Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Shipping News Special: The Destiel Dilemma and Other Communication Problems

So it seems it finally happened - the good ship Destiel was sunk for good (or not depending on who you talk to) and a number of you asked me to talk about it. But I’m not going to, not really. Let’s face it everything that could possibly be said about this has already been said and I will link you to what I think are the best discussions at the end of this blog but first I want to talk about the problematic assumptions that played an important role in this and many other events like it.

There is, on the side of TPTB and the mainstream media, a series of assumptions about fandom that often prevent genuine conversation from occurring. There seems to be this idea that it is all or nothing. That if you give the fandom something then you have to give them everything. This assumption leads to the argument that is most often thrown about by TPTB in situations like what happened in the Supernatural fandom this week: “If we did what the fans wanted then nothing interesting would ever happen on the show.”

Osric Chau (who plays Kevin Tran on Supernatural) wrote a lovely thought out response to fans after the whole twitter disaster. While it is a really lovely letter, and a good example of actors doing it right, it also relies on the above assumption:

“Which makes me realize that if the writers were actually just writing the show based off of the majority of fan reactions, we would just have Team Free Will sipping hot chocolate safely in the Men of Bunkers and hugging every second episode to recover from the feels of the last episode. The most dramatic moment would be Sam burning his tongue on the hotness of the cocoa, and the rest of TFW sorts that out with water and massages. Well that doesn't sound so bad actually.. would probably get through a ton of marshmallows.”

NGL at this stage I am so invested in these characters that I would probably watch an entire season of “Team Free Will sipping hot chocolate... and hugging” but it also misses the point entirely.

This idea that fans don’t understand that writers have to make hard decisions, like when to kill off a character or break up a couple, is utterly ridiculous and actually quite offensive. Now I understand that fans have a tendency to be hyperbolic in their discussions saying things like: “I will never forgive the show if they break up my fave couple” but do they honestly think we don’t understand how drama works?

We might scream and cry about how we don’t want anything bad to happen to our fave characters but that is a blatant lie. If we didn’t want bad things to happen we would just read fan fiction, because most drama - especially a show like Supernatural - is built around bad things happening to characters we love. If a story is eliciting this kind of response from fandom it’s a good thing. It means we care. It does not mean we are demanding narrative changes.

When TPTB or anyone involved in production and promotion make this assumption it’s incredibly disrespectful. They are treating us like ignorant children that don’t understand how the world works, when it’s pretty clear that the real problem is that TPTB don’t understand the difference between expressions of personal taste and genuine criticism.

There is a pretty obvious distinction between:



“Could you please give us a definitive answer as to whether or not the romantic subtext between Dean and Castiel will ever be acknowledged in canon?”

So when TPTB react to the second question as though it was the first, it’s no wonder fandom gets pissed.

Look I understand this confusion to a certain extent. Shipping is essentially subjective - people ship different things. One of my very best friends pretty much always ships the exact opposite to me because we have opposing tastes. That’s okay. And actually I think a lot of shippers need to understand and acknowledge that their personal shipping preferences are no more legitimate than any other fan. But just because someone is a shipper doesn’t mean that all of their criticisms can be automatically dismissed or ignored.


I know it’s tempting to close your eyes and pretend that the bad things aren’t happening (trust me I know) but this doesn’t help anyone. Contrary to what you seem to think, fans are on your side. We want the same thing you want. We want that show/movie/book to be successful. When we criticise something we’re not being needlessly mean. We love you and we really don’t want you walking back into the party with your skirt tucked into your underwear. We’re not trying to hurt your feelings. We just figure you might want to know if something was making you look bad.

This goes both ways - if we are making a fool of ourselves by expecting something that is never going to happen then we would really appreciate it if you would let us know.

Hannibal proved at SDCC this year that it was possible to respond to fans questions about slash respectfully. The answer was clear, Hannibal and Will Graham are not likely to get any kind of relationship upgrade on the show and you know what? Fandom was okay. They didn’t stop engaging with the show - in fact Bryan Fuller has been lauded as one of fandom’s favourite showrunners. You know why? Because he respected fans enough to answer a legitimate question respectfully.

This kind of response should be standard, but it’s not because if the Supernatural powers-that-be had answered a simple question about Destiel years ago (then followed through by not teasing a relationship that was never going to happen) we wouldn’t be in this mess.

TPTB seem to assume that we know this relationship is never going to happen, that it should be obvious - which begs the question why? Why should we assume that a relationship is never going to happen just because it’s between characters of the same sex? Even if those characters have previously engaged in heterosexual romances, there is this thing called bisexually that everyone keeps forgetting about.

SIDE NOTE: if your response comes across as homophobic, racist or sexist it’s probably because it is.

I’m not saying that it is automatically homophobic to not make a slash (or femslash) ship canon, but if everyone just took a moment to think about WHY they don’t think a same sex relationship could work - it would do wonders for representation. It would also help prepare TPTB to answer the inevitable fandom questions without getting defensive and/or turning it into a joke.

Here’s the thing, I am aware that fandom is not the majority of the audience (although it’s growing) but they are the part of the audience that TPTB have direct contact with. Do you know what casual viewers do when they are unsatisfied? They don’t tweet complaints, or write long blogs explaining what went wrong. They just stop watching.

This is something I experienced recently with a couple of friends that watch Teen Wolf but aren’t involved in fandom. They became increasingly unsatisfied and confused by the show’s consistency issues during Season 3 so they just stopped watching because it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. They had many of the same complaints as the fandom but TPTB will never know because they are casual viewers that dumped the show without telling anyone why.

Fandom is an amazing resource and social media allows TPTB to directly communicate with us. It would be a waste not to use it.

Listening to and acknowledging fandom as a resource DOES NOT mean you have to bend to fandom’s every whim. It is NOT ALL OR NOTHING. Respecting fandom and acknowledging criticism does not make you weak, it makes you smart. We’re not asking you to alter your vision to fit ours - we like your vision or else we wouldn’t be fans. We understand that fandom is not infallible, sometimes we get it wrong but you know what so do you.

Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we need someone else to point them out. Stop acting like pointing out mistakes is just fandom being over sensitive or taking things too seriously. We are not the immature party in this equation because honestly it’s a hell of a lot more immature to put your head in the sand and treat criticism like a personal attack than it is to acknowledge that the thing we love is not perfect.

Finally, while this discussion has focused on shipping - it can be applied to any criticism the fandom has (including but not limited to representation, sexism, racism or even continuity issues).

For those of you that want to know more about the Destiel Drama: