AMBER LOVE 28-JAN-2015 Yesterday, Paul Feig released the choices for his new all-female reboot of the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise. Luckily, I don’t follow the type of people who are complaining about the gender swap, but my head is not buried in the sand either. I choose not to follow those feeds. The thing is, if you take a peek at a hashtag, then whether or not you follow those people matters not. You’ll see everything from debates to pure vitriol and threats. But what you might not realize is that this blowback is nothing new. Fans threaten writers all the time. Why?
Every day, before I start writing, I listen to some podcasts about writing to get me “in the mood” as listening to soulful singer Jill Scott would do for a sexy lovemaking session. Today, I happened to pick Mur Lafferty’s I SHOULD BE WRITING interview with gothic romance writer CHARLAINE HARRIS, the creator of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that are the foundation for HBO’S TRUE BLOOD series. Harris said that she received horrifying threats against her and her children – because of things she wrote, things she did to her characters in their development. That’s pretty insane. It’s also not unheard of.
WHAT IS ENTITLEMENT?
In researching “entitlement,” I discovered that it’s common to confuse it with narcissism. The simplistic definition of a narcissist from PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, is that a narcissist is like a small child that believes the entire universe revolves around them. Another article on PSYCHOLOGY TODAY gives some clear examples of what entitlement is. That article lists nine example; their numbers three and seven are ones that I believe speaks to the phenomenon of fan entitlement:
“3. You expect other people to be more interested in you and what’s on your agenda than you’re interested in them and what’s on their agenda. You see your own interests as more interesting than other people’s, and see your goals/dreams as more valid or important than other people’s.”
“7. You think it’s ok to upset or offend other people. You see people who like to keep the peace as weak.” Alice Boyes, Ph.D., PSYCHOLOGY TODAY
Of the five helpful ideas that the author Dr. Alice Boyes suggests, there’s a couple that seem to be particularly useful for outraged fans:
3. Use cognitive restructuring.
Take any of the entitlement tendencies you can relate to and consider alternative evidence and perspectives. For example, what are some reasons the same rules that apply to everyone else should also apply to you? What are some reasons why keeping the peace and avoiding upsetting/offending people (unless absolutely necessary) is a virtue? What are some examples of how people are generally more generous to you than you are to them?
5. Catch yourself if you fall into the moral licensing trap.
Moral licensing is a cognitive distortion in which people internally justify things they do that are wrong. It’s a common tendency. See if you can catch yourself doing it. For example, develop mindful awareness of thoughts like “It’s okay to take more than I give in X situation because….” Alice Boyes, Ph.D., PSYCHOLOGY TODAY
The above point out that the creator’s agenda is not the audience’s agenda. Then the suggestions include questions you can ask yourself (or the outraged fans). Why wouldn’t threatening an author be wrong if you do it when it’s wrong no matter who does it?
Since I’m not a psychology expert, I clicked through the links to see what cognitive distortion is and also how it could apply to this situation. Part of this includes seeing things only from your perspective. I think that nails it. When creators take characters you love who were perhaps just like you, heterosexual, usually white, and male – and they are changed (even 25-30 years later), you aren’t willing to acknowledge what seeing your “type” represented meant to you. So, in taking into consideration how the world’s population is not homogeneous, all the other types of people were not seeing characters like themselves to fulfill your representation needs.
Perspective awareness addresses things like gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. However, like in the case of Charlaine Harris, the actions of threats against were not because of type, but instead fueled by actions in the plots and development. It’s the “If I were in charge of this universe, it wouldn’t have happened that way” syndrome. Well, guess what? You aren’t in charge of her Bon Temps universe and you are also not in charge of Marvel’s Spider-verse, nor DC’s shared universe for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
Fan outrage definitely includes cognitively exaggerating. “My childhood is ruined!” “I can’t go on unless Bruce Wayne is Batman!” “Captain America doesn’t carry a gun!” In a nutshell, it means perceiving things are more vital than they are. You woke up today and Captain America has carried a gun and Melissa McCarthy will be a Ghostbuster. You still woke up. The sun still rose. The percentage of people who would be directly impacted by any of the franchise changes is pretty small – people who are stockholders in something that might tank, for example; people who will be laid off if the company/brand doesn’t make money. When I said, I don’t like “Thor” being a woman, I gathered my thoughts and wrote about why. I didn’t threaten harm. I merely explained how the premise of “voting with my dollars” works (same as the time it takes for me to write about something, promote it, interview a creator, produce a podcast – in other words, I’m not about to put my energy, money, nor promotions into it any more than I found comfortable.)
It’s acceptable to be angered by the things that happen to characters you love – for example, I’m still waiting to see if Warner Bros. screws up Wonder Woman in the DAWN OF JUSTICE movie – but, I also have the perspective that I am not the screenwriter, director, costume designer, or producer. It’s not acceptable ever to issue threats against people and places.
This is why people write fan fiction. Laugh if you want, but really, it’s so that fans can take the reins of the characters and worlds and do exactly what they want. And it might be of interest to you that some universes are up for grabs, not only the public domain works, but also an accepted open licensing agreement. On Amazon, it’s called Kindle Worlds.
“Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries; Valiant Entertainment for Archer & Armstrong, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Shadowman, and X-O Manowar; Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga; Barry Eisler’s John Rain novels; Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series; and The Foreworld Saga by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Eric Bear, Joseph Brassey, Nicole Galland, and Cooper Moo. Licenses for more Worlds are on the way.”
