Fandom is so toxic that creators must now apologize for being creative

“This ire will be maximally painful.”
“This ire will be maximally painful.”
Image: Photo by Richard Shotwell Invision/AP
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A lot of people are hard on Damon Lindelof. But no one is harder on Damon Lindelof than Damon Lindelof.

The Lost and The Leftovers co-creator quit Twitter in 2013 after enduring relentless virtual abuse from a vocal minority of Lost fans who believed he had botched the show’s ending. In the years since, he has spent a lot of time speaking with journalists about that experience, and reflecting on being a creator at a time when fandom is increasingly powerful, and can be seriously noxious. Lindelof’s utterly magnificent second show, The Leftovers, helped to rehabilitate his status as one of the best TV writers working today. Yet he’s still an unfairly loathed Hollywood figure in some bitter fan circles.

Into this toxic environment, Lindelof has sent a new, heartfelt missive.

Now working on an HBO series based on the superhero comic Watchmen, Lindelof wrote a five-page open letter on Instagram to fans of the beloved series—one day ahead of the announcement of the show’s stars, including Regina King and Don Johnson. In his signature self-deprecating, candid style, Lindelof discussed his deep love and respect for the source material, apologized for what he was about to do to it, and acknowledged the inevitable vitriol that he has become all too familiar with as a prolific TV creator.

“First and foremost, if you are angry that I’m working on Watchmen, I am sorry,” he wrote, after identifying himself as a Watchmen fan ever since his father (also a superfan) gave him the first two issues of the comic as a child. ”I am compelled despite the inevitable pushback and hatred I will receive for taking on this particular project… This ire will be maximally painful because of its source. That source being you. The true fans.”

Day 140.

A post shared by Damon (@damonlindelof) on May 22, 2018 at 11:00am PDT

The original comic book Watchmen, written by Alan Moore in 1986, is a dark satire of the superhero genre that takes place in an alternate history in which the United States has won the Vietnam War, and masked vigilantes prowl the streets. Lindelof characterized the comic as “worshipping at the altar of the [superhero] genre whilst simultaneously trolling it.”

And, in a way, that’s exactly what Lindelof and his team of writers intend to do to Watchmen. Moore has never wanted it to be adapted for a medium outside of comics, and its throngs of fans are extremely protective of it. Lindelof explained that his series will be neither a straight-up adaptation nor a sequel to Moore’s story, but rather a contemporary “remix” that canonizes the world Moore built, and introduces an original story set in that world. (Lindelof also divulged that he had twice turned down opportunities to write adaptations of the comic.)

That might be intriguing enough to ward off some of the backlash—but certainly not all of it. The pitchforks are already out:

Lindelof says he still cares about what people think, though he wishes he didn’t. The impulse to read everything someone says about you is hard to ignore. Ultimately, though, it is the job of the creator to create, to make new things, play with existing ones, to entertain and to enlighten. It is not the job of the creator to apologize for doing those things, especially before he even does them!

One can’t blame Lindelof for his effort to get out ahead of these self-appointed gatekeepers of the franchise. It was only a few months ago when some Star Wars fans literally sent death threats to The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson for daring to subvert their expectations of what the space saga “should” be. Watchmen fans aren’t as numerous, but they’re just as paranoid.

As an exercise in transparency and a window into the creative process, Lindelof’s letter is worth reading in its entirety. But the fact that it even exists speaks to how influential—and harmful—fandom has become.