Few weeks on the Internet have proven as strongly as this past week that it is dark and full of terrors. Social media has seen a perfect storm of massive events from seemingly unrelated franchises culminating in an increasingly popular perspective and ultimately dangerous precedent in regards to fandom. The debut of a highly anticipated episode of Game of Thrones, a teaser for a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and the arrival of Avengers: Endgame have all resulted in passionate and diverse reactions from fans across all corners. These responses, both from viewers and the creators of these productions, have reignited the incorrect notion that movies, TV shows, and video games are all merely products to be consumed by customers and that the customer must always be right.
Warning: Some spoilers for Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame follow.
Game of Thrones, for example, has become one of the most popular TV series of the decade, yet that doesn't mean the decisions made by the showrunners are always embraced by fans. This past week's episode, entitled "The Long Night," depicted the years-brewing battle between the Night King and the show's heroes, which one would think would be a crowdpleaser. While it was one of the most-talked-about episodes of TV on social media, not all of that talk was positive, as many viewers noted that the low lighting conditions of the episode made it difficult to decipher the events being depicted. In the following hours and days, the episode's lighting conditions became the prevailing topic of discussion about what should have been one of the series' crowning achievements.
The problem with the reaction from fans isn't that they didn't like the lighting, as that's clearly a subjective opinion that everyone is entitled to, but the discourse around the episode was instead that the showrunners did a poor job making the episode. Shooting the episode is reported to have taken nearly two months, yet fans who didn't like the lighting discussed the lighting conditions as if it were an oversight on the part of the production as opposed to an artistic choice. The episode's cinematographer, Fabian Wagner, even conducted an interview to discuss his decisions.
“The showrunners decided that this had to be a dark episode,” Wagner admitted to Wired. “We’d seen so many battle scenes over the years – to make it truly impactful and to care for the characters, you have to find a unique way of portraying the story.”
He added, "Everything we wanted people to see is there.”
The episode's lighting conditions aren't the only complaints a subset of fans had with the episode, however, as some disagreed with the way a conflict with the Night King unfolded. Some viewers were quick to dismiss a character's eight-year journey to hone their skills, especially compared to another protagonist in the series who is more regularly depicted as a hero on the battlefield. Some viewers even took it upon themselves to concoct ludicrous theories that our "hero" standing in one spot and shouting at a dragon was truly the most pivotal moment in the episode, as this justified how the episode paid off their expectations more towards their liking.
Also debuting this past weekend was Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans were overall pleased with the adventure, as it delivered the heart, humor, and action we've come to expect from such a film over the past 11 years. Those who have been critical of the film's narrative, specifically its final scenes, have been dismissed by analysis due to how much the film pleased fans. Even one of the film's writers recently admitted that the vexing fate of Captain America may have created contradictions and impossibilities, yet the emotional response outweighed the narrative shortcomings.
"I started to lose my barometer on what was just fan service and what was good for the character," Stephen McFeely shared with the New York Times. "Because I think it’s good for the characters. But we also just gave you what you wanted. Is that good? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, it’s satisfying."
Seeing a creative acknowledge that certain events transpired to make the audience happy as opposed to it having narrative cohesion and essentially shrug at the notion implies that creators are beginning to show less interest in pushing genuinely engaging narratives and lean on pleasing crowds. With Endgame earning more than a billion dollars worldwide, it seems as though giving the audience what they want is what's most important for a movie, regardless of whether that makes any lick of sense otherwise.
Arguably the most dangerous example of fans demanding a creator please them came with the Sonic teaser. For months, fans have complained about the character design, with the teaser seemingly serving as the breaking point. Jeff Fowler was hired as the director in 2016, with the studio seemingly on board with his outlook on the character. Despite the studio, who funded the movie, and Fowler, who was paid to execute his vision, spending years crafting the project, fans were loud enough that Fowler admitted changes would be made to the character's design.
While this was considered a "win" by one faction of fans, it doesn't account for the fans who actually enjoyed this initial design. Additionally, Fowler didn't note how the design would be changed, which opens up the notion that an upcoming design still won't be embraced by fans. Now that there's a precedent that, if you're loud enough, you will get what you want, it means that anytime enough fans don't enjoy a piece of art, they can band together to voice their complaints and point to, "Well, Sonic changed the design, so you can change this." Given the number of films, TV series, books, paintings, and albums were initially received poorly, only for time to add appreciation to these works, fans demanding their media conform to their specific outlook as though they are purchasing a box of cereal at the grocery store is not great. If it doesn't have enough marshmallows in the bowl, you better believe that you can band together with your fellow "true fans" of Lucky Charms to get an entire bowl full of green clovers and yellow moons.
Between movies, TV, and streaming services, we have more choices than ever when it comes to ambitious narratives. However, the episodic nature of larger franchises makes them feel more like a TV series while the scale of shows on cable can make each episode feel more like a TV show. In that regard, fans have countless choices for content and, by demanding the creators give us the content we specifically desire, we are reducing the number of challenging stories that broaden our horizons and will accept whatever mediocrity is handed to us in the most unique fashion.
Whether it is the artistic choices or narrative decisions being made, fans are seemingly growing more entitled by the day, feeling as though that if every one of their needs isn't met, that's a problem on a creator's part. A subset of fans no longer accept or dissect the decisions of creatives, who are presenting a product that defies objective analysis, and instead dismiss what didn't fit within their purview. If this continues to be the trend, fans will be left with fewer ambitious endeavors and will have to settle for being spoon-fed generic endeavors that appeal to the lowest common denominator of audiences.