Who’s Entitled?: On the Narratives of Fan Entitlement

There is a problem in geek culture, and that problem, apparently, is “fan entitlement.”

Fan entitlement drove Leslie Jones off Twitter. Fan entitlement is demands for a queer Disney princess. Fan entitlement is what’s breaking fandom. The idea seems to be that increased contact between creators and fans, as is made possible by the internet (particularly personal blogs and Twitter), is a problem.

This discussion, however, seems to be lumping two phenomena together under the same broad, unhelpful umbrella of “fan entitlement.” The first is a phenomenon exemplified by the reaction of fans of the 1986 Ghostbusters to the new movie, most particularly its casting women and lack of substantial male characters (wow, I wonder what that’s like). This is a phenomenon that frequently manifests with pleas to an original, or a “good old days” being trampled on by political correctness. There is frequently a sense of loss, a sense that something has been taken away and they want it back.

The second can be seen in hashtags like #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend and #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter (the second referring to the main character in Sleepy Hollow, who was gradually sidelined and eventually killed off – literally sacrificed, no less, for her male lead). This is a different kind of backlash – a demand for something new, a change to the material, usually to push a certain agenda (frequently of representation of various kinds). To put it very simply, the former is looking backward, and the latter is looking forward.

These are not the same thing.

Let me be perfectly clear, and it is a sorry thing that it needs to be said at all – threatening people on the internet is never acceptable. Death threats are never called for. Someone being driven off a social media website is not a cause for celebration, no matter how obnoxious or provocative they may be. But. But. When sweeping claims are made that “fan entitlement” is all created equal, it erases the important distinction that the voices are asking for different things. To make a wildly overblown comparison (it’s my blog, I can do that), it’s a little like comparing #BlackLivesMatter to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain.

There is an important difference between the voices of the historically underrepresented asking to see themselves in media (and asking to see themselves positively in media) and those demanding that the status quo remain the same. There is a difference between anger about a black woman being written out of her own story and anger about casting a black man as a lead actor in Star Wars. One of these is targeted at reinforcing structural inequality. The other is responding to it.

Honestly, it feels like that should be the end of it. It seems to me it should be a distinction that’s relatively obvious – and the umbrella term “fan entitlement” obscures that. Entitlement is simply defined as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”, but its usage tends to carry the baggage of “inaccurate belief”.

Who is really acting entitled, here? People who finally have the chance to make themselves heard, and want to see their stories told and their identities respected in the media they love? Or people who want things to stay the same, inequalities and all, for the sake of their comfort?


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