Hi, everybody! It’s time for a Very Special Life in Plastic:
How To Complain
So, let’s say that the newest movie in a series you love just came out. Or book. Or TV season. Or comic. Or video game. Or toy, for that matter! And, for whatever reason, it just does not live up to your high standards. Perhaps the storytelling has suffered, or they replaced a character, or the toy has less articulation, or maybe the newest design simply is not up to par. How should you respond?
Well, by calling everyone Hitler and threatening to sue, of course.
Here’s the thing. On the internet, tensions can run high, and sometimes we say things that are somewhat regrettable. I rag on He-Man fans a lot, but they actually illustrate this pretty well. See, a guy named Scott Neitlich is the current brand manager of Masters of the Universe Classics. This makes him the whipping boy, both deserved and undeservedly. He makes some good and some bad decisions, but generally any blame or dissatisfaction falls on his head. And sometimes, fans get a little nasty – like, threatening to assault him nasty. But in person, he has never even had a fan speak harshly to him. Why is this? Well, it’s the whole anonymity thing. On the internet, nobody knows that you are a dog (note: I am a Brain in a Jar). So we are more likely to behave in ways that we would never, ever consider in public.
The thing is, this is bad. Very bad. As bad as yelling at your family at home but being calm and mild-mannered in public. And I know it’s hard – I have to fight the Internet Piss & Vinegar in my own nature every day, too. And yeah, I can be a real jerk when I’m in a mood. So even when we complain, we need to remember basic human decency. Please. In light of this, I would like to offer up a friendly little guide on how to behave when we do not get things our way:
1. Criticism is not wrong.
Nope! There is nothing wrong with saying “I dislike this,” or “This sucks!” And if someone tells you that you can’t say anything negative, then that person is wrong! Constructive criticism can support a given property just as well as complaints (and better, in many circumstances).
2. Compliments are not wrong.
It’s time to bring up poor, poor He-Man fans again. Sometimes, when you say something like, “I personally liked this figure,” another fan will accuse you of being a Mattel apologist/on their payroll/killing the line/not a true fan. That is wrong. And do you know why it is wrong? Because you must…
3. Learn to tell the difference between opinion and fact.
A lot of art is subjective. Most of it, in fact. Sure, there are a few objective things (Shakespeare is better than Rainbow Brite), but those are less common than you think. Here are a few important distinctions to make:
“This toy is ugly” is opinion. “Most people think that this toy is ugly” is fact.
“This plot twist is terrible and I hate it” is opinion. “This plot twist goes against the spirit of the series, as outlined here,” is opinion-laced fact. If you support your argument, it can easily be fact, although…
“No, this plot twist is good!” is opinion. “Despite what you have outlined, I still like this plot twist” is also opinion. “I disagree with your outline and opinion of the series. I think that it is different“ can be fact, though it must also be supported.
“My personal canon is ____” is opinion. “Established canon is ____, whether I like it or not” is fact.
Is any of this making sense.
4. Respect the opinions of others.
Let’s say you love the new toy that came out. Love it to death. You snuggle it on your pillow at night, take it to work, and chase your spouse with it. But let’s say that somebody else hates the toy. In fact, this other person buys extras just to throw them out, and is planning on protesting the toy company headquarters. You know what? You are both creepy and obsessed.
More sanely, let’s say that you love a toy and somebody else hates it. Or you hate it and somebody else loves it. Well, there is no need for personal attacks. In fact, you probably won’t be able to convince each other to change opinions. Accept their differing opinion, as it probably is more valid than yours – issues of opinion are not based in absolute, objective truth. Now, there are plenty of issues of objective truth in the world, and even when it comes to toys, but see rule #3.
5. When you complain, do not say anything that you would not say to somebody’s face.
Let’s say that you are struggling a little at your job, and unsure of how to improve. Which would you prefer?
Somebody who says, “I think that this is where you are wrong. Let me help you,”
Somebody who says, “You suck, you ass-munching waste of space. I hope you die of AIDs! Also, you didn’t make that toy right.”
Somebody who says, “You did everything wrong and I hope you get fired! You are incompetent in every way. You need to quit and go do something else. You’re so stupid.”
Do you see what I mean? People are more receptive to kindness and respect in their criticism.
“But Riddy,” you say, “What if they don’t listen?”
Well, then it’s their fault for not listening. But if you act like a jackass, then they definitely will not listen.
6. Remember, the person on the other end is a real human being.
Did you hear that? A real human being, with thoughts and feelings! Not a pod-alien from Planet Verblax! This ties in with point #5.
7. Watch the hyperbole.
“This is the worst thing EVER!” loses its sting after a while. Likewise, do not accuse somebody of committing a crime unless you are prepared to back it up in court. Do not compare anybody to Hitler unless they are actively slaughtering the Jews. Do not cal something the worst storytelling that you have ever seen unless it is, in fact, the worst storytelling that you have seen. A little exaggeration is good for emphasis, but too much obscures and ruins your point.
8. Be constructive
So, you see something that sucks, and you wish to call attention to it. How will you do this?
“This sucks and is awful.”
“This sucks and is awful, and here’s how it could have been made better.”
You know, I think I’ve covered this before. Really. I may repeat it again.
9. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but you catch the most with bullshit.
I know, I know, it is very hard to offer compliments or constructive advice when you feel hurt and betrayed. But sometimes you need to do just that – soften your statements even if it feels difficult because you really want to get a zinger in. Knowing how to do this is what makes nice people.
10. Remember what makes a True Fan.
Wanna know what it takes to be a true fan of something?
If you like the property and follow it, then you are a true fan.
11. Remember that “New” does not mean “Bad.” Neither does “Old” mean “Outdated.
In fandom, you will find an interesting trend. Whatever is new is “the worst thing ever,” t least until something else becomes newer. There is a very good reason for this – in the time between releases, you will anticipate whatever the new comic, toy, movie, book, or whatever could be. Your hopes and dreams will build. Your imagination will run wild. And inevitably, what shows up will not match your mental image, so you just might feel a little betrayed. But if you fall into the “New is bad” trap, then you risk hurting the property as a whole. Sometimes the new entry is bad, and sometimes it is not, but you must remainr ealistic. If all you do is complain about everything new (and then conveniently forget when something else comes out), then why would anybody want to listen to you?
12. Avoid Fan Amnesia
This might as well be part of Point #11. If you anticipated something specific, but feel betrayed when you get what you want, please do not try to pretend that you never anticipated it. As one example (back to He-Man again), I saw many people eagerly expect the Unnamed One to be a Trollan in disguise, and perhaps Gorpo himself. Well… SPOILERS that’s what they got. And many of those same people have started claiming that they never expected nor wanted a Trollan. Look, it’s okay to be disappointed, but don’t try to rewrite history. It doesn’t work on the internet.
And in conclusion, everything boils down to this final point:
13. Be a Decent Person.
Everything really boils down to this. When you complain, be a good person about it. Phrase things in a way that you would want to hear. Remember that your opinion is not necessarily fact. Be gracious. Back up your statements. Do not stab other people. Do not lie. Does any of this make sense? If you do what is right, then the other person’s reaction is not your responsibility. They can be jerks if they want, it’s their fault. But if you are a poop-slinging howler monkey, then you shoulder some of the blame for their reaction. Please, please, don’t sling poop. Remember, we are all human beings, and there is always room for a healthy debate. Just on’t let it get personal. And even though the internet makes us anonymous, we must still be good. If more and more of us were to follow these guidelines, it would smooth so much out in the internet fandom landscape. Let’s all do our part, shall we? I know that I often fail, but that just means there is room for improvement! So let’s improve together, shall we?