I know I said yesterday’s post would be the final one before my announcement, but this thought rang in my mind so thoroughly that I had to get it out as well. This may be the most subjective post to date on this blog, but this should resonate in ways beyond storytelling. Consider this compensation for the one weekend I missed this month, so let’s get to the races.
I have witnessed countless arguments over the topic of ‘pleasing fans,’ and your stance may wildly differ from the person right next to you. I have my own, but I will stay neutral and showcase both sides of the argument to the best of my ability. We will be looking at two very different examples, and you can form your own opinion at the end as always. I do encourage you to look for more examples that resonate with you, but these should give you a general picture on how an artist’s direction may differ from what the fans want.
While this example may seem very mainstream to many, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is an excellent example when it comes to pleasing fans. Whether or not you consider video games (or Call of Duty specifically) art does not hide the fact that there is a community with a voice. CoD is a franchise that has seen better days, essentially modernizing and changing the first-person shooter genre as a whole back in 2007. The franchise has received criticism for keeping the same basic formula since its inception, but also for changing its direction from modern warfare to futuristic warfare, gradually incorporating elements of sci-fi by each passing installment.
Now it is true that sequels are always put in a tough spot, (although this game is not one in terms of story, it is in terms of being the next CoD installment) as there are possibilities that fans interpret very differently. Stray too far from your original formula and fans will feel alienated and jump off despite the level of quality present. Stay too close, and fans will be bored with repetition or blindly accept it. This leads us to an important point of ‘selling out.’
Now, selling out is a very broad term. Here, Infinity Ward could be ‘selling out’ to cater to the sci-fi audience and not the established one that was present during the franchise’s inception. Perhaps ‘selling out’ means adapting to an ever-changing audience, as Madonna does now. Perhaps ‘selling out’ just means you do something that will gain big bucks, like following a trend. There are many different examples, but is this pleasing a fanbase?
In some cases, it can be. The Force Awakens is a great movie, but it can be said that it sold out to people’s nostalgia. It is a movie in which references are abundant to the point of only serving as reminders to the original trilogy, and not very much is done in the way of trying something new. People can be resistant to change, and many artists are aware of this fact. This is why sequels are made, and why sequels can fail. They fall victim to the pressure of fan expectation, and how they can top the original work. Should they be made to please the fans, or to please the artist?
It is true that a work is the artist’s and the fans are the fans. It is also true that the fans deserve greatness, and that their feedback should be taken into account. In the case of Infinite Warfare, Infinity Ward chose to push community suggestions to the side and pursue their own vision for the franchise. The ‘elitists’ are older fans who will stay on board despite their discontent, and the ‘fanboys’ will intentionally ignore flaws and choose to enjoy. Both stances can be flawed, as fans with grievances are those who should move along, while fans who choose to ignore flaws can make these flaws persist. I should note that this does not include a happy-but-silent majority that may exist in a franchise.
As you can see, talking about a fanbase can be tough. How many sides of one are there, and why should fans be brushed into these generalizations? It is true that there are many variations exist of these terms such as ‘elitist,’ yet there are radicals in a fanbase that clamour and threaten artists for decisions that do not please them. In the case of fanboys, some may be passive fans who are dedicated to a work, and the label is then misplaced as they do not have an extreme passion instead.
It is always important for the symbiosis between artist and community to be of generosity and for communication to go both ways. The artist should follow a vision that stays true to itself, despite any change that may erupt. If you watch Star Wars, you should expect Star Wars, not a hard sci-fi movie. If you listen to Taylor Swift, you should expect pop, not rock (although she did switch over from country).
While most of this has been a look from the fans perspective, they are the ultimate shift for an artist. An artist can give them power, or completely ignore them. This is a very broad topic as I have stated, as it can apply to movies, books, video games, television, plays, and even things outside of art. It can apply to storytelling and everything beyond. As a fan, remember that you have the power to make a change, but the artist is the ultimate conduit of that change.
Or of course, you can be like Kanye West and simply acknowledge them.
Remember, an artist may come and go as the time shifts, but art will never die. Your enjoyment should help influence an artist where to go with their work, but never enforce your belief on their own work on them.
With that, today’s shorter entry comes to a close. I do hope that you have learned something about fans, and do know I could have gotten a lot deeper into this subject. It is quite a rabbit hole and extremely broad with a plethora of examples, but it is not an argument; it is an ecosystem. Of course, stay tuned for Wednesday, and have an amazing day. 🙂