Backlash Backlash

If you've been involved in media fandom for more than five seconds, you've seen this happen.

1. Beloved old media property gets a new version (comic, show, movie, game, whatever).  The new version is not identical to the old version.

2. There is a backlash from fans of the old version, pointing out all the ways the new version is a mockery of everything they hold dear...or at least expressing doubt that the new one will be as good as their memories of the original.  (Aside: that is very important when rebooting an older property, because you're not competing with the actual old version, you're competing with rose-colored memories!)

3. There is backlash to the backlash, usually full of ad hominem attacks on anyone who doesn't unreservedly love the new version, bringing out the usual negative stereotypes like basement-dwelling, neckbeards, etc.  Usually, "You're not the target audience," will be trotted out as an argument.

Well, it was certainly different.
Note, all this usually happens before the actual new version is available, with opinions formed based on design sketches, some interviews, maybe a trailer.  There's not enough information to really justify any claims of good or bad quality yet, just that it's different.

For instance, go back about a decade, to when the somewhat confusingly named Transformers: Animated was announced.  It was following the Transformers Cybertron cartoon, which was heavy on CG animation, and the first "Bayformers" movie, which was even heavier on CG animation.  Cybertron had a more traditional blocky look, while the movie had an aesthetic that could best be described by the term "swarf".  To say that TF:A was a radical departure from either style would be an understatement.

It's fairly safe to say fan reaction contained a significant chunk of backlash.  Keep in mind, these early promos gave no real hint of the writing, just an indication that the tone would be lighter, and the show would be aimed at a younger demographic than the movies.  But it looked so UGLY at the time.

Surprise!  TF:Animated ended up being well-loved by the fans for the high quality of writing, and strong animation (ETA: well, compared to what had come before, anyway) that just happened to be very stylized.  Even the toys ended up better than most expected they could be, given those non-toyetic designs.

If you shy away from anything
"for girls," there's plenty of
male-centric Star Wars to enjoy,
for instance.
A few years later, when TF:A was cancelled and replaced by both Transformers: Prime (for the older kids) and Rescue Bots (for the younger), there was another round of backlash, but it wasn't that severe as far as I can recall, in part because there were now three media streams: movies, Prime, and Rescue Bots.  If you really couldn't stand one of them, you probably could handle another.

Similarly, if you didn't like Star Wars: Clone Wars, there were also live-action movies to look forwards to, or Rebels a few years later.  Lego Star Wars cartoon too farcical for you?  Wait for Rogue One or Episode 8.  When there's plenty of media streams, people will always complain about how a particular interpretation is horrible or misguided or pandering, but at least there's other outlets.

People who complain too loudly about a version of Star Wars or Star Trek or Transformers tend to draw down backlash-backlash upon themselves, and it's hard to feel too bad about them.  It's not like they've waited years for an improved version of a childhood (or adulthood) favorite, only to have the one shot thrown away at something that seems like just slapping the trademarks onto an unrelated idea.  So their whining can get old fast.

Ah, but that's where the backlash-backlash can be a problem.  What if it is a property that hasn't gotten much love from the corporate masters lately?  What if the fans don't have any other official support on the horizon?

While the corporate media conglomerates are pretty enthusiastic about recycling old properties (I probably couldn't list all of the Spider-Man cartoons made in the last decade without first checking Wikipedia), most properties only get revived once in a while.  That puts a lot of pressure on any new series to live up to those rose-colored memories.

Makes keeping the secret ID more plausible, though.
Sometimes the revivals do try to take what was good about the earlier shows and create an improved version of the same basic idea.  For instance, the generally well-received 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, or the current Voltron Defender of the Universe series on Netflix.  Both of these took the core conflicts and personalities of the original show, but applied superior animation and better writing, if not always good enough to exceed faded childhood memories of the originals.  While both series had fannish detractors annoyed at this change or that change, most of the complaints (and complainers) could be dismissed as fairly minor.  If someone really wouldn't shut up about how Prince Adam was too skinny now, they were the jerk in the discussion, not the person telling them to shut up.  The key point was that the revival was at least considering the older fans, while trying to get new ones as well.

In these "same idea, but better" revivals, the tone may be slightly different (more serious, less serious, love triangles added where the original had avoided romance entirely, etc), but it's recognizably trying to be the same basic themes.

Just picture whatever revival
show is sparking Internet Outrage
this week, so this article can remain
relevant for years to come.  Sadly.
And then you have the revivals where the primary goal is to keep earning money off the trademark, without really considering the old fans.  This can range from totally crass exploitation that just jams the characters into some currently trendy format, to a genuine interest in reimagining the property for a new generation of new fans.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell from early promos where on the spectrum a "same trademarks, but different" revival might lie, based on some art samples and a blurb.  At most we might get a general statement about the intended tone of the new show.  A more serious action-adventure property might get recast as a broad farce, or wholesome family entertainment redone as a psychosexual horror drama, only recognizable as being the same property because of the names of the characters and maybe a few visual cues.  The promos are never going to come out and say, "Hey, this is a naked cash grab," or "We're only cranking this out because we were about to lose the trademark," after all.  At the early stages, they don't want us to be able to tell labors of love from hackwork, professional masterpieces from amateur hour.

