Connect With Fans, but By All Means, Maintain A Distance

Fans and fandoms are recurring themes here on the blog, and for good reason. They form an essential, and ever more critical part of a successful cartoon or animated feature. They are marketers, advocates, customers, and above all, appreciative individuals. However, fans have long been held at length by studios, and for good reason as the latest Steven Universe drama unfolds.

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Far be it for this blog to delve deeply into individual fandoms seeing as this writer is not really a fan of anything anymore, however recent controversy surrounding Steven Universe is worthy of comment and discussion.

The initial impetus for the current ruckus began on Tumblr where a user was harassed about the nature of the fan art they had created. You don’t need to know the details, but the end result was a suicide attempt. Nobody in their right mind can condone behaviour (online or otherwise) that leads to such things, but the resulting brouhaha surrounding what constitutes ‘acceptable’ fan art has spilled over into overbearing bickering that gives the show and its followers a bad name.

The entire saga serves as a stunning reminder of how ingrained fan culture can be on the web (and Tumblr in particular.) It regurgitates many of the leering, obnoxious, selfish, and unsightly aspects of fandom, and tars every fan of Steven Universe with the same brush regardless of their opinion on the matter. Nobody survives such battles unscarred, and even though Ian Jones-Quarty attempted to clarify things once and for all, it was too little, too late.

The lesson from all of this is that although the internet has broken down a lot of the barriers physical and otherwise that used to exist between creators and fans, it has also removed the filter that such barriers also functioned as. With no buffer between creators and fans, the results can become unsightly, as when the Bee & Puppycat series was finally released and fans became quite vocal about how different the series was from the original short they backed.

Connecting with fans can, of course, be good for both sides. A more intimate relationship can breed a dedicated following who can be relied upon to support a show and keep it afloat. It can also bring satisfaction to creators who are always happy to see their work create positive effects in society.

The problems arise when one side takes issue with the actions of the other, and in such instances, the closeness of the relationship can make things very personal for people on either side and sour the idea of fandom for them.

There is a fine line between being aloof and being a ‘man of the people’ so to speak, and it takes a talented person to walk that tightrope. Some creators lean more one way or the other, or choose to be selective about what aspects of the fans they choose to embrace such as cosplay, or meet & greets. This middle approach seems to work best since positive aspects can be embraced while negative aspects are left alone and out of the spotlight.

Moving forward, the relationship between fans and creators will be become not only stronger, but also tighter. Fans and creators will become more intertwined and interlinked and the reputations of both sides will be dependent on their actions. What has happened regarding Steven Universe should serve as a warning of how things can get out of hand.

As creators, producers, and fans, everyone needs to understand that their actions do not take place within a vacuum. Both positive and negative actions have repercussions, and ultimately it is another human that will be on the receiving end. The animation community is a generally positive and welcoming one, and it’s deplorable that there are elements that suggest otherwise.

Regardless of the nature of the Steven Universe fan art in question, creators should look to it as an example of the kinds of problematic fans in contemporary social atmospheres they should try to either ignore or subdue for the benefit of the whole. It should also remind them to retain a degree of distance so that they are not drawn into conflicts that otherwise do not involve them.

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