Maximum Fun Isn’t That Fun
Updated 01/03/18: Edited a paragraph in the second half to clarify why I brought up My Brother, My Brother, and Me. Starts with “To wrap back to MBMBaM…”
Updated 01/04/18: Edited out a needless reference to Rachel McElroy in the paragraph starting with “Finally, this all just makes me feel out of place…”
Took out a link at the request of the linked author.
I’m someone who used to donate $20/month to Maximum Fun. I was part of many of their official and unofficial groups on Facebook. I listened to almost all of their podcasts. Slowly things started to crack their “spunky upstart that can do no wrong” facade, and before long I went from donating happily and helping with their word-of-mouth adverting campaigns to contently ending my donations and dropping them from my podcatcher. It was an easy choice, but one that took me awhile to make. I’d like to share with you two big reasons why I’ve chosen to stop supporting Maximum Fun in any way, as I feel like more people should know about these aspects of this podcast network.
Still Buffering and The Smirlpocalypse
I feel like this has been talked about the most, but I would still like to give a quick refresher and link to people who have talked about this more in-depth than I could, as this was the first thing that made me back out a bit from Maximum Fun as a whole.
Rachel Rosing, who you may remember as being featured on My Brother, My Brother, and Me’s Yahoo Answers segments, made a Twitter thread about this. The basic idea was that someone suggested that Still Buffering cover white privilege on the show. Mary Smirl, mother of the three sisters that host Still Buffering, didn’t take to kindly to the suggestion, and started a fight with the person who suggested it. The person who suggested the topic brought up their less-than-stellar track record with racism in their Facebook group, which is what caused the implosion. Sydnee tagged and called out the person who made the suggestion. That person who made the topic suggestion was removed from the group, along with others leaving comments of support and people liking comments that supported them. This eventually led to fast-tracking the McElroys restructuring of most of their official podcast Facebook groups, with almost all of the groups being handed over to volunteer mods.
I have a couple issues with this. One being the actual implosion of most of the McElroy Facebook groups due to this. If you’ve ever wondered why the popular McElroy Facebook groups are called some form of “Appreciation Group,” know that they used to be called some variation of an “Official Group” and the McElroys left those groups because of the above issues. Once the going got tough, they all took their leave and left it up to unpaid volunteers.
Another issue is the shield of family. When things started to get uncomfortable for the Smirls they tried to use their 16-year-old as a shield against criticism by calling someone a pervert because they had issues with how Still Buffering was handling this situation in their Facebook group. Using your child as a shield so you don’t have to own up to how horribly you’ve handled a situation is less than stellar, and is entirely unprofessional to say the least.
Another issue with this whole situation is that this all came about because someone made the suggestion to cover white privilege on their show. This immense blow up, all because someone suggested a topic that made them a bit uncomfortable. It’s amazing how much of an overreaction came to be, but I think that’s just telling of them as people. That it was spun so quick to be about the Smirls being racists makes me wonder why they’re so quick to squash that, even when no one is saying they are.
Another thing I don’t see talked about to much is the encouragement of gaslighting. The Smirls deleted all the posts. They deleted what started this and then shaped the narrative within their own groups. Other prominent group members also made it seem as if people were attacking Rileigh outright and calling her racist. When people would push back against that, threads were locked with messages saying “well, I know more, so trust me one this one!” Those same people were promoted to mods once the Smirls left the group. That’s just not a group I want to be part of, and I definitely don’t want to support actions like this.
Finally, this all just makes me feel out of place in that group or listening to that podcast. I’m a brown dude who was there to witness all of this, and I don’t feel like I belong in that community now. Imagine if it wasn’t a topic suggestion. What if someone actually cited something problematic that they had said, like calling their group “ohana” or “tribe,” and… oh, you’re telling me they do that? And that conversations talking about how that’s problematic get shut down? And that members who were using that language often were promoted to mods after all this? Hmm. Oh boy, well, I guess I was right in not feeling welcome, huh!
With all these things coming together, I decided to drop Still Buffering from my donations to Maximum Fun. I also sent them a long email, explaining my reasoning and giving them screenshots from the implosion. I never got a response.
