Entitlement seems to run rampant in fandom these days. One post making the rounds calls fandom “broken” because fans are now in the habit of throwing public tantrums any time a media rights holder does something with its property fans don’t like. But another aspect of the problem has to do not so much with what the rights holders do, but what with fans do to those rights holders.
Romance novelist Sarah Madison remarks on a controversy lately making the rounds on Facebook, wherein someone asked for help in finding good pirate e-book sites. Many Facebook users rightly called out this person for depriving creators of money, but Madison was surprised by just how many others came to her defense.
Madison noted the arguments seem to fall into three basic categories: people who profess to be broke and can’t afford to pay for entertainment, people who think creative works should be free because creativity is all about telling stories and sharing them, and people who think writers make too much money anyway.
Of these three arguments, the one about being broke is the most sympathetic, but there are plenty of legitimate ways such people can get reading matter—from their public library, and from free e-book sites such as Project Gutenberg. But being broke doesn’t entitle you to download work from pirate sites. The other two arguments are self-evidently silly, and I don’t think they even call for any refutation on my part—though Madison does a good enough job of it in her own blog post.
But why is there so much entitlement and fan anger these days around the most potentially innocuous of things? Sarah Madison observes fans lashing out with threats against the very people who’ve been bringing them such enjoyment, and writes:
I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.
To that, I would add that we also have significantly more avenues of connecting with the creators of our favorite material, given that so many of them have social media and web presences these days. For book authors, this is driven at least in part by what a terrible job publishers are doing promoting most authors, forcing them to the necessity of doing it themselves. Building communities is seen as a great way of promoting yourself to your closest fans.
Consequently, where twenty years ago the only way of reaching your favorite author might have been to go to the effort of writing a letter to their publisher and hoping the publisher deemed it worth showing them, now it’s often just a matter of tagging them on Twitter or Facebook. Unfortunately, between GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and just random entitled fans, this is becoming considerably more unpleasant for the thin-skinned.
In addition, it’s super-easy now just to reach out and take what we want, giving little thought to the impact it might have on others. It takes almost no effort, and we won’t get caught, so why not do it? We can justify it to ourselves by saying we wouldn’t have paid to buy the book anyway, so it’s not as if they’re losing any money from us that they actually would have gotten. Or we can say it costs too much, or that they don’t deserve to get paid for some reason or other (politics, religion, or maybe they just killed off your favorite character), or come up with a myriad of other reasons. As Jeff Goldblum put it in Jurassic Park, people are so busy congratulating themselves on what they can do, they don’t stop to think about whether they should do it.
In the end, I would hope that enough people will come around to supporting the efforts of their favorite authors and creators to make up for the ones who don’t. And maybe people should try to step back and cool down before they get mad at their favorite author for not doing what they want.