with books that were popular. Imagine my surprise when suddenly out of the blue, a particular title made itself known to me: Twilight.

To those who haven’t immediately hit ctrl+f4, let me start off by saying thank you, and that rest assured, there is a point to the analogy. Interestingly to me, Twilight was an unbelievably popular phenomenon. I was watching people, even those who had never even read Harry Potter, suddenly find an interest in a book about vampires. They adored it. And for one sweet year or so, I wasn’t alone with my eager consumption of fiction.

And then something strange happened. Without any warning whatsoever, the tides of popular opinion began to shift. Dissenters from Twilight’s supposed brilliance began to appear like weeds. And they spread like absolute wildfire. Within months, the very same people who had been swooning over their sparkling vampires now despised it with every fibre of their being. And I really, really wish I was exaggerating. They hated it. Everywhere I looked, particularly on social media, people were talking about how shockingly atrocious it was, but also perhaps most interestingly, how that anyone who did like it was apparently less worthy than they were. To like Twilight was an unforgivable sin and a measure of your intelligence for these people. There was no middle ground.

It might be worth noting that people even made noble attempts at justifying their statements of distaste. Regurgitated opinions about how bland the characters were, how it was so boring, or how disturbing the relationship was (accuracy aside, because remember, a lot of this came from people who had barely read a novel in their lives) suddenly could be heard out of the mouth of every man, woman and their dog, with a small percentage of people remaining true to the story and their love for it. It became a war, one that was bitter and extraordinarily messy.

Now, while I will be the first to admit that my experience is probably reflective of just how stupid teenagers can be, it is a very useful comparison at looking at some of the ‘major’ works within our fandom, and the culture that exists around them (a good chunk of this fandom are teenagers, remember). Just like with Twilight, and just like with every other popular mainstream phenomenon on the internet, there has to be a culture of hate; there will always be a group of individuals for whom the mere fact that something is popular, and they don’t think it should be, means that it is worthy of their ridicule.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? It is the exact same culture of polarisation that I see with stories like My Little Dashie or even Past Sins. People either love it, or they love to hate it. And when I say love, I mean love.

One of my favourite comments I have ever seen in this fandom was on some story (whose name I cannot for the life of me remember) I read a while back. A person commented saying how, “this story is so amazing it’s almost as good as my little dashie.(sic)” To which the response was, “…Is that meant to be a compliment?”

I couldn’t believe it. An author was legitimately rejecting positive feedback simply because of the analogy used. The truth of the matter is that he was probably just one of the vocal ones. I know because I would be the first person to admit that I have often judged someone when I see My Little Dashie in their favourites list, or heard someone say how it’s the best fic this fandom has produced. I see that and I think, “What on earth is wrong with you?! How could you possibly read that and think it’s superior to something like Somewhere Only We Know, or The Glass Blower?!”

And it’s that thought process which leads to the mountains of hate, to this rush of people trying to differentiate themselves from the glazed-eyed fanboyism that is so inherent with these types of stories. Like My Little Dashie? Please. I have taste, and an IQ above fifty. And not only that, I have to let other people know just how much I disagree with them. After all, I am enjoying the incredible views from the intellectual high ground; it is my God-given duty to expostulate my beliefs!

And deep down inside, most of us have done it at one stage or another. Whether or not we are vocal about it, or even if we have legitimate complaints about a piece’s construction, technical or otherwise, it’s largely irrelevant. We judge. And some people hate.

A culture exists wherein people love to deconstruct the things that other people love… for the sake of deconstructing what other people love. It’s brutal, and pretty much everyone has been involved in it in some form or another. We all have that one thing that other people like that we personally can’t stand (let’s face it, HiE stories are the scourge of the earth), and we can’t help but judge the people who do like it. We forget that for better or worse, there is something that makes these stories popular in the first place, and that there is a reason why they are beloved by so many (whether or not it deserves to be popular is neither here nor there). And honestly, I’m probably not smarter than people who like My Little Dashie.

And then we have my favourite thing in the whole world – seeing people’s opinion on something do a complete 180 because they heard someone say something negative about it. “This story is the greatest thing in the world – it validates my existence!” “Actually, the characters are boring and the plot hole towards the end makes no sense.” “You know what... this is actually the worst thing of all time. Look at that.”

It’s a crowded place, this bandwagon (Chris, I still have you to blame for irreversibly changing the way I see Within and Without [No problem.  -Chris]). One person voicing a dissenting opinion instantly creates fifty more who, guess what, have the exact same opinion! Does this make them wrong? Well, that’s not for me to judge.

Opinions are fickle things, after all.

