Fandom and the Frieza Effect

“You’re running out of time, Goku!”

Namek was ready to burst apart from its core. Fire roared up to the clouds, but still Goku refused to move while Frieza gathered more energy to use against him. The planet was about to die but still Goku would not run from the challenge. He wanted to fight Frieza when the tyrant was at his best. He wanted Frieza to know that he could give everything he had, and yet it would not be enough to beat a Super Saiyan.
This was the most iconic scene I watched as a child. It stunned me. It’s a scene I still love and watch in awe at. Goku could run, or could finish a weaker form of Freiza quickly before Namek died. He had options to end it quickly and flee from the planet and get to safety. Goku just didn’t care though. He wanted to beat Frieza when the villain was at his best; that would be the only real way to claim victory. This was Dragon Ball Z at its story-telling finest.
Fictional characters can have a profound impact on people. They can stay with audiences and inspire them. Growing up, I always wanted to be a mix of CJ Cregg and Doctor Mark Greene (specifically post-season five). They were caring and compassionate, and CJ was one of the only confident, successful (and also funny) women in TV when I was growing up. Although, I suspect I have turned into an angry mix of Vegeta, Toby Ziegler and Anya kom Trikru as my cynicism has taken hold. Most people have had characters they wish to aspire to, or characters they’ve otherwise admired. They may not be real, but they connect us with different facets of ourselves and sometimes even teach us more about ourselves than we ever could have imagined.
When I look at fandoms, I wonder if we are applying the right lessons. There are no Gokus in fandom. It is Frieza who rules. Frieza was a tyrant, who killed any opposition or free thinkers who might undermine him. He loathed anyone who didn’t sing his tune. He would kill simply because someone annoyed him, or because he was bored. Above all else, he hated a challenge – he was terrified of it – and was willing to destroy the planet Namek to be able to destroy the one person who had ever truly matched his power. Is this what fandom has become?
From Star Wars fans who made a version of The Last Jedi with all of the women edited out to Gamergate, there is a huge issue with fans trying to control franchises and crush anyone who isn’t ‘one of them’. The result is that fans who are queer, people of colour, disabled and/or women are regularly trolled. Producers and creators who don’t do what fans want can experience death threats and constant hate on Twitter. Queer fandoms aren’t immune to this either; while certain shows such as The 100 and Voltron screw up with representation through the bury your gays trope, it’s been used by some fans to send hate, death threats and campaigns for shows to be cancelled (in one case this is two years later and there is no thought for the other four queer characters in the show, nor the low paid production workers).
Like Tom Buchanan or Edward Rochester, fandoms have become about trying to control the products and people they think they are entitled to. Creators are at their mercy, sometimes when they haven’t done anything wrong. Lost’s ending was criticised by many fans for not giving enough answers, and still is to this day, but at least when it was aired social media was not quite at the heights it is now. Mass Effect 3 was not so fortunate. Developers BioWare changed its ending after a massive online backlash and while they did it in good faith to give a better ending to a trilogy to the fans they do respect, this was a moment that shifted the relationship forever between creator and audience. It is not BioWare’s fault. They were trolled, and antagonised until they felt they had no option but to change the ending. Fans have learnt from this and have used hate, threats and mob mentality to attack creators who don’t give them what they want, and other fans who seek to call out their behaviour or who aren’t their ideal of a ‘fan’, such as by not being white, allocishet or able-bodied. They would destroy their own products, and destroy their own communities if it meant they finally got to stick it to ‘identity politics’ and the creators who frustrate them.
Battlefield V received huge backlash online for including women in the game. One commenter said that next developers would be handing out “tampon trophies” in what I assume was supposed to be a witty reply. Sometimes, even when there are legitimate reasons for call-outs such as absolutely diabolical writing around sensitive issues or characters who are marginalised, good points are lost while a fandom wages war. It’s at its worst when ships are involved.
Fandoms should be a place where people can come together and connect over the stories they love. Yet, more often than not comments in groups are about the characters they hate or the characters they just want to see hook up. It is about destroying characters or controlling their sexuality. This is a discourse that dominates most groups and fandoms.

If only we were more like Goku. We could invite the best to our fandoms. Bring in fans, podcasters, YouTubers etc into our world. Come on, challenge us to a good debate. Ask developers are writers to do their best. Take on other gamers. Let’s see how your Junkrat stacks up against mine. But now, we have a monster ruling. One who wants to push everyone out, and never be challenged as well as ultimately, end up with control over their fictional universe. I want everyone at their best in fandoms but too many fans, just want to cause destruction.

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