Story Hangover, TV Version (On Grieving a Show)

A few weeks ago, I commented on Twitter that I was going to have the ‘biggest book hangover ever’ when Bones ended.  My book friends, even those who don’t watch the show, understood immediately what I meant.

Having now watched some Bones fans flail in their sadness over the past days, I thought I’d unpack that a little, in case it helps.

We all experience fiction differently. I don’t just mean that one person can love what someone else hates, but even ‘loving’ something can mean different things for two different people.  There are shows I’ve loved, for example, that when they ended, I said, ‘what a great show!’ …and then I went and did something else.

But other stories take hold of me in a way that it’s harder to let them go. For me, this is generally – but not always – book series. I remember it happening as a kid the first time I read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles – I cried at the end of The High King as much because the experience of reading those stories was over as I did in response to the ending. Same with the Anne books (L.M. Montgomery), The Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder), The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and the Pern novels (Anne McCaffrey.)

It’s not a one time thing, either. Every single time I re-read any of those series, I feel lost when I come to the end. Every. Single. Time. Ditto books I’ve discovered as an adult, like the In Death books, or the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs.

There’s something about characters I love, existing in their own time and place, that I occasionally find difficult to leave behind once the story is over. It’s not every series I’ve read and enjoyed, but enough that I have a handle on the grief I feel when I close the last book. (Aka, ‘book hangover.’)

(This is probably why I’ve always understood exactly how Booth felt when he came out of the coma dream…)

Psychologists know that we feel grief for all kinds of things, not just the loss of someone we love. We grieve changes in our lives, even good ones (finishing high school or college, retiring from a job, children growing up and leaving home.) So why shouldn’t we acknowledge that the feeling of letting characters go may also be grief, while understanding that no two fans may experience it in the same way, or to the same degree?

So what does that mean?

For starters, don’t let anyone give you a hard time for what you’re feeling. No, ‘it’s just a TV show’ allowed. No. If you loved it, no, it’s not.

(And if you’re one of the people thinking, ‘what the hell? It’s a TV SHOW,’ …why is it so hard to respect our differences, even about something as seemingly minor as how we enjoy the entertainment we love? Related: why is it okay for people to grieve when their team loses the championship but not to respect how others feel when a TV show or book series ends?)

Second? Go with what works for you.  Maybe it’s continuing to talk about the show with other fans. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s reading or writing fanfiction; maybe it’s not.  For me? I always do the same thing when I finish reading (or re-reading) a favorite series of books: I go back and re-read (yes, again) one or two from the beginning of the series.  Every time.

I’ve got the newest Patricia Briggs book waiting for me (it came out March 7, and I’ve saved it for something to do after Bones ended); I already know that after I finish it, I’ll stay in that world a little longer by re-reading one of the earlier books.  Ditto when the next JD Robb comes out in September. (Though to be fair, I’m never wholly out of that world for long.)

But first…I’m re-watching Bones.  (Yesterday was The Man in the SUV.)  Based on how my book hangovers usually go, I’ll watch a few dozen eps, or a season or two, and gradually find myself letting go enough to move on to other things (like the Patricia Briggs book, or watching a couple of shows I’ve promised friends I’d try, or re-watching shows it’s been a while since I’ve visited.) I’ll continue watching Bones, but with less urgency, and then one day, I’ll realize that I’m no longer focusing on ‘it’s over’ but rather the degree to which the whole story, and everything it meant to me, is simply a source of joy and satisfaction.

Bones, and my involvement with the fandom, has been a hobby for me. Will I replace those hours with other things? Yes. (Hopefully, more writing.) But first, I’m giving myself the time to let it go in a way that works for me.

And if you’ve made friends in the fandom, and are worried about whether those relationships will last? The answer is …the important ones will. The ones where the show was a jumping off point to talking about other things, to connecting as human beings the way we do.

A long time ago (twenty years!) I fell in love with a different show, and over the next year or two, became friends with an amazing group of women. Gradually, we moved on, the show ended, and…we’re still friends. Enough so that they sent me flowers on Wednesday, despite most of them not watching Bones. The card reads:

“Because we understand what it is to come to the end of a beloved fandom. Thinking of you today.”

That’s why I’m not remotely worried about losing the relationships I’ve made through Bones.

Loving a show is good. Fandom can be wonderful. It’s okay to recognize that.

