Thoughts on fandoms

Last week, in pursuit of the question Why are there not yet Lizzie Bennet DVDs in my greedy hands?, I found a very dispirited Google Doc in which Bernie Su, showrunner of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and now Emma Approved, addressed criticisms he has evidently been receiving about the new series. Apparently people out there in the Pemberley Digital fandom are upset about problems including but not limited to: Delays in the DVDs of Lizzie Bennet Diaries; lack of diversity in the Emma Approved universe; not enough transmedia stuff in the Emma Approved storyline; the creators having Sold Out; Emma Approved not being a good adaptation of Emma; etc.

Meanwhile, I became obsessed with the weird and wonderful podcast Welcome to Night Vale. If you are not familiar with it, I urge you to become familiar with it. The elevator pitch is that it’s what Prairie Home Companion would be if it were also The Twilight Zone: a community radio program for a town called Night Vale where all conspiracy theories are true. If you read a little bit about Welcome to Night Vale, you will find that the internet is adorably in love with the relationship between the program’s narrator, Cecil, and the beautiful scientist, Carlos, who comes to Night Vale to figure out what is going on with it. The internet has accordingly settled down to make as many pieces of Tumblr fan art of Cecil and Carlos cuddling as one internet can produce.

These two things together started me thinking about fandom and entitlement and art, and how much better it is to be joyful about a piece of art than angry with it. It would be difficult to overstate how charming I find it when the internet falls in love with something, be it a mission to cheer up Keanu Reeves, a transmedia web series adaptation of Jane Austen, or a queer relationship that is the most normal thing about the weirdest podcast in the land. The capacity for collective joy that the internet offers is one of my favorite things about the modern world; which I suppose is why it bums me out so much when (factions of) fandoms forget about joy and get bogged down in griping.

I’m not suggesting that fandoms, or factions of fandoms, should be prohibited from criticizing the things they are fans of. Quite the contrary. Close readings of anything make my dorky English major heart skip a happy beat. It is worthwhile to mind, and to say that you mind, when Disney releases yet another damn movie about white princesses, even if you do end up enjoying it. It’s worthwhile to worry about the visibility, or lack thereof, of particular demographics who don’t get represented enough in our media. I don’t worry about arguing for change.

I worry about this tendency to argue for stasis as if we are entitled to have everything we love stick around forever and never, ever, ever change. I get why people do it; I do it myself. When I fall in love with something, I want more of that thing. I want the enormous Harry Potter encyclopedia of which JK Rowling has several times spoken. I want the team behind Emma Approved to never stop making web series adaptations of classic novels by women. But actually, much more than I want infinity more of the same thing I loved before, I want creators of art to have the freedom to make art that lights them up, even knowing that what excites them may bore me, even knowing that some of their attempts will fail and I will be disappointed. I want them to be able to make the art that matches their vision. My vision of what their art should be is irrelevant.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t say, for instance, Boo. A Casual Vacancy was tedious and miserable. But I’ll try to remember not to say, Boo. A Casual Vacancy bore an insufficient resemblance to the Harry Potter books. A Casual Vacancy is nothing to do with my experience of the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling made the Harry Potter books, and I super super loved them and they shaped my whole adolescence. The correct response to that is not, I deserve more of this, but rather, lucky me.

My conclusion from all this thinking turned out to be very small and obvious: Given that you are not owed art in the first place (art is only ever a gift), it is silly and mean to fuss at the artist for failing to conform to your expectations. I want fandoms (including myself) not to forget the feeling of Lucky me; and especially lucky me when it’s something indie and strange like Welcome to Night Vale or Emma Approved, where it really is tremendously lucky that so many people — for love, not for money — have devoted their time and energy to making this thing we love. I want gratitude to have a place at the table.

36 thoughts on “Thoughts on fandoms

  1. The thing that gets me the most is when people complain when an actor wants to move on so a character gets written out or replaced. Almost as if said actor has no right to manage their career and should be forced to stay in a role as long as we want them. For instance I will be sad when Tom Hiddleston doesn’t want to be Loki any more but will be excited to see what else he’ll do. So basically what you said :-)

    • That will be sad, but at the same time, you can only use a villain so many times, you know? Before they stop being an interesting villain. So even though it will break my heart to lose Tom Hiddleston and his extraordinary charm and niceness, I think I’ll be on board.

  2. Ha ha, this reminds me of something Neil Gaiman wrote in reply to fans who were complaining about George R R Martin’s long-delayed volumes in the Song of Ice and Fire series: George R R Martin is not your bitch.

    While I wish there were more books by Diana Wynne Jones, or Kate Ross, or Sarah Caudwell, or (properly by) Tolkien, I can’t really grumble because their works have given me such delight. I do grumble a bit more at George Lucas retconning the Star Wars films to take advantage of more modern technology (CGI Jabba and Yoda rather than fabulous puppets), mainly because I don’t think it makes the films any better. But Lucas has a perfect right to do what he likes to those films.

