Criticism in the Digital Age

7 Jun

So in the past couple of weeks, two major series have concluded – Avengers: Endgame hit theatres, as well Game of Thrones finished. A prequel series for GoT is in the works and apparently Marvel is moving on to Phase 4 with no end in sight. I haven’t seen either – and let’s just say that public opinions are high on both of them.
This isn’t about how to criticize, or what makes for a good review. It’s about behaving in an online space where you’re interacting with fellow fans, creators, and other associates.

I’ve interacted with authors who’ve ‘retaliated’ against my reviews. No real drama worth repeating. I’ve read stories on authors who address their fans in general who get negative as well as fans who become quite toxic. I’ve entered fandoms and seen fans attack each other or content creators. Personally, I find the majority of people who claim “If you don’t like X, it’s because you hate Y” to be projecting, although I’m sure it’s not always the case. I think it’s more than possible to like something and be critical about it. Maybe it’s all the round table group of authors critiquing one another’s work. Maybe I’m heartless.

I’ve also defended books I didn’t care for, not because I feel bad for say, Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James and the amount of criticism they receive, but because those who enjoy those books shouldn’t be made to feel stupid because they enjoy them.

But it’s not just the ‘successful’ – a Sonic the Hedgehog trailer aired, and feedback on Sonic’s design basically stalled the production/release date. Personally, I thought the design was ugly but I haven’t been a Sonic fan since before Junior High.

Is it the Teeth?

What I suppose I’m trying to get at, is how do fans and creators work in each other’s spheres, without the artist reigning themselves in to satisfy the public? Should they? How ought fans interact with each other, but also the creator?

In my opinion, as a Writer:
1) Accept not everyone is going to like what you do.
2) Don’t accept criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.
3) Be respectful when talking shop. If you had problem with an editor, publisher, another author – hey, it’s normal, especially when there’s a ‘buyer beware’ aspect. Other than that, being negative can easily turn unprofessional. If you find yourself getting pressed into this corner, I say approach with a sense of gentle humor as opposed to bitterness.
4) Don’t aim to be perfect. Aim to do the best you can. You can be 99% perfect, and someone, somewhere, will complain about that 1%.

As someone who enjoys the content:
1) Respect other people’s opinions. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to ‘win’ a debate and make them see things your way. You can explain everything to someone why what they hate is supposedly ‘bad’ and have them shrug and say it’s a guilty pleasure anyway.
2) If the purpose of your response is being snarky, vulgar, or crude, I get it. Don’t bring your hentaii fanart as your introduction into the fandom, unless everyone else is. If someone’s doing a funny review, probably expect it to be a little bit on the savage side.
3) How much you need to ‘defend’ against certain mindsets is up to you, but there’s really no accounting for taste.
4) Telling other fans you’re smarter than them because you’ve read X Book is cute and everything, but you don’t know who’s on the other side of the screen. Not saying your literature professor can tell you what you can and can’t like, but seeing as how literature is… I don’t know, a giant subject, that’s like saying your botonist cousin is an expert in his field he knows more about particle physics. Your prof in medieval literature has a different scope than the one who studies classic latin plays, even though both are qualified to tell you about comma splices.

It’s also easy to talk about the glaring mistakes. Sitting on the other side of the table, I think about how much work it is to accomplish something as impressive as a given scene on Game of Thrones, especially with a sprawling cast and multiple locations. The costumes, the set design, the music, might have nothing to do with the story or the direction the show runners took the source material. Some of the best advice I got when trying to learn to write was to stop putting books aside I didn’t care for – figure out why someone thought it was a good idea, even if the author lacked the technical skill to pull the novel off.

What are your thoughts on interacting with online fandoms? Should authors interact with fans online, or leave well enough alone?

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