I was never part of a clique. All I had other than a handful of friends were the science fiction and fantasy books I loved to read, Dungeons & Dragons, and heavy metal music. Little communities I felt part of, separate from those who shunned me in everyday life. I never felt others should be prevented from enjoying these things; the more people I had things in common with, the better. So even though, more than two decades later, I still read SF, still play tabletop RPGs, (my taste in music has since greatly expanded, thankfully), I reiterate that I was never in a clique. A clique is exclusive. It forbids entry to those it considers beneath them. It rescinds membership to any who might be interested but simply doesn’t understand every aspect of said clique’s minutiae.
Many of today’s fandoms contain people who view their favorite films, comics, games, or books as just another clique. To hell with the mundanes who assume they are fans. I know most fans aren’t like this, but enough are to become noticeable. Enough to make the rest of us look bad. They remind me of the cliques in high school that regarded themselves as superior to everyone else—with just as much maturity.
The current outcry over the 13th Doctor getting cast as a woman, the bitching about Ed Sheeran having a cameo in Game of Thrones Season 7, or the vitriol regarding Idris Elba portraying the Gunslinger in the new Dark Tower movie—it all sounds like a bunch of children squabbling over a pie they have always claimed is available to everyone. Star Trek fans say their fandom represents that future utopian society yet some complain when two women of color are cast in the lead roles for the new show Discovery. Star Wars fans love to imagine battling an evil empire in a galaxy featuring countless alien species, but some got butthurt when a POC was cast as a stormtrooper in The Force Awakens. And don’t get me started on the comics industry.
A lot of this can be blamed on simple bigotry and misogyny. Racism and sexism are alive and well in the 21st century, but often in places no one would have suspected. But the more I talk to other writers, the more I learn that this behavior has went on for quite some time. Since I wasn’t among those typically shunned from SF (women, people of color, LGBT people), I never realized how deep some of this went. It’s certainly made me rethink how I see the SF genre and the things I’ve enjoyed for years. How my interest and involvement in them has never been questioned, while the inclusion of others is.
Hey, I get it. You bonded with a certain movie, story, or character that helped you understand yourself and provided insulation from the horrors of the world outside. Something that seemed truly yours, that only you understood. This thing has been there for you when nobody else was. When you laid alone at night, shunned by all else, you still had this one thing that offered comfort and escape. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Telling someone else they can’t have the same thing is not only wrong, it’s hypocritical. It’s selfish. It reveals a lack of empathy, for if this one thing gives you comfort, you wish to keep others from feeling the same. Where you might have turned to fandom to deal with the sanctimoniousness of other cliques, you have contributed to the very same behavior. You assume this identity is yours alone, and all others are thieves, pretenders, or those wishing to use that identity to further a political agenda. But if you’re the one complaining, or trying to prohibit others from finding solace in what you like, you’re the one with the agenda.
The easy thing is to tell these people ‘you should live up to the ideals of your heroes’. That they missed the true message behind Star Trek, Steven Universe, Doctor Who, and others. Sometimes you block them on social media, and in some cases that can’t be avoided. But they never learn what their real problem is as a result.
The real problem is that they don’t understand—or accept—that their hero, their ideal, their one shining thing, can inspire and comfort someone else. Not just them. No single person, group, or community owns these fictional worlds and characters. They belong to all of us. It doesn’t matter if their gender or skin color changes. As long as these worlds and characters remain true to what they represent, what they inspired, then nothing has fundamentally changed. They are the new mythology and change with the times.
They change because we do. Because some of us need them to.