The Insanity of Warring Fandoms
It’s an age-old question: Are you Team Brenda or Team Kelly? And if you dare to ask it in a “Beverly Hills, 90210” fan group, be aware you might set off World War III. Because even though the iconic teen drama ended nearly 21 years ago, the debate rages on.
This is the insanity of warring fandoms.
It’s an issue not just limited to “Beverly Hills, 90210” fans or the teen drama genre. It persists across pop culture, from Marvel stans versus DC fanatics to Beliebers versus Selenators — hell, even LeBron James fans versus Stephen Curry followers. And it’s gotten worse each passing year thanks to social media.
In the early 2000s, I frequently posted on the AOL message board for “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I regularly made the case for why Dylan belonged with Kelly, why Kelly wasn’t a slut, and so on and so forth. I dished it out and I got it right back from Brenda fans. Roughly 10 years later, I was caught up in similar arguments about Brooke versus Peyton on SOAPnet’s “One Tree Hill” message board. Soon after I swore to myself: No more. No good comes from endlessly rehashing what went down on such and such television show and who belongs with who. So I abandoned posting in fan groups and I stayed out of shipping wars for a number of years.
But as I started lurking in some Facebook groups over the last 6-12 months, I was really disturbed by what I saw. These debates were still going on! And people were being vicious! I couldn’t believe the back-and-forth on post after post, the comments that were downright immature, and the arguments that would go in circles. I’ve made it a point to only observe these “discussions,” no matter what counterpoints I could offer, because I learned a long time ago that nothing good comes from these fights. Minds aren’t going to be changed. And perhaps most significantly, it doesn’t really matter. These shows are over. Their outcomes are final. Dylan ended up with Kelly. Lucas drove off into the sunset with Peyton. Case closed. It doesn’t really matter what you believe should’ve happened. It only matters what did happen.
And yet around and around people go, having the same arguments ad nauseam. Every time I see someone make a new post that’s some version of “Do you prefer Dylan with Kelly or Brenda?” I cringe. Here we go again! Pandora’s box has been opened!
Is no one else exhausted by it like I am? Actually, at least one fellow fan is. While I was doing research for this essay a few weeks ago, I stumbled across this tweet:
Can I get an amen?!
Certainly I’m all for reliving the teen dramas — it’s why TeenDramaWhore exists! — and I am a shipper at heart, but the ongoing relationship debates are simply pointless. Maybe they reflect how much the shows mean to people, how seriously people take the couplings. But maybe they also reflect poorly on the people who engage in such inane conversations.
I regularly witness not just a lack of maturity, but also a lack of common sense. Yes, Kelly and Dylan are my all-time favorite couple. But you know who my second all-time favorite couple is? That would be Kelly and Brandon. These things are not mutually exclusive. We are allowed to like more than one pairing. And we don’t have to be at odds with other fandoms. When I participated in the “Beverly Hills 90210 Show” podcast’s episode on “the triangle” last September, I made it a point to stress that I’m not against Brenda and Dylan. It was also important to me that such a discussion, even one in which we were all making points and counterpoints, be grounded in respect.
The amount of tweets I see day in and day out in which various fan groups are tearing one another apart is mind-boggling. In a 2018 piece titled, “The Fall of Fandom Etiquette and the Rise of the Ship War,” the author wrote about how even TV and film creators have seen supporters turn on them for daring to take a story in a different direction or offer insight that goes against viewers’ preconceived notions. This was also observed in a 2016 Vox article, “Social justice, shipping, and ideology: when fandom becomes a crusade, things get ugly,” where it’s pointed out that “fans merely rooting for their favorite characters to get together has somehow evolved into ideological warfare.”
And again, this issue doesn’t only exist in the world of television. Just last month, The New York Times examined warring fandoms as it relates to the music industry. In the article, “How Pop Music Fandom Became Sports, Politics, Religion and All-Out War,” the author explained:
“This was pop fandom in 2020: competitive, arcane, sales-obsessed, sometimes pointless, chaotic, adversarial, amusing and a little frightening — all happening almost entirely online. While music has long been intertwined with internet communities and the rise of social networks, a growing faction of the most vocal and dedicated pop enthusiasts have embraced the term ‘stan’ — taken from the 20-year-old Eminem song about a superfan turned homicidal stalker — and are redefining what it means to love an artist.
On what is known as Stan Twitter — and its offshoots on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Tumblr and various message boards — these devotees compare No. 1s and streaming statistics like sports fans do batting averages, championship wins and shooting percentages. They pledge allegiance to their favorites like the most rabid political partisans or religious followers. They organize to win awards show polls, boost sales and raise money like grass roots activists. And they band together to pester — or harass, and even dox — those who may dare to slight the stars they have chosen to align themselves with.”
If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is. It begs the question: When does fan engagement become toxic? Certainly none of this can be considered healthy. And while I recognize that at least some of the people typifying this kind of behavior are, essentially, kids who still have a lot of growing up to do, a lot of us are grown adults. Isn’t it time we start acting like it?
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Thank you and amen!