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Art, Entitlement, And The Perils Of Instant Gratification

Posted on 08.31.2016 at 12:34
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A friend recently wrote on Facebook that the backlash over No Man’s Sky seems to indicate the growing* belief that art somehow owes it audience. While I’ve largely abandoned keeping up with game news so I can’t say whether that’s true of the game or its players, reading that definitely struck a chord. They’re on to something.

I thought over what seemed to fit the pattern. Fans of Steven Universe drove one of the storyboarders off Twitter—because their preferred relationship pairing looked unlikely, they resorted to harassment. Nebula-winning author Alyssa Wong wrote a series of insightful tweets (start here) about being harrassed at conventions, segueing into the relationship between fans and creators; to wit, creators owe their fans nothing they’re not under contract for. People have been getting on George R.R. Martin’s case to write faster for years, leading to Neil Gaiman’s memorable riposte.

Getting upset at the fortunes of fictional characters isn’t new, nor is pressuring artists to satisfy audience whim. (Didn’t the crowd to some degree tug at the shape of Shakespeare performances? And so great was the outcry after Sherlock Holmes’s death that Doyle was compelled to bring him back.) What is new is how quickly and directly we can express our dismay—if not outright rage—to the artists involved. We can reach them directly via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. We might get to chat briefly with them at conferences or a book signing. The life of a modern artist must look vastly different from how it was even twenty years ago.

And yet for all the good such connectivity has brought, it has its darker aspect. Those invisible lines carry hate just as easily as praise. The sheer glut of available information makes it almost necessary to make snap decisions on events that are often more complicated than sound bytes or blog posts can convey. Anonymity inspires plenty to be less afraid and far more cruel than they might otherwise be.

I wonder, too, if the entitlement that’s becoming more visible isn’t also rooted in how quickly we can satisfy our desires—not in every sense, but consider: You can instantly call up TV shows and films (legally and not-so-legally). You want to hear a song, it’s a few clicks away. Books can show up to your device in seconds and packages that might have taken far longer get sped to you in days. That’s to say nothing of other conveniences that have just been there in modern life.

I’m sure there’s no single reason why this phenomenon seems to be on the rise. I’ve got a theory. Maybe one reason why people are speaking up about their frustrations over art is because they can, sure, but I suspect there’s a recognition that art is malleable, and so any choice made can be altered. Revoked. Art is a made thing. So if the world seems like it’s largely out of our control, we sink our energy into something feasible, such as changing the trajectory of an artwork. And that—trying to shape art that already exists—is easier than creating art yourself to fill the void you see.

Then again, I’m an optimist and I like to think that everyone has a creative impulse somewhere inside them, emerging however it can.

To be clear, I'm not trying to defend fan entitlement. If what little I've seen is any indication, it does far more harm than good (if any). I'm just speculating on where the impulse comes from. And I admit, I may be way, way off-base in my guessing.

* A Google search on “fan entitlement” turns up about 22,000 results, a good number of them within the last few months.

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