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The Polarization of TMNT Fandom

by Dan Gehen

The latest animated series to feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, titled “Rise of the TMNT” has caused a bit of a stir in the fan community. Well, “a bit of a stir” is putting it lightly, as in some instances the new show has incited all out war between fans. In some fan communities, the tension has risen to the point where there is a question about what being a fan really means. As a disclaimer, I’m not looking to say one side is better than the other, but merely take a look and see if there is room for a middle ground.

These things, like most fan wars, beings with looking at what came before. The TMNT franchise has gone through many different incarnations, from the original Mirage comics, to the multiple animated series, movies, and the current comic series from IDW Publishing. By and large, each version to appear after those original Mirage comics have been met with some form of criticism, only to either be lovingly accepted or ignored by the fan community. With Rise of the TMNT, it has to contend with the recently ended, much beloved animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), which overcame its own bout of initial backlash to be considered one of the definitive interpretations of the characters.

So it should come as no surprise that when the first announcements and promo artwork was unveiled, not everyone was on board. Many actually still aren’t, but more on that later. At first, there was criticism of the Turtles designs, new leadership structure, and race-swapping. Most of the conversations were tame, but being the internet, there were undoubtedly people that crossed the line. What was perhaps more shocking was the amount of pushback against such criticisms. Yes, whenever there is criticisms of a popular franchise, there are always its defenders. However, this time felt different. Podcast hosts, YouTubers, Facebook group admins, and other fan community gatekeepers became the new (and still in development) cartoon’s most ardent defenders. Snuffing out any instances of negativity, they took a stance, intentional or not, that true fans are those that are accepting of all iterations of a franchise. While they hid behind cries of “wait and see,” they had drawn their line in the sand and divided TMNT fandom into two factions: those for and those against Rise of the TMNT.

Division within a fandom is hardly new, and this isn’t even the first time for such a division to crop up regarding the TMNT. However, the rift between fans appears wider and more intense than ever before, and the chance of a reconciliation appears slimmer as more information regarding Rise of the TMNT is unveiled. The reason for this has nothing to do with TMNT fans, but perhaps speaks to larger issues within society. With each passing day, there appears to be deteriorating empathizing with, understanding, and having respect for others. More frequently, people do not like to see opinions – or even cold, hard facts – that disrupt their point of view. Fan pages and message boards are no longer forums for discussion, but safe spaces and echo chambers for like-minded individuals. And if you stumble into one of these communities with an opinion differs in the slightest from the groupthink, prepare to be ridiculed and ostracized.

TMNT fandom has always had its share of divisions, whether it’s favorite turtle or favorite incarnation (BTW, it’s the 1990 movie for me, but that’s a whole other discussion). But while in the past these divisions caused friendly conversations between those that shared a common interest, that is not the case today. Tribalism has taken hold of the fandom, with barely a middle ground for those that don’t care one way or another. And just a reminder, the Rise era of the TMNT won’t last for long. It might not even last into the next decade. Hopefully, the two sides can bury the hatchet soon and realize their hardened stances are the result of the passion and adoration felt on both sides for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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