Be kind to yourselves.

 

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Thoughts about Writing for the Fans (aka ‘Fan service’)

What do writers owe fans in terms of story?

The answer to that, somehow, isn’t as straightforward as it seems like it ought to be (the voice shouting loudest in my head says, ‘the best possible job they can do, and nothing more,’ but I think it’s more complicated than that.)

I’ve thought for a while now about tackling this topic, which has been popping up in my life on a semi-regular basis since 2011 or so (i.e., not coincidentally about the time season six of Bones was airing) but two different posts on the Web last week determinedly pushed it into the front of my brain.

First, there was the George Lucas interview where he’s criticizing what Disney did with The Force Awakens.  Most people were reacting to his white slavers comment, but I was struck by his remark that ‘they wanted to make something for the fans,’ apparently in contrast to what he’d had in mind.

Second, there was this review of the Sherlock special, The Abominable Bride, which accuses the writers explicitly of ‘fan service’ – a term I’d never heard before, by the way.

From my perspective – and I’m approaching it as both a fan and someone who, if not an actual writer, has great respect for writers, and for the writing process – ‘writing for the fans’ is sometimes a problem, sometimes a necessary evil, and not at all easy to identify.

Returning to the Lucas comment, there was no question that it was critical, and no doubt many fans saw it somewhat as sour grapes, a belief that what he would have done, which wouldn’t have been as focused on giving fans what they wanted, would have been better than the film currently earning gobs and gobs of money.

I’m not so sure that it’s just sour grapes, though. While I’ve not seen anything where he expands on the remark, I think his point was that if your only goal is to give fans exactly what they want, you’re limiting yourself in ways that might turn out to be less interesting in terms of the story.

First things first: I don’t think it ever ends well when a writer is forced to take their creation in a direction they don’t want to go. How could it? It’s no longer theirs.

Picture this: you begin telling a story, and people fall in love with it. Yay! And then you realize you need to shake things up to keep it interesting, or maybe it’s not a new realization, perhaps right from the beginning you knew this complication, whatever it is, was coming. Only those people who love your story say, ‘no! You must not tell the story that way!’ and instead dictate to you a different direction it should go.  And for whatever reason, you try to accommodate them, and …chances are, they’re not going to be happy with the results. Because the story they fell in love with – your story – is no longer the one being told.

(And yes, sometimes stories have multiple creators, or get passed to a different writer, and it can work well, because the new writer is collaborating with the original writer, or at least really ‘gets’ the story, but you don’t have to look far to see plenty of examples of when a story fails after being handed off to someone else.)

BUT…I hear fans hollering, ‘the writer owes us what we want to see!’

And that’s where it gets sticky. Because we’re the consumers, right? When we buy something, we ought to get exactly what we want.

Well, no. No. Not when we’re talking about the creative output of another person.

The writer owes the audience the best possible story he or she can tell, and that’s all.

(Well, with one caveat: if he’s made a promise early in the story, implicit or explicit, that something in particular will happen, then yeah, he owes the audience pay-off of that. Though, even there, sometimes the audience sees things implied that the author didn’t intend, but that’s a whole other post. Suffice to say, if the mystery ends with the murder unsolved, the author didn’t fulfill his contract with the audience.)

And yet, and yet.  If the writer takes the story in a direction that enough of the audience isn’t interested in reading or watching, she can pat herself on the back for sticking to her creative guns …while standing in the unemployment line because the publisher passed on the sequel, the series was canceled, or the film bombed at the box office.

Years ago, I was on a writing listserv at about the same time two members got calls from publishers. In both cases, the editors said, ‘change this part and resubmit – we’re very interested in your novel.’ And one of them did, because the change was something she could live with, something she came to see would make the story stronger. The second woman did not. She didn’t like the requested change, couldn’t see the story as still being hers if she did as requested.

That’s the tension with commercial fiction. On the one hand, the writer has to tell their story, because they really can’t tell anyone else’s well; on the other, they have to accept the risk that people may not be interested in what they have to say.

So what about Lucas’s criticism that Disney wanted to ‘make a story for the fans’?

See above. Lucas is a writer who has a specific story in mind, wants to tell that story, and can’t fathom being told to tell a different story instead.  But the comment illustrates the conundrum when what the majority of the audience wants to see is apparently not what the writer has in mind, even the one who brought the characters to life initially.

