Bill Cosby: "I don't know what they key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
(Prepare yourselves, people. This journal is going to get quite extensive)
The word "pandering" has been thrown around a lot among artists/viewers who express passion about putting out something that they want audiences to gravitate towards, but are continuously in fear that public demands will destroy something they hold close to their hearts. It's been thrown around so much that I feel at this point, it's a touch overused. Most casual moviegoers/gamers/music-listeners I've talked to think of "pandering" as an essential to getting anyone to be invested in whatever you sell. But to the rest of us, it's become a bad word that refers to not taking audiences seriously and just resorting to the laziest, most under-handed tactics possible to get successsful off them. But when is that really the case?
We've all encountered these instances all-too-often where a creator whom you look up to:
A) has lost control of their most beloved poperty due to corporate interference
B) has set their sights so hard on inserting what they think certain people will want to see in their product that they forget all other important facets of it
C) just gave into pressure when fans expressed lack of satisfaction on something that should probably have just been left alone.
Ask any die-hard Star Wars fan today and they're more than likely to go on a rampage about the Phantom Menace, not because it struck a chord with new audiences by having interesting characters and story (as well as the overabundance of more offensive, obnoxious ones-*cough, cough* Jar Jar Binks!), but because it initially struck them with revolutionary effects that stole the show, while all the other important elements were forgotten about. But hey, it's George Lucas, no one can tell him how to do his business because he can do no wrong! Yeah, explain that based on the box office results of Strange Magic!
One person who comes to mind when I think of celebrities who have been resistant to fan demand, is Bill Watterson of "Calvin and Hobbes" fame. Despite the notion Calvin and Hobbes seemed like the perfect candidates for merchandise, Watterson always felt that the "niche market" mindsets completely betrayed the spirit of the strip, and that once a product was converted to a different medium where it was expected to avoid controversy and anything that made the original product a respectable one; he also said that once something is exploited for merchandise, the public inevitably gets fed up with it. And after seeing the backlash to the massive exploitation of things like Frozen, Star Wars, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan (the list goes on), and the fact that Minions has garnered rip-offs in the form of some of the most despised things in all of media (you know I'm referring to the Lemmings from Norm of the North), who can blame him?
Now there definitely have been counterarguments to Watterson's statement that, "Artists who think they can be taken seriously while using the centerpiece of their products to sell boxer shorts are deluding themselves." (We all know there are toy-based cartoons, notably Hasbro's Transformers and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, that have managed to be smart and respectable while being successful with merchandise), but I still think his point really stands when he says this: "I am flattered when people respond to my work, but I don't feel accountable to respond to public demand. Trying to please people encourages calculation, and the stip is only valuable to me insofar as it is honest and sincere." Keep in mind though, he wasn't the only one who was this skeptical and protective of his product. One of his biggest inspirations was Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, who, while he did embrace whatever marketing opportunity was presented to him, has always stood by his standards of not letting things be resolved in his strip (Charlie Brown can't kick the football).
I've only gotten around to seeing the recent Peanuts movie in the past couple months, and in all honesty, I think it's the best Blue Sky Studios movie to date! I feel that, overall, the movie really captured the essence and sencerity of the world of the comic strip, with such an articulate visual style. But when I first watched it, amongst seeing Charlie Brown finally getting to achieve so much of what we wanted to see hims achieve for so long, one unnerving thought that was going on in my mind as I watched was, "Were these people going to go out of their way, at all costs, to ensure that Charlie Brown got everything he wanted, including being able to kick the football?". I was actually very happy that they decided not to take the easy route and do that.
Now personally, I'm not interested in going on a whole spree of how Lucy is a terrible character for constantly putting Charlie Brown through the wringer, so I'll keep it to this: Even on his deathbed, when Schulz was presented with the idea that he could have Charlie Brown kick the football to finish the strip off, he turned down the idea, saying that it would pretty muck kill the characters and his purpose of creating them to help him ponder the unresolved parts of life. And while I'm not one who constantly kisses people's feet, saying that I'm only happy if the creator is happy, I have to say that I am very much on board with that notion. Would it not be possilbe that Peanuts fans would leave legacy to be forgotten, knowing that it has nothing left to offer to anyone who hasn't grown up with it? Would having Charlie Brown get to kick the ball not completely defeat the whole purpose of Charlie Brown's iconic character, which is that he's open to the idea that he might not achieve his goals but never stops trying?
