Nobody’s Perfect: Constructive Criticism as a Fan

Wanderers, Wanderers, Wanderers. We all like to think that the things and people we’re fans of are perfect. We like to pretend that they are the pinnacle of artistic merit, the holy grail of social awareness, and occasionally even the most educational of learning materials. But let’s face facts; everyone makes mistakes, and sooner or later, that’s going to include the star, show, film or book you’re a fan of.

So how do we deal with these mistakes? Do we blindly stumble on, pretending that they’re still perfect? That doesn’t seem like the healthiest way of going about things (though if anyone is claiming your fandom has no merit whatsoever, it might be a good temporary fix while you correct them). Do we stop being fans of those things altogether? Well, it may be that you do – and that’s fine. If someone or something crosses a line and you can’t enjoy what they do any more, it’s acceptable to stop being a fan of them. More often, though, a mistake is not a dealbreaker. We can still be fans of something, while accepting that it has problematic elements, or be a fan of someone without agreeing with every decision they’ve made.

So far, I don’t think I’ve said anything particularly ground-breaking, but the trouble often arises when people aren’t sure how to express their unease or disappointment with a particular storyline or something that’s happened. If the writing in your favourite show goes in a direction you really don’t like, for example, it’s never been so easy to get your voice heard. Not only can you easily explain your problem with the storyline to any number of unsuspecting strangers online, but you can also contact the writers themselves and tell them what you found disappointing. This, dear Wanderers, is a double-edged sword; yes, you have the chance to ask questions and to tell them that for whatever reason, you’re not fond of the direction they took things in, but you also have the opportunity to be quite unkind and make yourself – and the fandom – look bad, if you’re not careful.

It’s easy, on the internet, to fire off a quick, angry message without thinking about it, but my advice is to write down what you want to say and then leave it for a few minutes. Watch to the end of the episode, at the very least, in case something’s explained. Go and make yourself a cup of the hot beverage of your choice. Rant at someone not connected to the show about it, in person or via private message, where the whole internet isn’t going to see it. Then, when you’re in a slightly clearer state of mind, you can post that long explanation of what you didn’t like on your blog, or – if you feel you ought to – send a politely-worded statement to the effect that you found this episode problematic.

Try not to contact the writers with every plot decision that just isn’t how you’d have done it; there are some things that they might need to be made aware of – an offensive stereotype or an unfortunate attitude towards certain types of relationships might be something to contact them directly about, whereas the outcome of yet another love triangle is really a matter of deciding for yourself whether it’s worth mentioning to them. Additionally, it can be just as important – if not more so – to let people know when they’ve done something right. If you like something about the writing, let them know. If there’s something you were worried might be handled badly, but wasn’t, tell them that too. And, preferably, use the most official accounts you can find – the Elementary writers, for example, have a dedicated Twitter account. Not only is it much less unpleasant to receive complaints on such an account than for someone to have their personal Twitter full of criticism, but it’s also far nicer to praise someone’s work where everyone on the team – and up the chain of command – can see it.

When it comes to somebody you’re a fan of doing something you don’t agree with in their personal life, you usually don’t need to criticise them at all. If it’s a wrong decision for them, they probably already know that, and if it’s not then frankly the rest of the world’s opinion – including yours – really has no bearing on it. We fans don’t own our favourite people, and they don’t owe us as much as we sometimes seem to think they do. If someone’s spreading a hateful or discriminatory message, or they have caused somebody else a great deal of harm, then those might be grounds to tell them you disapprove, but even then, try to keep it controlled and as polite as possible. Making yourself or your fandom look like the bad guys doesn’t help anyone.

One last note, on that subject – if somebody runs an article about your favourite star(s) and you don’t like the implications of it, leave it alone. Resist the urge to ‘flame’ the people involved (especially online, where it’s so easy) – many publications still believe that all publicity is good publicity and your fandom will only get a reputation for being easily agitated. This just makes you targets for further stirring. If your favourite star is offended by what they read about themselves, they are capable of dealing with it themselves, and if something that’s published is untrue, they probably have better lawyers than you do, too. Best to leave them to fight their own battles and, if they do seem hurt, reassure them that they have your support rather than attacking whoever’s upset them.

So, Wanderers, what I’m saying is this: be critical of your favourite things, by all means, but be calm, courteous, and considerate about it. That way, we’ll all get along fine.

Eleanor Musgrove (wonders if she should expect some ironic flaming over this)

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This entry was posted in Issue Thirty-Four, Wildcards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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