And maybe The Force Awakens – currently succeeding with audiences to the tune of 1.56 billion dollars – is also a case study for what can happen when a story passes from the hands of its creator to a fan. Because JJ Abrams is not just a writer who was given the task of writing Episode VII in place of Lucas; by his own well-documented admission, he is a fan.

Whatever else it is, though, it’s no longer George Lucas’s story, and however happy with it millions of fans are, there are those who didn’t care for it, who are lamenting that loss.  One argument would be that Lucas was allowed to tell his story, his way – in the prequels, which, while there are people who love them (I have a niece in her mid-twenties who greatly prefers them over the original trilogy), they are not universally beloved.

That’s the risk Lucas took, and whatever you think of him as a writer (um…not a fan, here, honestly), I think his commitment to telling his story deserves respect, as does Abrams, who was also telling his story, just one that apparently a whole bunch of people wanted to see.

As to the Sherlock review…I’m at a disadvantage, because I’ve not only not seen the Christmas special, I’ve not seen the most recent season of the show.  I also found the review a bit confusing in that there were a lot of criticisms, and I wasn’t sure how many of them were being attributed to fan service. But the gist is certainly that the show has been ruined by the writers pandering to a (presumably) small percentage of the audience.

That’s where it gets murkier, because we’d need to know whether Steven Moffat and Mark Gatniss deliberately stopped telling the story they wanted to tell in order to tell one that they believed fans wanted. I’ve not seen any indication of that. Nor, for that matter, have I seen reports of fans who are thrilled with the episode. I’ve seen a few positive comments, and a lot of ‘what was that?’ confusion, but no cries of, ‘best thing ever!’

Is that because the fans who were presumably being accommodated didn’t, after all, like what was supposedly written for them? Or did they just not recognize it for what it was?

Or, possibly, perhaps this wasn’t an attempt to placate fans at all by Moffat and Gatniss; rather, they’ve just gone in a different direction creatively than the reviewer likes?

If a writer happens to want the story to go in the same way (some) fans do, is it still fan service?

I don’t know. What I do know is if we’re to have any hope of being entertained, writers have to be free to tell their stories in their own way, not driven by millions of other people; at the same time, our great power as the audience is that we get ultimate veto power over whether we’re going to read or watch something.

That seems pretty fair to me.

 

 

Don’t Let the Trolls Steal Your Joy (Fandom Thoughts)

I’m a little cranky today.

I shouldn’t be. I’m on vacation, just back from a family trip to Florida that included building sand castles with a four year old and watching a young couple I love very much get married. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I fly out for a long weekend with some of my favorite women on the planet.

But earlier today, I learned that Bones fanfic writers are being harassed on ff.net, not for the first time, by the same person who’s periodically sent me (and several others of us at Bonesology) private messages full of hate.  While I found the messages directed at me to be more entertaining than anything, others being targeted, particularly in fanfic reviews, simply pisses me off.

So if you’ve ever been a victim of hate, on any platform, or received a review that was startling in its viciousness, this is for you.

I was going to be very specific here, by the way.  I was going to name the troll. I certainly could do so, to prove it’s the same user name. I could include screenshots. But she’s no doubt got multiple handles, so what would be the point? Plus? She (or he, as the case may be) is legion. There are an endless number of cowards sitting behind keyboards, wanting nothing more than to make others miserable.

And that’s also the reason I decided to make this post non-fandom-specific. Obviously, I’m talking about Bones, but I know of people who’ve been stalked and harassed in a number of other fandoms, including Arrow and Supernatural.

Trolls are everywhere, and their sole goal is to steal our joy in something we enjoy.

It takes different forms. In her private messages to me, this particular individual ranted about male characters, hoping they’d die, while praising the female lead and saying she’d like to see her on the show as a single mother; in one of the fanfic reviews of a different writer, she said the same female character’s “always been a whore.”

I suppose it’s possible that what she really wants is to watch a show about a woman she considers a whore being a single mother, but what’s more likely is that she just wants attention, and so tries to upset people however she can in order to get it…because mean.

And later? In a different message to me, she attacked us for discussing Bones over at the forum, saying it was pathetic to analyze the episodes the way we do. Why yes, because, clearly, seeking out people who love something and stalking them with messages of hate is reasonable, sane, admirable behavior.

