In Defence of Fandom Punching Bags

There’s always that one character that gets a barrel of fan hatred dumped on them. Always, without question. It’s one of those rule of the universe things (others include: if you drop toast it will always land spread side down and get covered in carpet fluff and cat hair, if your infallible washing machine that has worked for 20 years ever breaks down it will be when you desperately need it, and if it’s possible for a cat to do, there are at least ten videos of it on YouTube).

Upon inspection, however, I’ve begun to wonder what exactly it is that magnetises so much bitterness towards these fictional people, especially from the loudest demographic of most fandoms: the young adult female bloggers.

Let’s begin with the example of Sansa Stark of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. I have yet to delve into the intricacies of this series and its fandom but from the periphery (tumblr is a wonderful thing) I can see that there’s not a lot of love for her. In fact, she’s one of the least popular people in the series, and the subject of a lot of whinery, mostly centring around the fact that she is “whiny” “shallow” “useless” and “annoying”.

Sansa Stark

It’s because she’s ginger, isn’t it?

Here’s what I do know about Sansa: she is a thirteen year old girl who is very feminine and basically just wants to be a pretty princess (before she gets her coming-of-age-oh-God-that-guy-cut-my-dad’s-head-off story arc) and her only crime thus far has been being docile and cute and blind to the fact that her fiancé is ONE OF THE MOST HORRIBLE CHARACTERS EVER CREATED.

She is a bit wet compared to the other badass ladies in the series, but that’s alright because we need diversity to make the world believable. And besides, she gets her time to shine when she’s trapped at court with the aforementioned WORST HUMAN BEING IN EXISTENCE ON PAPER AND SCREEN and his scheming mother, and all the other assholes hanging around. She doesn’t whip out a bunch of swords and tear the place down, because that isn’t in her character, but she stays strong and steadfast despite being the utter victim in the situation and is actually rather clever. So why the hate?

Another example I immediately think of is Elizabeth from Black Butler. She is optimistic and cute and rather feminine and generally breathes and sweats sparkles. She’s flamed in the fanbase for being “annoying” “whiny” “useless” and… hang on, did I copy and paste that from Sansa’s paragraph by mistake? No, okay, moving on.

Lizzy’s main motivation, as we see thus far, is to protect and take care of the boy she’s betrothed to… hang on, I’m repeating myself. No, that’s definitely Lizzy, not Sansa. Anyway, 90% of the (predominately female) fandom can’t stand her, and wish she didn’t exist.

Lizzy Middleford

Saved by the swordplay

Then her secret skills in swordplay are revealed and suddenly a bunch of people are all “Oh, Lizzy’s great now!” despite her motivation to protect Ciel remaining the same. I was a little confused at that, but at least the dear was getting respect.

In the bizarre wibbly-wobbly wilderness that is the Doctor Who fanbase, it’s been worked out that Martha Jones is the least popular companion. Even people I have talked to personally point out that she was a bit of a docile wet fish who was far too fixated on her crush on the Doctor. She was, in fact, clever but not very physically strong (until later on where she got badass), and did spend a large portion of the series sighing quietly at her unrequited love for a man. She is very few people’s favourite companion character.

Then, amidst the Madoka Magica fans, a traditionally chilled-out bunch, if there’s one character that does get a bashing it is Sayaka, a girl who (while also being strong-willed and physically capable) was sent in a downward spiral into despair because she wished to heal and help the boy she was in love with.

Am I going crazy, or am I seeing a pattern here?

So the formula seems to be: people don’t like young women/girls who are motivated by love, despite whatever else they may have going for them. Or rather, the people within these groups of fiction enthusiasts, who (from the loudest demographic, anyway) are for the most part young women themselves.

The thing is, in the Doctor Who crowd that is made of adolescent females, you will very often see fawning and fangirling over the lead character (in whichever incarnation). Which is fine. Let it never be said that oogling actors and fictional characters is a bad thing. But things begin to taste a bit sour when, right next to a fan sighing and key-smashing over David Tennant, is a groan about how irritating Martha is for doing the exact same thing.

Martha Jones

“Really? Really?”

Is this the problem? Do we hate to recognise ourselves in characters? I thought that was something to be treasured, when you could relate to one of them? What is the sense in rolling our eyes at and bashing a character that mirrors the traits of the fans themselves?

