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An Open Letter to the Horror Community — And All Other Fandoms, For That Matter

I don’t know if this is a controversial position — or, ugh, a “hot take,” one of the worst things about the internet at the moment — but it has dawned on me that the idea of a community or fandom built around a single shared interest is getting to the point where I think it’s dividing people more than bringing them together. There’s been a lot of talk about so-called “toxic fandoms,” and my own feeling is that fandoms are kinda, sorta…inherently toxic.

I never bought into the notion that having one shared interest with someone, regardless of how passionate you are about it or how big a part of your life it is, necessarily means that you’ll have anything else in common with that person. That’s why I’ve always been hesitant to refer to myself as a member of the “horror community” or any other fandom despite often contributing to discussions within certain self-proclaimed communities. The way that people talk about such communities and fandoms like they’re monolithic structures has always bothered me. Because in all of these cases, you have people who take it upon themselves to use their influence within that community — whether on social media or otherwise — to appoint themselves quasi-spokespeople for the whole group, which inevitably leads to schismatic factions all claiming to represent the “true” fans.

This isn’t to say that a sense of community isn’t important, but especially for an interest like horror that has historically attracted a diverse array of outsiders with fiercely individualistic personalities, it would be counterintuitive to speak of such an assortment of people as a singular community with a shared set of values. And that goes for any fandom, whether it’s Star Wars, comic books, or whatever. The truth is that there are a ton of fellow horror fans I really get along with, and there are also a ton I can’t stand.

And that’s okay.

Horror — as well as any other interest or hobby — is definitely a great way to bond with other people, but a shared interest in it is certainly not a surefire indicator that I’m going to like anyone. And unfortunately, I fear we’ve become conditioned lately to think that having one thing in common with someone means that everything they say and do is by extension a reflection of your own character. Modern fandom mentality always leads to different people who are only brought together by usually just one shared interest eventually competing with each other in an ill-conceived attempt to claim ownership of that interest. But nobody owns horror. Nobody owns Star Wars (well…I mean, technically Disney does, but nobody owns Star Wars fandom). And I really resent that as a horror fan I’ve been grouped in with things I haven’t agreed with just because the “horror community” has been linked to them.

What’s even worse is that I’ve seen people within this supposed community abandon principles they claim to hold at the drop of a hat in order to defend someone else in the community who’s clearly in the wrong, but their loyalty to the community supersedes that, and all of a sudden it’s a matter of defending horror itself even when that’s not the issue. We think we all have to be on the same page at all times, but we don’t. You don’t have to like everyone else who’s into the same movies as you, the same music as you, or anything else.

Here’s something that I think qualifies as one of those “tough pills to swallow” things that people have been making memes about (actually, are they still doing that? I deleted all of my social media six months ago, so for all I know that’s already a really outdated reference):

Your interests — even the ones that mean the most to you — don’t say as much about you as you probably think they do.

People act like there are a few groups you can pick from — a few hashtags to identify with — and that will account for your entire identity. If you’re limiting your entire identity to a few or often even just one interest that you have, I really don’t know what to say to you. You’re just wrong. Pure and simple. You’re wrong. Of course I’ve lightheartedly said things like “horror is my life” to stress how important it is to me, but obviously I don’t actually consider my love of horror to account for my entire identity. I don’t automatically like anyone else who likes horror just as much as I do. And I don’t think anyone should like me just because I like horror. Human connections and relationships are way deeper and more nuanced than that, and I don’t mean to call anyone out, but I sometimes get the impression that certain people don’t realize that, or at least don’t want to acknowledge it.

One thing that used to drive me crazy when I was on Twitter (granted, most things did) was when I saw someone complaining about people they follow — and by the way, they chose to follow these people — talking about topics other than the one, single interest they started following them for, whether it be personal stuff, politics, or whatever. There are actually people in the “horror community,” and I’m sure every other fandom as well, who actually resent the fact that others in the community don’t talk exclusively about horror. And it’s not just a matter of people tweeting “I’m sick of hearing about politics” or something like that, which is fine if that’s your own tweet and that’s how you feel. I’m talking about the behavior of people who comment on others’ posts to tell them to stop talking about politics. Do you realize they’re an actual person? That they’re not just a bot that was programmed to keep you entertained on the few subjects you want to discuss? If you don’t like what someone else is posting on their social media account, it seems to me that the simplest solution would be to unfollow them. You don’t get to tell people what they should and shouldn’t be discussing on their own accounts.