    • Hahaha, I was thinking of that Neil Gaiman post when I was writing this!

      Oh God how I wish there were more Diana Wynne Jones books out there. It’s greedy of me because she wrote dozens over her lifetime, but she could never have written as many books as I loved her.

      I grumble about that with George Lucas too, but that’s kind of a different thing, isn’t it? (Not a rhetorical question! I’m genuinely not sure.) George Lucas does have the right to do what he wants to his films, and at the same time, there’s something a bit yuck about taking away fans’ ability to watch the piece of art they liked. Because you actually can’t get the original films now, I think? It’s not like Lord of the Rings, where they made a director’s cut but they also sell each movie as it was released in theaters.

  3. My very favorite art purveyor (talking to you, Comusina Celan) for a while stopped doing the cool stuff with maps and dress patterns and houses and origami birds and did a whole series of stuff with flowers. I did not like it, and I missed the art I had loved. But she is not my bitch! And I have so much faith in her talent that I am willing to wait to see what she will do NEXT (and next after that, and next after that) because her fertile imagination is the thing that fuels the art I love, and imagination cannot stand still. Plus, just look at her new stuff. http://comusinacelan.com/home.html

  4. Once again, you make me laugh about a topic that I’ve considered myself: the self-important aspect of fandom. Often I’m mentally criticizing other fans for their inflated sense of power– but yes, in my own head, I sometimes expect authors or artists to conform to my vision of their work.

    Right now, I’m off to contemplate the joy I’ve been lucky enough to experience from favorite authors and to remember I’m a reader who could not write a chapter, much less an entire novel. Namaste.

    • I expect that too! I’m totally guilty of the thing I’m complaining about here. I started writing this post in a critical vein, and had to tone it down a lot because I realized I was guilty of everything I was criticizing. :p It’s weirdly hard not to do it!

  5. I like this post (and not just for the Night Vale mentions which I recently found and FELL IN LOVE WITH) but you’re so right about remembering that you’re lucky these amazing things exist and not freaking out when the creators change them in a way you disagree with. Good stuff

  6. I do love the collective joy of the internet. I try to ignore the carping. Right now, the Supernatural fandom is enjoying our top-of-the-Christmas-tree Castiels and I am trying to ignore the disappointed Destiel shippers.
    My whole family watched Wonderfalls–which was weird and great–because of you. And I’ve tried some of the first season of The Vampire Diaries because of you, although so far it strikes me as mostly soap opera.

    • I do not know what those words mean but I have formed a guess. Is Supernatural still on? For some reason I thought it was over. It’s on my list — I can’t watch it now because I’m living with my parents this month, and I’m trying to watch only quiet shows so as not to bother them. Which rules out all the sci-fi and fantasy shows I truly want to be watching.

      YAY to Wonderfalls! Isn’t it good? That creator made Dead Like Me (which was a little too dark for me) and Pushing Daisies (a little too twee), and Wonderfalls was the perfect combination of sweetness and darkness. Such a good show.

      How far are you in Vampire Diaries? It is indubitably soapy, but once you hit episode six or so, the soap stuff dials down and the plot kicks into crazy high gear.

      • Hmm. Tried to reply and it didn’t seem to work, so hope I’m not posting this twice.
        Supernatural is still on–Season 9 episodes are on the CW at 9 pm ET Tuesdays, starting up again Jan. 21. But you want to watch the previous seasons so you get to things in order. I have a list of essential-to-the-plot episodes that Eleanor recommended (for Ron), so I can pass those on, if you like. The best part of the series is season 2-5. I am also very fond of season 6, because of one character not having a soul and acting unlike himself.
        The last Vampire Diaries I watched was episode 10 or 11.

  7. What a wonderful post and of course, I agree! I love to get more of what I love, but it is important for me as a fan to remember that the creator doesn’t owe me anything. It is so hard to not be upset. Great post!

  8. This reminded me of a piece of advice I do not always follow that you should make sure you leave the party while you’re still having fun.
    Like, I would totally love another Harry Potter book, but I’m also glad we’re not all saying “Book 45? Oh, shut up already.”

    • Ooo, such a good point. I do always leave the party when I’m still having fun, also partly because I like to go to bed early. :p

      The trick with something like the Harry Potter world — or any time a creator returns to a world where they’ve been successful in the past — is that there has to be a real idea driving the whole thing. You know? It can’t just be, this worked for me before so let’s do it again; it has to be its own story that the creator really feels like s/he has to tell. Diana Wynne Jones never ever wrote sequels, for instance, although she sometimes wrote books set in the same world — it was always that she had stories about people adjacent to the people in earlier books. I pictured it like she couldn’t stop her imagination from extending all over the worlds she made.

