Why "Fandom is Broken" and Its Follow-up Bothered Me So Much (Revised)
I don’t think I was as well spoken as I could have been regarding the Devin Faraci article in Wednesday’s episode of Fresh Out of Tokens (which you should otherwise look forward to). I think part of this is likely attributed to the fact I didn’t notice Devin Faraci had authored the piece until I had already read most of it, at which point all that was at the forefront of my mind was the time I personally witnessed Devin Faraci more or less attempt to leverage his follower count to shut down a conversation about some of the more harmful ways the politics of beauty play out in the mostly-good Jessica Jones (a show he seems to have only written only positive reviews for).

From that point on, I couldn’t help noticing a pattern in his writings. All the little ways his writing turns me off, his sentence structure, choice of metaphors, the way he uses analogies generally reserved for children and subordinates, adding up to a clear conclusion. There is an arrogance to his writing which could be a response to a number of things and it would be unfair to him to speculate as to why he seems to be so quick to malign the audiences who make his job a thing but I'm about it. In my experience, when writers write with arrogance, it usually comes from a place of insecurity.


While he does say plenty of smart things (as a side note, it does pain me slightly that Devin Faraci did say, more or less, the same thing I said on the podcast earlier. It also turns out that Vox explained it again a day later without feeling the need to talk down to their readers as much), he only seems to ever seems to write with enthusiasm about fandom when he’s devaluing their position as the primary audience of commercial works.


For the record, death threats are unacceptable behavior in any circumstance but especially when done for no reason and it really was for no reason. None of it’s going to stick anyway. If there’s isn't a cloning/brainwashing/time-travel plot to realign Steve to the status quo, someone else will become Captain America. If that doesn’t help, it will be one more iteration of the Marvel universe that collapses under the weight of its own unsustainable decisions and a new Captain America in a new universe will rise from the ashes, pulled up by those very market forces. If there’s anything worth keeping, they will. Marvel’s process has been historically experimental and self-destructive but it does make progress.


There's been a great deal of backlash to the opinion piece "Fandom is Broken" and sadly, at no point in his follow-up does he address any of the valid criticisms of the controversial Captain America comic (f you’d like to read some valid criticism of Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 1 divided into 140-character chunks, read this storify from Abigail Nussbaum).


The following sentence is unfair speculation. It's almost as if he he seizes on opportunities to argue for his own status as a cultural gatekeeper.


It doesn’t help that I honestly think the death threats sent to Captain America writer Nick Spencer have been getting more coverage than they merit. Yes, some have been very verbose but none of the threats made public meet the minimum threshold to be investigated. No one has doxxed Nick Spencer and it seems fairly unlikely to occur. 


These threats are symptomatic of a serious problem in the way media is produced and consumed, it’s not as simple as Devin Faraci makes it out to be. 


The roots of what the bitter call “fan entitlement,” the cynical call “market forces,” the optimistic call “audience engagement” and the realistic call “steady rent money” can be seen in early out-liars, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resume writing Sherlock Holmes stories in 1901, eventually reviving the character outright in 1903 due to pressure from his readers.


Although, none of those views are any more or less valuable than any other. They’re all lacking in different contexts. All things are relative in this relative world of ours.


Like most human behavior, it’s complicated. What is being called fan entitlement is just one more instance of disparate sets of social programming, carried to us through the inertia of the machines of grandparents built, colliding and turning ugly in an unregulated environment.


The follow up article reeks of the auteur theory. Frankly, when it comes to having a thoughtful and grounded criticism, the auteur theory doesn’t really have any place in examining anything that requires more than one person to make, which is basically everything except prose, one-man shows, some comics, games and animated films made by super-humanly talented people. It’s just so easy for people to use the auteur theory as a lazy mental shortcut and rob the majority of a creative team from the credit due to them. I genuinely believe its prevalence in the public consciousness is one of media criticism’s greatest failures.


It gets worse. The auteur theory is also counterproductive for businesses, like Marvel. Devin Faraci does connect the way the consumer mindset contributed to the Captain America situation but he simplifies it and is more dismissive of audiences than anyone who relies on them should be. He conveniently ignores that Marvel is a business which has been harnessing audience reactions and deliberately presses psychological buttons for decades (one would think they should know what they're doing by now but again, audiences are complicated). The incisive moment in Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 1 was presented as a cliffhanger, a storytelling convention that only became wide spread through the influence of commercial forces. It’s a tactic designed to influence people to buy the next book or watch the next episode or go to the next film. It very likely the scene didn’t materialize out of the ether of Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz's imagination. It's a traditional convention of commercial storytelling. It was handed down by penny dreadfuls and dime store novels, Dallas and Doctor Who. Working writers haven’t worked in a vacuum for centuries, probably not since the dawn of recorded history and definitely not in the last twenty years.


