Everyone’s a Critic

Statler&Waldorf

You don’t even want to know what these guys thought of Season 3.

S has just finished up her rewatch of the third and final season of The Musketeers, and I imagine she will have some thoughts to share on that subject sooner or later. She has certainly had a good time ranting about it on Tumblr, so some of you may already be familiar with her complaints.

Thinking about that third season, though, and about its many problems, has led us to think a little about what kind of complaints a fan is allowed to make. Friends sent us links to this article and this one about the problem of fans having a sense of entitlement, and we read those and thought about them a bit.

Both of those are interesting, and definitely worth a read, though it seems to me that both authors are really complaining about and conflating several different problems. For one thing, they talk about writers and other content producers getting death threats from fans, and I think we can all agree that death threats are never appropriate. So I don’t know that we need to spend much time discussing that. We can just state it right here: death threats are bad, and you shouldn’t make them.

Beyond that, though, the authors of both blog posts object to “the entitlement of modern fan culture.” As Devin Faraci, the author at that first link, memorably puts it, “These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant – hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn’t how art works, and that shouldn’t be how art lovers react to art. They shouldn’t be bringing a bucket of paint to the museum to take out some of the blue from those Picassos, you know?”

That’s a good point, and a funny line, but I have two problems with this. First, fans of contemporary TV and movies behave like consumers because they are, in fact, consumers. They are paying for at least a small part of what they watch through viewing advertising and buying tickets and purchasing special director’s cut Blu-rays and limited edition action figures.

Yes, repainting a Picasso in a museum would be awful, but it would be entirely different if someone looking to buy a painting back when the artist was alive had said, “Could you paint me something with a bit less blue in it?” Picasso could agree to do it, or he could tell the prospective buyer to take a hike. But I don’t think the request itself would have been illegitimate. And that’s basically the equivalent of someone today posting online about how, “Next season, I want Athos and Milady to end up together,” or about how, “I want Elsa to have a girlfriend in Frozen 2.”

My second problem is that it would be a bit rich of writers and producers to complain about this attitude from fans, when the growing enthusiasm for remakes and reboots practically encourages it. Why shouldn’t fans ask (or even demand) that Idris Elba be cast as the next James Bond? After all, we know there will be a new iteration of the character sooner or later, and another one after that. And if past is prologue, then we know that everyone in the James Bond ‘verse will pretend like the change never happened and that this new guy has been James Bond all along. Changing the character’s race or gender or sexuality can’t hurt the continuity of the series, since the filmmakers have blown up that continuity half a dozen times already. And the same applies with other series. Why shouldn’t fans be allowed to say, “Next time they make a Batman vs. Superman movie, I hope they do X, Y, and Z,” since everyone knows that someday, sooner or later, such a film will almost certainly be made?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what kind of objections are actually out of bounds? S and I may write more on this subject at some, point, but I think one of the more problematic kinds of fan complaints is objecting to the premise after the fact.

When S and I were discussing this, one of the first examples we thought of was Outlander. Neither of us really likes time travel stories. So we just couldn’t get into reading the novels or watching the show. But the thing is, time travel is the actual premise of the story. If you think time travel stories are ridiculous, you will probably find Outlander ridiculous. And that’s okay, I think. But in my opinion, you can only really make that complaint at the outset. You can’t get halfway through the first season and say, “You know, I just can’t buy the notion of a 20th century woman being in 18th century Scotland.” Sorry, but that ship has already sailed. To use an athletic analogy, it would be like saying that you don’t think LeBron James is a particularly skilled athlete because he doesn’t kick the ball enough. Your objection isn’t actually to the skills of LeBron, but to the very concept of basketball. Or, to borrow Devin Faraci’s analogy of a diner in a restaurant, it’s like seeing liver on the menu, ordering the liver, getting it, starting to eat it and only then saying, “This is disgusting! I’ve always hated liver!” That’s fine, but then why did you order it?

By the way, I think there’s a flip side to this: people who have objections to the premise at the outset have a right to have those objections taken seriously. If I see liver on the menu, I shouldn’t be made to order it. I shouldn’t have the waiter and my dining companions haranguing me to try it because, “This liver is totally different.” So if I decide, based on a brief Goodreads review, that I don’t particularly want to read another time travel story, or if someone decides—based only on watching the trailer—that he doesn’t want to go to the new Ghostbusters movie, then that’s perfectly fine. The perennial counter-complaint, “Oh, but you should give it a chance,” rings a bit hollow; I can see the liver, right there on the menu, and I know I don’t like liver. Don’t try to make me order it.

That’s it for now, but we’ll return to this topic later, when S talks about her objections to Season 3 of The Musketeers, and more generally, why she thinks certain kinds of fan objections are legitimate and should be taken seriously.

J

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