Evangeline Lilly as the elf warrior Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – a new character created by filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.
"I'm not being sexist just because I hate her.” “So much wrong here.” “Putrid.”
“Looks like s---.”
“Just another nail in my coffin of despair.”
Given the vitriol on display in those comments, you could have been forgiven for thinking they were reacting to something akin to Margaret Thatcher's corpse returning from the dead specifically to eat the hearts of babies and kittens live on FOX News, but no, this was simply the pure, unadulterated rage of Tolkien fans mad that a woman had come to spoil their “bro-venture”.
Yes, much bile was posted immediately following the release of the first official image of Evangeline Lilly as the elf warrior Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – a new character created by filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh – and the commotion continued yesterday with the premiere of the film's trailer.
I'm not great at maths, but the trailer provides roughly 11 seconds of footage of Tauriel, which is apparently enough evidence – paired with that sole official photo – for great swaths of the fan community to decide that they despise the character. How dare Jackson do something so “non-canonical”! The Hobbit doesn't need more women! There's already one in it!!
(This rage, I might add, comes from the same fan community that on the other hand thinks nothing of “shipping” dwarves Fili and Kili, brothers, into an incestuous relationship.)
To ice that depressing cake with another layer of despair, Lilly was prepared for fans to hate her character from the start, since she's already had plenty of training in that department during her Lost days. She told Entertainment Weekly: “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are going to be people who will totally hate Tauriel, think that she shouldn't be in the movie, that it's a betrayal of Tolkien, and no matter what I do it won't be right. [. . .] I kind of got prepped for that being on Lost, because we had avid fans who were really extreme in their feelings about the show and its characters.”
Lilly is not alone in playing a character arbitrarily loathed by fans. Spare a thought for poor Sophie Turner, whose Game Of Thrones character Sansa seems to have – despite the presence of many far more despicable characters – become a beacon for all that is mean and unpleasant about online fandom.
A small sample of comments on Sansa's character poster for season three, posted on the show's official Facebook page, includes such generous praise as: “Stupid bitch”, “Is someone going to kill this stupid bitch soon?”, “I think she should die in childs birth” [sic], and so on.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Sansa is a young girl (13 at the start of the books, a smidge older on telly) betrothed to the horrendous boy king Joffrey, and who has had the misfortune of seeing her pet direwolf killed, her father beheaded, being beaten, barely escaping a gang rape, and generally just trying to survive in a hostile environment. For these crimes, as well as the grave error of being young, innocent, and emotional, she has become public enemy No.1 to many Game Of Thrones fans.
Turner herself has addressed this at various press events, including a red-carpet interview from season three's premiere, in which she admits: “It does bug me when people are like, 'I hate her, she's such a bitch'. I'm like, 'No she's not!'”
The irony of such vitriol being flung at innocent Sansa is made all the more bitter when you consider the ways in which hatred of Joffrey is expressed online. Everyone loves to hate him, and he's made fun of in blinged-out GIFs and looped videos of the young king being slapped, set to Led Zeppelin. Joff is arguably one of the most vile characters in Game Of Thrones, but you're hard-pressed to find any criticism of him that even remotely approaches the intensity of that levelled at Sansa.
There are countless other examples, including Skyler White from Breaking Bad and Doctor Who's River Song (and I hope Shailene Woodley is prepared for the reign of terror that will greet her first outing as Mary Jane in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man sequel), and in almost every instance the reasons given – as outlined by this piece – are inevitably spurious.
Here's the thing: it's perfectly reasonable to dislike a character. That's what villains and anti-heroes are there for. But if the best justification you can come up with is something like “she's a bitch” or “she's just a stupid girl”, you're not engaging in armchair cultural criticism, you're perpetuating sexism.
These fan-led hate campaigns offer a disheartening blend of internalised misogyny on the part of female fans (attacking a female character's perceived romantic “threat” when it comes to their favourite male character, or bemoaning feminine qualities), and plain old-fashioned misogyny from males (see those aforementioned Sansa comments, all written by blokes).
Woe betide any fan who attempts to suggest that hating Sansa is probably ridiculous, and possibly sexist, too; as the newly coined internet rule “Anita's Irony” illustrates, “Online discussion of sexism or misogyny quickly results in disproportionate displays of sexism and misogyny”.
Don't believe me? Just sit back and relax: it's about to happen in 5, 4, 3 . . .