Over the past week, the word “fandom” has popped up and has become a fascinating thing to follow and deconstruct.
There was a fantastic work on birth movies death (one of the few sites that has descent writing in a culture that produces clickbait and off the cuff reactions) on why fandom is broken. There have been many pieces since then making a counter-point to the article. Some are better than others, and some are not worth reading. At the end of the day, when it comes to fandom, are artists beginning to cave to the insane demands that some hardcore fans are placing on them? Instead of sticking to their statement, are artists beginning to cave in fear of their lives, as many have received death threats?
One area that I’m trying to understand on fandom is the size of the fanbase.
When Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012 , when it caused a huge controversy on the internet due to the quality of the ending, was that the vast majority of players who were unhappy with the ending, or was that only a small minority? The lead writer of Mass Effect 3 thought it was just the vocal minority who had major issues with the ending.
“There is a vocal minority and we did want to see what we could do to help that but at the same time I think we also did what we thought was best for the series,” said Walters.
Was he right? What did the silent majority think of the ending? I’ve talked about the vocal minority in the past, and it’s become a topic of fascination for me, which has lead me into discovering the deeper roots into the world of fandom.
Is it worth catering to fandom?
The diehards are the ones who count down the days to the release of something that they are waiting for. They will buy the collectors cups, the special editions, the plush toys, the posters. They will post on fan forums, they will write blogs on their fandom, some may even go so far and write fan-fiction.
What about those that are not so deep into fandom, the so-called “casuals” as diehards like to call them? What about those that aren’t waiting until release date and don’t buy anything beyond the base product? They might do a bit of reading afterwards, or they might discuss it with friends, but otherwise they move on with their life to other things.
How does the size of fandom compare to those that are not the diehard? It’s tough to say. Catering to the diehard group can be a great niche choice, but you can be abandoning a larger audience. However, one ill-advised move against the diehard fandom can result in death threats and harassment that no artist should have to deal with.
It’s great to see people bond over things that they are dedicated towards. I have zero issues with them losing themselves into these fictional worlds. However, what happens when they begin to complain to the creators of these worlds about how they think the story should go? Or worse, what if they start harassing the artists over twitter, or sending death threats?
Yes, it’s good for the artist to provoke, to get a rise out of people, to create disagreement, to create controversy. Yes, it’s good for artists to take risks and stick to their artistic statement. The Sopranos ending was (and still is) controversial and has an incredible blog breaking down the infamous finale scene. Yet people still talk about it to this day, and its reception has grown from one of anger to being appreciated, and is now considered one of the finest finales of all time.
Fandom likes to make snap judgments instead of letting things simmer.
When released in 2007, the finale of The Sopranos ending created much discussion and creator David Chase was constantly hounded (and still is) to give more interpretation and closure on the ending. People wanted closure. Yet, as time passed on, people came to appreciate it. If the finale were to happen in 2016, I fear that he would have received an insane amount of death threats or online harassment that simply didn’t exist back in 2007. They would not let it set it, but would be on the forums seconds after in outrage. How would you feel if you had many strangers sending you messages about how they were coming to get you or threaten your life, even if they don’t follow through?
I fear for George RR Martin when Game of Thrones comes to a close and when the final book is finally released. With the amount of fandom dedicated to both the books and the show, the insane detail of fan theories that have emerged over the years, George cannot please everyone. I will not be surprised if he takes a radio silence for months (despite being quite open with his fanbase) and let people take in the ending over time instead of after the final roll of credits or after reading the final sentence. I cannot imagine the pressure that he has to face with both completing the books, and the aftermath of the ending. I foresee a controversial ending that people will be talking about for years afterwards, and while foaming at the mouth at first, coming to appreciate it later.
I fear fandom changing the artistic statement of artists.
Will these creators create an ending that is more safe, one that caters to the fandom instead of their original vision to keep in their good books? To avoid constant harassment and death threats? To not have to deal with the pressure that this vocal minority will hound them about for years? If Sopranos creator David Chase had known that he would still be asked about the final 10 minutes of the show after all these years, would he have made an ending that was more definitive? If George RR Martin started to read fan forums about where people think the story was going, would he change direction? If Bioware known how much their fandom would be in an uproar over the Mass Effect 3 ending, would they have gone for a different approach?
What about the other side of the coin? If David Chase made a “safe” ending for The Sopranos, would he have been criticized for not taking a bigger risk? If George RR Martin ends A Song of Ice and Fire with causing a huge divide in audience reaction, would the fandom harass him for creating something that was too safe? I think so. This leads to a lose-lose with artist.
It’s fascinating to think about classic books, films, or shows that were released before the internet made it so easy for fandom to connect to one another and make their voices heard. How would fandom react today to the end of The Lord of the Rings?
In conclusion on fandom
The internet has made it incredibly easy to connect with other fans. It’s easier than ever for discussion, to post fan theories, to post your own interpretations and feelings on work that you are devoted to. However, when things don’t go your way, it’s incredibly easy to be anonymous and harass the creators. Yes, you are allowed to have your opinion, but instead of sticking with your reaction right after the ending credits begin to roll, right after the curtains come to a close, right after you read the final sentence, let it sit with you. Sleep on it. You can share what you want of course, but come back to it a few months later, maybe a year later. How do you feel about it now?
Oh, and do not make death threats or harass. How would you feel if your work that you released had you receive anonymous death threats or constant harassment for years?
Originally published at www.paul-lopushinsky.com on June 6, 2016.