Saturday, November 23, 2013

Choose or DIE!!

So Fandom. We need to have a little talk. When you started to become the modern incarnation of yourself, back when Star Trek had its first convention, you had some tenets of belief. No, not a manifesto. You created that later.

But let's look at what you DID believe.

In the (quite fantastic) documentary Trek Nation, you were bright-eyed and happy. Enthusiastic. You forefathers went to their first Star Trek convention dressed in homemade costumes. Over and over again, they gushed about how fandom was inclusive, didn't discriminate and celebrated differences instead of denigrating them. These happy travelers had found their tribe. People who loved the way they loved. Who had definite opinions, of course, but would engage you in a discussion without ripping off your Spock ears. As set forth by your forefathers, fandom was a celebration.

Fandom, a word that's been around since 1903, is defined thusly: "the state or attitude of being a fan."There are two definitions for 'fan': "an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator," and "an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit)." What fan doesn't seem to mean according to dictionaries is "angry troll who thinks the show belongs to her and wants to murder everyone who doesn't like what she likes, and also let's murder the people who are ruining/made the show because they have betrayed us and they owe us what we want."

What the fuck HAPPENED, y'all?
I know that this isn't news to anyone. But sometimes things happen and then other things need to be said. So a little backstory on the latest thing.

There's a certain Supernatural faction that was unhappy with a certain aspect of the show. The character names they'd smashed together were not getting smashed together on the show. A studio executive interacted with them on Twitter, patiently communicating and listening. What happened (to nobody's surprise, but still) is that this faction TURNED on this guy. They couldn't believe that he and the writers actually didn't know what this faction thought. They felt "disrespected." That they weren't being listened to. That the show was letting them down. And in fact, that the show was letting society down.

SOCIETY.

They literally do not believe that this studio executive did not know what a Shipper is. Well, I'm pretty sure that 90% of studio executives and a lot more writers than you'd guess have no clue. I mean, I'm sorry I do, frankly. Why should they? Wanting two characters to have sex, or thinking that two characters are already having sex (that's one I just don't get), isn't a part of the story-breaking process. They can't read your minds. They don't know about your factions. They haven't read your fan fiction (believe me on that one). Because the fans watch and interpret the show, that must mean that the show is THEIRS. That they OWN the show. The people who make it, the people who thought it up, do not know what is right for the show. The fans know what's right. Apparently just by virtue of saying "WE KNOW WHAT'S RIGHT."

Tumblr blogs went nuts with this, and this is the fallout from after the executive deleted his Twitter account:

reading through the entire thing, I actually feel kind of better. 
I mean, I’m still upset about his whole “your slash fiction is your business” tweet, but he also said he wouldn’t block Destiel if someone pitched it to him. So there’s that.
But…Dean was not intended as bi? Really? I don’t buy that.
I just hate that he followed up the statement that they had no intention of making it canon with “Keep watching?” It just seems to hammer home the fact that they keep it just in play enough to keep their numbers up. I appreciate that he said he’d be willing to write it if it served the story, but all of that seemed like a lot of backpedaling and lip service for fear of losing fans/viewers.

And:
It seems to me, that in HIS watching of the show, he’s never thought of Dean as bisexual or Dean and Cas as anything but bromance (which makes sense, many people only see what they want to see in tv shows, and many shows write their bromances slightly OTT for the shippers), and his initial reaction was due to him being entirely unaware of the vastness and agressiveness of the Destiel section of the fandom. (I don’t mean agressive in a negative way, although there is certainly a minority that are horribly so, but generally, I mean agressive in the sense that I feel the ENTIRE supernatural fandom is… we’re MOTIVATED and ACTIVE more than other fandoms, and Destiel is especially so, I’ve noticed.) THEN he’s gone and backtracked a little, realised that some of what he said may have been interpreted as being against queer-oriented characters on tv in general, tried to make himself clearer…

And:
the whole thing is just a HUGE “fuck you” to the entire viewership, and certainly anyone who cares about Castiel’s well-being
WHY does the writing team feel that being downright CRUEL is so necessary?
Why, indeed. One reason might be because the writers don't consider each fan's point of view before breaking a story. If some fans think that writers sit around doing fly hands going, "How can we fuck with them today?" then they need to reexamine their fandom.

