There’s been a lot written about whether there’s anything Donald Trump can do which will cause Republicans and conservatives to abandon him. In a rational world ruled by ideas of right and wrong and democratic principles, the push and pull of politics should mean if a politician says something stupid or does something criminal, support for their ability to be a leader in government should be affected. However, when the United States is turned into a government by spite, those rules get thrown out the window, since Republican voters have been shown to accept any level of depravity as long as the repugnant assholes doing it stick it to women, minorities, and liberals. The same voters who sit in a church pew on Sunday and think it’s awful the Ten Commandments aren’t in every public office support liars and thieves as they put children in cages and threaten the lives of pregnant women who might make a choice they don’t agree with.
While not totally analogous, the dynamic has similarities to the public’s responses to media. How it is consumed, digested, and the aftermath of reactions from an audience, has a similar push-pull level of affinity, especially with fans who think their views should matter and be considered. Sometimes good storytelling requires not giving an audience what they think they want, but going in a different direction which may piss them off. Likes and dislikes can change. What once seemed like true love can wither on the vine with the passage of time. We don’t wear the same hairstyles our entire lives, don’t keep the same fashion sense, may move from relationship to relationship, and even political and religious beliefs can shift over time. Five or ten years down the road, people look back and wonder why in the fuck did I get that spray tan and wear Ed Hardy Ugg boots? And just like Republican hypocrites not being consistent in what they like or don’t like, how people either do or don’t fall out of love with a movie, television show, literature, politicians, etc., can be for the dumbest of reasons.
So I thought it would be interesting to know what are those films, television shows, music, politicians, relationships, etc., people have fallen out of love with? What was the breaking point? What was the line that caused people to jump off the train, because only stops to crappy and mediocre were ahead? On the other hand, what are those films, television shows, music, etc., where people don't understand the flack, and think they get bum raps? Is there anything out there in the land of make believe that you think the bulk of criticisms against it are irrational and wrong? The current and final season of Game of Thrones is likely to go down as one of the most controversial and divisive ends to a television series thought of as one of the greatest efforts of the medium. Beyond the arguments about bad story mechanics and unearned character progression, what I find fascinating is how the wind has shifted from excitement and anticipation to jeering and even questioning the integrity of the people who just a few years ago were widely acclaimed.
Note: The following contains spoilers for season 8 of Game of Thrones.
What fascinates me most about fan complaints is how much people claim ownership of their favorite things. And this gets to the issue of what fans are entitled to, if anything.
During the Cola Wars of the 1980s, Pepsi had eroded Coca-Cola's market share with things like the Pepsi Challenge, annoying the powers-that-be at Coke. In 1985, the executives at the Coca-Cola Company decided to attempt a change in Coke's infamous secret formula, and for three months they did in what has become one of the most infamous product fiascoes ever. The new formula, internally called "Project Kansas," was based on a re-engineering of the Diet Coke formula and made the drink sweeter than original Coca-Cola—giving New Coke a taste closer to that of Pepsi.
New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. At first, all of the publicity helped sales of New Coke meet expectations. However, as time went on after New Coke's debut, sales leveled off and a backlash started not only from customers, but also from bottlers who spent years promoting a drink that was "The Real Thing" and "Always" Coca-Cola, constant, unchanging, that had been changed.
And people got mad.
When a version of the original Coke formula was released as Coca-Cola Classic, then Sen. David Pryor (D-AR), on the floor of the United States Senate, called it "a meaningful moment in American history," and Coca-Cola received thousands of letters stating sentiments like: “I feel like a lost friend is returning home.” It was a case where a significant amount of the public felt they were just as entitled to say what Coke is or isn’t as any Coca-Cola executive in Atlanta.
From Timothy Bella at The Washington Post:
A Change.org petition demanding that the final season be remade “with competent writers” has transformed this week into a fire-breathing dragon of vitriol aimed at showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ahead of Sunday’s series finale. The petition, started last Sunday by a user named Dylan D. from Fort Worth, has collected about 760,000 signatures as of early Friday, reflecting how strongly a vocal section of fans want to say “Dracarys” to the whole season.
“David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proven themselves to be woefully incompetent writers when they have no source material (i.e. the books) to fall back on,” the petitioner wrote. “This series deserves a final season that makes sense.” The user added: “Subvert my expectations and make it happen, HBO!”