Now that's not to say that legacies that played out to their conclusions can't be enjoyed by later generations, but when they've run for half-a-century on end, like Peanuts, and they end on such an abrupt note, I think that's where people just leave it. Ambiguaity sticks with us longer, especially when an artist is not confident enough to let someone else take on what they've been working on for years-this is the mark of a truly respected artist. And any artist who treats their product as a child, can only respect him/herself as much as he does the product and the audience.
Of course, the idea that "it's all in the eye of the beholder" only goes so far on both ends. I still consider Disney's best work to be Fantasia, despite the fact that several of the people behind it said that they were ashamed they ever worked on it. And as we've previously established with George Lucas, someone can get so caught up in the hype and success of what they put out that they become completely oblivious to the idea that they can screw up sometimes. Watch Nostalgia Critic's Why Do Good Directors Go Bad? edititorial if you want to explore that topic more.
We have all encountered out share of sequels, spin-offs and adaptations of our favorite works that do a variety of flavors of injustice to their material- many of which are instances I would refer to as "fan service on the level of fan-fiction". We've all got our Batman and Robins, Last Airbenders, or Michael Bay Transformers movies, that get us all worked up because they were meant to serve some sort of fan vanity, while disrespecting all othe attributes of the work. Probably the most pristine example that I can think of in these instances, is that sequel to the musical version of Phantom of the Opera. In it, the main character is hosting a successful carnival after a lifetime of being a refugee, and is still butthurt about letting the love of his life go (after singing about how he banged her sometime, without the audience knowing about it), so he tries to buy her away from her former lover (who has now suddenly been written off as a shallow, negligent drunk). After threatening the life of her child and ultimately getting her killed, after causing several casualties among supporters along the way, the story concludes with him walking away with the child scot-free. The whole story just wreaks of contrivances that are specific indications of writers not being able to have their desired ship to work on its own terms.
So why not give people something just because they want to see it? Well, there are several resons why that is a very unwise move-from a business perspective AS WELL as a creator's perspective. The new Powerpuff Girls reboot, for example, was on shaky grounds from the get-go. Disapproval from fans of the orignal aside, there was already plenty working against it, between declination of the quality of the original show in later years, the movie bombing at the box office, and replacing the original voice actresses (much to their chagrin). This is made worse when the product is focused more on reaching out to it's already-established audiences, than working as a stand-alone product that will attract newcomers-not helped by the show resorting to memes that date the show faster. Now I am aware of the couple recent episodes of the PowerPuff Girls reboot that are actually considered good, and I'm willing to give it time to see if the show is capable of getting better overall. If not, the show is going to bomb quickly.
You know how people frquently say that the decade are currently living in is one where "good is the new good", not based on how it holds a candle to something else? There is much evidence to support that. In regards to cartoons on TV, even though Teen Titans Go has already established its audience and poisoned the well for future reboots of CartoonNetwork shows, this IS an indication that the makers are going to have to do more than lightly touch on the things that fans supposedly "want to see". In theaters, Rachet and Clank was made soley to appease fans. And wouldn't you know it, it's total gross was barely over $8 million. Not to mention 2014's Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, despite getting a worldwide "blockbuster month" release and having the chance to cash-in on the success of one of the most beloved films in history, was instantly recognized as the straight-to-video sham it was, and bombed horribly because of it.
And true we've got shows like Breadwinners that have somehow gone on for far too long (when they never even deserved to be greenlit in the first place), but with the uprising of new, much better Nicktoons like LoudHouse, I think it's a sign that there's always going to be crap that gets success before it is outdone by something better.
