Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fangirl 101: Fandom and Entitlement

So far most of my fangirl lessons have been all about doing whatever the hell you want with the characters you love; whether it’s shipping, slash or fan fiction. Generally I stand by this sentiment but there is a limit. I think we have the right to play with other people’s characters but that doesn’t mean that TPTB owe it to you to change their narrative to fit your vision. There’s a difference between really wanting something and feeling like you are entitled to it… let’s talk about that shall we.

Even though it pains me as a writer to say: the author is dead and once the characters are out there the fandom can do what they will with them. The powers-that-be can only do so much and there is no way to ensure that the audience will read the text exactly the way you want it to. It’s something TPTB just have to deal with – and do not get me wrong I think they should buck up and deal with it, there is no wrong way to read a text.

Here’s the thing though, just because you choose to read the text in a certain way doesn’t mean TPTB are obliged to change the text to fit with your interpretation, even if the majority of the fandom agrees with you. It doesn’t matter if TPTB are wrong – and I will be the first to admit that sometimes they are wrong. It’s their story and therefore it is their prerogative to make any mistakes they want to, just like it’s your right to be able to fix their mistakes in fan fiction.

Look you have every right to be pissed off when TPTB abuse the characters love by failing to live up to the potential they created… I’m looking at you Glee. But you can’t just demand that they change something because you want them to.

Fan entitlement has always been a thing – it stems from a good place because we really care about these characters and what happens to them but in recent years the rise of the Internet and social networking has given fans a direct line to the TPTB that would have been unheard of before. This can be really cool, it’s bridging the gap between the creator-god and the fans that are on the front line but it also breeds a whole new form of entitled asshole.

Not only does it present a new way for fans to make demands it also gives them a whole new bunch of expectations. Fans now expect a steady stream of information direct from the source. While this kind of up to date information is fantastic we are by no means entitled to it.

For an example of this I’m going to point you to a blog by the wonderful Neil Gaiman. In this blog he answers a fan’s question about whether or not George R.R. Martin was obliged to keep fans updated about his next book on his blog and considering that he was not doing this, did the fans have a right to be upset. Neil wrote a long detailed reply about fandom and entitlement, which you should definitely read if you have the time, but it can be summed up in one line:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch. (x)

I realize that this is a specific example (personally I have issued with George R.R. Martin in regards to his stance on fan fiction) but the sentiment stands. The writer is not your bitch. Neither are the actors, or the producers, or directors, or singers, or musicians, or anyone involved in the creation of the things you love. Don’t forget, and I’m paraphrasing Mr Gaiman here, people are not machines.

Yes it is their job and yes you are paying them for goods and/or services but you are also paying for their vision not yours. There is no way to guarantee that it will live up to your expectations but you know that going in. When you get involved in a fictional universe, whether it’s buying a book or tuning into the television show, there are inherent risks involved. It’s a gamble and it’s a gamble that doesn’t always pay off but when it does there are very few fans that will say it wasn’t worth the risk.

It’s like when you go to the cinema. You go hoping that the film will be good but buying the tickets doesn’t come with a guarantee. If the film turns out to be awful then you are not entitled to a refund because it’s on you. You chose to pay to see that film, you made the bet that it was going to be worth how ever much you spent on the tickets. It sucks when the gamble doesn’t pay off but what’s done is done. You can hate the people that made the film and never see anything else they make or you can refuse to trust the person that recommended it to you but there is nothing you can do to go back and change the fact that you paid to see that film.

Fandom is the same. You choose to like a text, you choose to engage with it, you choose to be part of the fandom but you don’t choose what happens in the text.

There is the capacity to show your support for certain storylines over others, especially with television or long running film/book series, in the hopes that it will affect the outcome. But TPTB are by no means obliged to give you what you want. You can suggest a certain storyline but you can’t demand it. Seriously imagine a text that just catered to the whim of whatever fandom was the loudest; that is a truly horrific image. You’re trusting TPTB with the characters you love and I’m not going to lie sometimes they abuse that power but that’s a risk I am willing to take.  

I know this is getting long and a little bit preachy and I promise it will be over soon but I want to talk about another side of fan entitlement and that is celebrity and entitlement. First off, I should say that I am of the school that anyone that chooses to engage in a career that takes place in the public eye (such as acting or politics) has to expect a loss of privacy, to a certain extent anyway. The sacrifice for fame is that you kind of sell part of yourself to the collective.

This means that people will ask for an autograph, take a photo and want to know things about their personal life. I’m not going into whether or not this is right; I’m just saying it’s inevitable. The thing is that just because I think celebrities should be prepared to have their privacy invaded doesn’t mean that fans have the right to demand anything. It’s going to happen, stuff will get out, but we are not entitled to it.

Fans sometimes think that just because celebrities live part of their lives in public, that they know them. You know the public persona, which is cool. It’s the part of their personality that they willing to share with you and it’s generally more interesting than the real thing anyway. Sometimes the line between fan and celebrity begins to blur and tends to result in two kinds of interaction.

There are those that still buy into the idea that celebrities are not like us – that they have the right to say whatever they want to a celebrity because that’s the price of fame. Social networking gives them more opportunity to do this – and that’s not cool. They might be prettier and wittier than your friends but celebrities are people too, which means they have thoughts and feelings that can be hurt but the awful things you say. Just because they work in the public eye doesn’t give you the right to treat them horribly and then expect them to take it. They are people and such deserve the same treatment as any other person.

On the other side there are those that get a little bit too close. They start to treat the celebrity like a close friend. Just because you can tweet someone and they tweet back once and while doesn’t make them your friend. Which means you can’t hold them to the same expectations as you would a friend. You can expect them to tweet you back all the time. You can’t expect them to remember you because you spoke to them that one time. That’s ridiculous. You can expect them to be polite to you (only if you extend them the same courtesy) but that’s it.

Finally I just want to add that even though I think you should not feel entitled to get everything you want do not let anyone (even TPTB or your fav celebrities) tell you than fans deserve nothing. You deserve respect and you deserve to have those in charge to their best with the characters that you love... even if it's not exactly what you wanted. Fandom is powerful - and TPTB should never forget that, just don't use your power to be an entitled ass, you're making the rest of us look bad.  

And with that I am done. It got a bit serious there but I think we pulled through in the end. I hope you have a better understanding of fandom and entitlement but remember if you need have any further questions do not hesitate to ask either in the comments, on the Facebook page or you can send me angry anonymous messages on Tumblr.

Read more Fangirl 101 lessons here