5:00 pm EST, May 17, 2019

That ‘Game of Thrones’ remake petition makes us all look bad, so please cut it out

Your Game of Thrones fan petition is dumb, please stop it.

The internet can be a mixed blessing for fandom. There is plenty of good: Incredible collaboration is possible, the melding of minds over similar interests, the sharing of art and idea. Fan creativity has flourished, friendships have been made, and critical dialogue on art and artistry has expanded into fresh new spaces.

And then there’s the bad shit. The bullying, the gate-keeping, the racism and sexual harassment. The internet makes many of these bad behaviors possible and dimensional in a way they were not when this all took place IRL. There’s a kind of clawing ownership over properties that asserts itself in the online space, a weaponized possessiveness wielded against other fans, commentators, and even creators themselves.

One particularly internet-y manifestation is the wildly immature phenomenon of fans lobbying for the remake of stories they don’t like. The mechanism is petitions (truly, a fitting use of “Change.org”).

They did it with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Now they’re doing it with Game of Thrones, demanding that the final season of the HBO series be remade “with competent writers.”

I say the following as someone who considers herself a fan of many properties, and a fan of fandom itself:

Stop it. Stop it now. You are wrong and you are embarrassing us all.

Critique vs Ownership

First, let me draw a distinction between critique of a work — even carpet-bombing, annihilative critique — and the perversion represented by this kind of petition.

Modern critique of art comes in many forms. The old standard of critical essays by educated writers in newspapers and journals. The blitz of internet Hot Takes, written, or delivered in long sermons on YouTube. There are podcasts and plaintive tweets objecting to story choice, character beats, social repercussions, and messaging. There are memes, which sometimes, startlingly, make the point more effectively than any of the above.

It is not an exaggeration to say that it’s now possible to atomize a piece of art, analyzing and evaluating the worth and effectiveness of its smallest element. With that intimacy comes a lot of misguided ideas, overreactions, regressive takes, and ideological tangents. When everyone is a critic, someone is almost certainly wrong, and sometimes badly.

But that’s fine.

This universe of criticism can be maddening, but it exists within a structure supportive to art. To steal a line from the video essayist Lindsay Ellis, criticism accepts that the thing — the subject of critique — exists. It accepts that it has a right to exist. Someone made this movie or TV show or video game, and we are consuming it, digesting it, and evaluating it.

The thing may be brilliant or ghastly or somewhere in between. It may be seminal to the genre, or maybe so bad and destructive that we wish it did not exist.

But it’s here and it happened, so let’s react in the context of that reality.

There’s a maturity in accepting this, on agreeing to the terms of a thing’s existence. There is, dare I say it, at least this skin of rationality present in even the most unhinged diatribe on Reddit.

That’s what is missing from fan remake petitions like the one posed for Game of Thrones season 8.

‘Change it because I said so!’

Fan petitions exist within an alternate matrix that fundamentally delegitimizes the concept of art. They posit that the thing must exist to their specifications, as though art is your Starbucks order or the pizza toppings you prefer.

I’m not naive. No story is born in a vacuum; art exists within the context of expectations of fans and financial shareholder’s alike. I’m not here to argue that fans can’t have preferences or reactions. Stories (hell, especially the last season of Game of Thrones) are not pure and untouchable manna for which the masses must be unconditionally grateful.

But the fact is, though we often seek out art for pleasure, that is not why it exists. Art exists because creators have an idea and a motive and something to say; it exists because dragons and fire and dresses and war. It exists to speak, but not particularly for those who are listening.

Art can be created to please, and still exist if it does not. But remake petitions pose art as a self-pleasuring spectacle. Its prime values are my enjoyment, my excitement, my understanding. My specifications have not been met, do it again so that I like it.

That’s not how art works. But even worse, this attitude and petitions inspired by it reflect badly on the entire fan community. If you’ve been around fandom for a while, you may have noticed that there isn’t a ton of nuance in the broader cultural conversation around fans. When one group of misguided petulants makes it clear they want art to be designed and delivered directly to them, it looks like the rest of us feel the same way.

We don’t.

There is so much (so much) that I don’t like about Game of Thrones, not just its final season but its entire run. The rape of Sansa Stark. The massacre of Dorne. The smirking prevalence of sexual violence, the dumbass decisions, the inconsistent characterization. There are a lot of ways in which Game of Thrones is, in my opinion, really bad art.

But it exists. It is as it is. Art isn’t “take it or leave it,” but fans have a choice to acknowledge it or not. I can wish that the show was different from what it is, prescribe in my criticism how it should have been changed, even throw up my hands and call the entire effort a colossal fuckup.

“Do it over to make me happy,” though — that I would never ask for. I couldn’t, and no one should.

We are locked in this battle or love-affair with Game of Thrones because we chose to be. Petitioning for a better remake would not only render the art meaningless, but neutralize entirely the impetus of every essay, video, dialogue, and tweet that is created in response.

There is no point in making or conversing about art if the product shifts and wavers with the whims of fans. I’ll take the conservation of creativity over a better ending to Game of Thrones any day of the week.

So what can I do instead?

There are lots of constructive, non-creativity-debasing ways to express that you are deeply unhappy with a work of art. They are all much better than starting a remake petition that embarrasses the entire structure of fandom.

Related: Game of Thrones wants you to stop trying to be a better person, it’s futile

Talk about it! Use your voice and engage in the dialogue of critique. Write a blog, start a YouTube channel. Record a podcast. Tweet your heart out. Share your thoughts and feelings to your heart’s content! This is the internet, after all — chances are, you’ll find some kindred spirits in your feelings, and that makes even the darkest Game of Thrones disappointment easier to deal with.

Write fanfiction! I’m serious. Fanfiction is wrongly used as a pejorative term these days, but it is a valid way to dialogue with art. (And it doesn’t come with the demand that original work is overhauled to your specifications for mass consumption.) Engage in your creative side and fix the problems you find in the art you don’t like. You can share your work on AO3 or fanfiction.net, or simply write for yourself. Flexing your creative muscles is good for you anyway. Take the opportunity that Game of Thrones is giving you, and let your imagination run free.

Disengage. This might sound dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way. Deciding not to engage with a work of art that upsets you is an active and respectable personal choice. Take a break for a few weeks, or cut Thrones out completely. Do what you need to do to keep your relationship with art healthy and enjoyable.

However you choose to interact with art that disappoints you (be it Game of Thrones, or Star Wars, or Arthur Conan Doyle), keep in mind that perspective is key. Just as you can’t define the way art is produced, that art cannot define you. You may not own the story, but you do own how it impacts you.

And that’s something that no petition, no matter how many millions of signatories it gains, can ever change.

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