Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fandom Never Seems to Know What It Wants

By Jerry Chandler

For those of you who have lost interest in The Walking Dead before now or simply never had any interest in it to begin with, you may be unaware of the latest fandom freak-out related to the show. A much beloved and longstanding character for the show is slated to bite the dust when the show returns from its midseason break. This revelation brought about great screams of annoyance and anger from fandom. One of the more extreme headlines written in the wake of this turn of events, “‘The Walking Dead’ Midseason Finale Was Perfect for a Show That Hates Its Fans”, actually captures quite well the fan sentiment I’ve seen in many places this week. As I’ve been reading many similarly themed articles, blog posts, and discussion threads railing against the horrible creative decisions behind doing this atrocious things to the fans and noting in some cases who was complaining about this, I kept having the same thought come into my head over and over again.

Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

The thing that I find interesting (if not downright funny) with the complaints over this turn of events is, in some cases, being able to compare them to past comments by the same people basically asking for this. With The Walking Dead, one of the complaints I’ve seen for several seasons running (outside of complaining that there are too many talky people and not enough biting zombies) from those still hanging in there but losing interest has been not feeling that the stakes were there in the show. When you watched, you knew that, barring Glenn who was a special case based on his comic book counterpart’s history, the real “main” characters were never going to die. Rick, Carl, Maggie, Michonne, and TV original character Daryl at the very least were in no danger of onscreen deaths. Sure, it would be said, all those other lesser characters designed to come and go would hang around for a bit before being killed by the living or the dead, but the powers that be behind the show would never kill off one of the fan favorite, bread and butter characters for the show. As such, there was just no real emotional investment in the idea of threats to those characters. Now, they would then say, if only the creative powers that be had the guts to truly shake up the status quo and kill off one of those characters, we would actually have that sense of risk and emotional investment.

Of course, no matter what creative property it is we could talk about, a lot of the people saying that don’t actually mean it. It’s easy to suggest such an idea as an abstract concept, but it’s an altogether different thing even for those same people when the creative powers that be actually threaten to- or actually do –do it. It’s okay in their minds to kill of a character, just don’t kill off their favorite characters. The problem, though, is that most of the favorite characters that they don’t actually want killed off are in fact the characters that would have to be killed off to shake things up as they suggest.

But if you kill Daryl, we riot. But if you really are killing off this character, we hate you and will stop watching. But if you kill off that character, you’re racist, sexist, fill-in-the-blank and we boycott.

Okay, the last one is an extreme example that only happens in rare cases and/or is threatened by a smaller subset in fandom. But it has been brought up in The Walking Dead discussions as well as in other fandoms from time to time.

The entire thing with The Walking Dead’s latest bit of fandom controversy is actually a smaller example of something that’s prevalent throughout fandom and in there regardless of what any particular fandom’s personal favorite thing is. There are many in fandom that hate it when things become the same old same old, but simultaneously hate it when the things they love change. It’s not uncommon to hear the same person lamenting that a series or franchise they loved is no longer on their radar because things never really changed and it was, despite new characters and actors coming and going, becoming the same old, same old year after year also lamenting the dropping of a series or franchise because the creative powers that be changed things and it wasn’t the same anymore. Granted, there can be such a thing as too radical a change or things no longer working after a change, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case with some of these complaints.

It’s one of the things with fandom that has been an evergreen part of fandom for as long as I can remember, and it’s something that the social media age has only made more noticeable. It’s also a part of getting feedback from fandom that sometimes makes me feel sorry for creators that are trying to be responsive to a fandom. It’s one thing knowing that there are different factions in every fandom that will want certain different things from their passion of choice, but it’s another thing altogether to see the same people giving feedback both for and against the same idea depending on what time of year it is.

We see it on smaller scales as well. I’ve seen over the years any number of writers talk about coming onto a major name superhero comic book and getting fan feedback about how fans want to see X or Y villain brought back. Then, when they eventually bring X or Y villain back, subsequent fan feedback, sometimes from some of the exact same fans, is about how the book seems to be running out of new ideas if it’s bringing back the same old, same old villains that everyone already knows the hero of the book can beat. It’s like how we’ll get several big and small screen versions of Batman for a while and then, after they’ve gone away, a new series or film franchise is announced and met with talk from fans of how they hope we see some other big bads besides the oft used Joker or Penguin. However, once the series or franchise starts with no Joker or Penguin in sight, many of the same voices start asking when will they finally give us their version of the Joker or Penguin.

Fandom wants something new and different, but it wants things to stay the same while being new and different. Outside of the writers who eventually just decide to largely ignore such feedback and write purely for themselves, it must be a little maddening for some creative types.

Sometimes we see it with bigger things such as story concepts. There’s a 2013 zombie film called Warm Bodies which uses the basic zombie concept turned slightly on its ear to tell a different kind of zombie story. It’s a film that I’ve recommended to people who have said the zombie genre is stale and has no more ideas or stories in it worth telling. Probably seven times out of ten, the response I get back after they’ve watched it is telling me the film isn’t using zombies the way they’re supposed to be used. They don’t actually say it’s a bad film or that it wasn’t enjoyable to some degree. Quite the opposite in most cases, actually. Sometimes, even they admit that the film fits in quite well with some of the films (non-zombie) they do watch. They simply dismiss it as not getting zombies right. In other words, they explain that the film isn’t their thing because it’s not doing the same old, same old with zombies.

Then there’s the perennial fandom complaint about there being nothing new or original coming out of Hollywood. It’s a complaint that seems to grow louder and louder with each passing year of late. But what are the films that the vast majority of those same voices in fandom flock to see and turn into box office blockbusters the majority of the time? The films that fit the mold of the same old, same old.

This is in no way criticism or condemnation of fandom in any way. The simple truth is that what fandom often does with things like this is what people do with very much of the things in their lives. People like the comfort of the familiar; all of us. We’ll try a new place to eat or even totally new foods from time to time, but we all have our favorite comfort foods that we go back to again and again. We will all try new games and hobbies over the years, but we all tend to fall back on a set number of favorites throughout most of our lives. Familiarity only breads contempt when it’s not something we want to be doing. But it might be something to keep in mind the next time a series or franchise seeks to throw us all a curveball. Did you ask in some way, shape, or form for what you’re being given by the creative powers that be? If so, maybe you should hold off on some of the condemnation and see how things play out.

Looking at how we eventually treat such things, it may also be a strong argument for continuing to move away from the traditional American television format of 22 to 23 episodes per year every year or even the 16 or so per year every year for as long as possible as we see with shows like The Walking Dead. Such a series may have been best capped at fewer seasons. Such a series may even have been better served with ending on an open-ended finale a few seasons ago and then returning several years later to pick up wherever the characters’ lives have taken them.

But, you know, a lot of fans would likely complain about that as well.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, the Decades of Horror podcast, and the Subject Matter. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.

1 comment:

  1. My only problem with the episode was that it seemed to be directed and edited in the sloppiest way imaginable, as though there were scenes missing.