The amazing amount of hate the finale of Game of Thrones generated really got me to thinking about… well a whole lot of things actually; how easy it is to sit back and double-guess writers when we have no idea what kind of pressures they are under; the entitlement fans have and the temper-trantrums they throw. I am guilty of both those things. Then again, I think most fans are… that’s the nature of being a fanatic. I think it’s worth looking at both of these phenomena, why it happens, and what, if anything, we can do about it.
Double Guessing the Writers
Writers, particularly television or movie writers have all kinds of pressures blog or fanfic writers do not have. Not only do they have the responsibility to carry a property that may cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, but the emotional burden that if they fail, they could be costing the jobs of hundreds of people and inspiring the wroth of the masses. Not only that, your career could be over. You get fired from one office job, there are plenty of other offices you can work at. You fail as a professional writer in too spectacular a fashion, no one will even look at you, let alone hire you. Dreams over.
Then there are deadlines, a million different creative people whose input is just as important as yours, studio executives with no concept of character or storytelling who (can) constantly interfere and force you to put something into your screenplay because X movie did it and it was really popular, and again, we can’t forget about fan pressure. If you put in no fan service, your story isn’t true to the spirit of the franchise, and if you put in too much, you’re pandering… and let’s face it, a lot of stuff fans want is repetitive or not very good (you repeat a favorite line once, and it’s nice, repeat it a million times and it gets stale).
Also, so many fans act like the writers have set out to ruin their favorite thing… which is ludicrous. NO writer sets as their goal to destroy the thing you love through bad writing and storytelling. They may be misguided, or not fully understand the characters or what makes the franchise work, but the goal is always to be entertaining (well, unless it’s a cynical cash-grab, but even then I say that writers hired for such projects are still trying their best, they’re still professionals after all).
So just know that unless the special behind-the-scenes documentary comes out that shows what things were like in the writers’ room, and even then, we can never really know everything that was going on in that room or in their heads, so why ascribe ill intent?
Also, sometimes an idea can seem great. Wonderful. The best new thing/plot device/character ever… but the fact is, until a real, actual audience sees or reads it, you really don’t know how they are going to respond or interpret it. So many times in my writing, something has been interpreted in a completely different manner than the one I intended, or something I thought was clear was anything but. It’s because when we write or read/watch, we do so with all the meanings and expectations that our individual life experiences have imparted to objects/places/people/and situations… as well as the mental state we are in at any particular moment. Without an identical life experience or emotional make-up, things will always be perceived differently. Sometimes a lot, sometimes very little. It depends.
For example I went to see the Toy Story on what I thought was a date. I tried to hold her hand (nothing more than that, seriously) part of the way through and she had an extremely negative response. As a result, I have never seen that movie again and have very negative feelings about it to the point I won’t even see the sequels. This is a really obvious case, but my dislike clearly is not a reflection on these award-winning films.
Or there’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s my favorite Marvel movie, though I don’t think it’s the best. But from the beginning, Yondu reminded me of my father, who I lost in 2012. Everything from his rough, blue-collar sensibility, to the fact that he used to bust Peter’s balls (to both his and my frustration) reminded me of my dad. I came out of that movie elated, but it wasn’t until I thought about later that I realized why the movie had scored such a direct hit.
…in regard to the Movie Rx
So when I write my Movie Rxs, it is with the realization that in the safety and comfort of my living room, with years to think about it and the benefit of dozens of videos and articles critiquing a movie, I have all the benefits and none of the obstacles the original screenwriters had. I have no idea whether I would have done any better that they did under the same circumstances. The Rx is meant as a fun though-experiment, not as a means to prove that I am right and others are wrong; it is also a means for me to better understand storytelling and share that with all of you…. and maybe, maybe, it might make future screenplays or books a little bit better.
Fandom is great. I love the enthusiasm, the creativity that comes from it, and the communities that arise from a shared love for a particular property. I also believe that fans do have a measure of ownership. After all, it is fan devotion and their emotional and financial investment that has made so much pop culture exist. If it weren’t for the fans, there would be no Star Trek for the community to be divided about. It would have been cancelled after two seasons and have drifted into obscurity like so many other genre series that failed to make the critical 3-season minimum for syndication. And let’s not forget that the JJVerse wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for fan productions like James Cawley’s Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2, and Star Trek Continues proving to studio executives that there was still an audience for Trek and an interest in the original characters. So fans aren’t incidental, they’re inevitable and necessary… which is why I find CBS’s attacks on fan film producers both ironic and infuriating. Some may have crossed the line, but something could have been done that was much less punishing to the rest of the Trek fan film community.