It is worth noting that there are people who do lodge legitimate complaints about issues, and those people actually seem to know what they’re talking about. I loved seeing the response to Chris’ review to Past Sins. It inspired a little faith back into internet culture, outside of the sea of sludge present on FimFiction or even EqD. Just goes to show that yes, it is possible to not like something without obnoxiously hating it. Now all we need is for the rest of the fandom to follow suit.

Ha. Funny. Ah well. I can dream, right?

[This is an interesting subject, and I can't let it slide by without offering a little bit of commentary of my own.  Sorry for butting in at the end, Mystic, but hey: my blog, my rules.

In certain contexts, hating something communally can be just as much fun as enjoying something communally.  Sometimes, even more so.  For example, as I type this the Heat and Thunder are tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series to determine the NBA champion (by the time you read this, the series may well be over, but oh well).  I don't particularly enjoy professional basketball, and don't usually follow the games.  But for several reasons, the vast majority of people with any rooting interest at all (excluding the residents of Miami) are rooting against the Heat, myself included. This kind of hatedom lets me enjoy a sport and an event that I'd otherwise probably find no interest in, and moreover forms a natural bridge through which to bond with others (such as my dad, who is a basketball watcher and with whom I can cheer against Miami).  In this case, I'd say that hating the Heat is a positive experience for me.

But of course, the situation with the NBA finals and a pony fanfic aren't really analogous for a variety of reasons.  First off, everyone on the Heat team is raking in beaucoup bucks and couldn't care less what I think or how loudly I groan every time they make an appearance, precisely none of which are true of the average fanfic writer.  But I think the idea of hatedoms, and their role in society (both positive and negative), is a very intriguing one.  -Chris]


  1. Yay professional cycling! Already stocking up on my caffeinated drinks for the tour. Time zones don't scare me.

  2. This has always bothered me. It's not so much that not-so-good works get undue praise (as was the case with My Little Dashie and Past Sins), or that people actually love or hate those works that bothers me; it's when one side of the fence actively hunts down anyone that disagrees and strings them up.

    And the ones I've seen do this the most are those that are firmly on the "hate" side.

    I was amazed at how remarkably civil the discussion on Past Sins was. A lot of people that post here were around, or at least aware, of the story's immense popularity when it was posted, and I'm certain a few can remember the flame wars and explosions of raw HATE that story attracted from all corners of the brony community. Any attempts at civilly pointing out the flaws of the work were drowned out by screams that it was the worst thing ever and that anyone who honestly likes the story is a complete idiot and illiterate and shouldn't be allowed to reproduce. Ugliness all around.

    It's interesting that you picked Twilight as your opener, because that highlights another issue. Most works are aimed at specific audiences when they are first produced, and the same is true with MLP Fanfiction. Something like My Little Dashie was not meant for mass consumption by every single brony; it was targeted at a specific group that liked such a premise. But because of its popularity, readers outside of that demographic were being frequently confronted with its image, and what used to be apathy eventually morphed into outright hatred.

    And as cathartic as it is to rail on something you hate, it's important to remember that there is a reason they became popular in the first place. That's why I always wince when I find people wishing death on the fans of Twilight, Justin Beiber, or anything that's well outside of their demographic. People have a right to enjoy whatever books, music, and movies they want, and we should treat those that like things we hate like how we would want them to treat us.

    Then again, I'm probably way off. But whatever. I have garbage to write, so peace out.

    1. See, it's interesting because initially I had thought that yeah, surely it would have a narrow target demographic as well. And then you go look at the FimFiction page where it has 221k(!) views and that number is continuing to climb at a steady rate. So why so many? Is its target audience larger than what I had thought, or is its own infamy really dragging in *that* many people? And remember, this is a story where most things you read about it are negative, but that doesn't stop anyone reading it, it seems. So are they going in expecting to not like it? If so... then good lord.

      And it might be worth noting that that's just the FimFic views. Who knows how many the DA version had by itself before it was re-linked.

    2. Well, I would have agreed with you; I too thought that the target audience would have been quite small. But then I go and I look at the FimFiction page where it has 221k(!) views and that number is growing steadily. Is that view count indicative of a small target audience?

      And let's say for a second that it's not the result of being accessible to a large target audience: this is still a story where if you post about it, people will start ripping into it without mercy, saying how it's overrated and terrible. But yet people *still* read it, despite all this negativity. So is its own infamy drawing people in, all of whom are not expecting to like it? If so, good lord. Not many stories can claim that level of fame.

    3. I actually meant it had a small target when it was written. After all, the whole thing was created because someone said that a simple comic should be turned into a fic, and ROBCakeran53 decided to take up that challenge. Since then, however, mere word of mouth has spread news of its existence to every FiM-related site, to the point where it's almost like a rite of passage. Everyone has read My Little Dashie at least once in their time in this fandom, and every time someone new joins the herd, or an existing brony asks what fanfics to read, someone will point them in that direction.