Let’s be clear about a few things:

First, no matter what the troll says, this isn’t about the quality of your writing, it’s not about your story, and no, it’s not ‘constructive criticism.’

If you enjoy writing fanfic, know it’s solely for fun, and aren’t bothered with whether you improve or not, you know what? That’s okay. Don’t let anyone ruin that for you.

And if you’d like to get better? Fanfic is a great place to do so. I know three people – I’m sure there are more – who learned to write with fanfiction and are now published authors. Writing is one of those things that no one is born knowing how to do, no matter how much native talent they have. You learn to do it by doing it; you get better at it by doing it more, and you shouldn’t be put off by someone attacking something you’ve written without offering you a way to make it better. If a review seems to be about making you feel bad rather than helping you improve…that’s exactly what it is.

Second, this kind of crap also isn’t about a disagreement over the show. It’s not about liking vs. disliking a character or a plot.  It’s not even about people who still love a show vs. those who’ve lost interest in it. It’s possible to disagree in a sane, civil fashion; it’s possible to state your dislike of something and then move on.

That get-together this weekend? One of the women and I so often disagree about Bones that it’s a source of amusement to both us and others when we discuss it. Meanwhile, I’ve got several other good friends who lost interest in the show, but because they’re sane, mature people, they don’t spend time hating on it, or suggesting that there’s something wrong with those who still enjoy it.

Trolls? Just the opposite. They’re driven by a hatred of seeing others happy and enjoying something, and will do everything in their power to spoil that.

Don’t let them.

Hobbies – and that’s what my show is to me – are healthy.  Something fun, that’s not work, which engages our creative side while allowing for interaction with other like-minded people? All good. I have all kinds of activities I enjoy, from collecting cookbooks, to reading a variety of authors, to photography, to writing fiction, to, yes, watching, discussing and writing about Bones. Why would I let someone put a damper on any of it?

My shows have given me hours of pleasure and some wonderful friendships, so, no. I will not let a nasty, spiteful person spoil that for me, not for one second.

Don’t let them do it to you, either.

Enjoy your fandom. Wallow in the pleasure you take in whatever it is. And when the haters and trolls come out, unable to bear watching someone else be happy, flick them off. If you can’t block them, ignore them, and focus on finding like-minded people who enjoy the same things you do, for the same reasons.

Don’t let anyone steal your joy.

A Fandom Reality Check

I’ve been part of the Bones fandom for a long time now. I’m used to periodic meltdowns. (In fact, I’ve long thought we should have t-shirts for the old timers saying, “I survived the sixth season of Bones.”)

But in the past couple of weeks, I think we’ve even surpassed the insanity that was season six. I’ve seen meltdowns, major malfunctions, rumors, hate, and general stupidity building to epic proportions – and that’s just on Twitter.

Stop that.

TV shows are entertainment, which means that they should be fun. Connecting with other people to discuss them should be fun. If you’re not having fun, it might be time to re-evaluate.

Much of the turmoil seems to stem from a variety of false beliefs, so here are five realities that are true even when people pretend they’re not. (And no, I’m not setting myself up as Empress of TV – common sense says these things are true of the world; I’m just drawing attention to them.)

1) Criticism is not the same thing as endlessly bashing the show

I know, it feels like a subtle distinction. It’s really not.

Criticism is the act of evaluating a literary or artistic work. It’s limited in scope: you express your views and then you move on to whatever the next thing is you’re going to evaluate. (I know of no professional critics who give the same review over and over.)

Hating on something is just that: it never has an end.

Within fandom, criticism can lead to interesting discussions between people who disagree; it can also lead to new insights about the show.

Repeating the same negative views over and over? Nothing good comes out of it.  Right now, some of the same people who are obsessing about ratings and begging for a season 11 are spending most of their time telling people how much the show sucks. Do you see the irony there? If I followed these people on Twitter or Tumblr and didn’t watch Bones, why the hell would I want to, when everything they say is trash talking it?

Not just about things they’ve seen and not liked, mind you, but also upcoming story lines, which is another issue: criticism requires familiarity with what you’re criticizing. Sure, you can say, ‘I don’t need to see this to know it’s going to suck’ but you know what? You’ve lost all credibility when you do so. If you want me to take your opinion seriously, at the very least it has to be based on having seen what you’re ‘evaluating.’.

