For every form of media and art comes the extension of the community. It is no far cry to claim that a subject’s outreach and relevance is reliant solely on the community, for it is the community that is often the main proponent of a subject’s renewed interest. In fact, the community is the core foundation by which every form of media, be it fine art or something digital in nature, thrives. Without a community to partake in its content, the subject is relegated to nothing but an empty husk of ideas that cannot be interfaced nor interpreted. The subject in this state is therefore snuffed out of existence. Take, for example, some random, critically “de-claimed” film which performed so poor as to be subject to active ridicule. In this scenario, the only proponent furthering its existence and relevance in the social sphere in the material plane is the community that seeks to debase it at every corner. On the other hand: A similar film that goes completely unnoticed and unseen by the community risks proverbially not even existing at all. This is a grand generalisation, but both scenarios drive home the fact that the community is the power behind the art form. It is in this that the developer or director must perform a balancing act between his own vision and that of the community. A piece that is chock full of innovation that falls on deaf ears, blind eyes and mute mouths does not exist, but a pandering piece risks being riposted by the unforgiving fanbase, garnering the wrong kind of attention. The community is a fickle mistress, and the cards must always be played right in order to satisfy the creator and the consumer. The nuance lies in the fact that the community is not a single entity or hivemind, and every community is unique in its demographic split. To go even further is the concept of the vocal minority which oft guides the production towards the satisfaction of their ilk. This article will attempt to elucidate the manner by which communities, and by extension fandoms, function. No factual claims can be made except for broad truths that generally resound true in a vacuum.
To begin, Vision (the artistic freedom of the creator) vs. Consumer (the unit that consumes the media) must be understood as a sliding scale. The consumer will always on average pull the scale in their own favour, and the creator will always attempt to wrestle the power back. The consumer is defined as a single entity via an average score of satisfaction beyond their demographic split. In this regard, the most reasonable action on part of the community is to have global input on the final product. On the other hand, the creator must pick and choose wisely the options presented before them to produce a viable product that does not compromise their intended vision. In a vacuum, this does not seem to be an issue. As previously mentioned, the nuance lies in the fact that the most vocal are the minority. Not to say that their input is any less valid, but in a democratic setting, the vocal minority generally encapsulates the most extreme of opinions; none of which are inherently bad, but none of which would add much to the greater success of the product. Due to the drastic skew of thought, the creator is left with only a fraction of what the community wants. As a result, the scale shifts towards the right in favour of the community. It must be reiterated that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because it so happens that sometimes the vocal minority must be appeased in order to define a new status quo for the genre. This is necessary for pursuit of progressivism in an otherwise stilted and stagnating industry. With that said, in order to advance the narrative of this article, let’s assume that in this scenario, the vocal minority is to do more harm to the product than good.
The creator is left with a difficult choice: to 1) incorporate the feedback or 2) stand their ground and push forward. Both methods can lead to great results, no doubt, but there exist situations where the extreme in either binary can cause major backlash and thus failure of the final output. To represent Case 1 in a positive light: Avengers: Endgame with the infamous girl power scene. While many seem to dislike it, it is important to recognize that equal representation for both sexes are present in a way that fits with the overall theme and continuum. Previous Marvel films have heard complaints with being highly male-centric. To represent Case 1 in a negative light: A more recent example is The Rise of Skywalker, a film in the Star Wars franchise, which took to heart the various complaints of The Last Jedi and overcorrected much to the detriment of the final product. To represent Case 2 in a positive light: Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit which was met with controversy over the satire representation of a very extreme anti-semitic political superpower of WWII. Jojo Rabbit, in the 2020 Oscar Award Ceremony, won the award for “Best Adapted Screenplay”. To represent Case 2 in a negative light: Sonic the Hedgehog Live-Action. Which attempted to deliver a very interesting rendition on the beloved blue hedgehog… and failed.
Clearly, the community has a lot of power in deciding the outcome and response to a piece of media. It is a difficult time especially for creators where platforms for “discussion” are so easily acquired, what with free McDonalds internet and any archaic internet-supported electronic device. The dogma of the problem at hand can be inferred from the telling title of this article: The Community can never be happy. It would not be far fetched to say that this is always the case. The community is insatiable, like a whack-a-mole or spaghetti-code. One fixed problem is two new problems; one satisfied demographic is another extremely upset demographic. Even if this isn’t the case, it would not be tactless of me to even go so far as to claim that the newly satisfied demographic would immediately discard any and all achievements, choosing to focus on what they want next. To give a more recent and personal example: the latest Star Wars Battlefront II update.
The game itself is good right now. Not great, because from an objective standpoint, some numbers require tweaking and some bugs need fixing, but that’s a given for any game. The point remains that the community is always chasing the next “high” via content updates, even going so far as to harass the developers. Recently, a new update dropped featuring new maps, two new heroes, new eras for game modes, etc. Not a small update at all, and generally a good update, as it attempts to solve many outstanding issues with the game. In less than 24 hours, the community went from sucking on the teats of the developers to demanding more content and inciting flame wars. What is the creator to do in a situation where even the happy are unhappy? Truly, it is a dangerous and fickle era for the creative to even dream of delivering a product set on making people happy. It is as if no one remembers the days where folk only had access to hopscotch in the playground. No one ever tried demanding more from the inanimate chalk drawing on the floor. No one attacked the asphalt for not being more entertaining, and those that did chose to be productive and create their own. That, or it was find something else to play.
Returning to the grand scheme of things, media is nothing without the community, be it fandoms or whatever derivative. In today’s day and age where the community has become the aggressor, it is up to the creator to wrestle back the scale in their own favour; not by force but by smart PR and selective transparency… and very thick skin.
While it may sound as though the community is outright vitriolic and a hindrance to the vision of the creator, it is nonetheless essential to the success of the piece and therefore cannot be so easily discarded or disregarded. And while it may seem that this article is attempting to resolve the problem of the community and at the same time debunk its validity, it must be restated that this is not the intent. Rather, it was intended to draw attention to the ass-backwards modus operandi of the media’s powerhouse. In fact, this article will go so far as to say that this nigh contradictory method is essential for pushing the envelope of media such that creators do not get comfortable with their stagnant methods. The fickle community is necessary for the advancement of media, because it keeps the creator up to date to the needs and wants of its proponents. It is as much a driving force as it is a powerhouse that keeps multimedia culture alive.
To that end, I can only say to the communities out there to keep doing what you’re doing, so long as the individuals remember to respect the humans behind what’s making their first-world indulgences possible in the first place. And to the creators: keep trucking on, you folk make living life bearable.