Is it because fans are embarrassed to see their own affection-centric behaviour take form in the show or series they adore so much? Should we just rule out all love interests ever because they make the fangirls uncomfortable? Perhaps that would be the sensible thing. In many fan groups, people react nastily to these girls because they get in the way of the favourite pairing.

This could have been the vice against Martha, for adding an unnecessary third point to the already popular relationship between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, and is definitely the case with Lizzy, who has been demonised (quite an irony, considering one of the lead characters in her series is literally a demon) by the fans for acting as a roadblock in the flow of homoerotic subtext. You can’t mess with the slash pairings, or those who partake in them can get rather cross.

It may also be the reason that there are virtually no lead characters on Supernatural with more than one X chromosome, seeing as the fandom just has so much fun playing with the idea of Dean and Castiel getting together (and Dean and Sam… yes, that’s a thing. They call it Wincest).

(If you think you’re unsafe in the real world as a woman, pray to whatever you may believe in that you’re never transported to the Supernatural universe, because you’ll be dead within the hour.)

Mary Winchester... on fire

A tradition that begins strongly in the first ten minutes of the show!

Guys. Guys. A character can be motivated strongly by love and still be a decent character. They can still be tough and save the day, they can still have a place in the plot, and whether they are physically strong or not, feeling affection for someone does not write them off as “useless”.

Understandably, we can all get a bit peeved with girls who do nothing but fawn over their heroes and faint and get kidnapped, because we’re all a bit over that by this point in the 21st Century. But completely ignoring the merits and complexities of a character just to beat them up for being traditionally girly and having a crush on someone that mirrors that of a lot of the viewers (Sansa’s case excluded, because I am making the very audacious but understandable assumption that nobody has a thing for Joffrey, because WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT) is just plain silly.

This is not every fan of these series, obviously. Everyone likes different things and will see charm in different characters. But to those that make the harsh judgements and use these young women as their personal punching bags without solid reason, I have my beady eye on you.


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

19 responses to “In Defence of Fandom Punching Bags

  1. Alyssa

    Another thing I think is a factor – especially with the Sansa and Elizabeth examples – is that we are trained to think that the “strong” women are the women who wield swords and beat people up. The “tomboy princess” is an astoundingly popular, largely celebrated trope. However, the flipside – the docile, feminine woman – is largely ignored, deemed “weak” and “traditional,” and portrayed negatively compared to their rebellious counterparts. This ties in with the “relatability” issue, too – if you are a normal teenage girl, who would you most relate to? Sansa. Elizabeth.

    And yet they’re hated. But Sansa’s sword-wielding, realist, sarcastic, prepubescent assassin sister is touted as the best character in ASOIAF and is wildly popular with the fans, while the Elizabeth hate lessened after her skill with a sword was released (which felt like a cop-out).

    • That’s a really good point. It’s what I talked about in another recent post (Kicking Ass in Pink High Heels), funnily enough, which is this puke reaction we’ve grown as a society against traditionally feminine things and traits. Which is stupid, because supposedly physically strong and badass female characters are the greatest sign of feminism in fiction ever, and they’re all very well, but they come with the flipside that people seem to despise girl characters that actually act like girls, which come to think of it is not actually celebrating the power of women at all.

      I don’t think Lizzy’s sword skills were a cop-out, because her badassery is foreshadowed enough if you’re looking for it (I mean, meet her freakin’ mother!) but it did annoy me that the fandom’s reaction was largely a glassy-eyed “Oh, we like Lizzy now because she’s a badass!” when her motivation remained exactly the same. Would the same thing happen if Sansa popped swords and went to town on everybody? Why can’t we just enjoy the diversity of characters and accept that feminine girls can be decent likeable people and CAN coexist with the Aryas of the world?

  2. Exactly. Ugh, thank you for pointing this out. I’m a bit Doctor Who fan, and after I watched Martha’s round of episodes all I wanted to do was talk to people on Tumblr about her like I emphatically did with Rose before. I was extremely surprised to find out that everyone there hated Martha, mostly because they thought she was motivated solely by her crush on the Doctor. SHE WAS A GOOD CHARACTER, I TELL YOU. And everyone else hates her–because she was like them, I guess.

