Shakespearean Drama: A True Story of Toxic Fans
OK, so those of you who know me will know what this means:
I am being serious.
I am not making this up for a good yarn, I am not building up to a silly punchline. The situation IS hilarious, but I don’t need to embellish or embroider anything to make it so. So many egos were involved that embellishment would be gilding the lily. (Yes, my ego is among that number, I admit.)
I was briefly part of the Honors Program at my university. (I later gave the whole in cursu honorum thing the finger, and this incident was just one of the reasons.) I had to take a certain number of Honors classes to get that Latin tacked onto my degree. Since I was a Secondary Education–English major, Honors Continental Lit was an obvious choice. It was taught by the Director of the Honors Program.
“Continental Literature”. Meaning anything from Europe that is not Irish or English or any flavor of British.
Don’t ask me how we got on the topic of “What are the Job Qualifications to be a Shakespearean Scholar?” in that class!
The class was mostly straight-up English majors, a few SEED(SEEN) (yes, that is how future English teachers were coded in the system at that time) majors like myself, and a couple oddball Engineers who were taking what they saw as an “easy A” for their Honors sheepskin. The math-geeks were just laughing quietly to each other, the other English Education folks were trying to participate enough to avoid being called on in particular, and I was sitting in a corner by the window (third floor!) quietly plotting mayhem.
The “pure” English majors (who looked down on we mere peasants who sought to teach) were waxing eloquent on what it is to be a Shakespearean Scholar, and their future careers as Distinguished Examples of Same. (I had no idea there were that many job openings every year.)
The professor (who normally spoiled and pampered those English majors rotten, she did not approve of my Education aspirations as being beneath me) called me by name and said,
“You’re being awfully quiet. What do you think?” The room went silent, and everybody turned to look at me.
I stretched out my legs and drawled, “Well, I hate to break it to you all, but I don’t think Ol’ Bill wrote all those plays so you could argue over what he meant three hundred years later: I think he did it to put clothes on the kids and keep The Globe open!”
The room went mad.
The professor literally, and yes I do mean literally, fell out of her chair laughing! She was curled up into a ball on the floor laughing her ass off!
The Engineers were giggling.
The other Education majors were sliding their chairs away from me as best they could (we were in a circle). “He’s not with us. Really.”
The English Majors were about to riot. I had insulted their God! I had imputed base human motives to their idol! Yelling, cursing, a couple out of their seats, it got pretty intense.
I was debating whether I had a better chance of survival trying to break for the door, or if the third floor window open behind me offered a better chance at continuing to live.
Finally the teacher got her laughter under control, got off the floor and back into her seat, and brought the class back under (nominal) control.
This was around 1994, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy and only total nerds (or anyone in the Honors program, same thing) had a university email address. I got hate emails for a month about that class! Some of them just never ever spoke to me again.
The moral of this story:
No fandom is inherently toxic, but every fandom–every fandom!–has some toxic people in it. The fandom doesn’t make them toxic: some people are drawn to fandoms because they want to feel special, or powerful, or like they have lots of status, and when you are discussing the merits of something creative, the crown often goes to the person who can fight better rather than the person who can write better. They bring their own toxicity with them. (It’s also much easier if the creator is conveniently dead and can’t argue with them–that always gets so awkward.)
The greatest and most unforgivable sin in their eyes is to call them out on their own bullshit and feelings of privilege. To remind them that the source material is in absolutely no way about them! That no matter how much they talk about it, they will never own it.
It can be a lot of fun, but learn from my mistakes: have an escape route planned ahead of time, and don’t give them a way to contact you that you aren’t willing to burn behind you.