Her catchy 2019 song deals with homophobia and transphobia, but the title really is applicable to so many things and so many people in our Angry, Angry Society. Before I go any further, I should clarify: I’m not upset about negativity related to my own work… I’m so laughably unfamous (a deliberate spelling, BTW, not infamous, which I’m also not), I’ve never attracted the attention of haters. Not that I especially want to, either, but lamentably, in today’s AAS (Angry, Angry Society, remember?), it seems all too par-for-the-course when people rant/vent/foam-at-the-mouth --- I was originally going to use the words debate or discuss, but that implies a degree of rationality completely lacking in the AAS --- about creative works released across the spectrum.
My musings arose as a couple of questions occurring to me some time back, but seem really relevant in light of recent events: first, how much does/should a creator pay attention to readers/viewers/fans? And the ancillary question --- which actually is, by far, the more important one --- becomes: who’s the story for?
I think the questions first occurred to me around the time of the Game of Thrones season 8 fiasco. Now, my disclaimer here is I haven’t seen it… yet. I’ve watched season 6, with 7 and 8 sitting on my TBV (to be viewed) Blu-Ray pile beside the TV.
(What? you gasp incredulously. You haven’t seen it yet? Yeah, yeah, relax. You Need To Calm Down, remember? I’ll get around to it at some point. Part of the problem is my wife --- AKA She of Gentle Sensibilities --- refused to watch any more GoT with me after the Red Wedding. Which, frankly, I find more than understandable; but what it means is I have to find a time to watch GoT on my own, when she’s not around. Which I have yet to do. Besides, I’m one of those morally bankrupt people who’ve seen most of the spoilers on YouTube, anyway, which I admit may have removed some of the urgency to see it.)
I think it’s fair to say the general reaction to GoT’s season 8 was more or less uniformly negative… except that would be like saying the Pacific Ocean holds some water: it encapsulates the idea, you know, but laughably understates it. I saw a lot of vitriol, some barely literate, spewed against the writers, production people, George R.R. Martin --- even the actors involved, for crying out loud, as though they had any creative control over lines they spoke. (If you ever desire further reason to be depressed about the state of humanity, just read the comments sections on YouTube videos. Oh, the humanity.)
It was the same thing in recent weeks with the release of a PlayStation video game called The Last of Us 2 (a sequel, as the ‘2’ in the title should tip you to). The original, unsurprisingly titled The Last of Us (TLOU), was released in 2014 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. It’s a (what else, these days?) post-apocalyptic tale set in a world where society has more or less collapsed following a particularly gruesome plague, which turns the infected into fungal-sprouting murderous maniacs. TLOU tells the story of a young girl, who turns out to be the only known immune person, and the man who reluctantly accepts the task of taking her across America to the one place where a vaccine may be recovered from her. The tale loses much in shrinking to that bare-bones statement, because it deals superbly with the development of the father-daughter relationship between two characters who initially loathe each other. It was a great story that met with widespread acclaim. So, of course, everyone looked forward to the sequel… which came out a few weeks ago.
The reaction to TLOU2 has been far more uneven. Granted, it’s a much darker tale than the original, focusing mostly on the futility of hatred and revenge. (And yes, by the way, I’ve played both games and happen to think they’re both superbly done, although like any creative endeavour, neither is perfect, and there are aspects I don’t necessarily like.) But as both a writer and a person, the only thing that’s really disturbed me about TLOU2 is the amount of venom directed, once again, at its creators… even the actors. There’s an online petition for the company to scrap the game and re-do it “right.” And an actor playing one of the female leads has actually received death threats --- in real life --- because the character she plays in the game kills the male protagonist from TLOU. As I said earlier, as though she had any say in what her character does in the game.
It’s all well and good to become immersed in the story you read/hear/view; after all, that’s what writers and other creators dream of when crafting their stories. We want our audience involved. But… petitions? Obscenity-laden rants? Death threats? What the hell, people?
Returning to my earlier questions, here’s the answer: the story is for the Creator. You write the story you’re given, not the one you think will make the most money… as long as you’ve any integrity, anyway. And let’s not be under any illusions: the story is given you, and you’ve precious little --- if any --- control over it. I’ve had characters in my stories do things I really didn’t want them to do, for example. But the story is the story, and you write --- let me say it a third time, lest you’ve any remaining doubts --- what you’re given. In other words, you write for yourself. Sure, you hope like hell it resonates with other people --- many, many people --- because, as storytellers, we want our tales heard and appreciated. But fans have no right to insist tales be told this or that way. They don’t have to like a particular tale. But… death threats?
C’mon, people. You Need To Calm Down.