It’s one thing to express reservation about an upcoming story. But if you really are dead certain that there is nothing the writers and actors could do to make the story worthwhile for you, then it might be time to find a new show.

It’s their story, you see. They come into our living rooms and say, ‘we’ve got this tale we want to tell you about Booth and Brennan.’ We either say, ‘oh, cool! I like those stories,’ and hang around to watch, or we say, ‘Nah, I’m not interested. I think I’ll watch something else.’

When we get to the point of saying, ‘I already know I’m going to hate whatever story you’re telling this week,’ …it’s time to change the channel.

The same people who created Booth and Brennan in the first place, the same ones who wrote/acted the scenes and episodes you first fell in love with…they’re the ones telling the story now. That doesn’t mean you have to like everything they do – but at least give them the benefit of the doubt and watch the story before deciding to hate it.

2) Your opinion counts, but you are only part of the audience

Let’s assume that eight million people watch Bones each week. (Five million or so live, plus more on DVR, plus more who watch streaming on Hulu or buy the eps from Amazon or Apple) – and that’s U.S. I have no idea about the numbers for other countries. I assume the number at least doubles.

Of that number, how many are, realistically, discussing the show online? Granted, it’s only one platform, but as a starting point, less than 700,000 people follow the official FOX account on Twitter.

Eight million vs. 700,000. And the eight million is US only, while the 700,000 is international.

The online fandom is a fraction of the audience as a whole. Off the top of my head, I can name six people I know in real life who watch the show every week – and not one of them has ever gone online looking for information about it.

All of them are part of the audience. I’m sorry to burst bubbles, but to the network and studio, they matter just as much as we do.

It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do, and then pretend ours is the only perspective. But it doesn’t make it true.

The showrunners, writers, actors, networks? They know that even the online fandom as a whole doesn’t represent the whole audience, let alone a subgroup.

I once had another fan say to me, ‘Everyone hates Sweets. Everyone. I see it on Tumblr.’ She wanted to sound authoritative, but instead just sounded stupid.

If you hate a character or story direction, have the courage to speak for yourself. I respect someone who says, ‘I hate this,’ and I suspect the network and showrunners do, too. But I just get pissed off when someone speaks for me.

3) The problem with committees

If the audience is made up of eight million people who all want different things, the writers cannot possibly write to please ‘the audience.’ (Seriously – can you imagine a committee of millions trying to tell a story?)

Even a casual pass through Twitter shows competing wants: this person wants more humor, that person wants more angst, this person wants to see more of Brennan in the lab, that person wants to see more of Brennan in the SUV (i.e., not in the lab) – who should they write to please?

All they can do is tell their story to the best of their ability. We either watch, or we don’t.

(Me? If the Bones crew were writing just for me, we’d have more scenes between Booth and Hodgins. But see, that’s the thing: I get that I’m not the freaking center of the universe, and enjoy the show anyway.)

4) Verbal attacks are not the same thing as expressing an opinion

Last week, a fan made a rude, mocking comment to the Bones writers. If asked, she’d say she was only expressing her opinion, which she’s entitled to do.

But I found the comment disrespectful, offensive, petty, and mean-spirited. I said so, and was promptly criticized, even though I made it a general comment, i.e., I didn’t  name the individual.

The idea seemed to be that it’s okay for these fans to say anything they want, no matter how offensive, but reacting negatively to their rudeness isn’t allowed.

Communication doesn’t work that way. If you say something, it’s out there, and you don’t get to control how people react to it.

The phrase “I’m entitled to my opinion” is used to justify all kinds of hate and ugliness, and it seldom accomplishes anything good. Why? Because people who are merely expressing their views in a polite and respectful way don’t need to be defensive.

Back when Hart Hanson interacted with fans on Twitter, I more than once saw him engage with polite fans, even when they were saying, “I don’t like how you’re telling this story.” But those who attacked and then excused themselves with ‘I’m entitled’? Very different response. As is his right.

Being entitled to your opinion does not come with a guarantee others will listen, particularly if you’re rude in expressing it.

And no, there’s no exemption clause that makes it okay to abuse writers and actors because of what they do for a living. They’re human beings. Tell them you don’t like something, but don’t attack them.

5) Don’t believe everything you see online

Friday night, someone started a rumor that Bones had been canceled. Some people bought it, and then responded in a totally mature fashion: they attacked both other fans and the showrunner/actors. (Because yes, if a show is canceled, that’s exactly a response that makes sense.)