Exploiting The Community and Hypocrisy
This is one that I don’t think I’ve seen talked about too much, so pardon me while I do some setup.
Let’s look at My Brother, My Brother, and Me. That show is based entirely around fan submissions. If they didn’t have fans submitting questions or Yahoos they would have no content, or at least less content. Yahoos you can find, writing advice questions not so much. Without the fans, the content of their show wouldn’t be the same, let alone the reach it gets. And you know someone has used an animated MBMBaM bit to help them introduce the show to someone, I know I have.
So, you have tons of fan works helping get the word out for one of your shows, you’d figure that Maximum Fun as a whole would be really cool with fans and fan works and…
I’m sorry, Jesse Thorn threatened to sic his lawyers on fan artists?
Now, what’s nice is that someone responded pretty quickly explaining that “transformative fanworks aren’t theft/plagiarism,” and linked Thorn their thread explaining how saying “hey, we appreciate all your fan art, but keep it as free advertising, or else I’ll get the lawyers” is not a great look. Jesse, of course, didn’t respond to the points made in that thread.
This is also a weird take to have when some of your shows, like Greatest Generation, Rose Buddies (now re-branded as Wonderful), and Tights and Fights, are transformative fan works. Those shows wouldn’t exist if Star Trek, The Bachelor or the Bachelorette, or commerically produced wrestling didn’t exist. Greatest Generation is the best example of this, as they constantly use clips from different materials. They blatantly stole The Picard Song as their theme, but they still managed to get onto the Maximum Fun network.
But maybe that’s not quite the same. You might be reading this and seeing nothing wrong. They’re not selling fan works, so there’s nothing inherently hypocritical about this whole situation.
That is a challenge coin that is just blatant Star Trek fanart. They’re selling Star Trek fanart for $20 on their store, after Jesse Thorn said he would sic the lawyers on fan artists selling their works. And, in case you were wondering, this screenshot was grabbed today as I was writing this, January 2, 2018.
And then there are the times where they’re just insulting to people.
Take that screenshot, for instance. This person made a comment about Stop Podcasting Yourself’s ad, one where the two hosts are just kinda scatting and don’t explain the premise of the show. This was in response to a tweet that didn’t tag the official Stop Podcasting Yourself account, so they named searched themselves and decided to put this random user on blast.
And, of course, the person who decided to wade into some random’s mentions is getting likes. Because this is how Maximum Fun curates it’s community. If you speak out against any part of it, the fans are trained to jump to the defense. People in The Adventure Zone Facebook Group were encouraging each other to tattle on fan artists that sell their work. Think back to how Rachel Rosing was publicly critical of the Still Buffering implosion. When was the last time you heard her name during the Yahoo Answers segment of MBMBaM? Probably before she was critical of Still Buffering.
To wrap back to MBMBaM, this isn’t to say that they need to be paying fans for submitted Yahoos or giving advice. That’s just not how that works, and that’s okay. This is to show that there is a pattern of exploiting their fans with no investment in their community. First you help make our podcast content, for free. Then do our community management, for free. Then do our advertising, for free. Then make fan art for us, for free. Instead of being paying fans, they are conditioned and rewarded to blindly support Maximum Fun and turn on people who criticize the network in anyway, as we can see with users who helped gaslight the Facebook Still Buffering group being promoted to moderator and Stop Podcasting Yourself publicly blasting some random for not liking their ad.
You don’t blast random users on Twitter for not liking your ad. You don’t threaten legal action against fan artists selling their work when you have fan art on your own storefront. You don’t implode at the idea of covering white privilege as a podcast topic and then reward people who help you gaslight your own community to cover up for your mistakes. I see this and see a podcast network that doesn’t value their community, they see them as some resource to be extracted for as much donation money as possible, and ones who will continually pat the network on the back, no matter what they do. They’re no longer some small, spunky upstart. They’re a business taking advantage of fans, and I refuse to support a podcast network as unprofessional as they are.
I hope they change at some point. But until that happens, I hope people will hold them accountable for the things they encourage and let happen. And until they do that, I won’t be giving them or their shows any more free advertising, money, or praise.