Lines in the Szechuan Sauce

People have complained about fans for about as long as people have been fans of things. From soccer hooligans to bandwagoners, the core of these complaints tends to incorporate discussions about who is a true fan, who has the greatest claim to their interest. While this can usually be dismissed as harmless squabbling, just like American society at large, fanbases and their subcultures have gotten increasingly polarized. As a result, the question of who truly belongs to our communities—be they fan or personal—is becoming increasingly ideological.

The question has recently been raised in two distinct fanbases. After fans of “Rick and Morty” harassed and released the private information—also known as ‘doxxing’—of female writers, Executive Producer Dan Harmon felt compelled to denounce them for attempting “to further some creepy agenda by ‘protecting’ [his] work” from those who allegedly were changing it for the worse. Eminem’s recent anti-Trump cypher during the BET Hip-Hop Awards similarly rejects his Trump-supporting fans, stating that they must pick between him and the president.

Both Harmon’s and Eminem’s responses seem to be attempts to mold the communities built around their work to reject reactionary ideologies, which both creators cast as toxic. If allowed to remain in the community for too long, those ideologies would degrade the community, making it hostile to certain individuals and ultimately pushing them out of where they once belonged. However, the efficacy of these statements in reducing toxicity is dubious due to the highly decentralized communities to which they were targeted. Given that democratic design, how can we decide where to draw ideological lines, and are those lines already drawn?

Upon closer inspection, Eminem is more willing than Harmon to reject Trump supporters in general rather than specifically those who hold the sexist belief that women were ruining “Rick and Morty.” During his freestyle, Eminem argues that Trump is racist for his “endorsement of Bannon/Support for the Klansmen/...[and] ignoring our past historical, deplorable factors,” and that those who support him are supporting racism, or at the very least, willing to turn a blind eye and enable it. Put more generally, this paradigm argues that if some ideologies are too close to toxic ones, then they should also be rejected.

However, Eminem could have looked to persuade his fans rather than reject them. Eminem has long been known for shocking and offensive themes and imagery, essentially spitting in the face of political correctness before the concept entered mainstream political discourse. It’s not surprising there is notable overlap between Trump supporters, who admired his willingness to speak against political correctness, and Eminem fans.

By making an argument which many Trump supporters view as hysteric, Eminem’s attempt to draw a line between these two identities may have backfired, causing some to reject him instead. If we’re too willing to reject others solely for ideological reasons, we risk removing the moderating influences from their lives and pushing them to more extreme spaces. It may therefore be better to discuss, challenge, and debunk toxic ideologies before they lead to action.

We seem to have cycled back to the beginning here—if we’re too ideologically strict, we label others as extremists, but if we’re too lax, we risk deteriorating our space. The question of “what ideologies are personally unacceptable” has become one of “what ideologies are personally too close to being unacceptable.” This granularity is crux of the question of where to draw the line. Whom you allow in determines what you enable, and if something is sufficiently toxic, is it worth rejecting anyone who is sufficiently associated with it?

If not, then one could argue that you lack moral conviction, that you also are turning a blind eye and enabling those toxic beliefs. If so, one could argue that you have also become extremist in your beliefs, overreacting to small infractions and unwilling to recognize the value those personal relationships had.

Finding a universal answer to that question is difficult and maybe even painful: I have only come to answers on a case by case basis. Regardless of the right to express and hold them, some beliefs are sufficiently toxic that we should excise those beliefs from our communities as best as we can lest they degrade them. A line has to be drawn somewhere. The tricky part is not only where but how.

Hansy D. Piou ’18, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Quincy House.

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