March 31, 2018, 8:53 pm.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for "Love, Simon" (2018).
Tumblr users really, really hate Martin Addison.
To a certain extent, this comes as no surprise. He blackmails Simon by threatening to out him as gay, and eventually does out Simon to the entire school. In sum, he does terrible things.
But the overwhelming fan response to Martin is particularly visceral; it surpasses mere disgust at his actions. There's something really dedicated about the Tumblr users who detest him; there's something about Martin that inspires vigilance in his haters. Tumblr users don't dislike him passively; they dislike him very, very actively.
Compare this reaction to, for instance, the reaction to the two jocks that bully Simon in the cafeteria: very few people on Tumblr spend time denouncing them. These characters also do terrible things, but something about them doesn't drive fans to their keyboards in anger.
There are plenty of hateful characters on whom we don't expend energy. Why is Martin Addison worth the effort?
I think it's because the film humanizes him.
Love, Simon tries to endear Martin to the audience. When Martin starts blackmailing Simon, Simon visits Martin's room; we don't see any of Simon's friends' rooms throughout the entire movie, but we do see Martin's. As Simon gives Martin romantic advice, the tone is playful. This scene urges us to view Martin as a lonely kid with no good friends; it implicitly asks the viewer to step into Martin's shoes.
If the filmmakers really didn't want us to like Martin, they could have framed this scene differently. The tone of the scene could have been colder; they could have highlighted Martin's cruel edge, rather than his awkwardness. By putting Simon in Martins room and playing up Martin's loneliness, the film invites Simon (and the viewer) to empathize with Martin.
Later in the film, Martin tries to get Abby (his crush and Simon's good friend) to stand up on a Waffle House table and declare that she deserves a "goddamn superhero." At this moment, the scene could go one of two ways — Abby could refuse to go along with Martin's bit (and the message would be that Martin can't force people into doing things), or Abby could relent (and the message would be that Martin actually helps people). For a while, it looks like the film will choose the former, but it chooses the latter — Abby does get up and shout that she deserves a goddman superhero. The film wants us to leave this scene with the impression that Martin isn't all that bad.
And although Martin outs Simon to the entire school, the movie ultimately redeems him. At the climax of the film, as Simon waits for Blue (his anonymous crush) on a Ferris wheel, Martin arrives and pays for Simon to ride with Blue. Ending Martin's role in the movie on this note sends a pretty clear message — Martin isn't supposed to be a bad dude. Considering that he's arguably the villain of the film, the filmmakers paint him in a surprisingly humanizing light.
This is what inspires rancor in the fans.
It's precisely because the film wants its audience to like Martin that fans on Tumblr hate him so much. Tumblr users can feel the movie trying to nudge them into forgiving Martin, and this is what they resist so adamantly. They know that many viewers will leave the movie liking Martin, and they want to change that narrative.
A quick search of 'martin love simon' on Tumblr yields an avalanche of posts condemning him: itemized lists of Martin's hurtful acts, posts that proclaim him to be garbage, and graphics that declare "In this house we hate Martin Addison." No one says "In this house we hate those two jocks that bully Simon," because no one needs to. There's never any implication that we should like them, so there's nothing to combat.
The creators of this film clearly wanted to portray Martin in a redeeming light, and most young fans reject that representation. The filmmakers, by my reading, want the audience to eventually see Martin as hardly different from Simon — to the filmmakers, Martin is equally misunderstood and equally deserving of acceptance. To young queer fans, on the other hand, accepting Martin is unthinkable. They believe that accepting Martin would negate any acceptance of Simon; for most of Tumblr, a world that preaches tolerance of Martin Addison is not a safe space.
The persistent decrying of Martin springs from this fundamental disagreement. The fans of the movie want to express — to the filmmakers, to their peers, to the world — that Martin does not deserve his sympathetic portrayal.
I find myself with one major takeaway: Viewers of media do not like to be told what to feel or whom to like. Young queer fans can feel that the film wants them to like Martin, and they have reacted very strongly against that.
But it goes the other way, too — people respond equally negatively when you tell them who not to like.
I'm queer. I will never forget what I was wearing when a girl outed me to my class in sixth grade. I strongly dislike Martin.
Yet if we tell people to hate Martin, we will be no more effective than the creators of Love, Simon when they told us to like him.
There are many characters I wish I could tell people not to like; Martin is one of them. But I must also realize that this strategy doesn't work. If it did, that would be wonderful. However, since it doesn't, we must try new techniques. Flatly telling everyone to hate Martin is not sufficiently nuanced; it will seldom change people's minds. Instead, I think we have to talk about these characters with no less conviction, but perhaps with less rigidity.