  9. Good post. It’s a difficult one because to have a programme etc be a success you need loyal viewers and fandoms that are passionate are a sign you’re doing very well. But on the other hand fans do have the potential to pressure change for better or worse and it is sad if things are taken out of the creator’s hands. If you separate yourself from what you’re a fan of (in the case that otherwise you’d be hardcore), you’re more likely to be distanced over all, I’d say, with the potential to start missing episodes etc. In the last fandom I was really passionate about the community led to the show (niche) being remembered and actively still celebrated, to this day, when it’s been over for ten years. It actually became dumbed down in later series but the fans remained loyal so I think it also has to do with the response of the producers to the fans, too.

    • I think the enthusiasm of fans can be so, so great. I am excited for the Veronica Mars movie, for instance, and that’s alllllll because of fans who kept talking about it years after it was gone from TV. But at the same time, I’m alive to the point that not everything needs to keep going forever. It’s like a comment above, it’s best to leave the party while you’re still having fun.

  10. “The correct response to that is not, ‘I deserve more of this’, but rather, ‘lucky me’.”
    That is the wisest thing I’ve read today. I love it.

  11. aw, I love this post so much!!! I can get cranky, like really really cranky because you know…having your heart broken over something you loved a lot sucks. But, I totally agree that I much prefer to *love* things and be joyful about them and squee, etc. and it’s the reason I usually have to limit myself in fandoms because there are always loud and unhappy people.

    • There ARE always loud and unhappy people! I know there isn’t a bright line distinction between complaining about Emma Approved for not being enough like Lizzie Bennet Diaries or original Emma, and complaining about the fourth season of The Good Wife for not being very good. I’m not sure where the line is between criticizing something on its merits and criticizing it for not staying the same all the time.

      (I seriously miss the Alicia/Kalinda friendship so so much. It was my fave. Yet this season of The Good Wife is as good as the show’s ever been.)

  12. Such a good post! I often find myself caught in that place between not wanting the thing I love to change, and knowing change makes for growth. I definitely do not want another HP book, but like you I am craving that encyclopaedia, detailing what happens to all the characters I loved and loathed and all the magic I’ll never get to create. I think what I often forget is that I can revisit the things I love and appreciate the beauty of how things change.

    I had no idea the makers of TLBD went on to adapt Emma; I was pretty devastated when TLBD ended, so to now have Emma to look forward to!

    • Did you not? Well yay! I am so glad I could tell you this information! Let me know what you think once you’ve watched it.

      THAT ENCYCLOPEDIA. I can wait patiently for it, but I do hope that JK Rowling decides to write it eventually. We wants it my precious.

  13. The thing about fandoms is that not everyone wants the same thing, so there’s no pleasing everyone. There can be strong consensus around wanting more Carlos and Cecil please, but there are probably some people who’d like more about Old Woman Josie and are wondering why we can’t leave romance out of this weirdness. The writers should just do what makes sense to them.

    It makes me think of a commercial for Alias, which I was completely addicted to for the first couple of seasons. The commercial said something like, “the moment all the fans have been asking for,” and it was a moment I was very much not wanting at all. It was precisely what I hoped wouldn’t happen, and it made me feel like the writers were just listening to the fans and making a story that was less interesting. Of course, other people loved what happened, but I gradually lost interest and found other stuff I liked better. There’s always other stuff to enjoy.

    • Yep, I agree completely. That’s what I love about the Family of King, who runs The Good Wife — they aren’t inattentive to what the fans are saying, but they don’t let it rule them. They just do what makes sense to them, and makes sense with the characters, and sometimes that means huge shakeups. It works sometimes and fails sometimes, and they keep on learning and trying new things. It is the best.

      What was the Alias moment? (I have never been able to love Alias. I tried but could not.)

  14. I’m really shocked that people are complaining about “Emma Approved” — I think it’s a wonderful adaptation! It’s too bad that some disgruntled fans are discouraging Bernie Su et al. from continuing with the series. I am REALLY hoping that the hiatus is only temporary!

    I want to “exactly!” so much of this post. It is really hard to walk that tightrope between criticizing things when they are not good (which I think is totally legit) and feeling entitled to have everything exactly the way you want it. Like, I loved “Firefly” and will always be slightly disgruntled that there was never a Jayne/Kaylee romance (which I think the pilot was TOTALLY implying, at least on Jayne’s side). But Whedon et al. did the best they could with what Fox gave them, and I still love the show. All of which is to say, authors/showrunners/creative types can’t please everyone, and they shouldn’t be expected to!

