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May 26

Writers Aren’t Machines

Originally published May 31 2014 on Tumblr. Addition published October 6 2014 on Tumblr.

“[They] aren’t machines for [us] to program and reprogram. That wasn’t what this was meant to be.”

Thinking about fandom attitudes towards (show) writers–how some fans seem to view them not as artists or storymakers but as machines who should mechanically produce whatever we demand–and how that also leads to the devaluation (by fans) of fandom creativity. This got long although initially it was just intended as a reminder to myself that I wanted to talk about it. Also it’s more rant than meta, mostly about Revolution fandom. SPN has issues that make it quite different in some ways, so what I say here about Rev can’t necessarily be applied equally to SPN.

Trying to articulate why I find the attitude of Rev fandom post-cancellation so disturbing. There was a post a while back–SPN-related–that approvingly quoted an article saying fans are in control of shows now and I wrote a response to that but ended up deleting it because it was rather off-topic to the full intent of the post. And also vaguely related are my feelings about the insistence of some that Edlund is morally obligated to return to SPN, that heowes us, that he is not allowed to make any other professional choice. Because even though it’s not the same thing, it comes from the same kind of attitude of we own you and you must DO WHAT WE SAY.)

There’s something I’ve seen a number of times in the Rev tag recently, particularly related to efforts to relocate the show. (Not gonna happen, but anyway.) People keep saying “if we get season 3 let’s make sure we get better writers who will DO WHAT WE SAY” and that the problem with this season was that they did not DO WHAT WE SAY. As if that’s the measure of a good writer or a good show. Where the hell did this attitude come from, the idea that writers exist not as artists or storymakers but machines which we fans program to manufacture a product to-order? Where the hell do we get off deciding that if they are not telling the story exactly the way we think it should be told, they are malfunctioning? Rev fandom: from what I see, you don’t want writers. You don’t want story. You want an automated process by which you receive all of your demands exactly as you order them.

And also, which fans should they listen to? I was a fan. I loved the nanotech. Loved Aaron. Didn’t care at all one way or the other about any ships. Didn’t care for the patriots either–thought that plotline was rather botched. I would have made the nanotech the a plot, integrated more of the characters into it (keeping Aaron at the center) and had the major b plot be something intimate to the characters. Maybe had the patriots as a distant creeping threat. So no, it’s not like I think everything was totally cool and awesome about this season of Rev. (The fact that the Patriots never felt like anything more than a threat manufactured for the purpose of the story and the repeated capture-rescue plots were my two major issues.)

But I was just as much a fan as anyone else. People who say “they need to do what we fans say”–beyond all the other problems with that attitude–are insisting on a hierarchy wherein some fans matter more than others. (If they had done “what ‘we’ say” and trashed the nano plot, I would have beendevastated. Do my feelings as a fan just not count?) And I just don’t get why people insist on seeing writers not as artists or professionals but just as machines that only exist to produce exactly what we want exactly as we want it. (But…again…which ‘we’?) And then having the audacity to call them arrogant for not obeying our every random whim? What the fuck. Seriously what the fucking fuck. TV storytelling already has so many restrictions and demands on it, commercial and budget and more, that adding “do exactly as fans order” harms, not improves, the art of writing and creating the story.

And as much as this disrespect for writers as professionals riles me, the disrespect for fandom that this kind of attitude reflects gets me as well. I mean, the idea that the purpose of fandom is simply to order the show’s creatives around ignores the entire creative purpose of fandom. It says that fan creativity does not matter. Why why why would any fan want to do that? Why write fic, create art, create alternate-seasons, make music, make fanvids–why do any of that if all that matters is getting exactly what “we” want from the show itself? I mean, one of the most important purposes of fan creations is that it allows each of us to get the show we want.

And because it comes from so many different sources with so many different ideas of what’s important–we don’t all have to agree. (You think X ship is the most important part of Revolution? Cool! Write fic! Draw art! Write meta! Make fanvids! Write a song! There now exists a creative expression where that is indeed the focus of the show. Someone else thinks Y character is the center of the show? They can write fic and make art too! And now there’s a creative expression where that is the focus of the show. I don’t really care about any ships, but I find the nanotech and the philosophical implications of their AI fascinating? Good, I can write my own meta or fic on that. And because none of us are restricted to “show canon” all of our creative and analytical expansions of the core show coexist equally.

I should add some kind of cohesive conclusion here but in all honesty this was just supposed to be a rant. So, uh: the insistence that fans should be in creative control of shows devalues writers and devalues the creative role of fandom. And I do not see how reducing shows to nothing more than a by-the-numbers list of demands to be met can possibly result in anything resembling a satisfying story. Or a story at all.


Later Addition

I still think all of SPN fandom’s Writer Problem (as I will call it) boils down to the idea that it is the writers’ job to Do What We Say, and that informs everything from the relatively innocuous “they don’t care about the show if they didn’t put Misha in the 200th” to the sickeningly horrific and dehumanizing way Jenny Klein has been treated.

And it’s true that SPN’s issues are different–but that actually doesn’t make it any better. In fact, because many of fans’ issues with SPN are important, it’s much worse–the approach that has been taken (that the writers are incompetent, ignorant, actively malicious, not even human) dismisses the actual complexity of the issues in favor of making an Enemy–a caricature of The Writers that has no reflection in reality. To be perfectly and coldly calculating, it is profoundly unproductive. (And insulting to the writers, but that’s really the lesser of my concerns. They can handle themselves. I’m far more concerned about the fact that fandom has made discussion of misogyny and representation (etc) essentially impossible.)

The accessibility of writers/producers today is absolutely unprecedented–yes, even if they don’t answer you, the fact that you can address them directly is…do people understand how new that is? How potentially powerful? But I see it being grossly misused by the attitude of Your Job is to Do What Fans Want. Do what we say or you’re bad writers. Do what we say or you’re bad people. I see an incredibly powerful tool being wasted–not only wasted, but actively degraded–and it’s really depressing. And of course that feeds into these weird ideas that the writers aren’t owed basic civility and respect as professionals and human beings. It’s very easy to be kind and respectful to people with whom you agree. The challenge is to do the same for people with whom you disagree–without backing down or compromising your position.

Finally, I have come to the uncompromising conclusion that people who are going to engage in criticism of the writing of SPN (or any show) and especially people who are directly addressing and criticizing the writers, really REALLY need to do their basic research on TV writing and the role of writers/writing producers in TV production in general. Just, you know, the very basics. (Once again, to be coldly calculating about it—informed criticism is more likely to be productive. Though I’ve recently learned that the failure to take this stuff into consideration is not lack of research but willful refusal, so…simply pointing out “that’s not how it works, this is how it generally works, even if we don’t know the details on SPN specifically” is clearly not enough.

There’s a lot of different stuff here. (Addition: there’s also the refusal to separate the writer from what is written–dismissing the idea of fictional narrative with all its often uncomfortable complexities in favor of “bad thing happened therefore the writer is bad”–and the (deliberate?) confusion of PR with the actual writing/development process. I’m not quite sure how those work in, but they’re…very odd.) I had wanted to get it written before the premiere, which looks unlikely now–especially since I just spent about an hour writing this when I could have been writing a proper meta on it. But if I get around to it, I do still want to write it. I think it’s important, or at least it’s important to me to be able to say it. And this post is just me trying to organize some of my thoughts; it isn’t intended to be Proper Meta or Good Writing.

 

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