But therein lies the problem: so many people identify so strongly with their chosen fandom or community that they become blinded to the individuality of others within it. And that’s where the fighting starts, because the line of thinking is “I’m a huge horror fan, therefore I’m part of the horror community, but other people who claim to be in the horror community are saying things I don’t like, don’t agree with, or am not interested in, so I’m going to call them out for it because I don’t want people associating me with that.” Not wanting to be associating with things or views you don’t like is completely understandable, but the problem isn’t that there are people in your community who don’t belong there, it’s that your community doesn’t really exist. Or at least not in the way that a lot of people act like it does. I obviously don’t want to be associated with views I disagree with just because I share a common interest with the person expressing those views, but the solution isn’t to convince them that they’re not a “real” fan; it’s to come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as one, big, overarching, all-inclusive horror community. Or any other fandom. At best, there can be small clubs built around these interests, but to suggest that every horror fan is intrinsically, inherently part of some larger community with a single, shared set of values that defines who they are as human beings is ridiculous. The concept of a community of people bonding over a shared interest is great in theory, but especially now that social media is the dominant form of communication, people need to realize that there’s no way any one interest — especially one as vast and broad as horror — can define a person.

I know that fandoms have been around much longer than social media, but the difference between modern fandoms and fandoms of old is that those fan clubs (which is what they used to be called for the most part) weren’t in constant contact with each other. They’d either meet occasionally to talk about their shared interest at conventions, and was really all the communication they’d have, or they’d discuss these interests on message boards that were specifically created to talk exclusively about that one subject. So in those cases, people were actually bonding over one interest, because they weren’t put in positions where they’d have to talk to them about anything else. And it seems like that’s how a lot of people still want it to be. But since we’re now communicating via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all these other broader social media platforms, you’re not just seeing what people have to say about your shared interest; you’re seeing everything they say about everything. Rather than just accepting that not everyone who likes horror, comic books, Star Trek, or whatever else you’re passionate about is someone you’re going to get along with, it seems like a lot of people have resorted to claiming ownership of that interest and laying out the rules for liking it. Gatekeeping, in other words. Except that it’s not even just the kind of elitist gatekeeping that leads to attitudes like “if you were really into comics, you’d know so-and-so from issue whatever.” It’s reaching beyond the interest itself into things like political beliefs, sexuality, gender, and race, and that’s where it becomes a real problem. Because then statements like “Star Wars fans are misogynistic,” which seem like broad generalizations on the surface, start to gain a certain level of validity in terms of public perception, and then there’s a stigma attached to even liking Star Wars because some misogynistic assholes loudly proclaimed ownership of the fandom. Tens of millions — maybe hundreds of millions, I don’t know — of people are into Star Wars. And no offense to Star Wars fans, but liking Star Wars doesn’t say anything about you. Nor should you expect it to, which is my point. That goes for any other interest.

Certainly, I know how much these things can mean to you. As someone with very few friends myself, I know how important your passions and hobbies can be and how personally you can take them, but they don’t define you. You define yourself. You can attach yourself to larger communities, but that doesn’t mean you speak for that community, nor does it mean that anyone else in that community speaks for you. If you like horror as I do, it’s great to find other people with whom you can talk about it, but it doesn’t mean you have to be friends with or even like everyone else who’s into horror. With the way things are, sometimes it feels like the influencers on social media who have essentially assumed the roles of leaders in this community are alienating people in it. That’s not because these ostensible leaders are the wrong people to be representing horror. It’s because nobody should be put in the position to represent the entirety of horror fandom. It’s not a company that needs a CEO. It’s not a state that needs a governor. It’s a shared interest. One singular shared interest. It doesn’t say anything about you that you like horror other than, well, that you like horror.

If the “horror community” gets to the point where it’s considered toxic or problematic — which it will, because as I said earlier, all fandoms inevitably do — it won’t be because liking horror is toxic or problematic. It’ll be because a few people who thought they spoke for everyone else decided to use something as simple as a shared taste in pop culture to devise a group to effectively buy horror fandom in that most despicable of currency: social media influence. That’s what happens to every fandom. The people who garner the most attention get to decide the overall character of what it means to like something. So suddenly, liking anime doesn’t just mean you like anime; it means you think a certain way, behave a certain way, and believe certain things. Of course, it doesn’t really mean that, but that’s now what a lot of others assume it means, and their assumptions get passed onto you if you like anime. Because a lot of people have this warped mentality whereby they feel something that they like is tainted if people they don’t like also like it. So essentially, they’re seeking exclusive rights to liking something, and if they’re influencers, they get traction. Then to the people outside of that group, the interest does become tainted. Then you’re a Star Wars fan having to defend your love of Star Wars because people assume that means you’re misogynistic, or at the very least that you associate with others who are.