People have different interpretations of what characters do. What plot means. There no longer seems to be an acceptance of this, and it's turning fandoms into crazy micro-countries. What makes this worse is that there's SO much information out there. Fans can find out every single plot point, every episode title, every wardrobe choice, every guest star, EVERYTHING before they even see an episode. The studios and networks even give them things. Deleted scenes. Webisodes. Podcasts. Interviews. The correct hashtags to use when watching the show. Social media has opened the door to fandom even wider now, and fandoms seem to think this means they have the keys to the kingdom.

Now, watching an episode of a show can be an experience so immersive that you will probably never be able to read everything about it. Yes, ONE episode of a television show. This is the Television Without Pity effect writ too large to comprehend. Everything doesn't need to be dissected. Torn apart. Nitpicked. Argued about. It just does not. Engaging actively with a show doesn't mean that your argument is mandatory. You can engage actively on your own, in fact. But I get the feeling that the people who create this kind of fandom drama never watch something without all of those voices echoing in their heads.

So these fandoms think they are important. That if they stop watching (as if), then the show would be swiftly canceled. But the percentage of fans who Tweet or write fanfic or post on forums are SUCH a small percentage of the actual viewership that they don't matter in that way. They matter to the studio and network in the sense that the fandoms give them free promotion that might hook other viewers. But a group of fans deciding to stop watching a show (as if again) won't get that show canceled.

Incidentally, here's a terrific piece on quitting TV shows. If someone asks why you don't stop watching that thing you hate and you get very very angry (happens all the time), think about how weird that is.

What struck me was that fandom has become an industry that's only tangentially related to the subject. Fandoms create their own language. Their trials. Their factions. How the community is governed. Who governs it (big fish in artificially created small ponds). Their fan fiction. Which fan fiction is good. Which fan fiction replaces series canon and is no longer considered alternate history but is now, by vote or mandate, considered REALITY. No wonder Fifty Shades of Grey was such a hit. That's when fandom became an industry.

We're raising generations of people who are hypercritical about everything, who approach something from THAT perspective instead of from a "I hope I love this" point of view. It seems like nobody can have an immediate instinctive reaction to something without having already studied up on it, to know what kind of a reaction to have. The media blogs lead you there: This will suck. This will suck hard. This will blow. Etc. So by the time you all see something, you have already formed an opinion. And you've already joined a fandom, because studios and networks have already created them. Before you lay eyes on a thing, you have already chosen a side. You're already at war.

It's hard not to despair about modern fandom, but then something surprises you. Today, the fiftieth anniversary episode of Doctor Who aired, simulcast all over the world AT THE SAME TIME, ironically like a message from an alien that would have been simulcast to every human on the planet during Christmas in a Doctor Who episode, before the Doctor saved everyone. There were lots of clips and trailers, but no spoilers.

NO SPOILERS WHATSOEVER.

Because the show didn't have to be sent out for review or aired earlier somewhere than it did somewhere else, because it didn't have any commercials and just aired straight through like a thing we don't see on television, nobody could have a prepinion. Nobody could make a judgment. Even the media blogs couldn't say that it sucked. IMAGINE THAT! Around the world, everybody who liked Doctor Who watched the episode at the same time. Just fucking watched it like primitive beings or witches or something! I'm sure people live-tweeted it and did all that social media jazz but my Twitter feed was pretty silent. Everybody watched it. At the same time.

