In a recent Variety Fair article, “When Fandoms Stop Playing Nice”, writer Anthony Breznican discusses how fandoms have gotten nastier over the years. While he focuses on the sides of fandom which harass based on racial and gender discrimination, I’d like to look at the sides of fandom which harass based on the things that make them, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. Instead of expressing that these things make them uncomfortable, they decry them as offensive and abhorrent, and that those who enjoy those things should be booted out of fandom. That’s where “squick” could come back into play.
This could be anything from a ship that someone disagrees with to kinks to actually problematic issues like pedophilia in fandom. When you group all that under one umbrella, you lose nuance. A friend recently commented to me that it’s too bad that “squick” went the way of nuance on social media. I retorted back that nuance lived and died on the Internet as a broken man. There are genuine things we need to take a stand against in fandom, pedophilic materials being one of the most important. But common kinks or relationships between two consenting adult characters?
That’s something you can just say “squick” to. What’s “squick,” you might ask?
Fanlore defines “squick” as “anything that is a deep-seated, visceral turn-off for the fan.” That would seem to envelop kinky things or relationships you just don’t like or relationships you feel are ‘weird,’ while not enveloping genuinely offensive and problematic things. A turn-off is a turn-off; it’s the opposite of a turn-on. It’s not a trigger, it doesn’t remind you of past trauma; it’s just something you either don’t like or are made uncomfortable by, but not to the point of it crossing the barrier into problematic territory.
Squick probably won’t make a comeback; it’s a muddy term, it floats in the grey. There’s nuance to its use. Everyone defines what squick is to themselves differently, at a deeply personal level. It’s not a universally applicable term. But it can be used, by individuals, to express themselves calmly, as opposed to lashing out at whoever wrote or drew what you just don’t like personally. I used squick a lot as an idea when I was a baby fan; I was made uncomfortable by a lot of the more sexual aspects of fandom, so I found myself just saying “squick” to myself and moving onwards.
These days, though, it’s not enough to say ‘eh, not my thing’ and move on; you have to comment, you have to publicly stand up and shake your head and declaim those who like things you don’t. Everyone has to have an opinion, and everyone has to voice it. However, just because you have the right to express your dislike for something doesn’t always mean it’s polite to the original creator. There’s a social contract, not just in society, but in fandom. Social media’s kind of done away with the social contract. While there are places where the social contract does not apply, especially when it comes to discrimination and lies, personal preferences are not necessarily the social contract’s breaking point.
When everyone wants to be the loudest voice in the largest room in the history of the world, things get ugly. Fast. Now, not everyone wants to be the loudest; but those who do absolutely inflate their outrage over non-problematic things to elevate their own voices. Fandom, which quickly adapted to the Internet, has plenty of those voices. They’ve always been present, but in an age where everyone has a platform, the nastiest ones get a lot of airtime, whether it’s through ratio-ing through retweets and reblogs, or constant think pieces about the toxic side of fandom, which, admittedly, I’m just contributing to right now. I do hope that, someday, we can take a step back and restore nuance to our cultural conversation. And, for that matter, “squick.”