Yes, you are allowed to criticize art. Let me repeat this because apparently it needs to be said. YOU, the consumer of commercial art, a packaged, polished, and highly produced product, are allowed to give your opinion, comment, praise and/or criticize the thing. Especially if you paid for it. Shocker, I know.
Like many people, I watched the final season of Game of Thrones. And I was disappointed. I’ve written previously about the off-screen jet packs and rocket powered ravens for the last couple of seasons, but I held off writing anything more until after the dust settled on this season. And what I saw, in my opinion, was a very beautifully shot, well acted, highly rushed piece of commercial art.
In my opinion, the nuance and pacing of the first few seasons had been cast aside for the sake of spectacle and the desire to just cross the finish line. It reminded me of a horny idiot just wanting get to laid. The kind of person who thinks looking good trumps substance, and that foreplay is waste of time.
But after the final episode was over I saw fans online getting upset. And weirder still, was the media backlash to fan outrage. And as of this writing, the Change.org petition to remake the final season of GoT has reached over 1.6 million signatures. Now, I’d like to think these people know that that will never happen and are just expressing their displeasure as fans of show that concluded a 9-year journey as shadow of its former glory. But this piece isn’t really about Game of Thrones. It’s about fan reaction to the entertainment that they love and the perceived problem with fan outrage.
Before I dive in, let me be CRYSTAL CLEAR: I do NOT believe the fans have the “right” to dictate how a creator should craft their work. No matter how invested they are. BUT, fans do get to express their opinions about how they receive said work. And said creators should also remember the expression: don’t bite the hand that feeds.
I’m looking at you Rian Johnson.
In my mind, a creator doesn’t get to hide behind their “art” when fans become upset. Especially when said art is, as I said in the opening paragraph, a packaged, polished, and highly produced commercial product meant for mass consumption. Mainly because when making a comic, a movie, a book, a song, or a video game, the creator has to decide if said creation’s subject matter or style is meant for a wide audience or a smaller, more niche audience.
I expressed this opinion the other day on social media while discussing the finale of Game of Thrones. And, oh my, by the reaction I got from some folks, you’d think I’d defended Harvey Weinstein. It went a little something like this:
“Who the fuck are you to question the artist?!”
“The one who consumes it and/or pays for it.”
“Oh, like your fucking HBO subscription gives you the right to tell them to reshoot he whole season? Fucking entitled manbaby!”
“No, it gives me the right to say I was upset, and that it seems like they rushed it in order to go over to Disney and start the next Star Wars movie.”
“And how the fuck would you know? Hmm? Are you their fucking agent?”
“No, but I do have Google”
15 Mar 19 - HBO Confirms Season 8 Shortest Season So Far
14 May 19 - Benioff and Weiss Star Wars in 2022
“They’re the artist and you’re not!”
“Funny, because when they were drowning in cash from their checks, Blu-Ray sales, and license deals for video games, t-shirts, and Funko Pops, no one said shit about artistic integrity. Seems like that expression only gets thrown around when the populace has a negative reaction to some kind of entertainment media.”
“And if a band changes their sound, fans can tell them to go back?!”
“No, fans can stop listening.”
“So the artist can’t grow?!”
“No, they can. Hopefully they cultivate an audience that grows with them.”
“You must want the Hollywood ending for everything!”
“I don’t care how something ends, as long as the story is developed in a way that feels earned.”
“Fuck you edgelord!”
“Enjoy your next tumblr rally asshole.”
The argument has raged on forever: who owns the art, the artist or the people? And obviously the answer is: the artist. But, the artist needs to remember that they got to that elevated level, because of the fans. I think that there are certain creators (and celebrities) who have lived on a pedestal for so long, they’ve forgotten the very people who put them there, who called them exceptional, and who threw their hard-earned money at them. The fans lifted them from obscurity and made them “special”.
They forgot that they were the lucky ones.
Because frankly, there are millions of creators out there with amazing ideas. Yes, there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating something, and harder work still to market and promote. As an indy SFF writer, trust me, I know. And having months (or years) of work dismissed with a shitty comment or pissy review is heartbreaking. But, at the end of the day, there is a still a shit-load of luck involved when it comes to being noticed.
So for those famous folk who need a little reminder of humility, remember the words of the bard Kendrick Lamar: Bitch . . . be Humble
So when I see creators clapping-back at the fans while simultaneously clutching at their pearls,gasping: “how dare you?!”, well, to that I say, “enjoy the way down.” Because one thing the masses enjoy almost as much as celebrating victory, is the schadenfrude when the exalted fall.
But with all that said, there is of course a limit to a fan expressing their displeasure. As a writer, I’ve had many people leave reviews that have been incredibly toxic. But that comes with the territory. I was told by friends and colleagues to “get a thicker skin”.
But, at NO POINT, should a displeased fan reach out via the internet (or in real life) and issue threats of any kind. Normally that kind of thing doesn’t need to be said. But, less folks think this blog is all about fan empowerment, let me be clear on another point: There is no formal contract between creator and consumer. It sucks, I know. You buy their stuff, they cash the checks. That’s it.
But, if they are smart, the creator will listen to feedback and use that to help shape their work, rather than being beholden to it. They should consider what is best for the story and their fan base, not their ego.
**Oh, and the words “subverting expectations” should die in a lake of fire. That concept is not new, and it isn’t quirky, witty, insightful, or pithy to toss around. Hell, at this point, “subverting expectations” IS the new “Hollywood ending”.**
For those who think this level of fan outrage is a product of the current generation due to the internet, allow me to point you at the way back machine. In 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his creation Sherlock Holmes, and man, fans were pissed. And after 8 years of pressure, Doyle released Hound of the Baskervilles, set when Holmes was still alive. And in 1903, brought Holmes back from the dead, with Sherlock explaining that he faked his death.
In 1997, Star Wars was re-released with Greedo shooting first. That went over well? I think the words “killed my childhood” were born.
In 2008, and after 24 years of waiting, fans got Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And, well . . . yeah. That was a thing.
The long story short of this is simple. Fans are allowed to be outspoken. They are the ones who keep the entertainment machine turning. It is on their backs that the empire is built. But, fans should also take it down a notch. It is just entertainment. There are in fact real-world problems to focus our energy on. Toxic fandom IS a thing. Such negativity has hurt people in the real world. Don’t be an asshole. Express your opinion, sign a petition, vote with your wallet, and that’s it. There are warning signs when you’re in a bad relationship, and the same apply to your fan loyalty: Resentment, Disrespect, Dishonesty, Mistrust, Distancing, Defensiveness, and Contempt. If you sense your favorite franchise doing that to you, then walk away. Just make sure you’re not the one showing those signs.
So, Game of Thrones ended with not a bang, but with a whimper. It sucks. But, so did the Sopranos and Lost. It will just be another entertainment corpse on the pile. Remember the good times and hope ole RR Martin hangs on long enough to finish the books. But by this point, there are so many characters who I don’t give two shits about, that I just don’t care anymore.
But before I go, a quick message to famous, high-profile, A-List creators, artists, and developers: Don’t fuck it up. Respect your fans. When you do fuck up, which you have and will do again, own up to it. Don’t lash out at them. They want to praise your work. Let them. Because if driving over a Jawa would kick you out so that my books would become the next big thing on HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, a comic, or video game? Well, I’d rev the engine and not think twice.