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.