So Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back, and in the runup to its second-half-season premier last week I found this link from Screenrant.com in my Facebook feed:
… everyone banking on the ABC series’ success knows that some work is needed to keep viewers tuning in – and hopefully win back those who’ve left already. Few points have been more divisive than the mystery of Agent Coulson’s resurrection – and just how slowly the show’s writers have been addressing it.
I knew that some viewers had complaints about the show, but I hadn’t yet heard anyone articulate just what they were. The thing about Coulson’s resurrection was the first one I’d heard about in detail. There are undoubtedly more, but I’m not going to take them on in this blog (I haven’t even done to research to find out what they are, in fact). Right now I’ll use #coulsonlives as a starting point to talk about short attention spans, bad reviews, and being bold as a writer.
Oh, you joined me after the jump? Well, thanks! Not everyone does that. SEO folks have worked all kinds of formulas describing how often people click through on links, at what point in an article they stop reading, and how to get readers to keep going. But it’s unlikely all the snappy keywords or high-priced SEO consulting services will change a simple fact – people are busy, and techie gadgets and constant online connectedness just contribute to the feeling of busyness. I don’t mean this judgmentally; I do it myself. There’s a reason you won’t find a link to my Facebook profile here. I don’t use it as an official, professional presence, I only follow family and friends I know IRL, and I’m only on an hour or less a day just to catch up with them. I rarely click through on any of the links that my friends post, and I never watch the videos. I’ve set aside my breakfast hour to look at Facebook – if I work an early shift I don’t even do that – and clicking through eats up too much of that time.
Not surprising, then, that people who were hooked into a show by the promise of a mystery get impatient when the mystery goes on for half a season without being solved. Even last week’s episode only gave us part of the story. Who has the time to stick with an unsatisfying show, especially when there’s so much else on? That’s fine – people like what they like, and with so many choices available they have plenty of opportunity to find what they like. But here’s the thing that bugs me: people don’t just say that they’re unsatisfied with the show because they like their mysteries to be solved more quickly. They say it’s a bad show.
Not to rehash my previous discussion about my own bad reviews, but I can relate to how the show feels (if you’ll allow the anthropomorphizing). Our high-stress, hyper-busy, short-attention-span society primes everyone to take everything very personally, and rather than admit that they’re a little impatient with T.V. shows, or that they prefer epic fantasy and don’t like fantasy that doesn’t follow the form, they’ll get offended that someone wrote a bad show or a bad book.
Considering these conditions, I think it was pretty bold of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showrunners to create such a long-arc storyline. And I really think we need bold writers. My Facebook friend who posted the link to the Screenrant article is a fellow writer who teaches writing workshops and is very focused on the “rules of writing.” I don’t want to disparage him or any other writer who finds the “rules” useful, although you’ll notice I keep using quote marks, and that should give an indication of how little I care about writing rules myself. Having some guidelines to help with your writing can absolutely be useful, especially for new writers, but if every writer slavishly follows the rules we’re going to end up with completely homogenous writing, and that’s not only going to be boring, it will actively work against any new stories being told or new ideas entering public discourse. The very thing that makes our modern self-publishing options and video platforms exciting is that we don’t have to follow an editor’s or film company’s ideas about what we should be writing, or the opinions of time-crunched readers and viewers. We have unprecedented freedom to explore our own ideas.
Things are a little different for a show running on a major network, of course. If the network doesn’t like losing viewers – and the attendant advertising revenue – they’ll kill your show, or at least threaten to if you don’t make changes. But I hope the people behind S.H.I.E.L.D. keep following their plans as long as they can. I’ll stick around. I want to find out more about Tahiti, because they say it’s a… well, you know…