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Fan Entitlement in the Digital Age

Are Fans Ruining The Things They Love With Their Pickiness?

Welcome back and happy new year! We hope the start of 2019 has found you in good spirits. Once again, Fantasia is back to explore another facet of fandom in the digital age. This time it’s something that younger generations are accused of on the regular: entitlement. Looking specifically at fans, and fan culture (mainly media fandom), we will be looking at what fan entitlement is, some examples in history, and discussing the impact of the internet on fan entitlement.

What Do We Mean by ‘Fan Entitlement’?

First, let’s look at the definition for “entitled”, or “entitlement”, as it’s a term that’s often thrown around; particularly on social media:

“Feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want without having to work for it or deserve it, just because of who you are”

Cambridge Dictionary

So then if a group of fans is feeling entitled, they assume they have the right to have their desires met, without effort or any reason to receive such treatment. We’re sure you’re already thinking of some examples in your head.

Some famous examples of fan entitlement have already been discussed on this site, such as when fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories protested in mourning after the main character’s death in 1893. Due to the huge amount of fan pressure, such as thousands of letters from angry fans, and fans even writing obituaries for the fallen detective in popular newspapers, Conan Doyle eventually brought Holmes back to life a decade later.

Illustration of Sherlock Holmes from The Final Problem, 1893.

Another, more recent, example of fan entitlement comes from the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend social media campaign that many Disney/Pixar fans took part in. Fans took the Pixar’s Frozen main character Elsa’s main story arc as a metaphor for the emotional journey many people in the LGBTQ+ community go through. From this, the idea of Elsa being a lesbian, and her coming out journey, became something many fans were highly supportive of. The campaign for Elsa to be openly out and in a same-sex relationship in a Frozen sequel even got the attention of Frozen’s writers and producers. Jennifer Lee, writer and co-director of the 2013 film, said in an interview last year that they would “see where we go” with Elsa’s character. Which is, technically, not a no.

Fan Entitlement After Digital

So, now that we’ve seen examples of fan entitlement from both pre and post-Internet, it’s clear to see that fandom entitlement has always existed. However, some seem to believe that the emergence of the Internet has allowed fans to go a bit overboard with what parts of fandom should be brought into the source text.

Devin Faraci from Birth Movies Death believes that fandom is fundamentally “broken” and “exists in a consumerist culture of entitlement”. While he does bring attention to some of the more positive aspects of fans getting what they want, such as bringing TV shows back from the dead (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, anyone?), Faraci goes on to explain;

“Fans have stopped defending the stuff they love and gotten more and more involved in trying to shape it. And not through writing or creating but by yelling and brigading and, more and more, threatening death.”

In a similar piece on fan entitlement, Jesse Hassenger from AV Club focuses on backlash from (mainly male) fans of the original Ghostbusters films when the all-female remake was announced in 2016. Hassenger mentions how these fans of the original films seem to think they “deserve to want to see it”, “it” being the remake.
He also mentions the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign and compares these examples of fans changing the outcome of media texts to “Choose Your Own Adventure” games. This comparison is even more relevant and interesting two years after the article’s publication with the recent release of Bandersnatch, the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ film by the creators of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Screenshot from Ghostbusters (2016) of the four main characters.

There are countless examples of fans changing the outcome of media texts, from blockbuster films to television, and even trans-media storytelling methods. For example, after official Harry Potter site Pottermore changed its functionality in 2015, fans were upset when they could no longer be sorted into their Hogwarts houses. In 2016, this feature was reinstated, along with other quiz-like features. With so many examples, it’s hard to deny that there is some sort of culture around fans getting what they want nowadays. And even when they don’t, they feel as though they should, which in some ways could be worse.

Will It Ever Stop?

There seems to be a universal opinion that it is fans now that are so entitled and feel they deserve media texts to be tailored to their every whim. Which, from the evidence, seems to be true. However, it’s important to remember that this type of fan entitlement has always existed. Skimming over the whole Sherlock Holmes’ death situation mentioned earlier, before mass communication was even a thing, when stories were transported through word of mouth, fans of a story would readily change and adapt it to their own versions without a care in the world.

The only thing that separates these past examples to the countless we have now is the use of the Internet as a tool in sharing our wants and desires as fans. It’s not that fans are somehow more entitled or selfish/spoiled than they were before. Fans have always changed stories to the ways they wanted or rebelled against changes they disliked. It’s that the Internet, and social media, in particular, has given the loudest fans the ability to shout their opinions to the world, and other fans are able to jump onto bandwagons with little to no effort. It’s that one individual’s ideas on how a text should actually be, or how a sequel should be – or shouldn’t be – can now be spread and given traction in a place that broadcasts ideas to the entire world.

It’s not that fans are more entitled than they used to be, it’s that now the entitled ones are much, much louder than the others, and can be heard by The Powers That Be all the more easily.

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed this week’s post. If you liked it, let us know in a comment, or check out our Twitter for more fan studies content!

‘Til next time,

Fantasia Blog

 

Sources:

Actman Becker, H., ca.2016. This is Why #GiveElsaAGirlfriend Is a Thing [online]. Unknown: Parents.com. Available from: https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/everything-kids/this-is-why-giveelsaagirlfriend-is-a-thing/ [Accessed 7 January 2019].

Barsanti, S., 2018. Frozen director might give Elsa a girlfriend in the sequel. AV Club [online], 1st March 2018. Available from: https://www.avclub.com/frozen-director-might-give-elsa-a-girlfriend-in-the-seq-1823435878 [Accessed on 7 January 2019].

Bradley, B., 2018. ‘Frozen’ Director Gives Glimmer of Hope Elsa Could Get a Girlfriend. Huffington Post [online], 26th February 2018. Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/frozen-director-elsa-girlfriend_us_5a9388c5e4b01e9e56bd1ead [Accessed 7 January 2019].

Eleftheriou-Smith, L., 2018. Brooklyn Nine-Nine saved after outcry from fans over its cancellation. iNews [online], 13th May 2018. Available from: https://inews.co.uk/culture/television/brooklyn-nine-nine-saved-fan-outcry/ [Accessed on 7 January 2019].

Faraci, D., 2016. Fandom is Broken [online]. Unknown: Birth. Movies. Death. Available from: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/30/fandom-is-broken [Accessed on 7 January 2019].

Hassenger, J., 2016. Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture. AV Club [online], 25th May 2016. Available from: https://film.avclub.com/ghostbusters-frozen-and-the-strange-entitlement-of-fa-1798247870 [Accessed 7 January 2019].

Pottermore., 2016. The moment we’ve all been anticipating is here… [online]. Unknown: Pottermore. Available from: https://www.pottermore.com/news/sorting-returns-to-pottermore [Accessed on 7 January 2019].

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