The history of motion pictures is full of iconic lines. Some folks, frankly, don’t give a damn. Others remark on how life, uh, finds a way. Then, there’s this gem from Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which will go down as the greatest grouping of words ever uttered on the big screen: “A fanboy knows a hater.”
This cinematic masterpiece was uttered during a tense moment between Parzival/Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and IOI chief executive Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). As Sorrento tries to tempt Parzival with promises of wealth, luxury, and mad gear, yo, Parzival nobly rejects his clandestine offer—not by calling out IOI’s human rights violations or other questionable behavior, but because Sorrento is totes a hater... and fanboys know that.
You’d think this line would be a holdover from Ernest Cline’s original novel. You would be wrong. As much as Ready Player One is about simultaneously tugging the nostalgia rods of cis white men everywhere, the word “fanboy” isn’t mentioned once. So, how did this incandescent configuration that was oddly missing from its source material find its way into one of the most pivotal moments of the film? And, just how many layers can we peel back from these words, each one more enigmatic than the last? Let’s take a look:
Suggests the singular—alone, apart, and solo (just like Han, eh?). Calling back to the very foundation of the English language—it’s literally the first letter in the alphabet—this lone term is the epitome of steadfast uncompromisingness. In that moment, Wade is signifying to Sorrento that he acts alone, on his own authority, and will not bend to outside pressure.
The first known use of the term “fanboy” was back in 1919—the same year that the League of Nations was formed following the end of World War I. By paying tribute to an organization that represented peace and unity after years of war and hardship, Wade Watts is showing Sorrento that—upon his own authority—his loyalties lie with his allies in the OASIS.
Wade Watts may have been an atheist, at least in the book, but he still draws upon religious influence to make his case. Much like how the Tree of Knowledge lay at the center of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, placing this active verb at the center of his statement shows how important knowledge is to Wade... since he’s spent his entire life studying James Halliday’s life, as well as pop culture in general. Note: This usage has the double benefit of presenting Sorrento as both God and the serpent. Sorrento is the all-knowing figure trying to suppress Wade’s growth, but he’s also trying to give him the key to something that will corrupt his innocence.
Wade’s first use of the singular “A” was in reference to himself, but here we get a clever inversion. Wade giving Sorrento the same designation that he originally bestowed upon himself actually subverts Sorrento’s agency. Deep down, Wade knows that Sorrento is not as much in control as he claims.
And here, we get our epic finale. Hate is one of the strongest emotions a human being can experience, and yet it’s not one of the core ones. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said there are two emotions: love and fear. Hate is a way to externalize fear, placing it out an outside target to distract from your own weakness. Wade is proving to Sorrento just how weak and powerless he is—not only within his own organization but also within himself. As the 21st-century scholar Taylor Swift once put it: “Haters gonna hate.”
Note: The line is followed by “...when he sees one,” which I believe is a reference to the All-Seeing Eye and a rejection of consumer culture. But that’s open to interpretation.
Some may claim everything I just said is word noise—that this line is nothing more than a dumb-ass catchphrase screenwriters Zak Penn and Cline penned to try and sound cool. A line that also isolates a huge portion of their own audience, one that rejects an idolatry of white male homogeny in nerd culture, which the writers’ current and previous works have supported. To them I say hogwash (wink). Hogwash!
I’m sure this is just one of many treatises on Wade Watt’s legendary words—I’m especially curious to see some Marxist literary analysis of this passage, which may connect Wade’s sweet takedown of Nolan Sorrento to the socialist-leaning nature of the OASIS versus the capitalist structure of the IOI. In the meantime, may we all strive to put as much thought and foresight into the works we create. And may fanboys always know their haters.