Regardless of the intent or the quality, you have a group of old fans who feel betrayed.  They waited years for a new version of their beloved show, and they're getting this crap?  It's not like they can wait a year and something more to their taste will come along (or even wait half an hour, as happened when Rescue Bots and Transformers: Robots in Disguise aired back to back).  Succeed or fail, this is probably their only shot at a show or movie for several years in either direction, and the media conglomerate doesn't seem to care about the old fans.

Yes, some of the fans will overreact, go into full "U RAPED MY CHILDHOOD" mode.  But most of the ones who complain will be genuinely disappointed, even a little hurt.  They're not putting on a show for the sake of getting attention, they're airing legitimate grievances.  Even if the show ends up being really good, it's not a new and improved version of the show they loved, it's a new show that wears the names of some of the logos of the old show.

We make strong emotional connections to the stories we read or watch, probably as strong as the connections made to pets.  Getting a new dog after the old one died is not going to immediately fix things, if you actually loved the old dog you'll need to mourn.  And getting a gerbil to replace the dog is going to feel like your parents are just being mean, even if you come to love the gerbil eventually.

Now, assuming you're not a total sociopath, you wouldn't mock someone who'd just gotten a gerbil to replace their dead dog.  You wouldn't harangue them about how gerbils are great pets, and the dog was pretty stupid and tended to eat yard waste (even if it was and it did).  As long as they aren't abusing the gerbil out of anger, you'd probably just make vaguely comforting noises, ask that they give the gerbil a chance, and leave it at that.

Don't be this guy.
Not so when it comes to backlash-backlash.  People will literally crow about drinking the tears of the fans of old versions, mocking them for clinging to the past.  If there's more than a peep of discontent over a new version of a rarely-revisited property, you can guarantee the "U MAD BRO?" style memes and mocking artwork and so forth will flood social media.  Are some people unhappy that their beloved and long-fallow action-adventure property has been revived in a radically different art style as a broad farce?  Prepare to see art of every other property from the same general era done in the same style.  Are there complaints about the wholesome all-ages comic book property being made into a live-action dark psychosexual horror story?  The complainers will be called babies who want their bottle.  And so forth.  It's a form of cruelty that is socially condoned online, because after all, They're Not The Target Audience, and they deserve to be mocked for expecting the media conglomerate to consider them.

And now, we get to the advocacy part of this essay.  Many fans of an "every few years if you're lucky" property are going to be dismayed if a revival looks like it's ignoring them or even mocking them.  Most of them won't be jerks about it, though.  They may grumble, have a brief outburst, but that'll be about it.  Smacking down the ones who are jerks about it?  Okay, but be careful not to read too much jerkitude into their initial responses.  Posting "Hey, look at the thing the neckbeards are crying about!" stuff on social media, though?  Don't.  You're basically taking your "deal with the jerks" argument and shoving it in the faces of the majority of disappointed fans.

They may be taking this too hard, but they definitely don't need you rubbing salt in the wound that you claim isn't that big anyway.

This, however, is a Dick Grayson move.
"Anyone who cares enough about a cartoon to be hurt by my mockery deserves it" is a pretty garbage-person-y position.  Laughing at the disappointment of people, merely because they are disappointed, is a dick move.  Treating everyone in a group according to the sins of the worst of that group shows you probably didn't learn the lessons any of those childhood shows were trying to teach you.

Don't take your annoyance with the over-reactors out on the majority of fans who have just seen their shot at a Good Version Of The Show yanked away from them for another five to ten years.  Don't publicly dance with glee at how this will hurt all the losers who actually liked the original show, with its laughably bad writing and numerous animation errors.

It's a particularly insidious form of gatekeeping, because while it's not directly telling fans of the old show that they don't deserve to like the new show, it's certainly making them associate the new show with unpleasant experiences with unpleasant fans, and discouraging them from giving it a try.

Dvandom, aka Dave Van Domelen, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Science at Amarillo College, maintainer of one of the two longest-running Transformers fansites in existence (neither he nor Ben Yee is entirely sure who was first), long time online reviewer of comics, watched a half dozen or so episodes of Teen Titans Go but still doesn't care for it, is an occasional science advisor in fiction, and part of the development team for the upcoming City of Titans MMO.
Backlash Backlash Backlash Backlash Reviewed by Dvandom on Thursday, May 24, 2018 Rating: 5
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