A post from my long-gone Marvel blog concerning the behavior of fans online.
In one of the response sections last week, somebody asked why I talk about the fans being negative so much, and why I seem to be so hung up on the issue. This is a subject worth discussing, at least a little bit.
First off, I like the fans, I really do. I wouldn’t spend so much time typing away at this column if I didn’t like them. And, for the most part, those fans I’ve met in person, whether it’s at conventions, at panels, during “Prize of No-Prize”, or just milling around in the local comic shop tend to by and large be nice, friendly, decent people. And I remember what it was like to be a fan. I’ve made mention in the past of the fact that, had there been an internet back in the 70s and 80s when I was only reading the books rather than working on them, and on that internet there’d be the opportunity to interact with many of the people working on the books, I probably would have spent my entire life there.
But there’s something about the internet, isn’t there? That little bit of anonymity that plays into everyone’s worst tendencies. And the fact that the overall volume of discourse is so loud to begin with that you need to scream and shout just to make yourself heard above the din. People who, in person, would laugh together and have fun together and share a beer together somehow become transformed into snarling parodies of themselves online. And it’s not just this way with comic book fans. Take a look at any board devoted to any topic—a television show, or a popular sport, or even quilting. You see the same patterns play themselves out over and over again. The internet, and this text-based form of communication, seems to open up a direct pathway to people’s worst aspects. Maybe it’s a generational thing, and those kids who are now growing up with the internet as a fact of life rather than a s a new toy somebody invented will approach it differently. I certainly hope so. All this by way of saying that the internet, by and large, is a very negative place.
It’s also, in a digital age, all around us, and it’s pretty difficult to ignore. Not a week goes by that I don’t tell one creator or another to stop reading the internet boards, because they’re only messing the creator up. And even as the creator agrees with me, we both know that they’re not going to do it, and neither am I. Creative people thrive on validation, in applause. Everybody is interested in what’s being said, what the gossip is, what people are saying about the work, and about them. It’s next to impossible to stay away. Especially now that many people have little hand-held carry-around devices with which to check their e-mail and surf the web.
Where the disconnect happens, I think, is when I talk about the internet not being a true barometer of the opinions of the audience as a whole. People have a tendency to read that as disrespect, as an indication that their opinions are being dismissed. But that’s not it at all. And, I think, that reaction is all part-and-parcel of the way online communication works—any sentence will be read and interpreted in the worst tone imaginable. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
There are times when the internet chatter matches up perfectly with the opinions of the larger readership, but not consistently. That’s just the cold, hard fact of it. But outside of whatever chatter you might pick up at your local comic shop, internet opinions are the only barometer the average fan has for getting a sense of how the whole of the audience feels about a particular issue. And believe it or not, most of the folks working at the major comic book companies get to see a broader spectrum of responses to the work than the average fan—everything from direct e-mails to reports from retailers around the globe, in addition to the stuff online. All of this information doesn’t mean that your opinion is irrelevant, or isn’t being considered—merely that it’s one of many forms of feedback I and others like me are receiving about the stories we tell.
Long story short: this is a blog, one that posts on the internet. It’s inevitable that there’s going to be a certain amount of stuff on it that concerns itself with what people are saying on the internet.
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