As FanX revs up, Utah geeks warn against toxic fandom

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) A FanX press conference draws cosplayers to Megaplex Jordan Commons in Sandy in June 2019. The fall 2019 edition of the conference runs Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 5-7.

More than 100,000 people will enter the Salt Palace Convention Center this week, each of them fans of something.

Name a title in popular culture — movie, TV show, comic book, video game, book series — and somebody visiting the fall 2019 edition of the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention will know far more about it than you do. Many of them are so into a particular creature or person or alien that they will cosplay as that character.

It’s fun. It’s exciting. And, “in general, I think it can be quite intimidating,” said Kristal Starr, co-host of the Hello Sweetie! Podcast, a made-in-Salt Lake City series that returned to the internet in August after a 14-month absence.

“Quite often, I have shied away from calling myself a geek,” Starr said, “because I don’t have that vast knowledge that some of these geeks have.” It’s sometimes called “The Well of Actually,” as in, “well, actually, you’ve got it wrong,” she said.

Some fans “are protective over their fandom, and they can get angry when somebody doesn’t know as much as they know,” Starr said.

“Part of being a fan of something is to take some kind of ownership of it,” said Bryan Young, founding editor of the Salt Lake City-based pop-culture site Big Shiny Robot. “Sometimes... people forget the ownership is purely imagined. If we’re really into something, we feel we have some say into it, when in reality we don’t.”

While most fans don’t reach the level of toxic fandom, there are plenty of examples of fans spouting hate at the people making the things they purport to love:

• Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise went online to attack director Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi,” because it suggested the Skywalker family didn’t have a monopoly on the Force. Actor Kelly Marie Tran, who plays the plucky mechanic Rose Tico, deleted her Instagram account after enduring sexist and racist abuse from supposed fans.

• After Joss Whedon took over the directing duties of the DC Comics superhero mash-up “Justice League,” some fans started an online petition demanding Warner Bros. release the version begun by director Zack Snyder, who left the project because of a family tragedy. At San Diego Comic-Con this July, a crowdfunding campaign raised $1,170 to fly a plane over the convention with a banner reading, “Release the Snyder cut.”

• Users trolled the movie-review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes with negative reviews of Marvel’s “Captain Marvel,” before the movie’s release last March. The reason? Star Brie Larson had commented that film journalists she had met were “overwhelmingly white male,” and urged more diversity in the industry. Rotten Tomatoes, which encountered similar trolling with “The Last Jedi” and the female-led “Ghostbusters,” changed its submission policy, so users could not post a review until the movie’s release date.

Starr said many fans start by feeling alone in their love of a particular book or movie or TV show. “A lot of times when you are a geek, you are an outcast,” Starr said. “When the mainstream starts picking it up, and your average pop-culture person starts dabbling into it, you can get a little offended. ‘You made fun of me for this, and now you want to be a part of it?’”

Young chalks up some fan vitriol to “people who have watched the medium evolve, and they feel threatened by that.”

Sometimes, Young said, it’s a matter of ignorance. He pointed to two announcements by Marvel Studios this summer — that Natalie Portman’s character, Jane Foster, would wield Thor’s hammer, and that a “She-Hulk” TV series is being produced for the new Disney+ streaming service — that some fans attributed on the studio pandering to “political correctness.” What those fans don’t know, Young said, is that She-Hulk and a female Thor have been part of Marvel’s comic books for decades.

Young, who co-hosts the “Star Wars”-centric podcast Full of Sith, finds some fans of George Lucas’ brainchild especially out of touch.

“They think ‘Star Wars’ has suddenly become political because there’s a female lead, and there are analogs to fascists,” Young said. “They say, ‘I don’t want politics in my ‘Star Wars.’ I just want it to be escapist.’ Not realizing that the prequels were a metaphor for the corruption of money in politics, about demagogues taking over through a misinformation campaign. And how the classic trilogy was a metaphor for the Vietnam War and how the United States was the Empire.”


The FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention — a gathering of fans of science fiction, fantasy and other genres in movies, TV, comics and other media — returns for its fall 2019 edition, with celebrity appearances, autograph and photo sessions, panel discussions, cosplay contests, artists, vendors and more.

Where • Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City.

When • Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 5-7.

Admission • Advance three-day passes are $60, $100 (VIP Junior), $105 (Gold) and $295 (VIP); one-day tickets are $20 (Thursday), $40 (Friday) and $50 (Saturday) in advance, at fanxsaltlake.com.

Information • Full schedules at fanxsaltlake.com, or on the FanX app.

According to Jonathan Deesing, co-host of the Salt Lake City-based video game podcast 3-Bit Gamer Show, some of the loudest fan fights are in the gaming culture.

“Fans who are upset with a game typically will take over a fandom, because they’re the loudest and they care the most,” Deesing said. “Toxicity spreads way faster than positivity [in gaming], and things just spiral out of control.”

One reason for such anger, Deesing said, is that gamers typically pre-order games, sometimes for $60 a pop, or pay for extras once they start playing.

“You’re $100 into this game, and things start to go wrong a month before it comes out, they just get ticked,” he said. “They’re putting cash into these games, and it engenders a sense of entitlement, that they have given these developers money and these developers owe them beyond what they paid for.”

Often, gamers’ anger flashes in an information vacuum. “It’s almost exclusively rumors,” Deesing said. “‘Game of Thrones’ fans were really ticked off about the last season, but at least they waited until it came out to get ticked about it. But gamers won’t even wait. They’re ticked in advance.”

The toxicity in gaming is well-documented, going back to the GamerGate scandal in which women developers and women journalists who covered gaming were harassed, doxxed and sent death threats. Many have argued that the GamerGate hate has morphed into the white nationalism of the alt-right movement.

