Recently, I came across a very interesting article on BIRTH/MOVIES/DEATH.
It's called "Fandom Is Broken" and it's written by Devin Faraci.
It talks about the effect of the fan community and its use of social media and how it impacts creators. The article uses Annie Wilkes from the Stephen King-adaptation/ Rob Reiner film MISERY as an example for how fans pressure artists and how it creates a hostile environment between the two. It's an excellent article if you want to give it a read. I personally agree with most of the ideas put forth.
Given the recent reception of seasons 3 and 4 of Arrow, I thought I might try and see how the ideas apply to the apparent decline of Arrow in recent years.
Love it or hate it, Arrow has changed. Most people, (including myself) hold up the first two seasons as a near-golden standard for mainstream superhero television. Since the third season in 2014, Arrow has taken on some massive changes. I'm sure all of you are familiar, but the controversy almost entirely revolves around the Felicity Smoak character. Originally greeted with almost 100% positive responses, the character has become a symbol for everything wrong with not just the show, but with this phenomenon in general.
Small-time actress Emily Bett Rickards was originally only meant to play the character in one season one episode. After the forementioned lucrative response to her performance, she came back in a recurring, and eventually regular, and eventually starring role. Fans of the show were quickly divided in a brutal rivalry debating who is best fit to be Arrow's leading lady and love interest to Oliver Queen, the original Laurel Lance or the up-and-coming Felicity Smoak?
Now, it is true. There is a certain through-line between the rise of Felicity's relevance in the narrative and the fall in Arrow's quality. Anti-Felicity fans have unanimously elected showrunner/creator Marc Guggenheim as the face of their devil- everything wrong with the show.
Ironically, Guggenheim has been there from the beginning. So what was it that caused this downfall?
Well, it's what I'm now calling the Guggenheim Paradox.
The Guggenheim Paradox is a very simple recurring theme in the entertainment industry that is ever-present in the issues of Arrow. It has three main parts: Studio, Creators, and Fans. In this case, The CW, Guggenheim and his writers room, and shippers/anti-shippers.
To break it down in the most simplest of terms, The Guggenheim Paradox is an infinite loop. A problem perpetrated by the system that has no sign of stopping. It essentially goes like this:
Fans pressure the Studio to make what they like.
The Studio pressures Creators to make what Fans like.
The Creators are forced to make something they don't want to,
A good chunk to half of the fans are left unsatisfied or feeling victimized, so move back to step one.
It fits the model perfectly. Fans see Felicity. Fans like Felicity. Studio feels obligated to bring her back for higher viewership. Writers room is left to write in a plot that only exists to satisfy fans. Half of fans are satisfied because it's exactly what they wanted to see, the other half see it as fanservice bullcrap. The divide grows larger, and the cycle continues.
There's one thing I always say to myself when watching Arrow, (and even the Flash or Legends.)
"Never underestimate the power of fanservice."
The CW has always been known as that "tweeny" network, with shows like Beauty and the Beast and Hart of Dixie. But what makes them like that? Well, they were unlucky enough to establish that fanbase with shows like Smallville in the early 2000's, and now it's their demographic. The CW is so desperate to service their main demographic that they're willing to listen to whatever they say.
Well where does that leave Guggenheim and his writers room?
With the CW caving to audience demands, the writers room is presented with a choice. Either write what fans want to see, or find a new job. So now you have passionate artists being forced to tell the story that's not in their hearts.
And you wonder why the show is getting worse.
But this brings us back to our main question. Is it anyone's fault? Or is it just the system?
Well, we can certainly rule out Guggenheim as the patron saint of ruining good TV. Based on what we can gather, it seems like him, and unfortunately the entire cast and crew of the show, are just cogs in a much larger fanbase and corporate machine.
So can we blame the network? Not really. They're just trying to keep their company alive and make a semi-honest living.
This brings us to a bitter, yet unfortunately obvious conclusion: its us. It's always been us. In the article on BIRTH/MOVIES/DEATH, they talk about fan entitlement and how fanbases feel they have the right to dictate to artists on how the story they enjoy unfolds. In our 21st century world, everything is about us. No one cares to think about how Guggenheim sees the show unfolding or how Geoff Johns believes Oliver's character arc should go. It's all about what we want to see.
Disclaimer: this isn't singling out a single side of the argument, or a single show, or a single fanbase, or even a single medium of entertainent. Again, this is everpresent. It exists in every place where there's a relationship between creators, distributors and buyers.
Now think about this, how would Arrow be different if they didn't have to listen to fan input? People complain that the show is becoming almost fan-fiction like. Would the writers' map of the show make more sense if they didn't have to divert it for fanservice? Of course, you do have to listen to the people who buy your content. There's no denying that. But the simple fact is, it's not Guggenheim or the CW that is taking your favorite show into the multiverse of "poorly written romance TV," its the fans who can't help but enjoy that. Your true enemy isn't the "man in the high tower," the executive in the deep black suit, it's the people who think they know better then those who make it.
(WRITTEN BY GRAHAM C. KING)
EDIT: IF YOU WANT FUTHER PROOF, MARC GUGGENHEIM ENDED UP RETWEETING THE FANDOM IS BROKEN ARTICLE JUST A FEW DAYS AFTER I WROTE THIS: https://twitter.com/mguggenheim/status/739267301967572992