What Do Fans Deserve?
It's time to discuss that monthly thesis, "maybe Twitter is ruining society".
Yesterday I saw @molls - who, if you didn't know, was an internet presence and writer with a big following long before she was the cofounder of HelloGiggles or a writer for 2 Broke Girls - tweet that “every time I go on the Internet I get my feelings hurt”, and that she's going to get hypnotized not to feel things.
Yesterday I also saw @Ernestoriley, otherwise known as Matt Davis, otherwise known as Alaric on The Vampire Diaries, (and there's a fourth alias but really that's getting excessive now, don't you think?) write a crazy-long dialogue explaining the furor that erupted on Monday when he defended TVD Exec Producer Julie Plec on charges of racism toward the “Bonnie” character, as well as shutting down some fans who were “spamming” the cast. Her tweets have been erased but you can still read his rant here.
What is going on?
People who work for an audience are always going to want feedback. It's natural. If you're onstage, you can tell in the moment, applause or not. It used to be that people who worked in television or movies had to rely on ratings or box office feedback - as well as maybe some reviews - by professionals, to see how they did. But with the advent of social media, the feedback is instantaneous and comes from everyone. Maybe someone who's been through the situation they're watching onscreen. Maybe someone who's a performer or writer or director themselves. Maybe someone who never comes out of their basement or is 11 years old or has done the job you're doing now, better than you. There's no way of knowing. It gets personal.
A few years ago an episode of a show I wrote caused some people to get Very Mad. At me, personally. They watched the episode, but due to the combined effects of DVRs to pause credits and find out who is “responsible” for what they didn't like, and the increased accessibility of message boards and Twitter, they all thought I was the devil and told anyone who would read their comments. Look, it's never fun to see your name written, in print on the internet for all eternity, with an unflattering phrase attached. And I have to say, this doesn't happen to other professions. If you write a bad report, your boss may not like it, but it's not written up for everyone's criticism ad nauseum. If you see an ugly building, the architect's name isn't right there, with his Twitter address on it, so that people can criticize at will. I know there are message boards for everything under the sun, but there's something about entertainment that makes it feel personal and immediate.
The aforementioned Internet of Entitlement, combined with the culture of “everyone's special”, means everyone's opinion matters. And that's fine. This is the age we live in. People can respond to whatever they want. The people who were mad at me didn't know me. They didn't know what work constraints I was under, why decisions were made, what my bosses wanted, or what I thought I accomplished. They couldn't know. They aren't supposed to know. That's always going to be the case. That's having a job. But that's the way it's meant to be.
It's a one-way exchange, just like everything is. I can voice my opinion on not liking any given grocery store product or shoe or book, but ultimately the choice I have in the moment is to consume it or not. The “customer service” aspect of entertainment has always worked this way. We want you to like stuff, because if nobody's watching, then we don't get to play. But responding and justifying - or even “feeling hurt” by comments - is never going to be helpful.
Lord knows this is an inexact science. Tweeting a “happy birthday” to someone is SO easy and makes their day, so why not? Tweeting to someone who says your character/story/song helped them get through a hard time makes both of you feel good, fine I guess. Where it gets sticky is when you try to justify what someone didn't like ...because you're saying that they deserve an explanation.
This is where I think the buck stops. Nobody deserves an explanation for something that happened with fictional characters who appear one hour a week. The medium was never meant to be that way. You see them, one day a week, for an hour, and then you're left to form your own opinions. There were never meant to be daily affirmations or explanations from showrunners or actors because ultimately, they have to tell the stories they were always going to, or the vision will get incredibly muddied. From what I can read and glean from the Plec situation, she's been upset and horrified that people are calling her a racist, as you would be (and which allegations, for the record, I find utterly preposterous. I don't know the woman at all but that's NOT the situation I see going down onscreen). I hope fervently it doesn't affect her storytelling. So what do you do?
Options include not going on the web at all, which many people have claimed is what they do. But the internet isn't going anywhere, and looking up feedback on yourself can be a really hard habit to break. Reading everything and resolving not to let it affect you - good or bad - is another option, but everyone's learning that on the fly and it can be very difficult, especially when, let's face it, the internet has given rise to a small but persistent band of individuals, across every single facet of the web, who enjoy being unspeakably cruel and nasty because nobody can see them.
Are you reading this and going “but any opinion could be wrong, and swayed by any number of factors”? Yeah. Exactly.
And what do I know? I've been on both of the “good” sides of it. I've received wonderful, fantastic commentary on work I wrote and of course it makes me feel good. I also lost my MIND when Judy Blume tweeted back at me once. It's heady stuff. All I know is that what goes up must come down. As soon as you reach any measure of success at all - and I know that includes being a starred commenter on a site or the “bes” poster in a community - people want to let you know that you're not all that great. The reasons why are best saved for an advanced level sociology course. Preparing for it, and steeling yourself against it, (while at the same time not being bullheaded and thinking you're unilaterally brilliant) is one of the most difficult and unique tasks of the age we live in.
(Lainey: Duana is too kind. If it were me advising the celebrities, it’s simple - DO NOT engage. There just isn’t enough mystery anymore.)