The death of rapper XXXTentacion reminds us, once again, that the internet is host to a weird ecosystem of denialist fandom obsessed with defending alleged celebrity abusers. There’s a seemingly endless infantry of dudes (and occasional woman) online whose sole purpose appears to be lashing out at anyone criticizing men accused of violence and rape.
You might know the troll I’m talking about: the one who spends his day searching for any negative tweet about Chris Brown, Johnny Depp or most recently, Chris Hardwick, and tries to drag the person who wrote it into a circular, incoherent argument.
What’s driving them—especially the ones who confess they don’t even like the men they’re defending?
Let’s dive in and see.
Taking a Side in a Made-Up Culture War
After I wrote about the accusations against Hardwick and how his alleged behavior ties into the toxicity of nerd culture, a bunch of fans descended on the article, decrying its “witch-hunt mentality,” excoriating me for trying to “start a culture war so that you can have your amusement,” calling me “SUCH a bigoted asshole,” and pointing out that the all-female Ghostbusters reboot lost money at the box office. Interestingly, nobody mentioned Hardwick or his ex-girlfriend, Chloe Dykstra — almost as if they wanted to ignore the part where their hero had been labeled an abuser. All they could do was moan about some greater nefarious prejudice toward nerds and everything they hold dear.
Misogynist Rage, Regardless of the Facts
Over on Twitter, people have explicitly supported Hardwick using the hashtag #IStandWithHardwick. I reached out to ask why they felt so passionately that their man was innocent. Some ignored me. One, who had changed her bio and display name to reflect her pro-Hardwick sentiment, immediately blocked me and changed her info again. A fellow who engaged said he usually believes women who claim to have survived abuse, but that this case is an exception. Pressed to explain why, he said that Dykstra had admitted to being a liar in her account of the relationship with Hardwick. Needless to say, her essay contains no such remark. This dude made it up out of thin air, and parroted Hardwick’s talking point: Dykstra cheated, so her word is forfeit. He didn’t respond when I asked him where he’d picked up the false “liar” bit.
Cult-Like Fandom—So Devoted It Defies Any Abuse Scandal
Although innumerable jackasses will rush to declaim the honor of anyone outed in a #MeToo story, it appears as if many will stick to championing one particular man. The Chris Brown and Johnny Depp fan accounts are single-minded in their agenda, and while a few bots are surely in play, some users are plainly true cultists. They’ll even weigh one abuse scandal against another — here’s a Brown disciple who thinks Depp is getting off too lightly by comparison:
I’m willing to acknowledge a racial disparity in these headlines, but Depp’s purported shittiness is no cover for Brown’s, and protesting that Brown hit Rihanna a decade ago is a curious way to deflect from the rather consistent allegations that he’s physically abusive. Rihanna may have forgiven Brown, but another woman got a restraining order against him less than a week ago. Maybe that’s why shouting down whoever criticizes him has come to resemble a full-time job.
Sympathy for the Devil
After I wrote about XXXTentacion, another man went after me on Twitter, calling the piece “ugly and inaccurate.” Like many defenders of alleged abusers, he feigned disinterest: “I couldn’t stand him,” he wrote. Nonetheless, he asserted, as many of the rapper’s loyal fans have since news of his murder broke, that XXXTentacion “went out of his way to be better.” I requested an example of what he meant by that. He was unable to provide one. We went back and forth until he, too, offered a lie — that the woman XXXTentacion stood accused of battering when she was pregnant had rescinded that version of events. He was referring to an affidavit that prosecutors regarded as highly suspicious, particularly as XXXTentacion was also facing a charge of witness tampering. Then this man blocked me as well, angry that I was still talking to him, though he’d tweeted at me first.
Why are these crusaders always running for the hills?
What can we make of all this? Their existence could be a measure of how hard we try to absorb famous people into our own identity (and how correspondingly far we’ll go to protect our sacred image of them) or just part of a misogynist culture that values men’s reputations over their victims.
Who am I kidding? It’s definitely both.
Anyway, if you feel exhausted interacting with these people, just think: They never have a moment’s peace! At any moment of the day, someone is trash-talking the dead or living celeb they imagine has been unfairly treated by the media and the American public, or become the random target of some deranged female looking for whatever prosperity women supposedly stand to gain from naming the men who have mistreated them. Their delusion makes them tireless, hateful and strange, and for nothing. Their idols won’t see or appreciate their labor. Nobody’s opinion is swayed by their complaints.
Honestly, you guys, take a week off sometime.