Fans Influence Media


By Molly Freeman

Photo courtesy of Marcin Kargol.

The discussion on whether media has an impact on consumers has likely been going on since the dawn of media consumption. The most recent and controversial of these discussions is, of course, whether violent video games cause violent behavior (they don’t). However, in recent years, it seems the path of influence, if it exists, may be reversing with the rise of the internet–or, at least, the fans-and-media dynamic is becoming more of a two-way street.

One way in which fans are attempting to impact their favorite media is through the age-old tradition of signing petitions. The practice is made easier today through online petition sites. Recently, fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead were so outraged over the death of a character in the show’s midseason finale that they launched a petition. As of writing this, the petition (which contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 5 winter finale) has garnered over 60,000 digital signatures.

The success of this particular petition cannot be determined until The Walking Dead returns for the second half of its fifth season. Nevertheless, considering its case, it seems unlikely to succeed since the fans are also fighting against the narrative of the series (death by gunshot-through-the-head) in addition to the show’s writers.

However, even though such petitions may not prove to be effective in their own right, they allow fans to amass and show their support of a particular actor, television series, or franchise. In the past, fans have organized letter writing campaigns, protests, and sent items to networks. Two cases include when Tabasco sauce and Mars Bars were sent out to save Roswell and Veronica Mars respectively.

While the Mars Bars fan campaign didn’t convince The CW to bring back Veronica Mars after it was cancelled in its third season, the series did get new life on the big screen. In March of 2013, the creator of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas, launched a Kickstarter campaign with help from many of the show’s original stars. The Veronica Mars Movie Project received a good deal of media attention– exclusively announced the Kickstarter’s launch–and reached its goal within hours.

The Veronica Mars movie is a specific example of how fan enthusiasm can translate into financial gain. In Hollywood, we’ve seen both the upside of this fact in the Veronica Mars film, as well as the downside in the industry’s love to reboot, revive, and generally bring back popular properties of the past.

Another avenue for audiences to interact with media is through fanfiction–writing by fans that is inspired by and written using characters from established works. While authors and screenwriters generally stay away from fanfiction in order to avoid possible legal ramifications, many creators have a positive view of their fans’ work.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, said of fanfiction, “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet–it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”

Fanfiction has mainly gained traction online. There are multiple websites dedicated to all fanfiction as well as more specialized sites. In fact, in recent years, certain pieces of fanfiction have made the jump to becoming their own original media. That is, depending on your definition of “original.”

The 50 Shades of Grey series by E.L. James originally started as a fanfiction based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels. Now, James’ books are as much a part of the popular lexicon as the work that inspired them. The series only seems to grow in popularity, especially considering the upcoming release of the 50 Shades of Grey film this Valentine’s Day.

Though it may seem James’ success was a one-time occurrence, another fanfiction writer, Anna Todd, signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster to publish her After series. The story originally appeared on Wattpad as fanfiction featuring the members of pop band One Direction and was inspired by Twilight as well as 50 Shades of Grey. Four books of the series have already been published through Simon & Schuster.

While fans’ protests, petitions, and campaigns may not necessarily have an impact on the content of a television show or movie, they do seem to have a say in whether or not certain shows stay around or movies get produced. Additionally, if fans are dissatisfied with how their favorite media is handled, they have more ways of exploring their ideas–ways that are becoming profitable and popular in their own right.