It’s one thing to be upset with your critics. That’s as old as Shakespeare. Sometimes they may have a point and still be jerks about it. Sometimes they’re jerks without giving any actual constructive criticism. And in current arguments you have the racists and sexists. My problem starts when you lump all angry criticism from critic and fans alike in with the jerks and racists/sexists, but that’s not necessarily what this installment of Trope Shark is going to be about. I’ll rant about that elsewhere. If you want to go on social media or interviews and complain about that, it’s up to you, but be sure you don’t lump legitimately angry fans in with the jerks. I’ve already discussed how this happens, and I may come back to this one more time before I’m done.
However, I don’t care what happens on social media. While critics and fans should be able to make their case nicely so should the creators. Often they do not. Where this trope comes in, however, is when the creators decide to give the middle finger to their naysayers within their own stories. From TV Tropes:
A specific form of Take That!, in which the producers of a show respond to criticism of the show through the show itself, either through subtle in-jokes that obliquely refer to the criticism, putting lines of dialogue into the mouths of the characters, or presenting parodies of their critics. The program may even break the fourth wall to directly address the critics.
Depending on the producer, this can come in many forms; gentle ribbing or parody of the critics and their position, pointed rejoinders, triumphant gloating, and — in extreme cases — over-the-top bile that leads to the strong assumption that the critics may have struck a delicate nerve (either that, or the producer just plain Can’t Take Criticism).
It’s those last two parts, especially the last one, where the problem starts, because that can just ruin your story for everyone else, even the ones that like you.
Sometimes this take a more general form. Teen Titans Go! has stopped to take popshots at it’s critics, mostly fans of the previous Teen Titan cartoon that was hoping for another season and weren’t happy with the final episode they got. Apparently they weren’t going to be happy unless Terra remembered who she was and got back together with Beast Boy. They also don’t like how the show, that mixed wackiness with seriousness and character development, was replaced by something that seems like a parody of the original. Yes, some of them are obnoxious about that but others have a grievance and wish to make it know. The producers of Teen Titans Go! responded with, among other popshots–some lightly poking fun at themselves and their critics and some not–with episodes like “The Return Of Slade”, the most insulting. Fans who loved how Slade was used in the previous series would be drawn in to see how they’d get that character wrong. Remember, the show uses a different art style but otherwise character models and backgrounds were based on the previous show, which is where a lot of the negative (but not necessarily wrong) perceptions of the new show come from. Instead they got a show in which clowns were used to go into the usual “it’s for kids/it’s not for you” insult that surprisingly never works when someone changes a show that was made for them originally and being for kids doesn’t mean it has to be bad. One could take each complaint on their own and dissect it. I do. That doesn’t matter because it didn’t even get the complaints right. In far too many cases only the nastiest of critics will ever be addressed without really acknowledging the general complaint even from non-extreme takes. It can get worse and lump ALL critics of a work together because we have writers and showrunners who so love their own vision they can’t conceive the fact that someone with taste would be against it and will take ANY complaint as negative and hatefilled. That’s how it’s often presented in these stories and it makes you look petty while derailing your own series to take a shot at someone who may not like your revision of a work or point of view. However, this is the most vicious I’ve heard this show gets.
There’s far worse out there though. Attacking a politician or celebrity you don’t like isn’t part of this trope. That’s commentary and possibly propaganda, but not part of Take That, Critics! since they aren’t critics. Actual critics however have also turned up as opponents. Harley Quinn had a guest writer that decided to attack the ComicsGate movement in a thinly-veiled and rather stupid analog of cats. It was filled with a bunch of strawman arguments that aren’t a proper depiction of what those in the movement believe. In fact some members of the movement are quite liberal so it’s not even an all-conservative perspective. Beyond that, the story itself was rather lame and without the analog the story falls apart.
And that’s where this trope turns terrible from a storytelling perspective. However, if you can work your hate or a particular person or group who has attacked you into the story without ruining it…well, you’re still a jerk but at least you aren’t killing the story. I haven’t read it but what little I’ve seen when Max Bemis decided to take a critic of his work and turn him into a Nazi villain if you didn’t know who he was you could still enjoy the story…unless the story itself is bad. Again, I haven’t read it. For something less vicious try Roland Emmerich turning movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who often gave negative reviews of his movies, and in his take on Godzilla in the 1990s turned them into the bumbling mayor (Ebert) and his butt-kissing underling (Siskel, which shows a total lack of understanding about the pair given how many times they were actually at odds over a review). This is still kind of weak (but at least he didn’t challenge them to a boxing match like one director we won’t talk about), but it didn’t necessarily hurt the story. Some folks who might have hated the movie might point to other things that did but this was a jab that didn’t ruin the story.
A lighthearted jab is one thing but if you for some reason need to derail your own story just to flip the bird at someone who doesn’t like your take on a character or your story in general, write something for fun to act as catharsis and get it out of your system. The best way to stick it to your critics is to continue to make a story your fans love. We’ve talked before about respecting the fans you inherit when adapting or continuing a property and about taking criticism properly, where even the harsher critics can offer something constructive. You have to decide if it makes sense to waste perfectly good storytime to tell someone off and look petty not only to those critics but to someone who might have enjoyed your work. If you really feel the need to vent, do it right. Work it organically into your story and make it a fun experience for everyone. Well, maybe not the person you hate, unless maybe you’d actually like to prove them wrong instead of flipping them off and ruining the story experience for people who actually like your story.