Like-shaming is really bullying in disguise

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Thanks to the internet, finding like-minded people to connect with is easier than ever. Drawn together by a shared interest, so-called fandoms have flocked to the internet to enthuse about their obsession of choice. With social sites such as Tumblr, Wattpad and Reddit readily available, fanbases are able to build solid communities together. However, in recent years, people have become more judgmental about a fandom’s likes and dislikes.

Graphic by Ethan Gerling

This problem has manifested into cringe culture and like-shaming, or shaming others for an interest that is basically harmless. A primary example of this is the video game “Undertale.” In 2015 Toby Fox, an independent game developer, released “Undertale,” which turned into a phenomenon for its compelling storyline and unique gameplay.  Hundreds of Let’s Plays were uploaded to YouTube following the game’s release, which in turn helped this small indie game reach an even broader audience. As the hype around “Undertale” piqued, a fanbase developed that ranged from diehard fans to those who just found the game charming. However, small factions of that fandom became toxic, either hypersexualizing underage characters or bashing other games. Cringe compilations involving the fans’ obsessive behaviors began to arise, and then suddenly the game became taboo. Casual fans felt as though they had to hide their love for the game because of a fear of being criticized. The game became so associated with its problematic fans that pop culture decided the entire game was embarrassing, or cringey.

The idea of like-shaming is not just limited to the gaming community. Fans of certain films, musicians and books also experience the same problem.

“Twilight” fans are another leading example of this. At “Twilight”’s peak, what was presented to the general public by the media was tween girls absolutely losing their minds at the red-carpet premieres, some of the girls even fainting at midnight showings. But again, that is not the entire fanbase.

The general public is more than willing to jump onto popular trends, but the trends change quickly. Even though there were many critics of “Twilight” at its peak, the fans outnumbered them because it was popular at the time. If someone was a diehard “Twilight” fan today, he or she also would be labeled cringey, because the franchise has lost its luster.

Society seems contradictory by accepting certain groups of people and completely degrading others in the shadows. According to Glue Magazine, like-shaming is a new form of bullying online and in the real world, and can have lasting psychological effects on those who experience it. It is speculated that multiple fan accounts on Instagram and Tumblr are no longer active because the owners of the accounts felt bullied, some even considering ending their lives.

Fandoms may be intimidating at times, but that does not justify bullying their members away from their interests. Be mindful that those fans are human beings, and those fanbases make them feel accepted and that is truly what everyone wants: acceptance, not pain and scrutiny.

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