The show’s not been canceled, and the comments being made by the writers and actors (the people who actually have the best intel) that same night indicate that they’re expecting a season eleven. But why let a little thing like logic stop a good panic?

Sites like Variety, Hollywood Reporter, TV Guide – if it’s posted there, it’s probably trustworthy. Something you’re seeing only on social media? Ignore it until a reliable site confirms it. If you panic, you’re letting someone manipulate you. Don’t do that.

A final observation:

If watching a show is making you unhappy, find a different show. As a member of the audience, that’s the most powerful thing you can do.

If being part of a fandom is making you unhappy, find a different group of people to hang out with.

In either case, do whatever it takes to be as happy as possible. Life’s way too short to be unhappy over a TV show.

Hating

 

Be Loud

I’ve had a few follow-up discussions on the fandom/bullying issue with friends, and keep bumping into what most of us acknowledge is the core of the problem: we know that ignoring bullies is best, we know that what they want is attention. But somehow, not saying anything winds up only giving them an open field in which to wreck mayhem.

And that led me back to thinking about something I’ve known for a long time now: love, and positive emotions, may be more powerful than hate/negative ones, but hate is usually louder.

If I’m looking at reviews of coffee pots on Amazon, I don’t always remember to factor in that people are far more likely to write a review complaining about something than they are to write glowing praise. You buy a toaster and it works, doing exactly what you wanted it to do, you don’t necessarily trot over to Amazon to say so. But boy howdy, if it doesn’t work, you’re right there, telling the world. And yet, 25 negative reviews out of 300 positive ones is enough to have me rethinking the purchase. For whatever reason, the negative carries more weight, and drowns out the positive.

We see the same thing  at Bonesology far more often than we like. People will be responding positively to an episode, talking about what they enjoyed, and someone will pop up and say, ‘I didn’t like it because X,’ and suddenly the thread is dominated by what people were disappointed by.

Just to be clear, the people who didn’t like it have the right to say so. We all respond differently to things, and true dialogue requires expression of all views.  And unhappy people should be correct when they say, ‘my not liking it shouldn’t affect those who did.’

But somehow, that’s not how it works. I’ve never forgotten the two people who sent me private messages after the Bones season six finale saying they were taking a break from the board for a while because while they were over-the-moon happy with the pregnancy, a very loud, very vocal, very angry protester who hated it was spoiling it for them.

This is why we attempt to walk a line between allowing negative responses, and in trying to prevent people from dwelling on them – that ability of a single unhappy person to drag down an entire thread.

So what does this have to do with trolls and bullying?

Just this: I think the same thing comes into play here. If a troll is active, or someone is being bullied, and no one responds out of a fear of giving the troll the attention they want, they still win because the field is left open and all anyone then sees is the hate.

And if you’re the person who’s being bullied, even if you tell yourself that silence from others doesn’t mean agreement…it’s easy for the idea that maybe they do agree to grow louder in your head. (“Maybe I am alone here. Maybe everyone does agree that I’m worthless.”)

It makes me wonder if the best approach is somehow to drown out the bullies and trolls with kindness and/or positive comments for the victim – without interacting with the troll directly.  If I’m the one who’s being harassed, no, I’m not going to dignify the attack with a response. But if someone else is being attacked, I’m going to let the victim know I’m in their corner. I’m going to interact with them, encourage them, whatever. Just flood them with kindness and the reassurance that the bully isn’t speaking for everyone.

It seems like the more people stand with a victim of bullying and say, ‘you’re not alone, the bully doesn’t define you,’ the less power the bully has. But we have to take the time to reach out to those who are being victimized.

Love is more powerful than hate, but hate is often louder.

Be loud.

Be the Solution

I woke this morning to sad reports that a young Supernatural fan had killed herself after being bullied by ‘anonymous’ on Tumblr.

I’ve watched the first season of Supernatural, own several other seasons on DVD, and it’s on the list of things I’ll watch Some Day. (All I want is to live long enough to retire so I can knock out my entertainment bucket list.)

In other words, I’m not part of that fandom, (though I have friends who are) and I’m still enraged that this could happen.