    I don’t know. Just writing a comment because usually people like comments on posts, and also because you run a crazy good blog and deserve comments. So. 😛

    • Well deduced, I adore comments! I noticed the same thing about Martha (hence the post) which really wasn’t fair, because she had so much more character beyond her crush on the Doctor which was pointedly ignored by many. Martha wasn’t my favourite, but that was simply because all the companions are such great characters and it’s difficult to pick (though I remain with Donna :L). I find it irritating to the ends of the earth when people disregard all aspects of a character and just focus on their romantic aspects! It’s like, come on dudes. Don’t be afraid to look a little deeper.

  3. This so much! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Ouran High School Host Club, but one of the characters in that show/manga – the club’s “manager”, Renge Houshakuji – gets such an innordinate amount of hate. She is a loud, outspoken otaku who believed she was Kyouya’s fiancee because she was addicted to a dating sim who looked like him (she is in fact the ultimate OHSHC fangirl); but fans (who act in exactly the same way) hate her guts because they find her really annoying. It’s so weird to me because I really like her – she’s smarter than she looks, headstrong and actually works really well with Kyouya after the whole fiancee fiasco.

    I really dislike the culture of hating female characters for being “annoying and whiny”. I think one of the only characters who actually warrants that kind of dislike is Orihime from Bleach, because she really is a very useless character and literally is only there to serve as a plot device/boobs/love interest maybe. But there aren’t honestly many characters that are like that in most popular series/shows these days that I can think of, though.

    • The OHSHC one is a really good example! Wow, thanks for that

      Yes yes yes, it is excruciatingly annoying when people cast characters off like this. What is the fandom’s problem with them, really? It’s kind of disturbing that there’s such a great hatred for female characters in general within predominantly female fanbases, especially in ratio to male characters. Do we just hate women? Is that it? It’s pretty weird and irrational.

  4. So much this. All I have to add is:Ginny Weasley. Who curiously is hhated by half the fandom for having been once a 10-year-old with a crush, and disliked by another sizable group for *not* longer being a 10-year-old with a crush 😦
    Particularly sad when you compare her character growth to Neville’s – his is practically all offscreen, yet he is badass and she is a Mary Sue.

    • That’s another good example (you guys are great!). I don’t remember much of Ginny from my Harry Potter days, funnily enough, but I do know that she does cop a lot of hate for being, again, the love interest, mostly from people who wanted Harry to end up with Hermione/Luna/Draco/whatever. There are many bizarre intricacies to the Harry Potter fanbase that I personally haven’t explored but she certainly fits the bill for being grouped with these other unfortunate girls who are either slut-shamed or whined about for being irritating, and, as you say, have that unfortunate and often misguided phrase “Mary Sue” flung at them.

  5. Kim

    I liked Sayaka.

    Sansa… well, sansa IS shallow. And we get to see Tyrion’s pain. And, god knows, Tyrion doesn’t deserve much more pain. And they’d both be better off for being together.

    • Sayaka is one of my favourites. I love her story arc even though it tears out my heart and feeds it to the cat.

      From what I’ve seen of the show, Sansa isn’t a shallow character (because ALL of Martin’s characters are ridiculously complex and I have no idea how he does it because there are about a million of them) she’s just a pre-teen girl that acts like a pre-teen girl, and people get annoyed with that because that it what pre-teen girls who aren’t plucky heroines seem to do to audiences. She also doesn’t get an awful lot of screentime in comparison to some of the others so she could be perceived as not having much depth, but for the most part I’d have to disagree.

  6. Sansa starts off as a shallow and annoying character but eventually, she is developing a strong guile and cunning. I still do not like her compared to her badass sister arya or the evil queen cersei, but I think that a character like her perfectly fits into the plot: ASOIAF owes much of its success to the great variety and diversity of characters that the author chose to create.
    In addition, I prefer visibly flawed characters such as whiney Sansa to patent mary sues (the stormborn, mother of dragons, silver queen of essos and westerns).

    • I agree, they needed a traditionally feminine and weak female character to balance off all the cunning and badassery, or the world wouldn’t be believable. You can, after all, have a strong character who isn’t literally strong. She has flaws and weaknesses and this is what makes her three-dimensional. And, as you say, she develops and grows in her own character arc, which is what is meant to happen.

      HAHA of the many fancy titles Dany accumulates, I wouldn’t call her a mary sue. She’s got her problems too, though she is a bit a golden heroine–fair enough though, since her story is one of overcoming the shittiness of society and she’s had to develop from a meek little thing who got pushed around a lot to get there.

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