I love horror. I always have and always will. But I’m not going to defend every single other fan. I don’t speak for them, and they don’t speak for me. If you think that makes me a traitor or that I’m calling out the community, then frankly you’re part of the problem. My love of horror doesn’t imply anything beyond itself. I don’t consider myself part of the “horror community,” because I don’t want there to be a general perception of what a horror fan is. And I know a lot of people might retort with “well, you can still call yourself part of the horror community and try to change what that means.” No, you can’t. It’s too vast, too broad, and there are so many people within it that you will never, ever in a million years get everyone to agree on what the “community” is, what it means, or what it represents. Horror is diverse. People who like horror are diverse. We don’t all have to agree with each other or like each other. The important thing is to find people with that shared interest whom you do get along with and befriend them. But you can’t base an entire friendship on having one shared interest, and while I’m sure that statement would be pretty universally agreed upon, the attitude of fandoms suggests otherwise. What they all ultimately imply through all the infighting, contrasting definitions of what it means to be a “true” fan, and competing for followers and influencer status is this: “This one interest is my identity, and my identity is this one interest, so if you’re not like me in every other way, you don’t get to share this interest with me, because it’s mine.”

I’ll put it bluntly: if your strict definition of what it means to be a fan of something ends up discouraging even one budding fan — a kid innocently wanting to discover a new interest — if you drive even one person away because you used your influencer status to make them feel like they didn’t belong or weren’t allowed into your made-up community, you’re a piece of shit.

My horror fandom does mean the world to me. I can’t even adequately express how much horror has meant in my life. I love my horror fandom. Key word there, though: my horror fandom. As in I love that I, as an individual, am a fan of horror. And of course I love a lot of fellow horror fans. I’ve met a lot of awesome people through talking about horror. But as far as the “horror community,” or rather the notion that there should be a singular, all-encompassing, one-size-fits-all community that represents the entire genre and all its fans, well…I think that’s going to end up ruining it for everyone if we don’t all start acknowledging that there’s really no such thing. We’re all just individuals who happen to share one common interest, and that interest doesn’t say anything about us beyond that. We really need to stop acting like it should before we, as individuals, have to defend this interest because a group of narcissistic bullies claimed it for themselves and tarnished the perception of what it means to simply enjoy something.

You want to be a real horror fan? Okay then. Love horror. That’s all. Nothing else required. There’s no leader you need to listen to. There are no community guidelines. Just love horror. If your love of horror serves as a basis for some friendships, awesome. But it doesn’t have to, and that’s fine too. Your love of something should not depend on other people. Don’t let the behavior of other fans scare you away from something you genuinely love. They don’t own it. And neither do you. Loving something doesn’t mean owning it. If you can’t find it in yourself to maintain a passion for something unless everyone else with that same passion is exactly like you in every other way, then maybe you should consider reevaluating why that is your passion in the first place.

And just to clarify, I’m not trying to shame anyone who feels comfort or takes pride in being part of a club, group, or community that’s centered around a specific interest. My only problem is with people who think that their little club — and yes, it is a little club, because even the biggest communities (plural, never singular) are little in the grand scheme of things — speaks for everyone who shares that interest. It’s not just about warring factions online. It’s more about this: let’s say there’s a horror convention. Obviously it’s open to the public, not an exclusive, by-invite-only convention. It’s open to all horror fans. Well, if the “horror community” has gotten to a point where it is seen as just one thing, where one little club of horror fans has hijacked the term “horror” and applied it exclusively to themselves to say “this is ours,” then people who don’t belong to that club but still love horror feel unwelcome. And that’s not right. Is that one thing we can all agree on? That you shouldn’t make anyone else feel like they don’t have the right to enjoy horror (or whichever other interest you care to mention)? By all means, have clubs. Have your hashtags. Associate with the people you want to associate with. But do not think just because you found a group of likeminded fans that you now own an entire interest. You don’t. You don’t own horror.

So we really need to acknowledge that there is no “horror community.” There are horror communities, plural. And that’s a good thing.

Note: This post is a loose transcription of a rant I went on in Episode 14 of my podcast, Celluloid Bastards. That doesn’t really matter since I’m only plagiarizing myself here, but I just thought I should include this note on the off chance that anyone reading this has also listened to that episode without realizing that I am the person behind both this blog and that podcast.

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