Depp vs Heard and the Toxicity of Fanbros

Social Commentary

Depp vs Heard and the Toxicity of Fanbros

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Fandoms can be complicated and social media only makes it more convoluted. On one hand, fandoms can be beautiful things that radiate admiration and love for someone, but at the same time, they can also venture into an unwanted zone that is filled with unhealthy obsessions and hateful behaviour. We live in an age where thanks to social media, there’s increased accessibility and approachability, however, like almost anything in this world, even social media has its demons. This was well illustrated through the Depp-Heard trial that landed Heard a disproportionate amount of abuse online compared to the man she had accused of molesting her. It’s what fandom also leads to, a toxic follower culture that believes attack and abuse is the first form of defence.

Johnny Depp and Elon Musk, are perhaps a fine example of celebrities who have such pernicious fans that hurt society in the long run. Depp, of course, has enjoyed a huge fan following owing to an illustrious if overestimated film career but of late this fandom has grown toxic. Musk, on the other hand, is a curious case of a tech innovator commanding a following that looks at the man as a messiah. He is worshipped, not necessarily for what he provides but for the things he so casually stands, or pretends to stand for. While Depp’s defence has played out in the arena of public opinion, Musk revels in the public display of his wit and wisdom. The aloofness with which both approach life is what is key to them being so well regarded.

Depp has enjoyed a huge fan following owing to an illustrious film career but of late this fandom has grown toxic.

The highly publicised Depp-Heard trial, gave a massive surge to toxicity online. The trial shed light on the dangers of online fandom driven by cis-het white men. These men cultivate an environment filled with misogyny and hatred towards women. Depp’s fans made memes and reels on his ex-wife, in an attempt to express their support for the actor. These men fought online wars, hurled slurs at women speaking in favour of Heard and used the choicest of expletives to make their non-points. From calling Heard’s description of rape, a fantasy, to making videos that humiliated her, these fans have left no stone unturned in making Heard feel compromised and exposed through a trial that was visibly draining anyway.

Elon Musk is a self-proclaimed humanitarian and a hard to figure liberal who often sounds like a lunatic with some eerie power fantasies. But it’s Musk’s audacity that his fanboys love about him, that he doesn’t care for rules or genteel behaviour. It’s odd really to see the world’s richest man, who is arrogant and impulsive enough to want to buy Twitter, and then run it in his own way, as an underdog, because that’s just the last thing he is. Musk commands an obscene amount of power in a world where men like him are hailed as visionaries without having to ever work or sweat on the streets where most of the world lives and breathes.

We’re living in a time that is built on toxic fandoms, especially anchored by successful men.

That said, it is vital that we understand that on many occasions, these fandoms, whether of Depp or Musk, aren’t exactly representative of these people. Artists, pop-culture icons, and entrepreneurs cannot always be held responsible for their fans’ actions. However, often the case happens so that powerful men utilize their privilege to the fullest in order to get what they want. In India it is simply termed as ‘pyaar’ and Bollywood celebs and popular personalities have escaped far worse than Depp and Musk when it comes to accountability or even jurisprudence that treats them like everyone else.

So whether we like it or not, the truth remains that we’re living in a time that is built on toxic fandoms, especially anchored by successful men. It’s a good thing to look up to someone, to croon over them, to be emotionally attached to them, but it is unacceptable for one to accept admiration for one as hatred for the one they stand against. Fans ought to apply their own personal filters of morality to objectively analyse their love and affection for their role models because without this filter we are idolising men to the point that they think of themselves as godly. Unfettered, blind love for someone is fine but without the balance of distance and critique it might seem like blind worship. In cases like that of Depp and Musk, toxic fandoms are instantaneously gratifying for what they accomplish but dangerous for what they exact as a cost on victims. The likes of Depp and Musk cannot solve this, neither would they want to. It’s up to us really.