      That's just it, though. The story wasn't meant to be placed on a pedestal and worshiped like it is. It was just a fic someone wrote because of a comic some people liked. But the first fans were vocal enough to get it spread out all over, and soon enough it was one of the most (in)famous stories ever written.

      At least Past Sins had an awesome cover image.

  3. I'm not personally that familiar with the group dynamics at play here, but it seems to me that there's at least one significant difference between Twilight and Twilight Sparkle fanfiction. The latter has resonance that the former does not; having only a passing familiarity with the books and movies, and no attachment or investment with any of the characters, Twilight could be the most awful thing ever or the greatest thing ever and yet I can remain indifferent.

    On the other hand, fanfiction purports to tell a story about characters to whom I have a great deal of attachment, and so like it or not each story becomes a part of how I think about them. A story in which Rainbow Dash is stripped of her memories, her personality, her friendships, her aspirations, her home, etc., to become the lonely dependent of a generic audience surrogate, produces a visceral reaction that Twilight could never cause.

  4. See, this is why I should have gone for the epic rant guest-post and not the review one. I'm not getting started on this, it would never end...

  5. No one is going to talk about the fact that star ratings on EqD have disappeared?

    1. Okay, fine, we'll talk about it.

      The problem is, Equestria Daily's star system has been more or less irrelevant in at least the last six-to-eight months. Back in the day, any story had a fair chance of reaching six stars (although as this blog has shown, not all of them necessarily deserved to be called the "best of the best"), regardless of genre, content, and tags. But since then, the entire site has been infested with star bombers who will gladly downrate any story that has a tag they don't like, or uses characters they don't like, or ships in a way that violates the fanon's OTP.

      That's what the root of the problem was. Stories that deserved to be looked at were getting ignored or bombed into oblivion by people who didn't even bother to read the fic, but just wanted to come by and bring the average rating down. It's also why they disabled downvoting on comments; it was being abused by morons who thought downvoting someone because they liked shipping or grimdark was funny.

      All the stories that had star tags still have the tags, so the reviews can (hopefully) continue. They are currently working on a couple possible replacements, including a thumbs up/down system like Fimfiction, or making people add star ratings to their comment posts. As it stands, it feels like most posters are fine with the stars gone, as long as an alternative way to get a "six star" tag is in place.

      And while I still think that aiming to have ever story be six stars is not a realistic goal, it's understandable why people still put so much faith in that tag, even after all the crap that has gone down. Stories with that rating are supposed to be samples of the best writing the community has to offer, and while they might be off the mark a couple of times, on average the tag is an easy way to find something worth reading. Not only that, but having a six star story is a badge of honor, or at least as much honor as you can get out of something like fanfiction. It's a status symbol, and is supposed to mean that your work was singled out by the brony community as one of the absolute best and is worthy of attention.

      So in the end, while I will miss stars, I hope whatever system they replace them with will still help pinpoint which fics are truly above and beyond the standards of the community.

    2. Unfortunately, people don't play nice, which is why no sort of rating system will ever work completely. I did enjoy EqD's star system, as it did somewhat help sort stories into tiers, and it wasn't hard to figure out which ones were low because of star bombing. Now people will peruse the comments to try and make that determination, and the comments aren't going to be any more informative. That fine line between Star-5 and Star-6 did seem fairly arbitrary at times, but writers did see it as a badge of pride to get the Star-5 at least. Now that quality isn't distinguishable from quantity at first blush, I have already seen authors boasting, "I have X number of fics on EqD" as their measure of greatness, even though I know the same stories rated well down in the Star-4 range with no bombers in sight. So, we've traded one inaccuracy for another, and in the end, it just validates Mystic's point: read whatever catches your eye and make your own judgment. Don't let someone else dictate your taste.

      I presume that Chris will keep going through the Star-6 list, so long as it remains a search category. I was really looking forward to/dreading my own turn in the hot seat in another eight months' time or so. If that is the case, then what after? Try to find the diamonds in the homogeneous pile of fics, or call it quits? I do hope you'll continue, as it's been interesting to see your take on these stories, and live somewhat vicariously through you, since I spend too much time reviewing to read any of these fics for myself.

  6. Some good points, Mystic. I've never been a fan of My Little Dashie and its ilk, largely because I view it as a form of pandering and wish fulfillment. It's popular because a lot of people see the description and thing, "Yeah, I'd like that. I'd like a pony."

    As for Past Sins... well, I've been on both sides of the fence. I read through it and enjoyed it, but had issues with some of the choices Pen Stroke made. He also, in my opinion, made some ill-considered edits in order to please his fans.

    But I've worked with him on other stories, and he's a gifted author. Past Sins is a bit of a wash, to me.