Some are denying it happened. I’m not close enough to the situation to know for certain, but will say this: they’re missing the point. While it is undeniably a tragedy for this fan and her family if it did happen, in one sense, it doesn’t matter if it didn’t – because those of us who’ve been in fandoms long enough all know that it absolutely could happen, undoubtedly will at some point, and probably already has, and just went unremarked on by the world at large.

And that pisses me off.

I’m not addressing the bullies here, by the way, because every time I’ve ever interacted with a troll, they’ve been skilled masters at justifying their behavior, so I won’t waste my time.

No, these comments are to two other groups of people:

The first are those who are, right now, feeling harassed or bullied.  Since the trolls work hard to deny, always, that that’s what they’re doing, I’ll define web bullying as someone seeking out another person for the express purpose of saying hateful things. This can be via anonymous comments on Tumblr, targeted tweets on Twitter, posting about the person on another site, or personal messages via any medium (like say, on Fanfiction.net, when the messages don’t have to do with fanfic.) Oh, and another one I particularly like: the bully who tells another person that they can’t be friends with them if they’re also friends with you.

If any of that is happening to you right now, you probably already know that you shouldn’t let them get to you, and that not doing so is a lot harder than it sounds.

It’s hard, but try to look at it objectively. Take a breath and think about them, about their character (which is the last thing they want you to do – I guarantee it.) Is this a person you respect? Or want in your life in any capacity? Why should a person who apparently has nothing better to do with their life but to spend it trying to make you miserable have any input at all into how you see yourself? They’re the losers.

Anyone who gets up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to see if I can make another person feel bad about themselves today” or, “I’m bored, so I’m going to go post messages of hate about people in the fandom” …they don’t deserve one moment of your time.

Not. One. Moment.

It doesn’t matter why they say they’re doing it, or what you supposedly did to earn their attention. Truly, it doesn’t. Even if in some corner of your mind, you’re afraid they have a point…they don’t. Healthy, sane people don’t go around posting messages of hate about other people. They don’t follow them from site to site, don’t cower behind the label ‘anonymous,’ and they don’t fixate on making others miserable. And unhealthy, crazy people don’t have any right to make you feel bad about yourself. Period.

Also? Find sane people to hang with, who’ll support you. Every fandom has them.  This isn’t about agreeing with you about the show, by the way. It’s about learning to recognize the decent human beings who are out there. I’ve disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with people I trust, absolutely, to have my back. Find yours. Keep looking.

Bullies of any stripe piss me off. Don’t let them win.

My last comment is to the rest of us, those who are neither bullies nor victims.

I’ve never bullied anyone; it wouldn’t occur to me to spend my days following someone around online in order to spread hate. But I can think of a few times when I’ve lost my cool, generally in response either to those insisting their view is the only one, or to those trying to make others unhappy, for whatever weird reasons. Really, though, the why doesn’t matter: I was snarky or angry and later regretted it, because that’s not who I want to be.

At the heart of most fandom conflict, whether it reaches the level of bullying or not, is the need to be RIGHT at all costs, the compulsion that requires everyone to agree with us on every point. Whether it’s which show is best or whether or not a plotline is stupid, it always comes down to needing others to validate our views by agreeing with us.

It’s never going to happen.

We’re never all going to agree, about anything – including things a lot more important than a TV show.

The difficulty is accepting that truth, while navigating the debates which are the heart of fandom. But the answer isn’t to avoid talking to people with different views, nor is it to pretend to agree when we don’t.

I don’t know what the answer is, honestly. But I believe a better world begins with choices we make, every day, in every interaction.

What if we all, every one of us, just said, “In 2015, I’m going to be more concerned with being kind, or at least civil, than I am in being acknowledged as ‘right'”?

What if we truly listened before respectfully disagreeing; if we just walked away from arguments no one can win; if we were strong enough not to need people to agree with us on every point, and if we all rejected bullying when we see it happening, in whatever form it takes…what would that Web be like?

What if we reclaimed the Web for the side of sanity, one person, one interaction at a time?

Because I’m human, I’ll certainly fail at some point, and I apologize in advance for that. But I’m going to do my damnedest in 2015 to be part of the solution to hate.

Will you join me?

On Out of Character Characters

This is probably not the post you’re expecting it to be – at least not if you’re anticipating a rant about how badly some writer or other screwed up. You see, I don’t think characters written by someone else can be out of character.

*waits for howls of protest*

But in the last week or so, I’ve seen three comments where someone’s made that charge against a writer, and in all three cases, I had the same internal response: “not your call, dude.”

