Haters, Sheep, and the “True Fan”

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?

Must we all be like this?

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.

Hunger Games fan Willa Wonka meme

Because you have so much to prove!

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!

Satsuma

Advertisements

10 comments

  1. You’re not a true fan, you don’t understand!! You hater.

    No, but really, I agree with what you were saying. I commented somewhere that I don’t really like the character of Peeta neither Josh Hutcershon portrayal (not the character, but his abilities) (and I’m not saying I dislike the character or Josh, but that I don’t like them 100%) on some blog comments thingie, and I was automatically attacked by multiple users telling me I was not a true fan and blah, blah, blah.

    So yeah, I see what you’re saying. And even sometimes I might have had this behaviour as well, not really extremely but I’ve included sentences like “you don’t really understand Katniss’ character / the last book” and stuff like that in my arguments, and then realised that was a very cheap thing to say. But commenting / answering is something you tend to do when you just finished reading the other user, and sometimes it’s a bit hard to answer when someone claims something you really like is bad. Not trying to justify myself here though.

  2. As always, Satsuma, I enjoy reading every thing you write, whether or not I agree with it… which I usually do.

    My first thought is something that I’ve heard Josh Hutcherson previously say, “Haters gonna hate.” Some people make a choice to be vicious, cruel, and ridiculous in their comments. Their choice in words has nothing to do with being fan or not fan… just hate.

    What is a “fan” anyway? My geeky side perked up and had to go look it up in the dictionary. According to thefreedictionary.com, “fan” comes from the word “fanatic”, which means 1. a person whose enthusiasm or zeal for something is extreme or beyond normal limits 2. Informal a person devoted to a particular hobby or pastime; fan a jazz fanatic. So I guess if we consider ourselves to be fan, we have a “beyond normal” zeal for The Hunger Games!

    I read that the definition of “fan” is an ardent devotee; an enthusiast. Another website called us aficionados. I like that word! We are affectionate about THG; we appreciate Suzanne’s works of art (or genius).

    But it seems to me that there is a spectrum to being a fan, just like there is with anything. Some “fans” are going to be “all about” something else in a few years, or months. Some fans, as you said, just wanted to watch the movie. They never plan to read the books. But they might have a beyond normal zeal for the movie. Still a fan, in my book.

    If we consider ourselves to be fans, let us pursue respectful, but by all means, lively and spirited conversation… which happens through debate not bludgeoning. As Satsuma says, there is room for us all.

  3. Unfortunately I think it can also be a case of a small minority of people ‘spoiling’ it for the rest of us – I’d say that 90% of my experience in the fandom has been positive, and that instead of being trashed for your opinion most fans ask why you have that opinion.

    It seems to be the Facebook pages and other general blog sites where the worst comments end up, and not actually on the fan sites. We seem to have a relatively tight-knit community 🙂

    Thanks for the definition HGBC – that’s what I would consider a fan, and I guess it also depends on a person’s level of obsession. For me, I have enjoyed not only knowing anything and everything I can about the books and now the films, but also considering other opinions and approaches and chatting with other fans. I think everyone takes away a different message from the book or an element they considered most important, and that’s one of the things I really love about the trilogy. Plus the fact that I always seem to be able to return to the books and discover something new.

    I’d like to think that if most of us can spread this message, and as HGBC said be respectful towards each other while encouraging great discussion, then we’ll continue to have a really great fandom.

  4. Thanks for the responses! I actually typed up that post a few weeks ago, and some events that have occurred after that have made me consider this issue even more. When the racist comments about Wright for Beetee casting showed up, the “ohnotheydidn’t” blog posted an article stating “Hunger Games fans are still racist”, as if ALL of us were, and that angered me, really (though not enough to actually register and post there). I’ve also noticed articles abou THG in which people assume the fans are all hormonal teenage girls who only care about the love triangle, or seeing hot guys with their shirts off.

    And I actually have seen some posts that would reinforce the stereotype, such as many of the Finnick casting posts; I even recall a post on another site that complained about the Claflin choice and then went on to complain that she didn’t get to see Peeta shirtless in the first movie. But I’ve also seen posters dismiss the “fangirls” as brainless, shallow, and being fit for the Capitol, or even try to downplay the romance by stating, for example, that Katniss, to the end, doesn’t love either Gale or Peeta, but is just using them to survive. I’ve even seen people call Katniss a “sociopath”, which I think is completely unfair to her character, and an example of how some people are so put off by the emphasis on romance by some fans, that they go to extremes the other way.

    So, though my tendency is to be inclusive and tolerant of all people who consider themselves fans, and I agree with Tash that 90% of fans are thoughtful and positive, it seems the 10% of negative fans include not just people who proclaim undying love for the books and trash anyone who has criticisms as “haters”, but people who just don’t seem to understand the message and spirit of the books at all, yet still call themselves fans. And yet, who am I to say that “no, you’re not a fan unless you approach the books in a particular way?”