The wild success of the petition is the latest sign that disgruntled fans of the nation’s most popular show are ready to take matters into their own hands, whether by begging HBO for a do-over, duping Google’s algorithm into having a picture of Benioff and Weiss show up under the search term “bad writers,” or re-cutting death scenes to the delight of thousands online.
Among the complaints about the truncated six-episode season are a perceived lack of care in editing, from the Battle of Winterfell being so dark that people had a hard time seeing it to Jon Snow’s indifference toward his beloved direwolf, Ghost, being a product of visual effects limitations. (And that’s not even mentioning the coffee cup that made it into a scene.) But more significant concerns have marred this season, which carries the story beyond the source material of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” There was a strong female leader essentially attributing the shaping of her character to the rape and torture she suffered in past seasons. The death of one of the show’s few characters of color came while the person was in chains. A knight’s seasons-long redemption arc was reversed with no reasoning, which was, as the Ringer’s Jason Concepcion described it, “the right outcome presented in the wrong way.” And, of course, the swift heel turn of a former hero that made thousands of parents possibly regret naming their kids after the character.
There’s an old series of videos with Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, discussing various issues with aspiring writers. One of the issues Serling tackles is the balance between whether a work of art is a shared experience where the reflections of the audience are an important aspect to consider. Or whether trying to make art so they “love it in Des Moines” and worrying about the vicissitudes of the public when creating their vision is “prostituting” the work to the lowest common denominator, and the artist’s vision should be accepted or rejected as what it is.
This sort of thing gets especially tricky when a property gets so popular and its fandom grows to such lengths those fans feel they’re a part of it. The community which forms views it’s as much “theirs” as the author or corporation which actually owns it. And one sees this sort of thing in almost every form of media, whether it be people complaining about their childhood being “raped” when a cartoon gets remade in a live-action film adaptation, howls of protest when new editions, remakes or cuts are made which changes things to what the powers that be think is better, or people getting pissed off by the lack of new material from a creator.
George R.R. Martin’s pace of writing of the A Song of Ice and Fire series has long been a contentious issue. For many fans of the books, they want to tie Martin to a typewriter and make him finish the story, with the first book (i.e., A Game of Thrones) published over two decades ago, worry he will die before it gets a conclusion, and get angry when he decides to do things other than write. This led author Neil Gaiman to put together a lengthy defense of Martin some years back that boiled down to “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” And with the television series, what has and hasn’t been included in the show are points of contention (e.g., the character of Euron Greyjoy is totally different in the books than his HBO counterpart), and as the story has moved beyond Martin’s books, the criticism of the choices made by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have only intensified.
With responses to seasons 7 and 8, the current internet commentariat have accused Benioff and Weiss of being hacks who can’t write without Martin giving them guide posts, of being misogynistic and racially insensitive to the perceptions of the characters and their actions, and rushing through the ending to Game of Thrones to start their time with a new Star Wars trilogy like a kid trying to finish a term paper in one night.
From Kate Gardner at The Mary Sue:
The latest Game of Thrones episode is a truly remarkable disaster. The show has always been a problematic mess, especially after Benioff and Weiss ran out of books to adapt. In the fourth episode of the eighth season alone, we had a scene in which a woman said her consistent rape and abuse made her stronger and the only woman of color was fridged for the pain of a white woman, and that’s just the bits that are problematic on a social justice/representation scale.
There’s also the real heel-face-turn that is the Mad Queen arc (which is less of a problem that it’s happening and more of a problem as to how it’s happening), the destruction of Jaime Lannister’s entire growth in about half an episode which is done at the expense of Brienne, the weirdly uncritical way that everyone’s been insisting only Jon is fit to rule because he’s a man … I could go on but this isn’t a recap. This is a condemnation.
A well-executed trilogy has room for improvisation, but it helps to vaguely know where you want to go. A solid plot will feature characters going through arcs that make sense and aren’t rushed. A good plot won’t feature the protagonist going Dark Side midway through the final film because we vaguely telegraphed that she was evil because she didn’t cry for her abuser and after uncritically framing her as a white feminist girl power icon for a majority of the narrative. Or throw out a long slow-burn redemption arc for a male antagonist so he can go get an underwhelming death with the person supposed to be the Big Bad.
