Fantagonism, franchising, and industry management of fan privilege

Authored by: Derek Johnson

The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138638921
eBook ISBN: 9781315637518
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315637518.ch40

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Abstract

In August 2016, media trade publication Variety reported that fans of the widely panned summer blockbuster Suicide Squad had launched a petition to “shut down” review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks to professional critics’ complaints about “muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing,” Rotten Tomatoes awarded Suicide Squad a very low “approval rating”—34% initially and even less more recently (McClendon 2016, “Suicide Squad,” Rotten Tomatoes 2016). Some fans of the film, however, took this as an insult to their own aesthetic sensibilities, with tens of thousands signing a Change.org petition that initially called for the dissolution of Rotten Tomatoes for propagating “unjust bad reviews”; later, the campaign pivoted to intervene in the “disconnect between critics and audiences” by demanding that viewers “Please Don’t Listen to Film Criticism” (McClendon 2016, Coldwater 2016). These fans moved to exclude critics from the unspoken category of “real” audiences and “real” fans, claiming greater authority to represent popular tastes, and to speak with fan understanding of established intellectual properties. Paramount in this populist critique was the perceived anger behind it. On Browbeat, columnist Sam Adams (2016) characterized the “Anti-Rotten Tomatoes Movement” as indicative of a more insidious dynamic in contemporary fan cultures in which opposing perspectives must be shouted down with extreme prejudice: “The ‘Crush the Tomato’ faction wants to live in a world where other opinions don’t exist, or at least they don’t have to hear about them.” Pointing to the mainstream ascendance of “geek” taste, Adams opines that such fans have “inherited a once-marginalized subculture’s grudges despite the fact that … they effectively control the culture: Any threat to their dominance … has to be met with maximum force, repelled like an unwanted invader.” The Suicide Squad case, then, represents not just activist fan attempts to intervene in powerful cultural institutions like film criticism, but also a more complex and ambivalent line of tension over privilege in fandom and domination over cultural value and meaning.

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