It’s time for another guest post! This one comes from Satsuma, who has spent quite some time participating in and observing The Hunger Games fandom, has noticed a lot of controversy over what is means to be a “true fan”. Now, she’s here to set the record straight!
First of all, I’d like to credit Kendra, AKA Hunger Games Bookclub, for inspiring me with her guest blog post on crossing over from reader to fan, and the discussions we’ve had on the Victor’s Village comment pages about this question of what exactly a fan is. What differentiates a fan from someone who’s just a reader or watcher? Can you call yourself a fan and still be a critic? How much room is there in a fandom to agree to disagree?
I think that in all, or most, fandoms, there is that lingering question of what makes a “true fan”. I first came across this issue in the world of sports. Many people claim that you can’t be a “true fan” of a team unless you pass certain tests, such as having memorized every name on the roster, never leaving a game early, or never booing a player on your team. As someone from New York, where there’s a strong tradition of loving your sports teams, but being very vocal in stating your opinions if you think a player, manager, or owner messed up, I’d say, “fughettaboutit!”to that.
And this is my approach to book/movie/TV fandoms as well. I do NOT think that being a fan means you can’t criticize certain aspects of the work. I’ve noticed what to me is a disturbing tendency by some fans (not just in the THG fandom) to fall into what I consider a delusion, that the Author is God and is above all criticism, that if you have any problems with the author’s choices, you must be a bad reader who can’t comprehend the author’s genius. Or that the Author’s Intent is the Final Word and can never be challenged. Gee, if that was the case, most higher-level English courses should be shut down. I doubt, for example, that Shakespeare meant for Othello to be a feminist critique of how failing to allow for different communication styles between men and women can lead to tragedy. But I was taught that theory when I studied Shakespeare in school.
Now, you could certainly argue that being a fan is different from being a student. But I still think that in order to qualify as a work of literature, which many have claimed the THG series is, a book should be able to stand on its own merits, even after the author is dead and gone and we can’t ask him or her questions anymore. I also think that we can’t give the author credit just for trying, if he or she didn’t accomplish their goals in the book itself. I also consider myself a Harry Potter fan, and I know that JK Rowling intended for Harry Potter to wind up with his “soulmate” in the end. However, I was not personally convinced of this from reading the books themselves. I don’t think that holding this opinion, which is shared by many others, disqualifies me from being a fan.
Back to THG. I’ve noticed that people seem to feel free to criticize the THG movie, individual actors, Gary Ross, and Lionsgate as a corporate entity, but very few have dared to say anything critical of Suzanne Collins herself. Even though Collins was so deeply involved in the casting, scriptwriting, and general production of the movie. Josh Hutcherson commented that, yes, they did “tweak” Peeta’s characterization for the movie, and this was a joint decision by him, Gary Ross, and Suzanne Collins herself. If you’re going to criticize movie!Peeta, then it seems that aiming that criticism at Josh and Gary while letting Suzanne off the hook is completely unfair.
I’ve also seen people use the “But Suzanne approved it!” argument as a way to stifle all discussion of casting and other movie choices. Now, I think this is a legitimate argument to some extent. I even used it myself in my last blog post, that Collins called the movie a “complement” to the book, not an exact replica. But, I don’t think that Collins’ approval should be used as a trump card that automatically nullifies all criticism. I know this was never officially confirmed, but didn’t Suzanne approve of the Billy Ray version of the script that had Gale sneaking into the Capitol disguised as an Avox? I think that if this had gone through, people would have been completely justified in criticizing her for allowing such a departure from canon.
I would even say that it is fair game to criticize Suzanne Collins not just for the movie, but aspects of the books themselves. My personal opinion is that Mockingjay “jumped the shark” in terms of several crucial plot points, especially considering the target audience of “Young Adult” teenagers. I also found it ironic that much of the criticism of the THG movie regarding stunted character development and a rushed ending, were similar to criticisms of Mockingjay. I understand that Collins was attempting something very challenging, but to me, she seemed unable to completely bridge the gap between a typical teenager’s life experience and reading comprehension skills, and the more mature topics she addressed in Mockingjay.
Many teenagers, as well as older adults, seemed to be unable to comprehend two key points. (1) Why Katniss voted for the “Capitol Hunger Games” and (2) Why Katniss and Gale couldn’t even maintain their friendship, never mind romance, after Prim’s death. I won’t go into detailed discussion about these points, since that’s not the main topic here. But I’ve noticed that many fans have dismissed readers who didn’t understand, as shallow or even stupid, unable to appreciate Suzanne Collins’ genius. While few people have actually stated “You’re not a true fan of the books if you didn’t like every single word of Mockingjay”, there does seem to be an undercurrent of that at times.
This whole idea of there being some kind of litmus/purity/dedication test that people need to pass to determine whether they are a “true fan” or not, disturbs me because it can turn a fandom into something like a stereotypical college sorority, with a small “in-crowd” surrounded by “wanna-bes” who need to pass some grueling initiation ritual to be accepted into the “true fan” ranks. I’ve already blogged about the nitpicky, “checklist” approach some book fans took toward the movie. “The movie should be for the fans!” is often the battle cry, but I wonder, who do you consider a fan, then? Do you include the people who hadn’t memorized dialogues from the books that they wanted in the movie, or didn’t have strong opinions on who should be cast, or what scenes should be included, or do they not matter? How about people who might actually dare to watch the movie without reading the book first? And who might be confused by parts of the book if they were translated directly to the screen, such as the wolf-mutts having a connection to the dead tributes.
I must confess, that I have a personal stake in this. While I actually did read THG before I saw the movie, I didn’t know anything about the books until the movie ads came out. I didn’t see the movie half a dozen times, either. I’ve seen posts by people stating they did this, or read the books a hundred times, and while I don’t think most of them mean to brag, this seems to be yet another point where some people can take an elitist approach to what makes a “true fan”. Similar to sports fans who brag about having bought tickets to every single home game, and imply that those who actually have a life outside of following their teams aren’t “true fans”.
But the all-too-human urge to be elitist and divisive can cut both ways, too. While most of my beef is with fans who dismiss critics as “haterz” who can be ignored, or worse, bashed with impunity, there are also fans who take a more critical approach to the works, who dismiss others as “sheep”. This happened in the Harry Potter fandom, especially after the last book was released, by people who were very disappointed by it, felt compelled to stay in the fandom and voice their disagreements, and attacked fans who liked the book as “JK Rowling’s sheep”, and insulted their intelligence and reading comprehension skills. Certainly not conducive to any meaningful discussion. So, please don’t think I’m trying to attack you if you liked Mockingjay, or think that Suzanne Collins should have the final word about how to interpret the books. I think there’s ample room to agree to disagree about many topics…such as Sam Claflin!