Also, it’s worth remembering that these are the men who thought that a TV series about the Confederacy winning the war and slavery still being a thing would be a good idea. That showcases a lack of understanding of the world and the time we live in to an absurd degree.
Sometimes things don't fit our preconceived notions of how we think something should be. So there are usually three options: 1) find a way to accept things as they are, 2) the dislike grows to the point of abandonment, or 3) find a way to devalue that which doesn't fit, otherwise known as "discontinuity." It's when fans of a band, book series, television show, film series, etc., start disregarding plot elements and anything which conflicts with their view of what it should be (i.e., "We shall never speak of this again.") It could be a new actor joined the show and changed the dynamic. It could be the result of a reboot, re-imagining, or re-tooling of the story.
The funny part is this concept is more prevalent in other areas of life than one may realize. Sometimes, in order to make their vision of what things should be, people start deleting important facts or tying themselves in knots trying to make their points work. In life, there are some otherwise very smart people, who on a given issue will become very fanboy-ish trying to defend their position. There are people with college degrees and lots and lots of letters after their name who still refuse to accept the idea of climate change, or will argue with a straight face Earth is 4,000 years old. In psychology and philosophy, there's a concept called the "other." It basically argues humans define "self" and their position with society through opposition, exclusion, and devaluing of things that conflict with a given worldview.
And those things can be as big as melting polar ice caps and as small as shitty writing on a TV show.
The Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gītā, and probably every religious text in history are examples. Sort of like fanboys fighting over whether "Han shot first," the consensus among early Christians on what constitutes the New Testament came from arguments and debates. To this day, some texts, such as the Book of Tobit or the Book of Judith, may be in or out depending on the denomination. And after they got finished arguing about which books made the cut, people then got to kill one another over the correct translation and interpretation.
From James Poniewozik at The New York Times:
Many controversies around the show, adapted from a yet-unfinished series of novels by George R.R. Martin, came from its own choices and missteps. The producers flattened out some nuances, relied on cultural exoticism and loaded episodes with gratuitous sex and rape scenes — some of which they seemed unaware even were rape scenes. (After Sansa’s brutal rape in 2015, Sen. Claire McCaskill tweeted, “I’m done.”)
In the later seasons, the show rushed and emphasized visual spectacles over character development. Last Sunday, when Daenerys, portrayed through most of the series as a flawed heroine, razed a city of helpless civilians on dragonback, a character turn that might have been set up organically instead came divebombing out of the sun for shock value. Arguments … ensued … What made “Thrones” tough to wrestle with also made it a ubiquitous metaphor. That’s what great pop fiction does: adds characters to the shared cultural mythology that we use to tell stories to ourselves, about ourselves.
Was “Thrones,” with its spectral White Walkers, heralded by extreme weather and threatening to end all life, a parable of climate change? No. But it was a story of collective-action problems — it was in everyone’s interest to work together but in individuals’ interests to let someone else sacrifice — and that skeleton key fits any number of contemporary woes, climate included.
Was it a political roman à clef? No, despite eight years of hacky “Candidates as ‘Thrones’ Characters” gags. But it was cannily political, attuned to the value of alliances and flexibility. And its makers seemed attuned to the real-world readings of the show, writing a dialogue in which advisers anticipating objections to elevating a callow man (Jon) over an experienced woman (Daenerys), as if they were discussing his electability in the Upper Great Lakes.
Among those works where fans have argued about the content or the ending:
- Everything past season 4 of The West Wing gets the discontinuity treatment from some fans of the show, since it marks the point where Aaron Sorkin left. Interestingly, it would leave a Republican as president.
- Some fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer throw out seasons 6 and 7. Season 6 suffers from having inept villains for most of it in the form of “The Trio.” Both Seasons 6 and 7 get complaints from some fans over the changes in characterization of the "Scooby Gang," with some thinking they all became assholes. And the season 5 finale, which marked the end of the show’s time on one network (The WB) and transition to another (UPN), could serve as an “ending” to the overall story if one wanted it to be that way.
- Dallas is an interesting example of this. It's infamous for having a "dream season," in which to bring back Patrick Duffy's Bobby Ewing—who had died in the season 8 finale—they wrote off his death and all the events of Season 9 as a dream by his wife, Pam Ewing (Victoria Principal). Because of this, some fans of the show discount everything after season 8.
