The rise of social media has given fans a greater say over content than ever before. So do creators still have ownership over their stories?
For those who don’t love Game of Thrones, Twitter became a no-go area when the series returned in July. Timelines were inundated with live tweets throughout the first episode. Game of Thrones may be the biggest show around but this isn’t a unique scenario. Each show has its own devoted community. Hashtags, Tumblr accounts, fanfiction, cosplays and fan art are just a few ways ardent supporters of shows and games get to express their passion. Fans have developed their own plotlines and stories around the characters they see week in and week out. They create their own worlds around the work of Hollywood and popular writers, but it brings questions as to just how much a story is the creator’s or is owned by fans.
“There are some creators who pay attention to the feedback on social media and whatnot and use it to propel their work toward popular opinions,” Alex Tisdale, freelance writer for VICE and Nerdist says, “but there are also those who remove themselves completely from critics and social media in order to create something for themselves.”
The old stereotype of a writer with the blinds drawn, alone and scribbling away is not plausible in the age of social media. Reviews come through via tweets during episodes. Fans bombard writers requesting updates. Some, such as JJ Abrams, try to avoid social media completely because of this, but some creators revel in the chance to engage with their audience.
“Kohei Horikoshi, the creator of the recent manga/anime hit My Hero Academia, often posts on Twitter asking for character ideas that he uses in his series. But that’s a very rare case, since most creators aren’t as open with their process and creations as that.
“Art is a very personal thing that isn’t as easy as pressing a button and then you have it. I liken it to a machine of chains and gears that are connected to your soul that you slowly crank out—art is pieces of yourself. Sometimes the works that we love aren’t exactly made for us, but we make it about us through shared experiences and empathy. That’s where fandoms grow the fastest,” says Alex.
““Art is a very personal thing that isn’t as easy as pressing a button and then you have it”
The stunning popularity of San Junipero, an episode of Black Mirror depicting queer love, suggests that audiences will clamour to support stories that they feel represent them. It was an episode so successful that San Junipero is now up for two Emmy awards. Perhaps, finally, fans are being listened to and creators are starting to embrace diversity.
“Steven Universe is a great example where a show has created a fandom based on empathy,” Alex points out. “The show is highly representative of marginalised people and it showcases their most human struggles. It’s a big deal to similar people for there to be something out in the open for everyone to see and talk about, because it normalizes their experiences and brings understanding to those who may not notice them.”
However, Alex acknowledges that the passion within fandoms can have its drawbacks.
“There is one big danger with fandoms and that’s eccentricity,” Alex says. “Fandoms grow the fastest on empathy and shared experiences, so sometimes it’s hard for individuals to separate themselves from the media that they feel represents them. It becomes a part of their self-identity and any affront on their fandom is a personal assault on them. This happens a lot and it’s a big reason why a lot of creators avoid their fans.”
Personal affiliation with a story can create a strong sense of community. The death of Lexa in The 100 saw fans come together to celebrate the character through setting up a convention, but it also saw producer, Jason Rothenberg, face uncomfortable Q&As for months about the ‘bury your gays’ trope. It’s easy to see why creators would be nervous about their own fandoms but, when away from controversy, they are fantastic hubs for people to seek solace in.
Eternity Martis, associate editor at Daily Xtra, turned to fanfiction because of that community spirit.
“At the time, I was bullied a lot at school — I was a loner,” Eternity reflects. “The fanfiction community became a place where I felt safe to be myself. It was the first time in my life where people wanted to hear what I had to say. People would leave me messages begging for the next chapter or just telling me how much they loved my story. Everyone was great, and it was a great way to escape. In some ways, I think we were all the same — social outcasts, loner-types, at least in the category and genre I was writing for. I think we were all escaping something.”
“The fanfiction community became a place where I felt safe to be myself”
One of the most popular Supernatural fanfiction writers, who publishes under the name of beansprouts2629 points out that outside of the community, there’s still stigma attached to fanfiction.
“Among fans, it’s more acceptable and even seen as an accomplishment,” he says. “But I’ve seen published writers insult fanfic authors, saying that they aren’t ‘real’ writers. I’ve written both fanfic and original stories and actually think fanfiction can be harder. You’re trying to use someone else’s characters and settings and have to play by certain rules. Any form of writing is art and should be respected.
“Social media makes it so easy for fans to connect, conventions are more popular than ever and fanfic and fan art are incredibly popular too. The nature of being a fan seems to have completely changed from being a solitary identity to being part of a whole community,” he says.
The rise of fandom challenges who has ultimate control over content. It’s helping to make sure that creators listen to fans and deliver diverse content. Young fans are making their voices heard, and those in the TV industry are still working out how to manage that.
This article featured in issue 2 of Stand Up magazine, which you can download here.