Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? A Look At Debate in Fandom.

Note: Some of the below videos contain cursing/juvenile humor. And Hitler.

I don’t know a single person who won’t throw down in a debate over something. That something may be politics, religion, social justice, or men’s facial hair; but everyone I know has at least some topic they believe to hold the moral/factual/logical/etc. high ground in and they will try to prove their side.

Now, I don’t know if everyone’s this way. Maybe I just know many opinionated people. Perhaps there are people out there who are either not argumentative enough or not passionate enough to engage in debates with others who don’t share their opinions.

I imagine these people, if they do exist, either have a lot of repressed rage or are the happiest people on the planet because debates are often either an invigorating way to get your opinion out into the world or vampiric exchanges that suck the life out of the participants.

And if there’s one thing every fandom seems to know how to do, it’s holding passionate, hate-filled, endless debates about fictional characters, places, and minutia.

Now, I’ve already discussed fandom debates in regards to particular subjects such as shipping, but I’ve never truly examined the practice itself.

I’d like to start with one basic question. What’s the difference between having a debate and having an argument?

Well, according to my computer’s dictonary app, an argument is:

 an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically aheated or angry one: I’ve had an argument with my father |heated arguments over public spending | there was some argumentabout the decision.

While a debate is:

a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting orlegislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

But then again, it also says an argument is:

a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuadingothers that an action or idea is right or wrong: there is astrong argument for submitting a formal appeal | [ with clause ] : herejected the argument that keeping the facility would be costly.

And a debate is also:

 an argument about a particular subject, esp. one in whichmany people are involved: the national debate on abortion |there has been much debate about prices.

Really, what it apparently to come down to is this. To debate is to:

argue about (a subject), esp. in a formal manner: the boarddebated his proposal | the date when people first entered America ishotly debated.

So, essentially, a debate is supposed to be a more formal argument. But, what, then, is a heated debate? I mean, if everyone’s veins are pulsing out of their foreheads as they send hate-filled glares and mental curses at their opponents, but they’re still using words like “therefore” and bringing in evidence, is it still a debate?

Well, for the sake of this piece, let’s say that even the most passionate debates can still be considered debates if they come from a place of informed opinions. Yes, these debates may feel like arguments, look like arguments, and sound like arguments, and occasionally have the maturity of arguments between to children over who gets to sit in the front seat, but we’ll say they’re debates because that sounds more studious and grown-up and stuff.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk a little bit about geek debate. In many ways, the compulsion to debate endlessly over what most people in society would see as pointless pop-culture minutia has become as much a part of the geek/nerd stereotype as being overweight, wearing glasses, and having poor hygiene.

So, why are geeks always debating? Why can’t they all just get along and enjoy their nerdy pursuits together?

Well, I’d first say that, most of the time, that is what geeks do. At least, in my personal experience, I’m always glad to have geek/nerd friends…even if we don’t always agree on everything. It’s nice to know that, while you may have been ostracized or left out at some point for not fitting in, there are whole communities of people just waiting to accept you (excepting a few bad apples who try to ruin the geek love-fest for every one).

Still, as I’ve said several times before, passions run high in the world of geeks. Truly engaging in a fandom is often an exercise in loving devotion. It’s not just about liking a book/movie/TV show/video game/comic book etc. It’s about loving them. Characters become close, personal friends, and fictional worlds become just as real as this one.

And when someone disagrees with you on a subject that you are passionate about, it’s natural to want to put that other party straight.

So, here’s an introduction to a few different types of geek/nerd debate:

1. Which Is Better?


The classic debate, it is the most  broad, least defined, and least likely to result in a change of opinions. Star Trek vs Star Wars, Kirk vs Picard, any reboot vs the original, all of these subjects are often debated on these broad grounds, which is better. Now, there are some relatively objective elements to such an argument. One could consider which was more successful, better produced, or impacted the most people, but I find this debate usually comes down to personal preferences. We have favorite characters and stories not just because they’re well written or high quality, but also because those characters and stories speak to us personally in some way. Many people prefer original content to reboots because the original has been in their lives longer and is often something from their childhood. Many people like certain characters because they see themselves, or who they want to be, in those characters.

