From Mav: Have I mentioned before that I hate petitions? I mean, not all petitions. In the abstract, they’re a good idea. If you need to get a stop light put up in your town, or you’re hoping to get Congress to consider an environmental bill… stuff like that I totally get and I think they’re ideas. And once upon a time, that’s what most petitions were, but the Internet ruins EVERYTHING. Now we all know that the main purpose of petitions is to complain that the movie franchise you love had an installment where a GIRL did too much stuff that wasn’t standing around and looking pretty and now the studio TOTALLY needs to reshoot it for the REAL FANS!!! I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not JUST people complaining about movie. Also, apparently it’s good if you want to force doctors to wear plague bird masks or express your choice of replacing the word “boobs” with something even more ridiculous. Yes… this is what the Internet thinks is important.
Obviously there’s important stuff too. Change.org has no shortage of petitions that are actually trying to effect positive change… either to the law, the environment or positive social good. Some of them are better than others. The good ones are actually targeted at specific places where bringing awareness of a population that cares to a specific body capable of doing something about it (a company or government) and can bring results…. you know… what petitions were always designed for. This isn’t about them. I want to talk about about the ridiculous ones. Even with the “good” petitions, a lot them are nothing more than glorified Geocities Guest Books: sign here if you’re against gun violence, sign here if you think rape is bad, sign here if you want to fix the Ozone layer. Sure they’re worthy causes, but often, what happens with these petitions is little more than people posting “thoughts and prayers” tweets after a national tragedy and doing nothing else. Change takes work… more work than just typing your name and forgetting. And sadly, a lot of times people don’t care to do that work.
But then there’s those other petitions. The ones that have to do with TV shows and movies. Why is it easier to get people to rally around changing the ending to Game of Thrones than it is to get them to stop climate change? Is the fate of Westeros really that much more important than our own? Or do people just get much more invested in fictional worlds. It certainly isn’t all people that do this. Obviously, in the most egregious of the cases that I’m pointing to, it’s just some of the most deplorable fans. Man-children who don’t like to see any protagonist that doesn’t look like them. But there are other cases of this too. Not everyone raises a bajillion dollars trying to reshoot the Last Jedi… Some don’t even actually use survey sites at all. A lot of times it’s just the negative buzz that people are generating. Unlike Last Jedi, the hatred around the final season of Game of Thrones doesn’t seem all that based in sexism. It’s more that a lot of people were invested in the show and didn’t get what they wanted. Sure there are petitions out there, but mostly it’s people just complaining on Twitter in an unorganized way. It won’t work of course. No one is going to spend the kind of money it would take to refillm an entire season of television in order to appease a bunch of people who signed a guestbook. That’s the show you got, the cast and crew have moved on. They won’t be redoing it. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be. Art should be allowed to stand alone without the consumer demanding it be changed. And that works.
Except when it doesn’t! We’ve talked briefly before about the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. There was such negative initial fan reaction to the design of the CGI character from the movies that they have pulled it, given up their release date and are apparently rerendering the entire movie. We’ve talked before about the idea of fans seeing themselves as owning the media they consume, and this seems to underscore that feeling. It says “if you whine hard enough you can make people cave and give you what you want.” When it’s easier and easier to amplify that whining, it also convinces people that they’re a much bigger majority than they actually are. In fact, often they’re a minority. Remember the show Community? It got cancelled for low ratings. Its fans pushed and pushed and pushed and got it brought back as a streaming show that was supposed to put Yahoo Screen! on the map and… no one watched it. Because it turns out all the fan petitions in the world were actually useless. We had a pretty good petition that predicted the popularity of the show in the Nielsen ratings ahead of time. It’s just that the people who were fans were able to make themselves appear a lot more representative than they actually are. And with the the success of Sonic — that is the success of the fan complaints, I still expect the film will be a financial disaster — how far are we away from a world with constant inundation of womanless Star Warses and Endgames? How long before we are actually forced to endure a Snyder cut of Justice League (yes, they’re still out there)?
And of course, often the media that people are petitioning against are things that they’ve never viewed in the first place. They’re just doing it on general principle because it represents something they don’t like. The one that comes to mind most recently are the fundamentalist Christian group that went through all the trouble off getting 20,000 people to sign a petition demanding that Netflix cancel the show Good Omens (you know, cuz Satan or something), only to have the entire Internet lambast them because the show isn’t even on Netflix, it’s on Amazon Prime. Their mistake aside, this is something that is common among the fundamentalist evangelical set. The Parents Television Council (PTC) has done this for YEARS trying to get everything they find objectionable (usually because of sex, sometimes violence) thrown off the air, from WWE wrestling to Friends, to the Simpsons, to Glee, to Gilmore Girls (yep, that’s right… Stars Hollow fans, your show was filth! or something). Obviously, these people aren’t actuallybothering to watch the show. They’re outraged by what-they-imagine-concept-is being against their morality. And it’s really easy to make fun of them (and I’m sure I will on our show), but is that any different than campaigning to get Roseanne kicked off the air before her show even aired because she was a huge racist? Isn’t just “not watching the show if you don’t want to” the right answer in both cases?
Of course, this sort of thing can’t all be bad. At least I don’t think it is. There must be good that can come out of it. This topic was suggested to us by Andrew Darowski of The Protagonist Podcast. He pointed out to me that he thinks it’s interesting that this is common in the film industry but not in other entertainment outlets, like say sports. Except that I do think it happens in sports. Maybe not on as obvious a level. But I’m thinking about all the petitions trying to get teams to drop their Native American slang names and imagery… or even all of the activity, both in favor of and against, the Kaepernick kneeling and the national anthem protest.
So there’s lots of questions here. How effective are media petitions? Are there good and bad reasons to do it? What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) examples?