Criticizing the Creator’s Creation

Why it’s — sometimes — okay to criticize media and other creative works.

Photo by Cederic X on Unsplash

Who has control over the creative process, the creator or the consumer? When all is said and done, no one can make the creator do what they don’t want to do. But at the same time, the consumer has a significant voice in the matter. And it’s entirely okay to criticize someone when they take their creation in a direction that the consumers don’t like.

This idea is especially true in a world where government is used to control the creative work, preventing others from taking things in a different direction. The Star Trek “universe” is perfect example. While the world has become a part of the lives of millions of fans, it is controlled by someone else. That being said, criticism is different from abuse. And there are times where the fans become so fervent that they do become abusive.

Intellectual Property Control

I’ve mentioned this idea in past works. The control of intellectual property is an abuse of intellectual freedom. While copyrights, to an extent, are ethical, for the most part, controlling ideas is abusive. Perhaps if we had more ability to access the worlds created by others, we would be less critical when those creators take their own works in a direction we don’t like.

In our society, we can get into legal trouble, if we take an idea that someone else started, and use it for our own benefit. A creator has full control over what they produce. But they should not have full control over what others create as derivatives of the original work.

For instance, I’m very critical of Star Trek: Discovery. I don’t like where CBS has taken the genre. If others could take the world of Star Trek, and used it as they saw fit, creating their own content that they believed was a better option, things would be different.

After all, Star Trek has taken on a life of its own. Klingon has become a nearly complete language that people use. Many works have been translated into Klingon. A fan made a rather nice video of him reciting Shakespear in the “original Klingon.” Knife makers have also made “replica” bat’leths. There are numerous conventions for Star Trek fans. There are a nearly unmeasurable number of fan works which take place in the Star Trek universe.

It doesn’t seem like anyone has a right to control this universe. However, CBS outright killed off a fan run series that had a lot of support. It even had the support of many who were involved in creating the universe in the first place.

Star Trek: Axanar, was a fan created series, involving a number of fans and past cast and crew members from various Star Trek productions. It went to Kickstarter in an attempt to obtain a modest $10K in capital to start production. The campaign reached over $100K by the time it ended. But not long after production started, CBS hit the production with a lawsuit.

It wasn’t that long after the murder of Axanar that CBS started promoting their own project: STD. It was clear that CBS threatened others for daring to enjoy the expansive world that was created, not even by one person, but dozens upon dozens, and which has grown well beyond its initial creation.

When CBS et al. threaten others for using an idea, which controls what others can create, starting with an idea that has been released to the public, then criticism is not only acceptable, but it should be encouraged. It’s especially when the company did not even create the world, and wants us to pay extra just to consume their content.

Star Trek is just one example among many. I could list numerous other examples. Wizards of the Coast, which created Dungeons and Dragons, as well as Magic The Gathering, leverages their copyrights to control their worlds, which is ironic considering what Wizards first created D&D, based in many ways off the world of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's estate sued them over intellectual copyright infringement.

Time and time again, people create worlds that are far bigger than they are. They are important to the fans. A work of fiction can become a world for the reader or viewer. They can become safe havens. When the creator restricts or threatens those worlds, what else should a person do?

Abusive Fans

Now, criticism is fine. In fact, it’s to be expected if you release a work to the public. If you don’t want your work to be criticized. If you don’t want fans to comment on whether something was done right not not, don’t release the work. Keep it to yourself. And certainly don’t expect money for it.

But criticism can turn into abuse. People start to believe that they, as fans, can control the creator, rather than just criticize them. The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is a prime example. Rather than simply criticizing the work, the fans have criticized the author, hounded him, and demanded that he complete the series.

At that point, the creative process can lose that which makes it enjoyable, and the hounding becomes abuse. Fans do need to be respectful in the way that they give criticism. They shouldn’t make absurd demands. It’s not helpful. It’s harmful. If Martin’s fans were more understanding, then perhaps he would have felt more enthusiastic in continuing his work.

Summary

Fans can be, for a lack of better term, fanatical. They can be downright abusive. The fan-base may feel that they own the work, and in some ways, they do. But in no way do they own the creator. And people need to keep that in mind. But at the same time, when the fans are prevented, in some cases through abusive legal actions, from taking the world that they love so dearly, and expanding it and interacting with it as they please, then it’s no wonder that people would become obsessed with how well the creators do at maintaining a specific vision that the fans think is the right one.

Further Reading