And, no matter how often or hard you debate the issue, it’s hard to negate that initial, personal connection.

2. Who Would Win?

In many ways, this type of debate is an offshoot of the “which (or in this case ‘who’) is better” debate, as the character one thinks is better, is often, though not always, who one chooses to win in a fight. One of the best known versions of this debate is “Who Would Win in a Fight Between Batman and Superman?” Of course, that particular debate is made more interesting in light of several in canon fights between the two characters, but as both sides have won fights and parameters can easily be reestablished, geeks will find a way to debate this one until the end of time.

Of course, we all know who I think would win in a fight between Batman and Superman:

Of course, she'd really win if they actually gave HER a movie, but I digress.

Of course, she’d really win if they actually gave HER a movie, but I digress.

3. Just the Facts

People can argue the value of Wikipedia until the end of time, but, at least, it’s the best way to settle these debates. Which actor played whom? What year did x happen? Unfortunately, sometimes even basic facts are up for debate when shows are unclear (such as when Jet died in Avatar: The Last Airbender) or when shows/movies/comics manage to screw up or ignore their own continuity.

4. Does This Suck Or Is it Awesome?

How is it that nerds can think so alike on some subjects, and be of completely different minds on others. In the above video, both men are fans of Superman. Yet, one thinks Man of Steel is terrible, and the other enjoyed it. This happens surprisingly often. Again, I think this goes towards what initially draws fans into a particular fandom. If one is particularly attracted to Superman because he doesn’t kill, the ending of Man of Steel is much more likely to ruin a movie for that person. Likewise, inconsistencies between movies and the material they’re adapted from might drive a fan of the original material to despise the new work, even when public opinion has embraced that adaption.

This is how I feel about Coppola’s Dracula…stupid love sick vampire…

5. What Will Happen?

Debates over fan predictions can either be fun “what if” style debates, or they can be rage-filled nightmares that throw fandoms into chaos until one side is proven right. Often, the latter option has something to do with shipping, but it can also be based around divisions among fans over favorite characters.

Note: This debate usually evolves/devolves into the “What Should Have Happened” debate.

6. Social Justice

Now these debates are where, if you pardon the language, shit gets real. Yes, many fans feel as though the lives and futures of their characters have an impact on real life, but debates over social justice stretch beyond the corners of fandom and pop culture. When people bring up social justice, the visage of history with all its boils and scars is introduced into the conversation.

These discussions, often centered on unequal/stereotypical representation, but extending into many issues reflect real injustices and, more than the above debates, reflect real problems and tensions in our society. You don’t have to look far to find these debates over allegations of racism, classism, ableism, heteronormativity, and sexism.

Sometimes the debate is over whether or not the unequal/unfair representation exists. Sometimes the debate is over whether or not the unequal/unfair representation matters.

I find the answer to both is often yes (see: Struggles With Representation Part 1 and Part 2), but there are many nuances that can be overlooked in some conversations.

These debates can be volatile, but they’re also often some of the most important when it comes to the state and future of fandom. These are questions that can’t be ignored.

So, What does all this arguing get us? Why don’t we just put down our metaphorical (I hope) pitchforks and agree to love each other and never fight about anything again?

Well, for one thing, living in harmony can get a little boring. Debates can keep a fandom alive as book/movie/TV show/etc. is examined and re-examined from multiple angles.

More importantly, though, I think debate speaks towards an instinct toward critical thinking. Proper debates require the participants to not just repeat the same talking points over and over (though, I admit, many people do this especially when discussing politics). Debating is about listening to one’s opponent, evaluating their point, and making the best counter point. Although it’s amusing to just end every Batman vs Whomever debate with “Batman wins because he’s Batman,” it’s much more fulfilling to actually prove one’s point.

At the same time, being exposed to debate helps people participate in a world where not everyone agrees with you. Personally, fandom debates have taught me the value of defending my position without quarter in some cases while realizing when I need to retreat or admit I’m wrong in others. (I’m still learning that last bit, as a literature major raised by 3 lawyers, it can be hard to let a debate go)

So, should we all get along all the time? No. Then again, we also shouldn’t threaten to kill someone just because they ship something different.

After all, the two sides of any fandom debate should be able to find some common ground.

(Sorry Twilight fans)


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