At its core, Pretty Little Liars is a story about cyberbullying. For seven seasons, the Liars are tormented by an often-unseen force who sends them cruel and taunting messages. You would think that hardcore fans of the show would be extra careful about the words they choose online, yet, the PLL showrunner's plight proves that many of them are not. In a powerful essay for Marie Claire, TV writer I. Marlene King shared she was bullied by some fans of her show, especially when the series took a route that they didn't like.
That's seriously disappointing, especially since no show is capable of making every single fan happy all the time. King pointed out that the bullying — which was often through Twitter, a relatively new platform when Pretty Little Liars first started in 2010 — tended to come about whenever she made a decision that was "against" certain ships, like in season 2, when Aria (Lucy Hale) kissed Jason (Drew Van Acker) despite being with Ezra (Ian Harding).
"I was the brunt of thousands of insults—some about my storytelling, but most personal attacks. I was more surprised than upset, but when the insults turned to threats I hit the pause button. I didn't respond to the haters, and needed to rethink my position on social media. Was it worth it? Did my personal relationship with fans give them permission to personally attack me?"
As Refinery29's Arianna Davis wrote in her article about "stans" (a.k.a. stalker fans, who obsess over a show, celebrity, or other fandom), the culture around fandoms is becoming more and more toxic. King, whose Instagram account has even been hacked by alleged fans in the past, may be opening up a dialogue with her fans, but she doesn't deserve to be harassed because of it.
While King wrote in Marie Claire that she eventually came back to Twitter when the hashtag #WeLoveMarlene started trending — a way to lure the showrunner back and answer questions about PLL's mystery — aggressive fans have attacked King on Twitter many times. In fact, the most recent time was the show's final episode, which revealed that it was Alex Drake, Spencer's (Troian Bellisario) evil twin, who was the ultimate baddie. However, what fans were really upset about was the fact that Toby (Keegan Allen) didn't kiss Spencer in the show's last episode. King wrote in Marie Claire:
"I watched with the cast and writers—and when Toby knew the real Spencer from Alex Drake we all swooned. For us, it was a deeply profound and romantic moment, and I thought Spoby fans would feel the same way. I didn't know until the next day, when doing press, that fans were giving me holy hell on social because Spoby didn't share a final kiss."
Look, I consider myself one of the biggest PLL stans that I know, but to attack King with vicious, often personal insults simply because two characters didn't share a kiss? That's Alex Drake-level crazy.
While Pretty Little Liars — and any show with an impassioned fan base — may feel like it belongs to each individual fan, the truth is, it doesn't. It's just a TV show that you're lucky enough to have connected with. There's no "right" or "wrong" way for King and the rest of the writers to tell this story — there's only the story that they decide to tell. And even if King decided to be all about fan service — which, honestly, she is more than many other TV writers out there, hence the Emison babies and proposal — there's simply no way to make everyone happy, or to unite a couple that everyone wants to be endgame. So, my fellow PLL fans: Get the hell over it, and let King live.
Fortunately, the TV creator is a lot more chill about the bullying than I would be. She added in her essay that the stans online are actually just proof that the show connected with such a large audience:
"[It's] okay if Spoby fans disagree with me. I'm still grateful for their passion and we can agree to disagree. After all, we are #PLLFamily. And just like the unconditional love the liars have for each other, I will always feel the same way about our fans. #PLLFamily4eva."
The good news is, most PLL fans took the message of the show to heart: that being kind is everything, and friendship and love will always beat out hate. It's a shame that certain chunks of this fandom missed the memo.