    Such as the release of the the HG “pitch video” that Kevin Tracharoen put together; while most responses were negative, there were some that stated a preference for what they called a “darker vision with more gore”, over what the saw as Gary Ross’s more sanitized version. It’d be easy to dismiss those fans as just wanting to see gore and guts on a screen and not getting the point, but it almost seems too easy to do that, you know?

  5. Since all the issues re: Jeffrey Wright and racism make me feel sick to my stomach, I’m going to stick with a lighter topic… I hear what you are saying about Kevin Trachroen’s pitch video. I thought it would have been a totally different take on THG, and –while I’m glad Gary made the movie he did– there were elements in Kevin’s video that I thought might have even worked better (like the Capitol seeming darker).

    In the interviews I’ve watched with Gary and Nina and others, it is clear that the Lionsgate team really wrestled with a balance of how to portray these difficult and disturbing topics (children killing each other, hunger, war) and not alienate teenagers from being able to see the film. Teens are the “target audience”, not adults. Suzanne Collins said that a writer has more leeway on the page than violence on the big screen. Kevin’s darker version of the film might have crossed into R territory.

    So now we have this new director, with music videos in his past filming background. I’m curious to see how that might influence his version of Catching Fire. Maybe with music/video montages on the Victory Tour? Or longer scenes of wordless interaction? Gary spent A LOT of his time refining certain visual details (like Katniss climbing a tree, or looking at fifty versions of bread for Peeta to throw, or how big the pile of supplies would be next to the Cornucopia). What will Francis focus on? I thought it was very interesting that Francis had asked Woody Harrelson if he’d ever studied PTSD, related to Haymitch’s character. That leads me to believe that Francis may emphasize some of the emotional aspects of Catching Fire. I sure hope so!

    1. I think that KT’s version of THG would likely have been difficult to keep PG-13. His image of the Capitol didn’t fit with mine; it struck me as likely the way someone like Gale would imagine it to be, obviously dark and evil. But Peeta actually seems enthralled by the Capitol when he first sees it (in the book, not just the movie), and I don’t think he would have if it was the way KT saw it. I saw the Capitol as a place that’s glamorous on the surface, but rotten at the core. But, I think that perhaps KT would have done a better job portraying the squalor of the Districts? His take on Haymitch’s Games would also have been interesting, because that is described as quite gory; Haymitch at the end has his guts literally hanging out of him and the “runner-up” tribute has already lost an eye. Seems the Gamemakers came pretty close to not having a Victor that year, either.

      Re Francis Lawrence and him possibly having a different emphasis than Gary Ross, I personally am looking forward to it. I think Catching Fire is a story where Katniss interacts with a lot more people, not just one or two at a time (or zero) as in most of THG, and does emphasize emotional connections more than THG or MJ, so I think that a different directing style could work well. I know Lawrence will likely NOT direct the MJ movies, and I can see them bringing in a director who has experience with war movies, and have the MJ movies take on a darker tone, perhaps pushing that PG-13 envelope. But, I know other fans wish GR had stayed on for all the movies and think having a different director for each book will result in lack of continuity and a disjointed, fragmented feel, much as people have criticized the HP and Twilight movies for.

      Anyway, I think that there is a lot of room to disagree, and I think what annoys me is when people say things designed not to encourage discussion, but to shut it down. Personal attacks that insult people’s intelligence or sincerity, I think fit in this category. Though I think poking fun at your opponent a little, as what happens on this blog at times, is okay as long as we understand that it’s all in fun, and apply that humor to ourselves as well.

  6. Anyone who says “team peta” or “team gale” are not true fans!

    Haha no but seriously, to me if you read all the books and saw the movie then you can your self a fan. And of course like you said you can state your opinions wether to agree or disagree and your still considered a “true fan”. And I think its all good fun to have disagreements and discussions with fans (as long as it doesn’t get to out of hand) everyone has there own opinions.

    And I will just say that I also dont think Josh is the “perfect” Peeta. Not that I dont like Josh Hutcershon (been a fan of him since Zathura), I just didn’t feel him as Peeta in THG, I just think it might have been the script for him that I didn’t like that much. But I am excited to see him in Catching Fire and hopefully have a change of hart for him. Now does that mean I am not considered a “true fan”? No, thats just my opinion and I will respect anyones other opinions they have to say. Wether it is complaints they have with the series or movies or just disagreements.

    1. Dillon, I think Satsuma and I both have some issues with the THG script in regard to Peeta’s character, which we have hashed out on previous Victor’s Village comment sections. Suffice it to say that we are hoping Catching Fire will resolve the lack of character development that we think Peeta’s character deserves/needs.

  7. It occurs to me that part of the problem isn’t just about the “fandom culture” but culture in general. It seems that people are often expected to either love or hate a book, movie, celebrity, politician, etc., mostly based on knee-jerk emotional responses, with little room for reasoned discussion. Much of what passes for “discourse” on the Net and in RL, is little more than a shouting match in which both participants are holding their hands tightly over their ears. Hence the tendency to classify anyone with a negative comment as a “hater”. I think that most of THG fandom isn’t like that, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s