The positive side of fandom brought the extended Zack Snyder’s Justice League to life – and now another challenge lies ahead.

For me, one of the best modern film or TV-centric fan campaigns I’ve seen to date popped up in 2008. It was surrounding the post-apocalyptic drama Jericho, a television show that debuted on the CBS network in the States and got to the end of its first season run with a solid fanbase built up. Yet this was the era – and it already feels consigned to history, just over a decade later – where instant broadcast ratings were everything. The problem was that Jericho’s ratings weren’t stacking up against more overtly commercial fare, and the show was duly cancelled at the end of season one.

The fans of the show sprung into action. Zeroing in on a plotpoint from the show, they started sending peanuts to the offices of CBS to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the programme, and to try and persuade the network to change its mind over the cancellation. Over 20 tons of peanuts were sent in the end, and when CBS agreed to reverse its decision, it came with the understandable request to please stop sending any more.

Not much of a happy long-term ending, sadly, as ratings didn’t improve, but additional episodes were nonetheless made. Comic books continued the story of the show when a season three wasn’t ordered by CBS.

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I love constructive fan campaigns like that, ones that go beyond shouting into the ether on social media and channel energies into something, well, better. Too often fandom is dissolving into tribalism, where woe betide anyway who dislikes something I like. That’s not the case for the majority of people, but for a depressingly vocal minority whose noise if anything seems to keep getting louder. The current status quo of comic book movies offers a snapshot of the situation, with a very vocal few devoted to either Marvel or DC, and seemingly spending endless amounts of time hammering at those on the other side.

The majority of us remain in it for the films and shows themselves, thankfully.

What’s more, the best end of the fandom around Zack Snyder’s Justice League movie has been the constructive, well-organised and effective ‘Release The Snyder Cut’ campaign. And it’s been a very successful one too. Warner Bros has acknowledged that this campaign was pretty directly responsible for its decision to reconsider the 2017 Justice League movie that its original director never had the chance to finish, and ultimately give Zack Snyder $70m to re-assemble it and give him carte blanche to make it as long as he liked.

What’s more, he did and he did. According to my Sky box, the final cut is four hours and one minute long. And the early response to it has been good too. It’s a testament to what fandom can do: it channelled its enthusiasm, and got exactly what it wanted. In doing so, it also raised $250,000 for suicide prevention charities.

That said, it’d be remiss to suggest that the entirety of fandom around Snyder’s Justice League has been as positive, but it’s worth highlighting that the more organised, positive side has got itself quite a result. Positive tactics can and do work.

And that, in theory, should have been it. The new cut of the film is out there, and the question as to whether it was better or not has been answered. Fans, in this instance, got what they wanted.

But like most fandoms, I’m already seeing the fractious edges of this one. That the tribal side is arming up again, with depressing – and damaging – results to human beings. For once again, the levels of abuse are ramping up against those who aren’t so keen on what Zack Snyder has delivered. Whilst some are stepping in to stop it, there’s nonetheless a fair degree of amplification going on as well. It’s not enough that there’s the cut that was wanted out in the open: it appears in a few quarters it’s time to gather pitchforks and defend it, no matter what.

Full disclosure: I don’t have skin in this battle. I didn’t like the 2017 cut, at some point I’ll get around to the new one. I like some comic book movies, don’t like others, and that’s not determined by the logo that plays at the start of them.

That said, I also confess I don’t see the need to do battle with a reviewer who doesn’t like something you do, outside of some spirited debate.

Constructive to and fro is great: sending people the kind of abuse you’d hope social media platforms would finally get around to clamping down on drags things right the way back down.

Furthermore – and can we acknowledge this? – it’s in many cases damaging to the mental health of people at the end of it all. Bullying – and let’s call it what it is –  hurts, and I can’t think of any world where a director of a comic book movie would want it practiced in the name of their movie.

Yet it continues, and it’s been continuing in some force over the last few days.

