I don't know if you've heard — or care, for that matter — but apparently J.K. Rowling is writing three new "Harry Potter" books. Keep in mind, she's already written a stage play and the screenplay to the upcoming blockbuster "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them."
For the wide-eyed and non-cynical side of me, things couldn't possibly get any better. "This is fantastic!" I say, asking no one in particular if they get the pun, because of the movie that's going to come out, then reflecting on how that's not really a pun. (I just used the same word from the title in a sentence, and if that's what passes for comedy these days, maybe our culture really is in a state of decay.) Wide-eyed James disregards those ominous thoughts and continues on. "Rowling's doing this because she really, deeply cares about the world she's constructed over the past decade and a half — almost two, now — and that's the only reason!"
My cynical side then butts in and says, "No, she's doing it because she tried writing adult books that nobody read, and she can't make money that way. More importantly, she has to appease her ravenous fan base who would gladly eviscerate anyone that dared challenge the idea of STOPPING THE FUCKING PRESSES ON HARRY POTTER BOOKS, MERCHANDISE AND ALL OTHER RELATED MEMORABILIA BECAUSE BEATING A NEAR-DEAD HORSE IS ALMOST AS BAD AS BEATING AN ACTUAL DEAD HORSE."
Now, I'd like to believe a little of both. I really do believe that Rowling still holds an immense passion for the fictional universe she's brought into this world, and that she treasures everything it's done for her and for her fans.
I also believe those fans are the exact problem with her work.
Let me explain, because this goes further in scope than just J.K. Rowling.
As an average consumer — and creator — of content, I've seen a recent and disturbing trend in regards to the relationship of artists and their collective fan bases.
Now, before the advent of the Internet and social media, if people wanted to complain about, let's just say as an example, one of the four or five major shows on television, they would either send in letters of complaint, organize a neighborhood meeting to discuss what should be done about the problematic program, or, at the most extreme, protest the show.
This was fine, because usually the showrunners could just ignore that kind of stuff. And sometimes, I'm sure that those protests had valid points. But for the most part, it was the audience believing they knew the product of the creator better than the creator of the product knew it him — or her — self.
Which is a really, really stupidly dumb assumption to make, and one that is easier to not only espouse, but act upon now that people can gather in the hundreds, or even thousands, through the power of the "Interwebs."
Damn those magic tubes and their abilities to create communities founded solely on outrage alone!
I'm not saying that an audience shouldn't have a voice in regards to what they think about a show, or a book, or a movie, or an educational pamphlet, or whatever. Obviously, they should — that's a cornerstone of democracy, to be able to voice one's opinions on a proposed idea. That's not the problem.
The problem is audiences coercing creators into conforming to their specific needs and wishes. For example, Rowling made it pretty clear — at least I thought she did, from my memory — that she was done with Harry Potter after the seventh book in the series was released.
But her fanbase wasn't. And they've been crying out for more ever since. And at first, I'm sure it was easy for her to just throw out a couple tweets or internet comments elaborating on her characters and how they fared after the books came to a close. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, as time went on, and as Rowling's ventures into writing for adults quickly ran afoul, do you think it was easy then, resisting that temptation to go back to the series, and vicariously, back to the time, where people adored you? Where you occupied the literary limelight? Where, anytime you spoke your mind in person, or online, everyone held on to every word with bated breath because you were the it girl of popular literature?
I can't blame Rowling for going back to what's comfortable, and if she finds joy in it, that's great. Plus, this is really just all speculation — nothing in this article is confirmed fact, just my own personal theories.
That being said, others have given in to fan bases, just like Rowling. Game developers are altering games because people find them offensive — such as Blizzard Entertainment's "Overwatch" controversy with Tracer — movies are being chastised for incorrect depictions of certain cultures — "The Great Wall" movie with Matt Damon being a prime and recent example — and now Rowling has hitched her Iditarod sled to the husky team of her fan base. They're in control now.
The point I'm trying to make is that creators create what they want to because that's the only way they know how, and that's the best way to do it. When you write or paint or musically score something, you shouldn't think about how the audience is going to receive it — you should be solely focused on whether or not it fulfills your creative needs.
True, our jobs as creators is to — hopefully and eventually — serve a loving audience, a caring community of people who have gravitated towards our work. And I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't listen to feedback — if anything, take that as the Writ of... well, if you believe in a God, then God, and if you don't, then take it as the Writ of Whatever You Believe Does Or Does Not Govern The Universe.
But creativity is not a democracy. You are there as a creator to serve your audience, your audience is there to consume, ruminate, debate, analyze and give feedback on what they've consumed, and that's it. They do not get to drive the dog sled of your creative ability — you do. They do not and should not determine how you make something or why you make it — you do. The creative relationship between a maker and their audience is a balance of give-and-take. Creators give something, the audience takes it, and they give it back, maybe with feedback, maybe not. If they're a true audience, true fans, and they've stuck by you long enough, they'll know that their feedback — positive or negative — has an impact, up to a certain point. After that, you, as the maker of your world, is the one who determines what is right and what is wrong.
This doesn't mean that I think you shouldn't call out blatant flaws in an artist's work — quite the contrary. Scream it out, shout it out, let them know it needs to be fixed. But understand that they as the maker have the full right to either completely accept your idea, or totally shoot it down.
That being said, the beautiful thing about today's world is that it's never been easier to BE a creator. There are hundreds of sites where you can post videos, write stories, create beautiful paintings or tapestries or works of music and other forms of art, and people can see that and give you feedback and, maybe if you're lucky, start to form a little bit of a community around what you do.
So if you have a problem with "The Great Wall," or think "Overwatch" needs some adjustment, or believe "Harry Potter" could use some extra additions, then what are you waiting for? Film it, code it, write it, play it, craft it, make it the way you want it to be. Don't use an artist throwing out their ideas as a springboard to tear their work down. If you have an issue, then make a version where that issue is rewritten, patched, scribbled out, deleted, whatever. That's the beauty of art — you can literally do anything you want, to anything that's ever existed, ever.
There's always gonna be room for makers in this world. I'd like to think I'm one of 'em.
And you can be, too.