There's also the matter that we might get a fifth Shrek movie-unless Dreamworks looses its business, as it currently looks like it's going to. (Be warned, I refuse to allow "Shrek is Love. Shrek is Life" memes to dominate the comments of this journal) Nevermind how the fact that Blue Sky is desperately trying to milke out a fifth Ice Age, I've lost all positive feelings about the Shrek franchise as a whole. Not that none of the movies don't hold up today, but the real unfortunate thing is that it was one of the worst influences on the industry animated features. While the first two were good products, I don't think they were good enough to spawn the endless trends of films that thought they could get successul off of using CGI to pander to the lowest common denominator. And in turn, that's a large part of why hand-drawn films are so rarely accessible to mainstream theater audiences nowadays. So yeah, I'm one of the people who feel that the movies has done more harm to the animation business than their worth.
Well, there are classic instances where a beloved property was rammed right into the ground by being handed over to a person with sheer incompetence, but more often it's happened to those who have been desperate to be relevant with the crowd. In the case of animation, it was especially prevalent in the 70s. (i.e. the entire concept of "Casper, the Friendly Ghost" being completely defeated by giving Casper an ungodly obnoxious body guard to scare people away).
Then there's the matter of adding new characters for the sake of drawing in more fans (The Fairly OddParents is doing it all the time nowadays, in desperate attempt to stay relevant). Sometimes, you can get characters like Robin, who went from being mere fodder for drawing younger audiences into the Batman legacy, to being a widely-respected, stand-alone superhero. Other times, you get your own Scrappy Doo. Mr. Enter already did his journal on Fairly OddParents New Character Syndrome, describing how adding a new character into the mix devalues the purpose of a previous one. And in the worst instances, they are added at the back end of flanderization, or as an excuse to sell us a fladerized version of an already-existing product/character.
And how about fan-service that you see specifically for adult-oriented media? This usually refers to excess violence, profanity, and sexualization. When you, as an artsist, do this without establishing any sort of purpose or context (which happens quite a lot), it makes you come of as a middle school dropout. Being an adult means that you are not only capable of being exposed to the harsher, more complicated aspects of life, but also that you are able to handle it in a smart manner. Exposure to things like gore and gross-out help us to build up tolerence levels to some of the more disturbing aspects of life. Understanding sex is all part of people learning how to build intimate relationships. And the use of swear words puts more emphasis on context of a situation (and plays a large part in the performances of many comedians). There is no definite answer to what lines you do or do not want to cross. One thing to be sure of, however, is that you cannot get away with certain things without, you know, actually THINKING about what you're doing.
There's also the matter of how public response affects what the creator. When should a viewer's request/word of advice for something come into fruision and when should it just not be given attention? Going to one extreme or the other is completely irresponsible on part of the creator and, as we've seen, can have some pretty disastrous results. As bad as the film Sucker Punch was, I feel strongly compelled to stand by this quote from the movie: "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." We're not just supposed to blindly agree to something, because that's what brings down an entire industry (and in the real world, entire countries, as indicated with our current presidential election). There are, of course, plenty of cases where a majority of critics and audiences can be convinced that they like something and later have a totally different opinions on a later viewing of it, and visa versa. As viewers, I think we too could do with some advice that will give us a new outlook and appreciate something that we never thought we would ("Don't put all your stock in your expectations", "Remember that these people aren't set out to create something to have it suck", etc.).
Of course it's all subjective. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse to let a creator randomly get away with whatever he/she wants. But we should also be open to exposing ourselves to the stuff that we don't like, be it to open ourselves up to the possibility that we could eventually grow to like it, or just to use it as an example of what we don't want to follow. I don't think a creator should just blindly respond to a viewer's reaction, because that can just be an indicator of how little of an opinion he/she has on the creation, which is usually something that gives the other viewers a feeling of emptiness and disappointment upon later viewings. We need things that somebody will want to see over and over, becasue if nothing was timeless, nothing could inspire any work for future artists. That's not to say EVERYTHING needs to be timeless and great; sometimes a little, temporary drivel can be beneficial. But the art of storytelling and conveying emotions and ideas (be it through literature, music, theatre, or anything relevant to pop-culture) has lasted so long because it has relevence in our lives, and has enabled us to nuture and grow, just as much as going to church as for many people.
Is there anything you'd like to add to this journal? Anything you disagree with and would like to share why with me? Has this opened up your mind in any way? Whatever it does, I only hope it can motivate you to go out there and get inspired, to go out there and create, and to live a life worth living and sharing with future generations!