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The Mass Media

#giveuswhatwewant: Fan Influence in the Age of Social Media

Justice+League+poster+with+Ben+Affleck+and+Gal+Gadot+tweets+superimposed.

Justice League poster with Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot tweets superimposed.

While it’s true that you can’t please everyone, it seems like some people have gotten pretty darn close. Just look at how many people love Star Wars or Avengers; with every new story that gets released, fans flock to theaters all over the world to buy a ticket and invest in what they love. United by a single thing they all have in common, fandoms are more powerful today than they’ve ever been.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Sonic movie released early last year (just before the coronavirus shut theaters down). When the first trailer for the film was released, and people got a look at Sonic’s new design, there was an internet outrage. Most wondered why they couldn’t have just stuck to the original design. After seeing this massive backlash, the studio changed course and decided to replace their creepy looking Sonic with a more conventional looking one. Whether people liked or disliked the movie itself, the design was unanimously agreed to be an improvement.

Happy ending, right? That depends on how you look at it. On one hand, the studio listened to the fans and took notes. On the other, you could view this whole incident as the studio being bullied into delaying their film and working more. This is all just a matter of perspective, and at the end of the day, it all seemed to work out. However, it does seem to set a precedent for future campaigns to follow.

Fans have always been a rather whiny bunch. This is nothing new. The only thing that is any different than ten years ago is that their whines are being heard. A few years ago, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out, a group of disappointed fans petitioned to completely redo the movie. This seems a little absurd, but a sizable amount of people signed it and actively worked to try and make this happen. The movie wasn’t remade and a sequel was released two years later, directly continuing the events of the controversial film. Regardless, the discourse around this movie was extremely toxic. Kelly Marie Tran, an actress in the movie, was driven off social media because of this negative fandom. People complained about Luke Skywalker’s character change, the movie’s subversion of expectations, and a new character named Rose. So, in response to those complaints, the next film was far more conventional, with the messages of the last one (like, anyone can be a hero) replaced with new, more expected ones (you can only be a hero if your last name has some sort of significance). Rose only had a few lines, going from being one of the main characters to just a familiar face. While The Last Jedi wasn’t remade, it was practically undone.

Of course, this is all just a matter of personal taste. If you didn’t like The Last Jedi, that’s fine. What’s not fine is harassing people like Kelly Marie Tran about it. The latest, and probably most significant example of fan influence/harassment was the #releasethesnydercut campaign. Movie director Zack Snyder’s fans used social media to advocate for his version of the superhero film, Justice League. Snyder was originally supposed to direct the film, but a family tragedy caused him to leave the project. Overcoming all of the odds, the hashtag worked, and Snyder’s version of the movie will soon be released on HBO Max

It’s great to see someone finish what they started, and it seems like the cast and crew are happy to finish it with him. There is certainly positivity to this story, but that doesn’t undo the toxicity of the fanbase. If film critics post something negative about Snyder’s films online, they are flooded with negative messages. Is that what fandom is supposed to look like? 
There are two sides to everything, and I don’t want to undo any of the good that has come out of fan activism. “Snyder Cut” fans came together to donate money to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is great when people unite to celebrate what they love and do good. Still, it’s important to think long and hard about what the future of fandom’s influence is going to be. Will the trolls inherit the earth? Negative voices may be the loudest, but there is a necessity to positivity that can’t be left behind. Bonding over something two people mutually love brings with it a validation and appreciation that serves to enhance the subject of that admiration. People need that. They don’t need constant complaining and harassing. Is that the direction we’re headed in?