Batman and ‘Game of Thrones’ latest examples of toxic fandom


Networks and studios cultivate the passion of fans, which can turn a property like “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars,” DC and Marvel movies not only into huge hits, but merchandizing bonanzas that keep giving. But that strong sense of ownership has also seen some fans lash out when they’re disappointed, making wild demands and engaging in collective primal screams.

That’s nothing new, but a few things have changed, including both the giant nature of these franchises and the advent of social media, offering a platform for venting that has a way of feeding off itself and stoking hyperbolic responses.

A perfect example of that came in the form of the petition to re-do the final season of “Game of Thrones,” giving those who signed on an opportunity to voice their displeasure while simultaneously making themselves look utterly divorced from reality.
The “Thrones” finish, moreover, happened to dovetail with the news, as reported by Variety, that “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson would likely become the next Batman, triggering just the latest freak-out connected to that character. It was only six years ago, after all, when Ben Affleck’s name surfaced as the next choice to wear the cape and cowl, unleashing a level of angst — including, yes, a petition urging Warner Bros. to reconsider — mirroring the darkest corners of Gotham City.

In between, there was the “You ruined my childhood!” tantrum over the “Ghostbusters” reboot, and the blowback to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which — by turning away from several of the more tantalizing threads dangled by “The Force Awakens” — triggered howls that included calls for a boycott.

Ben Affleck at Comic-Con in 2017
The reaction prompted some filmmakers to speak out, among them “Logan” director James Mangold, who tweeted last July, “At the point when writing and directing big franchises has become the emotionally loaded equivalent of writing a new chapter of The Bible (with the probable danger of being stoned and called a blasphemer), then a lot of bolder minds are gonna leave these films to hacks and corporate boards.”
As noted, what “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars” and the superhero universes have in common is a long relationship with these properties, heightening the sense of investment and ownership. As Vox wrote in a piece seeking to explain “The Last Jedi” backlash, disappointment can transform into resentment when “the characters’ journeys aren’t what was expected.”

Within the industry, there’s a sense that there’s little to be gained from pushing back against their best customers. Most of the carefully massaged responses tend to be along the lines of “We understand you’re upset, but just wait.”

As Mangold noted, though, the “evangelical ferocity” of some criticism might be enough to make talent decide that life’s too short to enter that realm. While fans obviously have a right to express their displeasure, they need to understand that their ability to shape and control these franchises is limited, especially because it’s so difficult to discern whether the loudest voices are truly representative.

The griping and debating will continue, and represent an ingrained part of this ecosystem. But when it comes to those enmeshed in “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars” or Batman, an old saying applies — namely, that you pay your money (or don’t) and take your chances.

(Like CNN, HBO and Warner Bros. are both units of WarnerMedia.)

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