October 28, 2013

Losing the Fun in Fandom

Here at Lady Smut, we’re not just writers of romance, we’re fans of it too. Many of us started writing stories and novels out of love for what we’d already read in the genre and a desire to contribute our own yarns. Writing, like many creative expressions. is a passion – it has to be because it sucks more times than not and if you’re not passionate about it, if you’re not compelled by some indefinable crazy to put words down on a page, or characters on a stage, or paint on a canvas, you’ll never stick with it.

I suspect it must be quite rewarding when people find your creation worthy of their own fan enthusiasm. But when does fandom reach a level of mania that strips out all the fun?

The most recent dust up about fandom surrounds the YA book Allegiant, the third and final installment in author Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy. While I haven’t read any of Roth’s work, I’m fascinated by the fan meltdown over her controversial ending. Roth has endured bodily threats among other objections to her killing the main character at the end of the series, much as Charlaine Harris endured over Sookie Stackhouse’s choice of lover when she ended that series. There have been similar reactions to the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series in their day as well as other hotly loved books.

Mind you, fans are essential to the commercial success of any creative endeavor. But lately, fandom, in general, has become its own ouroborosfandom, eating its tail with an overblown sense of entitlement and demand. These days, fans seem as likely to turn on a show or author for not fulfilling their ideas of how the narrative should go as they are to celebrate the objects of their devotion. Full disclosure: I am again the argument of my own scorn as I’m just as likely as the next fan to write a few thousand heated words in my upset about a show or book’s direction, but to date, I’m pretty sure I’ve never threatened anyone’s life.

Over at bookriot.com, Kit Steinkellner has an excellent post about fandom called Hell Hath No Fury Like a Superfan Scorned tied to the over-the-top reactions to Allegiant that I thought could easily apply to all modern fandom in general.

“The fans that made the book the success know they are responsible for this success. So many stop seeing themselves as mere fans and begin to see themselves almost like a board of directors, shareholders in a company, people whose demands must be met. The problem is, their demands do not have to be met. They feel like partial owners, but they are really just readers. This discrepancy between perceived power and real power is jarring.”

A Flavorwire.com post on the same stated it this way with an eye on the youthfulness of Roth’s main audience:

“This is one of the costs of commercial fiction, of course; if you view your books as “serving” an audience (read: customer base) it is hardly strange that they in turn feel entitled to all the usual treatment from a proper returns and complaints department. “

I’m a fan of many things and I regularly geek out hard over books and movies and television shows. I can be (and have repeatedly been) disappointed for having invested in a book or TV show that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to and can (and often do) express that dislike.  I can (and do) express ways I wish a show or series will continue, but that doesn’t give me the right to demand the creators do it my way or threaten them with bodily harm when they don’t. For example, I’m less than pleased with the fact that Helen Fielding has reportedly killed off Mark Darcy in her latest Bridget Jones installment, but I don’t deny her right to do as she will with her own characters. I’m not going to buy the book, but that’s the risk she ran in choosing a move that was bound to be controversial. People are now harassing the writers of the show Castle on Twitter over a perceived slight about a cut romantic scene (that’s what the DVD extras are for, guys!). My love for The Twitter is no secret, but the false intimacy created by social media is, I think, a direct contributor to this sense of potentially fatal fan entitlement.

My first and to date only experience being in a fandom is my association with the television show Lost Girl that’s come out of the extensive recaps I write on the show for heroesandheartbreakers.com. It’s been an education, I can promise you, and I’ve definitely seen threats made in one way or another against the producers and even the actors by virulent factions of the fan base. But it’s a television show, not a blood sport, and some reactions to which I’ve been privy have made my head spin with their depths of WTFery. There’s been many a time when I’ve wondered if it’s all just gone too far to be any fun any more.

What do you think? Is there a responsibility by an author or showrunner to give fans what they clamor for in the narrative or with the characters’ journeys and relationships? Or has fandom run amok in its increasing demands for a voice in how beloved series should continue and/or conclude? Where should the line be drawn?

Be sure to follow LadySmut for more such scintillating scenarios.

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  • Post authorLizEverly

    I find myself grappling with that question a lot for the mystery series I write–not that it has a fandom akin to any of those big books you mention. But it is important to listen to your readers. We are delivering a product. Readers are buying it. I think it’s really important in terms of marketing. But when it comes to story–keep your ear to the ground, listen to your readers to a point–but always write what is true to the story. If they don’t like it, they can write their own book. 😉

    Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    First of all — the fact that you used the word ‘ouroboros’ in a Lady Smut blog post tickled me enormously. What a fabulous word! Second of all — I love that you have this pulse beat on people who are die-hard followers of something. It’s interesting to think about what those qualities are that make a series so successful.

    At the last turn of the century there was a move towards art and audience merging. There were artists deliberately trying to push a deeper sense of realism onto audiences — that fourth wall in theatre that Ibsen created — and there were other artists just as firmly trying to tear that wall down, and keep things highly interactive. So to me it’s like: hey, here we are again.

    I’m guessing that something about the author’s choice of the ending pushes people’s buttons because it (for whatever reason) makes them feel a sudden lack of control.
    Maybe these people are just expressing subconscious anger over the “death” of a series that became a valued part of their lives. Maybe we’re just seeing one of those phases that comes before acceptance.

    Great post Kiersten!

    Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorellaquinnauthor

    I agree with Madeline, ouroboro is a very cool word and since it dates to 1819, one I can use. Back the to post. I don’t understand people who have to go crazy over something like this. This type of behavior is beyond the pale, and plain ill-mannered. Just stop following the author or program. There are several authors I don’t read anymore, but I would never even email them about it. Tweeted.

    Reply to ellaquinnauthor
  • Post authorKiersten Hallie Krum

    Hi everyone! Thanks for leaving comments. Yeah, the extreme reactions always surprise me because I simply can’t understand them. I react strongly to stuff, no question, but don’t lose perspective so much as to condemn the author. There have been several series I used to read voraciously that now I don’t even know the pub dates for. Ditto TV shows I’ve had to leave behind. It’s the old, “Vote with your feet” adage – if you don’t like it, leave. Seems simple enough to me. Disappointing and potentially heartbreaking depending on how much impact that series may have had on you, but still simple

    Reply to Kiersten Hallie Krum
  • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

    I don’t get the sense of entitlement. Some people must have been far too indulged as children I guess!

    Reply to C. Margery Kempe
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Someone I know said there are fanfic sites for people to express their rage — maybe by killing off characters or the author? I can’t remember what she called it.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorKiersten Hallie Krum

    Oh, fan fiction is a whoooollllleeee ‘nother treatise all on its own

    Reply to Kiersten Hallie Krum
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    Killing off a main character is definitely something that can make a reader go from loving an author to vilifying her for life. I’m guilty myself of being so incredibly disappointed in an author for killing off a long-series character that I vowed to never read his work again. Damn you, Frederick Forsyth! However, I got over my pettiness and forgave him. He’s got a new book out and I’m probably going to read it. Listening to fans is one thing, and important, but we’re the ones writing the books with our reward being that we write what we want.

    BTW, shameless self promotion, my hero in my upcoming erotic romance Hot Bayou Nights has an ouroboros tattoo around his bicep. Yummy. 🙂

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
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