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”.
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.
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.
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.)
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.