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]