    • I think it’s wonderful too! I think it’s great, and I hate for Bernie Su — who is putting so much energy and creativity and awesomeness into this work — to feel all sad and discouraged about it.

      Hm, a Jayne-Kaylee romance, you say. INTERESTING. I can imagine it on Jayne’s side, not really on Kaylee’s though — wouldn’t she want someone nicer than Jayne is?

      • See, I think Kaylee and Jayne balance each other out — he’s gruff and cynical, while she’s cheerful and somewhat naive. Maybe I’m a crazy person, but next time you watch the “Firefly” pilot, focus on Jayne while Kaylee is in mortal peril (I forget the exact plot point, because it’s been a while, but there was definitely some sort of mortal peril, right?). I swear, he is into her, and that’s why he takes such a huge dislike to Simon Tam right away.

        Or maybe it’s just me, and my love for Jayne is somewhat warping my perception of things. But anyway, yeah, I totally wanted that relationship to happen!

  15. I clap for you, madam.

    I try soooo hard to maintain a Lucky Me attitude, and I think I mostly succeed. When shows and books head off in a direction I’m not crazy about, I can usually manage to console myself with the whole “oh, it’s not over yet, it might get better” excuse, or sometimes the “well, ain’t nothin’ stopping me from inventing a headcanon” excuse. When series end, I look back on what I got and remember I can always reread (or rewatch, or whatever).

    The exception to this, in recent years, has been DOCTOR WHO. The good Doctor and I recently broke up over creative differences, and I’m still in the angry stage. I keep reminding myself of how much I loved S1-S4, though, and that helps. It helps an awful lot. And hey, I haven’t quite abandoned the idea that the show might get good (ie, what I consider good; clearly, a lot of fans still love it) again. Word on the street says Peter Capaldi has already argued with Steven Moffat over some of the scripts, so things might turn around. I haven’t abandoned all hope.

    Because it’s a lot more fun to love stuff than to hate it. Back when I read a lot of media criticism, it drove me crazy whenever I came across a paper that was packed full of doom and gloom with nary a trace of love. It’s good to criticize media, and it’s good to call media out for what it does wrong, but I much prefer to read criticism that comes from a place of affection, even if the writer can’t get behind every element.

    • I was thinking about Doctor Who when I was writing this post! I was thinking about that exact thing, how Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who was destroyed for me by a) his lady issues; and b) his inability to consistently construct a plot that makes emotional or rational sense. I love that show, and I don’t love what Moffat has done with it. I consider myself broken up with it too, until Moffat ends his tenure as the showrunner. :( But even there, my problem isn’t that I want the show to go back to what it was under Davies — I think Davies was right to leave when he did (he could have even left a bit sooner), and I say that as the hugest fan of the seasons he ran. It just turns out that I hate what Steven Moffat does when he’s the boss of a show. (Except Sherlock, I suppose, but even there, I don’t feel confident Moffat can keep it up. I don’t even like all the episodes that exist AND THERE ARE ONLY SIX OF THEM.)

      But yeah, it’s way more fun to love something. The example I was thinking of that’s actually a really good example is The Good Wife — the first two seasons were absolutely superb, some of my favorite network television of all time, and then the third and fourth seasons weren’t as consistently good, and I missed the things I had loved about the early seasons. Now this season, the fifth? IT TOTALLY GOT GOOD AGAIN, and not by returning to the formulas that worked for it in early seasons; it got good again by shaking everything up! And I love it! I love it so much more than I would have loved it sticking to what it did well in the first two seasons.

      • I MISS DOCTOR WHO MAKING EMOTIONAL AND RATIONAL SENSE SO VERY MUCH. (Caps necessary.) I hope and pray the next showrunner does wonderful and amazing things that push the series in an exciting new direction. Shaking things up is so much more interesting than keeping them the same, or going back to a tried and true formula.

  16. Wow, such a popular post! I don’t know that I can add much to the discussion, but I shall say my .02, anyway :-)

    I felt a pang when I got through the beginning part of this post because I, too, am disappointed in Emma Approved and don’t like all the merchandise partnerships that are happening (though, as a marketer, I think – good on them for finding a way to work the money-making in such a well-integrated and natural fashion!) and I REALLY miss the diversity of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries cast. But honestly, I miss diversity in MOST shows I watch and I guess I just feel like if they made such an effort to do it the first time around… why not this time? It obviously worked very well for them in LBD, so it just frustrates me that they wouldn’t stick with it when it is so hard…

    And for JKR – I totes agree. It must be so hard for her to even write outside the HP universe and to do it so well but still have that on her back forever… well, I can completely understand why Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird.

  17. Sorry, I didn’t mean that I too am disappointed in Emma Approved as though YOU are disappointed – just that I am one of those people who probably depresses Su. Though I don’t write/talk about my sadness on the interwebs!

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