Sometimes, in fairness, I read something that comes off harshly, and reconcile it’s someone vehemently defending what they love. I can wrap my head around that. But it seems odd to me that there’s still confusion over whether it’s okay to like things other people don’t, and vice versa. It might not be the most cutting edge breaking news in the world, but not everybody in the world likes the same thing.

What depresses the hell out of me – and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this isn’t what Zack Snyder stands for too – is the abuse that a collection of reviewers are once again getting for simply not liking the film. It’s a depressing cycle that’s repeating with every genre movie or show, and it can’t help but leave a sour taste.

What I’m noticing more and more as well is when if a reviewer blocks someone or mutes certain terms, they’re being called out for it. But what do people expect? Just because someone puts a review out, that doesn’t mean they have to take a whole host of bile for doing so. In truth, they don’t have to defend their position online either. Many do, but I’m hearing of increasing numbers of people who are simply wary of doing so. Lots of us write from home. Do we want to invite some of the horrible levels of hate that seem to come with modern day film writing into our homes? Is it any wonder so many want to shut the comments off?

And heck, if you tell people you’re muting the conversation? Well, batten down the hatches. The stock response then – in its politest form – becomes that they’re cowards and running away. That they’ve lost the argument, because they won’t engage with someone who’s just basically yelling at them. When I was bullied at school, I never thought it was a good tactic to stand there and let people keep hitting me. But here we are.

Furthermore, and I’ve seen plenty of evidence of this, if you’re a female critic, have explained your argument and concluded you don’t like it? Heaven help you for having the temerity! You’re a xenophobe! You’re a Karen! You don’t understand comic books! And those are amongst some of the politest.

Bizarrely, I’ve seen a strain too that’s of the ‘you’re angry because we won’ variety. Like, this is what it was about? To be clear, this is an absolute minority, but to use the film being fully realised as a weapon in a social media argument I find pretty dispiriting.

And that’s before we get to the really vile stuff. You can probably fill in the blanks yourself. I know of a few people who have had to basically withdraw from the online discourse, for the sake of their own mental health.

I’m surprised at the quantity of stuff like this I’ve found. It plays to the tribalism of fandom, rather then, well, the ‘fan’ bit, and I fail to see who wins here.

That’s why I’m hoping that the positive side of the Snyder fandom can turn the tide a little (appreciating the onus is not just on Snyder Cut fans). Because we’ve seen what it can do on its best days. We’ve seen how it can channel its energies into something constructive and helpful, and in a manner that actually lifted something up rather than tore it down.

On top of that, I’m already seeing a few examples of people stepping into pile-ons to offer support to those on the receiving end of some of the his horrific abuse.

Furthermore, here’s another idea that I found in the midst of a non-very-savoury conversation. It was a Tweet that read thus: “Guys, don’t attack reviewers who give it a negative score. Drown out their tweets with tweets and retweets of the positive reviews or your thoughts and feelings. Let’s prop up the POSITIVE reviews and leave the negative ones to be lost/forgotten”.

That struck me as a far more constructive way forward than hurling abuse at people. I still think fandom needs to accommodate a range of voices and opinions beyond that idea, but I’ll take someone amplifying something they love over attacking other people.

If nothing else, it proves that differing opinions can exist without people having to be torn apart for daring to have one.

I genuinely congratulate the core people behind the Release The Snyder Cut campaign. I think their work has opened the door to further positive campaigns too, and it’s little secret that other directors and studios are looking to see just how well or otherwise Zack Snyder’s Justice League ultimately goes on to do. It’s an example as to just what can happen when the best of fandom comes together.

I’d just love to see now that same positive ethos do something about the worst of fandom too. That, sadly, feels like a far less winnable war, and at the moment I truly feel that behind the keyboards, very human damage continues to be done.

But every person who stands up to it? That’s a tiny, quietly important step forward.

Let’s try and make fandom welcoming. Let’s try and take some of the toxicity out of it. Let’s continue to expand on the positive side of what fandom can actually do. Stay safe and well, everyone. x

Certain images: BigStock

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