The only things that is new is the creator's ability to see reactions to their work in real time and, yes, that can be terrifying but if you’re some combination of financially stable, Caucasian, cisgender, heterosexual, male, likable and/or reputable, the dangers are minimal. Hypothetically, it's a brilliant opportunity to refine the way we use stories and marketing to foster dialogue, audience participation, and make sure everyone is, on some level, aware of what they're about to buy. 


Earlier, I linked to Abigail Nussbaum’s thoughts on one of the fundamental problems with the Captain America plot line. She also tweeted at length about the Faraci piece and her views are probably the closest to align with my own I have seen. The following sentence is speculation. Perhaps, it is because we both appear to be natives to genre fiction albeit in different capacities. Genre fiction, particularly science fiction, fantasy and romance, is commercial on a fundamental level.


Genre publishers and writers tend to be much closer to market forces they rely on to survive than critics of any shape. We have seen this in the way so many magazines and publishers either realized the importance of fostering healthy audience engagement or died, unable to compete with digital startups that did.


Generally speaking, there are a few ways a novel can “succeed” but the only two of which that have a quantifiable effect on the author’s life are commercial in nature: short-term sales (which is where reviews have the greatest effect) and long-term sales (which is where critique and discussion often have the greatest effect).


It is true that in years past, media critics have been a fairly reliable indicator of a work’s long-term sales prospects. There were exceptions, of course, because real life is complicated. Critics panned Moby Dick and The Catcher In The Rye, both of which went on to become part of the western canon, while The Phantom Tollbooth faded into obscurity despite the myriad of critics who recommended it when it was new.


There are genre novels can, and often do, reach a level of critical discourse that precludes them being seen as low culture but there is a tendency (one we can see in Faraci’s writing) to assume stories with commercial motivations are inferior to those written presumably for no-one. Here's the thing: even the greatest genre novels of the 20th century were commercial. Sir Arthur C. Clarke may have written 2001: A Space Odyssey because he wanted to but he definitely published it because he wanted to people to buy it.


Indeed, the idea that commercial media is “low” is more untrue today than it has ever been. In the contemporary media machine, the role of criticism from academics, bloggers, and professional critics often isn't as careful reading and review but to open, advance, or reopen discussion, preferably a lengthy one. A long conversation will impact sales more than anything in linear terms .  The metrics we see companies using to define what is considered a critical success are already shifting.


There’s something about pointing out the worst of twitter and willfully ignoring the actual criticism of the book can hurt Marvel more than any of those mean tweets ever could.


The policies and market pressures harnessed by companies including Marvel (along with some significant changes in the way we view the purpose of copyright law) to allow their properties to exist independently of their original authors. The intended consequence of stripping existing properties of human “ownership” which leaves anyone who still needs to attach “ownership” of a character or story to some mythical auteur usually settling for the original creators rather than the more nuanced combination of company that owns the property, the editors who govern the property and the writers and artists who realize the property in varying degrees. 


Advocating that writers be given auteur-levels of authority is not only unrealistic, but it plays into the exact line of thinking that put death threats in Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz's inboxes. Rather than challenging what changes to source material merit response, we focus on reports of authorial intent and our own nostalgic circumstances. We can see this in the recent Ghost in the Shell casting debacle as well as the historically felt need to "translate" works like MacBeth to black audiences.

The following paragraph is pre-emptive clarification.  I absolutely agree with Jon Tseui and the reason I can agree with Kwame Opam is that he appears to be using the word ownership to denote national ownership rather than authorial ownership but he does not disambiguate the two which may cause confusion. National ownership is largely synonymous with cultural context, referring to geographic,  political, and cultural factors that serve as a prerequisite for a work. Sometimes context is genuinely important, not everything that makes a narrative work or fail is presented within the narrative itself. While we can't expect fiction to exist in a vacuum, in adaption and reimagining, it is the duty of the writing and marketing staff to convey the necessary context to the audience when the world has moved on from it. In the case of Paramount and DreamWorks, I personally align with the idea that the cultural context that created Ghost in the Shell probably shouldn't be stripped away in an old timey adaptation process like the play Wells describes in the above link and that we, as a species, are capable of assimilating and understanding contexts not our own when they are presented well.


Many of those people who wrote those messages expressed feelings that he was betraying the intent of the original creators, their chosen auteurs. Devin Faraci’s answer is to assign that authority to whoever is writing whatever right now. A few days later, in response to criticisms of his article by marginalized people, some of whom had previously had to make demands, he made statements about his commitment to diversity, then said audiences should never ever make demands and only ever ask nicely. This either willfully ignores the strides we’ve made both in the quantity and quality of representation for marginalized peoples or nobody managed to explain to him the problem with his statements very well. For once, I won’t speculate as to which is more likely. I'll leave that to you.

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