All that said, there is a limit.
Attacking actors or actresses who are doing the best with what they’re given isn’t just rude, it’s unfair and flat-out wrong. Just as with the writers, they didn’t set out to ruin anything, but were doing their best. If they weren’t a good fit for the part, blame the casting directors or the suits that put them there… or the writing. Do I even have to mention the death threats, the rape threats, the calling of names? Yeah, I do, because that crap happens way too often, which brings us to…
Fans Need to Police Themselves
Communities need to police themselves, not just because it makes all Star Wars fans look bad when racist sexist crap was sent to Kelly Marie Tran, not just because such behavior is contrary to living in a civilized society, but because failing to take corrective steps within the community prevents the individuals responsible from changing their behavior and growing as people and is ultimately toxic and destructive to that community. If fans have ownership of the franchise, they need to show responsibility and ownership for their behavior. I don’t mean insta-banning people, but peaceful confrontation with correction and reconciliation as a goal.
I can hear the arguments about ‘free speech’ and ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ already. I believe in both. But I also free speech has limits. All relationships have both written and unwritten rules of conduct. If a guest in my house continually trolls me, I have every right to make them leave. Speech that is abusive is never free. It has a cost. It takes guts to stand up to people like this, character to admit when you’re wrong, and magnanimity to forgive and move on, but I believe it’s possible.
GoT Season Finale
I will only address one complaint, which was that it was like the “writers were only writing to please themselves and we were along for the ride.”
I hate to break it to you, but the number one thing about being a writer is that you must write to please yourself. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then what’s the point? Now I do concede that there are writers out there who can be self-indulgent to the point that their writing doesn’t appeal to a population larger than 1. I call that creative masturbation…. and I think it’s fine. I just won’t read it.
However, I think it is evident that this wasn’t what they were doing on GoT. Yes I am positive that they were writing to please themselves, because Benioff and Weiss are as big of fans of the series as anyone in the world. This is obvious from all the interviews they’ve given over the years. And yes, they wanted the fans to come along for the ride… because, as again, that’s the whole point. They wanted everyone to come along for the ride and have as much fun as they were. To believe otherwise is disingenuous, and frankly, delusional.
Is it okay to be disappointed? Of course! Is it okay to voice that disappointment? Yeah! Naturally! Is it okay to talk about all the things you wish you had seen? Sure! That’s part of being a fan.
However, paying back the hard work and dedication of the writers and all the creative individuals responsible for the show with disrespect and hatred… well I think you know how I feel about that by now.
If writing the ‘perfect’ story were so easy, every single book, movie and show would be artistic masterpieces.
Now I believe that part of the fan backlash is because everyone just had too long to think about how they wanted the show to end. It’s like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Stay with me here. I never read the book as a child, but saw and loved the movie. All my friends who read the book as children were disappointed by the movie and said it was nowhere as good. When I finally got around to reading it, I was surprised at how undeveloped Wonka was, and the simple descriptions. The description of the chocolate rooms was “it was the most wonderful thing Charlie had ever seen,” more-or-less. That was it. Now when you’re a child, you fill in that “most wonderful thing” with whatever your imagination can provide… which is always going to be different from whatever the filmakers are going to produce, so it can never live up. Well, two years was a long time to fill in the “most wonderful thing” for GoT. Much too long as it turns out.
I think it’s human nature. If a child had his heart set on a new bicycle for his birthday and pinned all his hopes and dreams on it, he would be very badly disappointed by almost anything else, even if it were something like a new computer or a kitten.
What it comes down to is that we as fans need to learn how to start moderating our expectations. Part of doing that is to stop deep-diving into every tiny detail before watching something. Articles and videos that analyze every single aspect of trailers seem to be everywhere. Sometimes the analysis is extremely good and gives background and history from the source materials. However, the danger in this is if it fosters pet expectations… so if that one thing actually isn’t in the show/movie then it creates disappointment. Being a fan, I know how hard it is to avoid this sort of thing, but I’ve found that it has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of things to not have those preconceptions. I save all those videos and interviews for after I’ve seen the movie or show.
In other words, it’s about learning how to appreciate a work based on it’s own merits. This doesn’t magically fix plot holes or poor character development, but it helps a lot. It has certainly lowered my Fan Stress Level.
A last thing to consider is that everything turned out exactly how you imagined it, how interesting would that be?