Whether you liked it or not doesn't really matter in this case (although I loved it, just to be honest). It's the purity of watching something live, of experiencing that mystery box that JJ Abrams talks about that a lot of people don't understand. I am a true believer in the mystery box and I'm sorry that I seem to keep writing the same post over and over with different words, but I think this kind of "I want it now and I want all of it" access is killing entertainment. It's making us cynical, heartless assholes who sit there with our arms crossed DARING someone to entertain us but knowing they can't, because we are already disappointed by it. We used to have these types of communal experiences all the time but they're so rare now, and they're usually tragic, horrific events.
The world watching an episode of Doctor Who, especially one so lovingly crafted and respectful and full of excitement and emotion, isn't going to change things. But maybe a few people were affected enough by the shared experience of it that they will rethink their approach to media and entertainment. The media blogs won't do it. The critics won't. And fandom most certainly will never ever. During the build-up to the episode, watching it knowing millions of people all over the world were doing the same thing, just pointed to how large our cultural fracture is. Fandom celebrated for a few hours. It was good again.

2 comments:

exastra23 said...

In agreement with all you said here, I will add only:
I’ve long thought “shipping” a dumb thing. I reject the small minded assumption and tendency that people can’t interact without sexualness. It is a lazy cliché and a failure of imagination. People are so much more than sex toys— or gender definitions. Especially vexing to me is the idiotic insistence of expecting women to be primarily pretty and sexy. Women as things for men to win or define.
But back to shipping: Mulder and Scully getting sexual greatly disappointed me.
I see Sleepy Hollow fans calling for Abbie and Ichabod, or Jenny and Irving, to “get together”. Uh, no. That totally does not need to happen.
Doctor Who seriously does not need to get laid.
Kirk and Spock did not have sex with each other.
Batman and Robin are not gay lovers. Deal with it.
Picard’s relationship with Guinan went "beyond friendship and beyond family", but was not diminished by absence of sex.
A man and woman can be together without sex entering the equation. Men and women can be “just friends”. Really.
To believe otherwise defies not only logic, but reality experience.
Dean and Castiel are just friends. It is a poor stretch of the imagination to infer Dean or Cas must be bi-sexual.
We say “just friends” as if that is a lesser form of relationship. A consolation prize.
But friendships can be Romantic.
Unfortunately, romance tends to be contrived into sex, but it is not really about sex.
Same genders actually can have a romantic relationship without sex or even homosexuality involved. Love and sex are not synonyms.
Kissing has somehow become code for “I love you”, but a proper hug or gesture or look can say as much or more.

Unknown said...

Kay, this makes me laugh and brings back such bizaare memories of the old X-Files forum on early AOL, where I first remember seeing you share some of your thoughts. Back then the site went through exactly the progression you've described here; first open, enthusiastic, non-judgemental fandom where all comers were welcomed, followed by factionalism based on who "knew" what the episode was really about, attended by a sub-faction of relationshippers whose loudest members insisted only they were seeing what the writers really intended.

Arguments grew so heated the forum monitors tried to separate the kids by creating specific threads for specific topics. Unfortunately it didn't stop the progression of ill will as the most aggressive 5% spewed actual digitized hatred for Chris Carter, the guy who created what they loved but refused to give them what they wanted. The most disturbing part was the insistence of a few on the idea that they were personally being targeted by CC and the writers, who just wanted to disrespect and torture them. From what you've written here it's really disturbing to hear this is not the isolated phenomenon I thought it was.

Back then I thought the whole situation was peculiar to XF fans, perhaps because the show punched so many buttons relating to how people interpret what happens to us all, be it through belief in faith, science, fatalism, optimism, conspiracy, etc. But I've avoided all discussion groups since for fear of landing in the same kind of snake pit. Your post makes me realize a certain kind of fan is always out there, convinced they understand a piece of fiction better than anyone else except those who agree with them 100%.

As for extreme fandom and technological access to anything and everything, all I can say is that I read a bio of silent screen star Francis X. Bushman entitled King of the Movies (Davis, Davis, and Bushman) last year and the stories of what some fans did with no more access than the movies, publicity photos, and movie magazines is just as extreme and unreasonable as anything you hear about now. Given our tech toys they would have been just as self-involved as some people are now.

Thanks for reminding me why I mostly keep my thoughts to myself online. And I couldn't agree with you more about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary movie. At our theater it was all sold-out excitement and happiness before, during, and after the film, which itself was a wonderful gift from talented people who love what they're doing. Been a long time since I experienced such joy across all ages of fans. Or had such fun being one.