AKA: The Right to Whine and be Annoying
One thing that’s come from Monday’s episode, Chuck vs. the Mask, is complaints in abundance. I don’t think a single person commenting here has been able to say “great episode”, with no reservations. I’ve been outspoken in my dislike of this episode, and this season in general. But our complaining is clearly rubbing some people wrong. Linda Holmes writes in a blog titled “Chuck vs. the Entitled Fan Base” that we have unrealistic expectations from saving the show, and need to just accept who the writers actually are and what they are doing.
I’m sure it will shock no one that I disagree with her assessment. Entitlement is a word used like a club. We should instantly be ashamed for our inappropriate claims to rights and power that aren’t ours to have. One enthusiastic ‘shipper apparently posted on Sepinwall’s blog that fans should boycott the show until NBC forces them to make changes. Well, I think we can all guess the only consequence of that would be cancellation. I understand that kind of rabid enthusiasm makes some people nervous.
But I don’t buy for a second the idea we should just sit back and let the writers take us directions we don’t want to go. The obvious flaw in that logic is; if the show goes in an unpopular direction, ratings will decline, and eventually the show will go off the air. We actually do the writers and creative staff a favor when we tell them what we want from the show. A few stray voices asking for something strange (it really bothers me when Casey wears blue, if you ever put him in blue again I’m through with this stupid show…) will be filtered out and ignored. But when a quarter or more of the fan base is angered by something, they better take notice. They know the rabid core who is posting on web sites, blogs, twitter, whatever, are unlikely to really quit watching. But they also know we represent a number of more casual viewers. The sort who may just slip away without saying a word if they are disappointed. I happen to know many people in that category. In fact, some of them would be done with the show already (if she could ever get the remote out of my hands!).
This is not a new or shocking thing. This is how the arts have worked since the beginning of recorded history. To create an art object of high quality requires time and devotion; of the sort that may keep the artist from working on a farm or holding a full time job. So, even in ancient Greece, an artist might acquire a sponsor who would pay for their time and supplies. Often, strings are attached. The artist may be commissioned to make a specific object; or it may be more general (“I want you to write me a romance dedicated to my wife”). But either way, the sponsor expects something, the artist does not have free reign. I know many artists are convinced this is a great evil. That is fine, we can call them “hobbyists”. To devote full attention to your creative processes requires keeping someone with money happy.
We all know, TV is both a business and an art. The money comes from advertising (and cable fees, but for the networks its mainly advertising). Advertising rates are based on how many people watch, or are expected to watch, a program. To keep a show on the air, it has to generate enough advertising revenue to pay for its production, and earn the network a profit. So when a show does something we like or don’t like, telling them about it is the kindest thing we can do. I think there’s a kind of implied contract here. The writers are hired based on their ability to entertain a given audience; and the audience will tell their friends and family about it when they like what they see, and the writers about it when they don’t. Of course, if something completely isn’t to someone’s liking, they will go elsewhere quickly. A casual viewer may offer no more support than their viewership. More enthusiastic fans will offer concrete feedback. I’m sure many in the business prefer more casual fans. But with a marginally performing show, processing those opinions to deliver a desired product becomes more important.
Obviously, this relationship can break down in a few ways. We’ve been accused of trying to tamper with the artist’s work. Perhaps some have. But most of what I’ve seen is fans wanting something that seems reasonable. Many are eager to defend any decision made by the writers, and defer to their professionalism and experience in all things. But many of us have at least as much experience as involved viewers as they do as writers. As such, we’re in a better place to know what we want than they ever will be. We do need to be realistic, and admit an excellent story will probably take a few turns along the way we don’t like. But the writers need to admit they are writing for us. It is pure hubris when they claim to know our desires better than we do. We may allow a few bad moments, or even bad episodes; but we need to speak up loud and clear when the show is careening off in an unwanted direction. I think we’ve done a great job of that, but so far, the writers have failed us. They first warned of what they were thinking came at Comic-Con in July 2009. The forums erupted with unhappy fans. With every new bit of unpleasant spoilers we spoke our mind; and now the end product is here, and we’re still speaking out. They have not held up their end, ratings are slipping, and they give interviews and say we need to save the show again. They need to show us they get it. We still have reason to think the season will end well. I will pitch this show hard to everyone I know, if they can deliver a product I can believe in. But right now, I’m not taking anything on faith. If things take a more favorable turn quickly, there may still be time to get the ratings back up. But if they run all the way to the last few episodes of the season to lift my spirits; well, I don’t really need another season of that.
As always, I encourage everyone’s comments and input. But please keep it civil. I know this an emotional subject for many of us. Whether you agree with my post, or think I’m an utter fool; refrain from personal attacks and profanity, directed at me, TPTB, and other bloggers. I think we have a pretty good reputation on this site for civil discourse, let’s keep it up!