If You Don't Like It, Then Stop Watching



I like to think that criticism is an important part of enjoying art and culture. It’s worth discussing how the culture we consume suffers from weaknesses or outright failures. It’s nice to know in advance whether a book or T.V. show or movie is worth investing your time and energy into before you read or watch it.

At some point however, the culture of criticism intersected with the culture of fandom. Criticism, instead of being a something undertaken dispassionately and objectively as possible, became something undertaken by people with a high-level of emotional attachment to the things they criticized.

When this happened, such criticism – whether it is espoused as such or purported to be the exact opposite – ceases to be about, “This story decision failed to hold the interest of the audience” or “The dialogue felt clunky here” and more about, “Well, that isn’t the way I would have done it,” or “I didn’t like it and therefore it’s objectively bad.”

What results has an apt name: toxic fandom.

Instead of acknowledging that the series/franchise/etc has gone in a different direction than their tastes or expectations and moving on, toxic fans double-down – they embed themselves in the discourse communities of a fanbase and argue that the series/franchise/etc is objectively bad.

Sometimes this intervention can be having a laugh at something epically bad (looking at you, Sonic the Hedgehog trailer), or more seriously, calling out something that’s racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise oppressive.

But most of the time the toxicity is just problematic, because the discourse communities where the toxic fans are dumping their garbage are the places where people who are actually enjoying the show have come to discuss and celebrate it in good spirits. The toxic fans can’t admit that their opinions are merely opinions, and instead frame their arguments in such a way that the enthusiastic fans are made to feel wrong about their fandom.

The solution is simple: if you don’t like something, stop watching it.

Or at the very least, stop engaging in communities of fandom. But if the series/franchise/etc really is “ruined”, as you say, then what are you gaining by continuing to watch and participate in discourse other than ruining the fun of others?

I speak from experience. As a music major in university, I gained an understanding of the enormous depth of classical and jazz – a depth that doesn’t exist in a lot of popular music – so I spent a lot of time slagging on genres of music that I didn’t think constituted “high art”. As someone who grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy, I was part of the mob of nerds that delighted in underscoring the failings of the prequels. I thought that I could “educate” people about the difference between good and bad culture.

I still strive to expose people (and myself) to art and culture beyond their norms, but when you start slagging the things people enjoy because you yourself don’t enjoy them or think they have value, the only thing you’re doing is fostering animosity and shame.

I should underscore: No one is saying you can’t have an opinion.

  • Maybe you don’t like the newest Star Wars trilogy? That’s fine.

  • Maybe you didn’t like the direction Rick and Morty went with in Season 3 (when characters finally called out Rick’s mental illness and abusive tendencies)? That’s your opinion, man.

  • Maybe you’re so insecure with your masculinity that you can’t watch a Ghostbusters movie with four women in it? Whatever, you do you…

  • Maybe you really, REALLY didn’t like this season of Game of Thrones and you think it’s the worst season evar (somehow conveniently forgetting how much rape and sexploitation there was in the middle seasons)? Well, okay.

But don’t come to our subreddits or our newsfeeds with your hate. Don’t write endless thinkpieces about Why This Objectively Didn’t Work Because It’s Not What I Expected. It’s clear that plenty of people are enjoying this who aren’t you.

And lastly, if you’re reading this on my Twitter and Facebook and are about to fire off an angry comment or tweet about how I have personally attacked you, please don’t. This isn’t about you. This is about the ability of fans to enjoy the things we like without feeling like there’s an army of trolls constantly slagging those things. There will always be (respectful) criticism, and there will (sadly) probably always be trolls. But you don’t have to be in their army.

Just let fans enjoy their stuff.