Ghostbusters and Fandom Toxicity

Sitting through Ghostbusters, I was reminded how powerful and inspiring fandom can be. These four empowering females, each with their own skill sets and personalities battle against ghosts, gender discrimination, and the patriarchy. Aside from being uproariously funny and visually intoxicating, this all-new Ghostbusters gives an empowering representation to not only females in the fictional ghostbusting field, but also females as scientists. So why has there been so much hate for a film that no one has seen yet? That's a damn good question.

If you're a fan of a certain TV show, film franchise or even comic book series, you'll know that meeting like-minded fans is one of the most rewarding experiences. Whether it's at a convention or just on the street, you immediately feel an instant connection or kinship to someone who shares the same love of that specific fandom. Each of you may love the fandom for different reasons, but you feel united and maybe even safe under this shared experience. That is the true power of fandom, but recently it has started to sour.

Fandoms are not like sports team where you need to aggressively defend them in a hyper-masculine manner. As we are seeing with more frequency, the worst enemy to any fandom are the fans. Take Ghostbusters for example: as soon as an all female cast was announced for the film, there was backlash from fans of the originals. Not because they were rebooting the franchise but because many fans believed women couldn't and shouldn't be Ghostbusters. This was when the franchise's fandom showed its thinly veiled misogyny and sexism. This isn't the first time people react immensely negatively to the news that characters of their favorite fandoms have had their gender, race, or even sexual orientation changed.

I can still recall how outraged "fans" were when they heard that Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four was going to be played by black actor Michael B. Jordan. Then there's the controversy over Iceman from the X-Men coming out as gay. Let's not forget how people reacted to the news that the new Ms. Marvel was going to be a young, Arab-American female and also a Muslim. There was even anger over the casting of Hermione Granger as a black woman in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Apparently, the trigger for some fans is change, but it should never be.

Change is a necessary part of life. Sometimes you need try new food to expand your flavor palette. Sometimes you need to spice up your sex life by introducing new elements. Then there are other times where you need to completely upgrade everyday elements in your life, like clothes, in order to keep up with society. In that way, fandom is like your favorite fandom T-shirt. Sure, it fits comfortably and you already know it to be reliable. After years of being worn, it may not hold up as well as it did when you first got it. Holes are exposed, permanent stains may be present, and perhaps your own changes may have altered the way it fits on you. This is when you consider upgrading it to another shirt of the same fandom, one that represents how you and your fandom have changed throughout the years. You'll still probably keep the older shirt out of sentimental value, but you are open to embracing the possibilities of the new one.

One thing most fans have to realize is that change is essential to keep fandoms relevant and compelling. You need to stop viewing changes concerning race, sexual orientation, and gender as personal attacks, and start viewing the for what they truly are: attempts at inclusion. After the first Ghostbusters film, the franchise took a turn. The very inferior sequel only added to the already cascading fall into obscurity and cult status that would lead us not to see another Ghostbusters film for over 25 years. There have been several failed iterations of the franchise with TV shows, comic books, and video games, but they all lacked the gravitas the films had, so their impact was minimal. This new reboot of the franchise attempts to bridge the gender divide created by the original films while being more inclusive and even trying to fix the terrible depiction of women as sexual objects that plagues the first two films.

If you're already a fan of a franchise and see yourself (as a probably cisgender heterosexual white male) represented in your fandom, you might not see why it needs to change to be more inclusive. As a gay person of color, I rarely ever see representation of myself in fandoms, but I seem to be faced with the same explanation from other people: "It was a different time back then." This is used to try to explain away the lack of diversity in older fandoms like Ghostbusters and Fantastic Four. This "time" they are referring to is our storied past where racial diversity was non-existent and unimportant, and anything even slightly deviating from heterosexuality was silenced and seen as taboo. It's fine to blame the lack of diversity on the "time" when it first came out, but using it as a crutch for not correcting that problem in the present is inexcusable.

The best example I can think of for a franchise that has evolved past its less than diverse roots is X-Men. They continue to have successful comic book story arcs, TV show iterations, and a strong film presence even though it all started with five straight white males and one straight white female. It has since become the beacon of diversity every franchise should hope to be, introducing staple characters like Storm and Jubilee. It has also managed to remain socially relevant, and that is one of the biggest reasons it's so pervasive and profitable. Yes, being more inclusive and showing a more diverse representation also has some great marketing opportunities, which means companies will make sure your fandom grows larger the more money they can make off of it. It seems cynical, but if it eventually leads to seeing a gay, first-generation Mexican-American in my favorite TV show or comic book, then it's completely worth it.

The bottom line is that stagnation is the death of fandom. If it stays the same too long, it will eventually become stale and fade to black. If it refuses to flow with the current of social change, then it will see everything flow past it, leaving it in the past. Unfairly judging a work purely based on changes you haven't seen in full effect is damaging to your favorite fandom. All the unbridled and unwarranted early hate surrounding Ghostbusters could easily have a negative financial impact on a film that is actually pretty good. For those people who plan on boycotting the film purely based on something as inclusive as a gender swap, perhaps your fandom doesn't deserve a resurgence. It's a real shame, especially for the young children who will see this film and be inspired by its science or the sheer depiction of female scientists and Ghostbusters. They're the ones who this new iteration of Ghostbusters is for and it's unfortunate the fandom veterans are attempting to ruin it.