Listen, I hate things that are popular. Game of Thrones? Yep, I hate just because a lot of people like it. Hating popular things makes me cool and interesting to talk to at parties, I’m just sure of it. I love to be the “edgy” one in my friend group and cut my friends off when they start talking to me about how cool the new Marvel movie is going to be. Sorry, Branden, it’s actually not going be cool at all. Wake up. Being insufferable to the people you care most about it is pretty much the coolest thing you can do nowadays.
But in all seriousness, fandom has always been kind of an odd thing for me, especially as a Star Wars fan in recovery as I tend to call it. I just can’t do the constant debating about whether the next iteration of Star Wars is good or not. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m done reading think pieces on why Luke Skywalker drank blue milk from a sea monster. So when I see how Marvel capitalized on “nerd culture,” and nearly adapted every bankable superhero imaginable and then some (because who asked for a Cloak and Dagger show?), I’m skeptical, to say the least. And then there’s toxic fandom, which seems to have become more rampant in the digital age. I remember seeing the outrage surrounding the video of Stranger Things star, Finn Wolfhard not stopping to sign autographs for a group of adults that were staked outside his hotel. The woman in the video exclaims multiple times, “I haven’t met you before, Finn” and “this is so rude,” as Finn passes by. The idea that an actor owes anyone anything has always been a bit preposterous and this immediately stuck out to me as an incident of toxic fandom. Then there come all the cases of people online “shipping” Millie Bobby Brown and Wolfhard, even going as far to Photoshop their faces on the bodies of the Joker and Harley Quinn from the God awful, Suicide Squad movie. Besides having terrible taste, it’s just creepy. What unsettles me most is that in late-stage capitalism, fandom seems to grant individuals the right to claim ownership of anything and this means human beings as well. When everything is for sale, it seems fans miss the connection between the characters on screen and the real people that play them, believing that they too owe them something in return for their undying service to the franchise. It’s also why it’s hard for me to get behind Marvel today when it all just reads as nothing more than deeply entrenched marketing. It seems like there’s just nothing quite as profitable appealing to and establishing new fan bases for IPs. The whole thing just reeks of inauthenticity, as the neoliberal marketing tool is to make people think they are ones in the captain’s chair, so to speak.
So that brings us to The “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror, which quite masterfully depicts the crossroads between fandom and toxic masculinity. Jesse Plemon’s Captain Daly exhibits the unsettling truth behind men and their perceived ownership of intellectual property, which seems to always suggest a far unhealthier obsession towards controlling the women involved within and outside of their fandom. When we meet Daly he seems like the type of jovial starship captain many viewers are probably familiar with but as the episode progresses he basically turns into the Travis Bickle of Star Trek, when we see how alone and unconnected he is from the real world. What makes Daly the monster he truly comes from how he commodifies the women around him in his digital world to act the way he wants and says the things he wants to hear. It’s also in these moments that the connection between brand ownership and the male ownership of woman’s sexuality becomes more and more apparent. In 2018, if I’ve seen real conscious efforts from individuals confronting toxic masculinity in all the spaces it shows up in but as the digital age advances and brands become ever so encapsulating, I fear that men will be allowed to further isolate themselves from society and create new spaces for toxic masculinity to thrive. If you’ve ever visited 4Chan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Daly here serves as a cautionary tale for what happens when men seclude themselves from the real world and instead take refuge in their fantasy worlds. Fandom itself isn’t the lone gateway to this type of misogyny but in a world built on these power structures, it would be ridiculous to think they won’t show up in these cultural spaces as well.