FAN ENTITLEMENT HAS NO GENRE/MEDIUM BOUNDARIES
I’m not sure that it does any good to call those overzealous fans who issue threats and lose their proverbial minds over fictional worlds disparaging things like “man-children” with unoriginal jokes about living in basements and attachments to their mothers. What’s interesting is that according to the participants of this CBR forum discussion, the nerd rage and entitlement is specific to “superhero” universes; that’s simply untrue as there’s no spandex-wearing in Harris’ vampire universe. There’s some crossover: super natural powers in both, vampires and monsters exist in both, threats against governmental infringement on civil rights, etc. But I trust that most fans would able to watch an episode of THE FLASH and separate the genre from TRUE BLOOD. Therefore, I don’t think it’s superhero fans who are solely to blame for high levels of entitlement.
People get so out of control that they not only threaten the creators of the content, like Dan Brown for his religious plots, but the journalists who review the work or discuss it in any way get threatened too. A ridiculous and horrifying reality we’ve seen with the video game industry, but also in publishing as novelist/columnist Kathleen McGowan learned in 2009:
Angels and Demons and Death Threats – Oh My! (Posted: Updated:
“I was late submitting this blog, in defense of Ron Howard and Angels and Demons, because of a death threat.
A friend of mine is fond of asking, every time this happens, ‘What the hell? Why do people want to kill you? It’s not like you’re Salman Rushdie or something.’
Well no, I’m not. But what I am is the author of two-bestselling works of fiction, books which deal with controversial religious themes and are distributed in about fifty languages worldwide. My work is most often compared to Dan Brown’s, and I am happily sharing front-of-the-store book displays all over America at the moment with his Angels and Demons. But there is a mixed blessing with this kind of national exposure and association. Like Dan Brown and Ron Howard, I have been accused of taking an ‘anti-Catholic’ position in my art. And the majority of the threats I receive reference this alleged anti-Catholic sentiment.”
Further down McGowan’s article, she writes:
“I have grown sadly used to the periodic threats. They have been called in to radio stations and bookstores, and delivered via post and email, since the release of my first controversial book in 2006. While the threats are always disturbing, most of them turn out to be groundless. I received one that coincided with the release date of my latest novel, The Book of Love, which contained a pernicious virus that ate through my computer’s firewalls. So while it killed some of my data, it didn’t kill me. This week was different, containing as it did events sinister enough to make me believe that my life was seriously at risk. Serious enough that I am going to be in hiding for another few weeks. Maybe longer.”
FANS CAN MISUNDERSTAND
Like the notorious video gaming hate crimes that are strong enough to kick feminists off of Wikipedia because of a story was simply false, the comics industry has seen untruths and misunderstandings go awry. There were cries and demands to fire Rick Remender when readers thought he showed a teenage character having sex with a much older man. The hate and vitriol took over despite the fact that it was false; the character was 23. Comic fans took a slightly higher road when Orson Scott Card wrote a DC Comics story. I never saw threats against him, but folks like me who disagree with OSC politically, asked people to boycott the book. Boycotts – voting with your dollar – are more sane approaches to showing dissent than threatening people.
Fans, readers, church-goers: You are not entitled to dictating what creators do with their work unless they have asked you, hired you, or promised you in some way that you are.
Part of the writing craft is that authors need to deliver by the end of the story. Deliver what exactly? Did a character get sent out for milk and then never heard from again? You laugh, but in the legendary TV series HAPPY DAYS, there was another child in the Cunningham house in the first episode that went out the door and was never seen again spontaneously making Richie and Joanie the only kids.
Characters can be loved, but that doesn’t mean they won’t die. I was mortified when Captain America was “killed.” It was post-9/11 and I felt the timing was terrible to do such a thing. Ed Brubaker wrote a decent comeback from Bucky in The Winter Soldier, but as a fan, I was hurt. Writers need to deliver a result, but that doesn’t mean everyone will like the result.
TURNING FROM HATE TO PRODUCTIVITY
- The great thing is that sometimes the passion of the fanbase can show enough visible support that beloved characters or series are returned. Fan campaigns that worked, like JERICHO, were spotlighted on io9.
- When you love a book, movie, TV show, write a glowing review on places like Amazon/GoodReads, ComicVine or whatever your outlet of choice. Try to be thoughtful. Explain why a plot is working or what stands out about a character.
- Buy the work. In comics, pre-ordering is still the marker by which success is measured although I don’t see why. Consuming books is completely different than it used to be since we have the ability to one-click purchase digital content. Regardless, if you are a huge fan of a title or of the creator, pre-order the books. You can always cancel if it’s an ongoing series and you don’t like it.
- Share the love. Share the links to the shopping sites and links to the good reviews. If you hear someone interviewed talking about what you like, share those links too.
- If possible, tell their bosses! How great is it when your boss tells you that a customer appreciated how you helped them? Writers kind of have bosses too. They have agents and publishers. Tell those folks that you love the author/artists.
- Do you blog, tweet, engage actively in some way? Talk to your own followers about why you love a book/movie.
My final tip: Here’s a bit of advice with this – only “@” mention a creator when you’re saying something positive. In a full blown critique, obviously, you are going to name the names. On places like Twitter, it’s not useful to “@” someone how much you hated their take on a character that could change by the next book. The direct mention works well for “bigger” unnamed interaction – like telling Uber how terrible their policies are. But, if you detest someone’s artwork in a comic, it’s really not necessary to “@” them.