- Many fans of The Beatles prefer to believe Abbey Road was the last album the group put out, rather than Let It Be. In comparison to Abbey Road, and even with tracks like “Across the Universe,” Let It Be is disliked for being thought of as a rushed effort created when tensions between the band members had all but reached the breaking point, sabotaged (depending on your viewpoint, certainly if you're Paul McCartney) by a combination of over-production and spite, and released to get it out of the way and to have an album to go with the Let It Be film.
- The re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica was considered one of the best series on television during the middle aughts. The 1970s science-fiction drama of the last remnants of distant humans searching for a mythical home named “Earth” was re-purposed to reflect anxieties about terrorism and the “War on Terror.” However, the show’s ending divided the audience, since it relies on a lot of “God did it” to explain plot questions. For some fans of the series, the last episode of the first half of Season 4 should have been the real ending. This means no mutiny, no revelation of who the fifth Cylon is, what Starbuck is, what the "Head" characters are, the back-history of the Final Five and the humanoid Cylons, that the Earth they find is not "our" Earth, the defeat of the Cylons, the resolution of Cally's murder, and the finding of “our” Earth. That is a lot to toss out.
- Fans of How I Met Your Mother reacted with extreme dislike toward the show’s series finale. The framing device of every episode is a future version of Ted (Josh Radnor) telling his children the story of how he met their mother, whose identity is a mystery to the audience. The final season occurs over the course of one weekend during Robin’s (Colbie Smulders) and Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) wedding. However, fans of the series expressed revulsion when the show decided to, in the end, kill off the children’s mother almost as soon as she is revealed, divorce Barney and Robin in the same episode they’re having a wedding reception, and then make the story future Ted is telling one in which he’s explaining why he ultimately ended up with a future iteration of Robin. Part of the reason for the train wreck of an ending were proposed plans to spin off the series into a How I Met Your Dad series.
- The hype around Lost led to many, many theories about what all the puzzles and mysteries meant. The series is one of the big shows where people argue about whether “the island” was important, or just a vehicle to tell the backstories of the individuals on the island. The show’s finale involved a “stopper” having to be placed in a mystical hole, which may or may not have unleashed evil upon the world if it hadn’t been plugged. But the greater narrative is resolved by depicting all the characters in a sort of purgatory, about to move on together to something else. This did not go over well with everyone.
- Set at fictional St. Eligius, a teaching hospital in Boston's South End that practically no one wants to visit under any circumstances, St. Elsewhere is remembered for more than a few things. However, the series is infamous for its series finale, which revealed the entire show to have occurred within the mind of an autistic child (Chad Allen's Tommy Westphall) while he stared at a snow globe.
- The “lumberjack ending” for Dexter became synonymous for a series not understanding what the audiences wanted, or what made sense for the character’s narrative. Critics almost universally called it a ridiculous debacle.
- The finale of The Sopranos was very controversial when it first aired, with some fans of the show feeling the sudden cut to black offered no resolution, while others argued it was artistic and left enough clues for the audience to fill in the gaps. Did Tony die? Was it meant to be artistic and offer no resolution? Series creator David Chase has never given a definitive explanation, and made clear in multiple interview that he never will. Chase has stated: “I have no interest in explaining, defending, re-interpreting, or adding to what is there.”
From Tasha Robinson at the A.V. Club:
The first thing that leaps to mind for me is The Cure. I discovered them in college, which was maybe already a little too far past my mopey, lovesick, self-absorbed-pain phase of life for them to really hit the emotional sweet spot of a band that says what you’re thinking. At the same time, they were something new for me: I’d never been into punk, I’d never heard of goth, and I’d never heard music that touched on so many genres at once. It was like finding a Rosetta Stone that let me translate between the pop I was used to and all the music I’d never been exposed to and was just then discovering. I listened to The Cure a lot for a couple of years. And then… I moved on. Fairly recently, I saw some cheap Cure CDs and picked them up and re-exposed myself, and lo and behold, what once seemed innovative and deep and emotional now just sounded like a bunch of samey whining. The music hasn’t changed, but I have; that’s just how it goes.