Yesterday morning, a gunman walked into a nightclub in Orlando, FL and began killing people. It was a gay nightclub, and he evidently became outraged when he saw two men kissing one another. He so hated the idea that not everyone was like him that he felt the need to destroy as many people as he personally could. He saw love and responded with hate. What a horrible, fucked up human being. And, sadly, one in just a long line of people who tried to destroy whoever they saw as outsiders.

Intergroup discrimination, exhibited in some manner in different cultures throughout the world, was studied at length by Henri Tajfel and John Turner, who developed it into their theory of social identity. The basic theory suggests a fairly simple model of human organization. In fact, it’s not that far removed from the classic “us versus them” discussion: a person views other individuals as part of their ingroup or an outgroup. An ingroup can be described as just the collection of people who belong to the same group as the individual in question. Everyone not a member of the ingroup is, therefore, part of an outgroup.

Tajfel and Turner noted in their original writings on the subject that an ingroup is, “a collection of individuals who perceive themselves to be members of the same social category, share some emotional involvement in this common definition of themselves, and achieve some degree of social consensus about the evaluation of their group and of their membership of it.” Putting that in terms of fandom specifically, they’re saying that fans have a pretty good understanding of what it is to be a fan. The fact that they’ve spent as much time and put forth as much energy into their hobby as they have means, in part, that they’ve gained some understanding of what the nature of fandom is. That understanding is shared within the body of fandom, generally by way of example. A person stepping into a fandom for the first time picks up on the customs and mores of the group and, over time, adopts them in an effort to become more of a member of that group. Those who continually and/or willfully disregard the basic commonalities of fandom are rejected from the group in some manner.

This is, in large part, why I study fandom. Because that’s the part that I don’t get. Why do the members of an ingroup, particularly a well-established one, take such offense at the very notion that someone else might not be a member of their group and are worth unleashing their hate upon? Why does a comic book fan give a crap what a Twilight fan is interested in? Why does a Star Trek fan take delight in mocking Star Wars fans? Why does a man who likes women gun down men who prefer men?

Our whole reason for being, as individuals, is to find joy in life wherever we can and, ideally, share that joy with others who are close to us. What kind of sad, fucked up life do you have to have that you feel the need to destroy, or even just belittle, someone just because they’re finding a different kind of joy than you? You don’t have to like what they like. You do your thing; let them do theirs. If you try to interfere with their joy, the only thing that does is make you an asshole.

About The Author

Sean Kleefeld
Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
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Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.