Recently as I was trawling around YouTube I watched a video by MovieBob detailing and reflecting on the idea of separating the art from the artist. It was an interesting video but it did get me thinking more on a similar subject. Separating the Art from the Artist has its own debate going on around it but meanwhile I’m wondering about the audience. When writing a review on something that has such a large input from its audience, is it necessary to include thoughts on the fandom in the review?
If you’ve read my review on Steven Universe you know that for a good chunk of it I made mention of my thoughts on the more toxic and belligerent part of Steven Universe’s fandom, the ones who tell people to kill themselves if they make fanart they don’t like. It’s really an unfortunate reality that people like that even exist or believe that they’re some progressive crusader instead of a bully trying to cover up their flaws by hiding behind a progressive force. But they honestly don’t represent the fanbase as a whole. But why even bother to mention the fanbase in the first place? It’s not like a book review is just going to pause halfway through to talk about how the Harry Potter fandom is planning on bringing Quidditch to the Olympic Games or how Trekkies are working on technology to make a robot duplicate of Patrick Stewart to play Captain Picard in all future Star Trek movies.
I think it depends. It all really has to do with the level of interaction the audience has with the media. The ways people express their interest in what they love is changing. Cosplay, fanart, fanfiction, music and even full fan productions can be inspired by the original material, and with the internet as an almost instant distributor potentially millions of people can see works like these and share their own. But along with this the internet is also a vehicle for almost instant criticism. Movies with strong opening days can bomb at the box office due to word of mouth spreading faster than it ever could before, or how lesser known works and indie games can suddenly explode with popularity and become world famous in a matter of days or even hours. Just look at the divisive effect Undertale has had on the gaming community back in 2015. Discounting the impact the fans have on the material is ignoring a huge part of what the material even is and how others who are seeking to learn more about it will perceive it. Some material has fanbases so dedicated and connected that people new to the material might be intimidated or even turned off completely from how intense the fanbase for it is.
(A philosophy to live by.)
For an especially literal example, on August 1st this year an original anime called Under the Dog that had been completely funded by a Kickstarter campaign was released, gaining mostly positive reviews from fans and critics alike. Over 12,000 backers put almost $900,000 US into the project, which without that funding would likely not exist. This alone proves how the fans of material or even a media can affect and influence what they love. In an example like this it is entirely impossible to separate the fan reaction and culture from the work since they had such a direct influence in its conception.
All in all, the question of “what is a review” has to be asked for this other quandary to have a clear solution. If your definition of a review is to judge a work solely on its own merits for the sake of the work’s own quality, then details about the fans that support it can be considered irrelevant to what you are trying to say. But if your critique of the material is one that focuses on providing an idea for how much your own audience is going to enjoy a work, then adding in the community that attaches or even dedicates themselves to that particular piece of material is important enough that omitting to mention might seem like a small mistake, but it is a deceptively small mistake. Humans being the social creatures that we are, we want to see what other people feel about the things that we love and see how they express that love or even express it themselves.
It’s one of the reasons why people write reviews in the first place, isn’t it?