Fandom vs Creator: Death Match
Posted by Katy
With the advance of the internet, there’s no doubt that it’s become incredibly possible for creators of a work to get in touch with what their fans think, more than ever before. In a lot of ways this is a great thing. Creators know and address the concerns and wants of their fanbase, and as a result they can engage their fans in the source material far better. At the same time it raises a very real dilemma: to what extent should creators listen to their fans?
I know, fangirls and fanboys, you’re screeching in outrage at me right now. Of course creators should listen to their fans! Who else do they think is watching their show or reading their books? And to an extent you’re right. A creator that completely disregards their fanbase is likely to totally alienate it and slowly but surely lose all support for the story that they’ve created. There are plenty of wonderful things that have come from creators having listened to fans; for example, if it hadn’t been for the fan support, Spike would likely have died in season 2 of Buffy and deprived the show of one of its most complex and interesting (not to mention sexy) characters.
But it can go the other way, too. Creators—authors and directors and script-writers—are doing what they do because they want to tell a story. A lot of the time the story that they have set out to tell does not coincide with the demands of the fandom, and making concessions to the fans will corrode that story’s integrity. Let’s face it—not even considering cultural norms of the time, if Star Trek had suddenly started featuring a Kirk/Spock romance as canon–like innumerable fans have called for, across the decades–it would have been an entirely different show (let’s not get into whether that would have been for the better or not).
What it comes down to is a question of art vs. popularity, which is something that creators have had to deal with since long before the internet came around. The biggest difference now, at least the way I see it, is that thanks to online fandom creators have a better shot at balancing the two. Creators can continue their story the way they had planned, but still incorporate references to show that they’re aware of what their fanbase wants and aren’t ignoring it.
Oddly enough, Avatar: the Last Airbender is one of the shows that I’ve seen to do this the best. The most obvious example is an episode toward the end of the series titled “The Ember Island Players” in which the main group of characters, in disguise, watches a dramatization of their exploits over the course of the series. The whole thing is full of references to the fandom and its in-jokes: the actors onstage portray the fan-favorite non-canon pairing; there are jokes made about a character death that the viewers found incredibly ambiguous; the onstage versions of the main characters are caricatures of the Gaang; the list goes on. Through this episode, and other less blatant instances across the series, the makers of AtLA acknowledge their fanbase and recognize their opinions, but don’t waver from the story they had planned. The fans are happy because they’re not being ignored; the creators are happy because they get to tell the story they want without as much backlash. Everyone wins.
I’m not naïve—I’m not going to suggest that this is the solution to every problem along these lines. But I will observe that from what I’ve seen, the fandoms that canonically acknowledge their fanbase are those that have the most loyal fans. And with the ready accessibility to fan communities online, it only makes sense to take advantage of that.