Many women in the geek world feel that shadow of misogyny, Starr said. “As a girl, a lot of people question your knowledge or your fan experience,” she said. “They say, ‘You’re trying to be that geek girl because it’s trendy right now.’ They question you, and you feel you have to answer a trivia sheet before you get your geek card.”

Another crossover between the pop-culture world and real politics, Young said, is that many of the social media accounts slamming “The Last Jedi” weren’t real. Many, he said, “are anonymous, and very full of sock puppets,” a term for fake accounts.

The “Star Wars” haters live more online than in the real world, Young said. When Young attended Star Wars Celebration, a convention devoted to the franchise, he received “pretty active threats” ahead of the event from anonymous people online. “When I went there, I realized there wasn’t anybody there from that crowd,” he said.

Deesing does see signs of hope for positivity in the gaming world. He cited the 2017 release of “No Man’s Sky,” a space game that promised far more than it delivered when the discs were shipped. Hello Games, the small company that developed the game, “kept their heads down and they worked their butts off” through waves of criticism, Deesing said, and a year later released an update that was close to what they promised. Some diehard fans ran a crowdfunding campaign to create a giant thank-you note, posted on a billboard across the street from the company’s offices.

“If you like a game, find the developer on Twitter and send them a message,” Deesing advised. “Even if it’s private, if you send a developer an email or a tweet or a private message, and just say, ‘Hey, I’m really enjoying your game.’ ... Those guys will see it.”

Fans, Starr said, have to be aware of when they’re the overbearing ones. She recalled going into a store once wearing her favorite T-shirt for AMC’s zombie series “The Walking Dead.”

“The cashier at the grocery store said, ‘Oh, I love ‘The Walking Dead,’” Starr said. When Starr began a deep dive into the show, “she just looked at me with this blank stare and said, ‘Actually, I’ve only seen two episodes.’ And I was, like, ‘Oh, I thought you said you loved it.’ That was kind of embarrassing. [I thought,] ‘OK, I’ve got to reel it in.’“

“We have to be understanding and welcoming to new fans,” Starr said. “There was a point in your life when you didn’t know much about [your favorite thing]. Try to remember how exciting it was to learn more about it.”


Here are the celebrities scheduled to appear at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention’s fall 2019 edition (subject to change):

Linda Ballantyne • voice actor, “Sailor Moon”

Johnny Yong Bosch • actor, “Power Rangers Turbo,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”

Nakia Burrise • actor, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Power Rangers Turbo”

Hayden Christensen • actor, “Star Wars” Episodes 1-3, “Jumper”

Casey Cott • actor, “Riverdale”

Jonny Cruz • voice actor, “Overwatch”

Kara Eberle • voice actor, “RWBY”

Susan Egan • actor, “Hercules” (Disney), “Spirited Away”

Joey Fatone • singer, *NSYNC; reality show regular

Jason Faunt • actor, “Power Rangers: Time Force,” “Resident Evil: Vendetta”

Megan Follows • actor, “Anne of Green Gables,” “Reign”

Katie Griffin • voice actor, “Sailor Moon,” “Totally Spies!”

Jess Harnell • voice actor, “Animaniacs,” “Transformers,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos”

Tom Holland • actor, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Avengers: Infinity War”

Ryan Hurst • actor, “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Walking Dead”

Jason Isaacs • actor, “Harry Potter” films, “The Death of Stalin,” “Star Trek: Discovery”

Lindsay Jones • voice actor, “RWBY”

Orlando Jones • “American Gods,” “Black Dynamite”

Chris Kirkpatrick • singer, *NSYNC; voice actor, “The Fairly Odd Parents”

Inbar Lavi • actor, “Lucifer,” “Prison Break,” “Imposters”

Jerry “The King” Lawler • retired professional wrestler

Matthew Lewis • actor, “Harry Potter” series

Dolph Lundgren • actor, “Rocky IV,” “The Expendables,” “Creed II”

Pearl Mackie • actor, “Doctor Who”

Rebecca Mader • actor, “Once Upon a Time”

Lee Majors • actor, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Fall Guy”

Ross Marquand • actor, “The Walking Dead,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame”

Charles Martinet • voice actor, Nintendo games (he’s Mario)

Ian McDiarmid • actor, “Star Wars” series, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Kel Mitchell • actor/comedian, “All That,” “Kenan & Kel,” “Mystery Men”

Lana Parrilla • actor, “Once Upon a Time”

Jason Patric • actor, “The Lost Boys,” “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” “Sleepers”

Lou Diamond Phillips • actor, “Young Guns,” “La Bamba,” “Courage Under Fire”

Patrick Renna • actor, “The Sandlot,” “The Big Green,” “GLOW”

John Rhys-Davies • actor, “The Lord of the Rings,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

Christina Ricci • actor, “The Addams Family,” “Pan Am.”

Jake “The Snake” Roberts • retired professional wrestler

Sebastian Roché • actor, “Supernatural,” “The Vampire Diaries”

Katee Sackhoff • actor, “Battlestar Galactica,” “Longmire”

Catherine Sutherland • actor, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Power Rangers Turbo”

Keifer Sutherland • actor, “24,” “Designated Survivor,” “The Lost Boys”

Carlos Valdés • actor, “The Flash”

Lindsay Wagner • actor, “The Bionic Woman”

Ming-Na Wen • actor, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Mulan,” “ER”

Billy West • voice actor, “Futurama,” “Rea & Stimpy,” Honey Nut Cheerios bee

Ricky Whittle • actor, “American Gods,” “The 100,” “Austenland”

Benedict Wong • actor, “Doctor Strange,” “The Martian”

Billy Zane • actor, “Titanic,” “The Phantom”

Arryn Zech • voice actor, “RWBY”