The Case [For] Fans
Posted by VersusTheFans
Recently, a Richard Rushfield wrote an article on BuzzFeed titled, “The Case Against Fans“, in which he is worried that the increase in fan participation in our entertainment culture is ruining the quality of the entertainment produced. His article was inspired by a recent Kickstarter campaign in which fans of the show, Veronica Mars, raised money to have a movie made.
Rushfield argues that “fandom” and its loud and ever growing voice through social media is throwing quality out of the equation; where ratings were once king, and general audiences the gauge, suddenly shows that would not have made it based on ratings in the past survive now because of having a fandom social media presence. (He used the show, Girls on HBO as an example of this phenomenon.)
In short, my take is that Rushfield feels social media and the empowerment it gives to the voice of fandom is overshadowing good story telling and ruining the possibility of quality entertainment. Social medium and fandoms only care about a black and white perspective and have no appreciation for the nuance of quality story telling. Passionate fans, social media and quality art cannot coexist.
I have a few qualms with this perspective. (Members of any fandom are not one dimensional people who don’t appreciate good art, for one thing.) While I agree that the changing landscape of fan/show creator interaction needs some ironing out, in general, these changes via social media are good. Good for fans. Good for writers/producers/artists. Good for the future and yes, the quality, of entertainment.
First, Rushfield misplaces blame on who decides what entertainment gets produced; he blames the biggest “fanboys” (and other super fans). In reality, it’s studios and networks and the people who rely on the money entertainment generates that decides what gets made. People who green light productions make decisions based on money.
Anything with a passionate fan following (no matter their size) is bound to make a lot of money, and studios capitalize on this. It’s a business model that happens to work. Can’t blame fans loving what they love for the decline of storytelling. It’s money that talks, and what mainstream media survives is all about money. That is a byproduct of fans. It’s the big guys at corporate level who make the final call, not fans.
Secondly, there has been an increase in conversation about how social media is changing entertainment recently. Rushfield’s view reflects the “old school” who haven’t experienced first hand the benefit of social media. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and it’s a great advantage for smaller shows that don’t pull in strong weekly ratings. (Back to the example of Girls or the mammoth social media presence of ABC Family’s, Pretty Little Liars.) Not to mention, the current TV rating system doesn’t account for thousands of people without a Nielsen box who love these niche shows. Social media does. Social media is an equalizer for ALL audiences.
Through social media, minority audiences have an outlet for asking for better representation. Voices that have been silent and marginalized and absent in entertainment for years finally have a way of letting their presence be known and asking for their lives to be represented in our entertainment and in our society. Prior to social media, it was hard to convey to creators that minority audiences are in fact large enough to make a difference in the popularity of a TV show or movie. Finally, everyone’s voice matters.
While Rushfield may not understand yet, the diversity and push for all voices to be heard through social media and the existence of fandoms aren’t ruining our culture or the quality of entertainment; it’s pressuring entertainment to match what our culture is really like; diverse. That is never a bad thing in my book, and story telling, in the long run, will not suffer, just change.
(For more great thoughts in defense of fans and about Rushfield’s article, check out Dana Piccoli’s column here.)