The first was someone trying to stir up controversy for J.D. Robb by accusing her of using a ghostwriter for the In Death novels, because they find Eve’s character in the past few to be OOC; the second was a random comment someone made about a character in a Marvel film, where they were just assuming that everyone would see the same OOC behavior they do (I don’t), and the third was a comment about someone’s fanfic. (Again, not an assessment I agreed with.)

Here’s the bottom line: the creator of a character can not, to me, write them wrong. It’s their creative work and the character lives first in their imagination. To pluck that story person out of their head and say, ‘thanks for inventing them, but I’ll take it from here’ is on the level of covering up part of someone else’s painting because you didn’t like the color in the lower left corner.

But what if you hate the direction they’ve taken the character in? What if you can’t follow what they did or why they did it?

Totally your right to respectfully say so. That’s what writers risk when they put their characters out there – that people won’t like what they do, or may not understand it. (Or worse, may just give up on the story altogether.)

When I largely lost interest in Stargate: SG-1, it was for just that reason. I couldn’t make sense of the direction they were going with Jack’s character. I didn’t like it, and I no longer liked him. But even then, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to proclaim that they were writing their character wrong. He was theirs. They could do whatever they wanted with him, could go wherever they wanted to with him. And I could choose to watch, or not.

More than once, Bones has thrown me a curve ball where something I thought was true about a character turned out not to be, though it’s never been a deal-breaker in terms of my love for the show, and discussing those differing views with other fans has often opened up new says of seeing the story. But rather than proclaiming they don’t know their own vision, I’ve stepped back and said, ‘oh, so that’s true of the character as well as this other thing? But how does that fit with this?’

I may not like what they do, but saying that I know better than those who created the characters how they should act doesn’t make any sense to me. They’re not my creations.

Ah, but what if …the writer screwed up? No one’s perfect, so maybe they made a mistake, had the character do or say something they shouldn’t have done or said.

It happens, absolutely. Writers are as capable of making mistakes as anyone. But they’re the only ones who can say for sure whether that’s what happened. My interpretation not matching the writer’s doesn’t mean the story’s badly written. It just means that if there are a million people following the story, there are a million and one different interpretations of the character – and the writer can only write what’s in his or her head, not mine.

Ah, but what about the third scenario, with the fanfic? Fanfic writers didn’t create the characters, so they don’t have the same ownership rights!

True. But still…neither do fanfic readers.

When I watch TV or read a book, certain things take on greater importance to me than other things. A character acts in a certain way, and I interpret it to mean something, and then judge everything that follows by whether it supports that view or not.

We all do this. I regularly have conversations with people who give weight to things said by a character that I don’t interpret the same way. In that vein, I once had a two-hour conversation with a good friend about a single line of dialogue in a TV show. It meant something completely different to me than it did to her, and we never did see eye-to-eye on it.

And that’s fine. That’s the way it should be, because …art.

All art is interpretative, but whereas we look at an abstract painting and know our response is subjective, we somehow think that fiction has only one meaning, the one we give it.

I’ve read fanfic where the characters were unrecognizable to me apart from their names, where I’ve backed away going, ‘no, she would never do that,’ when what I really meant is that the character I see in my head, my interpretation of her, wouldn’t do it. But I’m not the lone authority on the matter.

What is it about fandom that brings out our need to be ‘right’ about things that, if we thought about it, we’d know don’t really have a right and wrong? What does ‘being right’ even mean when you’re passing judgment about a story created in someone else’s head? Fictitious characters and situations dreamed up not by us, and yet we wage verbal war when someone, anyone, disagrees with us about their meaning?

I think you can make an argument for there not being an authority on story and characters. (I especially like what’s been attributed to Joss Whedon in this respect: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”) But if there is an authority, someone who has the right to say, ‘this is what it means,’ or ‘this is who this character is,’ it’s the writer, not us.

That doesn’t mean we have no power, though. As readers/viewers we have the most power of all because we can say, “I don’t like this any longer, and I’m not going to spend more time on it.”

You’re entitled to your opinion, whatever it is. No one can take it from you, and its value isn’t lessened if others don’t agree with you. You don’t have to be The Authority on whether a character is in character or not, or whether a story makes sense or not. You only have to speak for yourself. Isn’t that grand?