Graham: From 'Sonic' to 'Game of Thrones,' fans levy their voice in disruptive ways

Got an opinion? Shout loud enough and maybe someone will listen

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
An image from "Sonic the Hedgehog."

Sonic’s teeth are only the beginning.

Sonic the Hedgehog, you may have heard, has a movie coming out. When its trailer debuted online earlier this month, there was an outcry from fans over the blue guy’s human-looking choppers.

The problem? They were there. That’s it. So fans — or, at least, people on the internet — registered complaints, the filmmakers listened, and voila, Sonic’s teeth will be removed or at least altered by the time “Sonic” hits theaters in November.

We love to complain about things online, it long ago surpassed baseball as America’s pastime. The hullaballo over Sonic’s teeth is the most high profile example of an online fan uproar actually having a tangible real world effect, and it sets a dangerous precedent for the relationship between artists and fans going forward.

Similarly, the final season of “Game of Thrones,” which wraps on Sunday, has not been going over well with a vocal section of the show’s viewers. Last week’s episode, in particular, riled those who thought that Daenerys’ heel turn was too abrupt and out of character, and a petition titled “Remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers” was launched on As of Friday, it had collected more than 850,000 digital signatures.

Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington in an episode of the HBO drama “Game of Thrones,” which has been nominated for 22 Emmy Awards.

Online petitions are garbage — signing one takes less effort than composing a tweet — and media outlets, including this one right now, overstate their importance. (Hi, sorry.) That 850,000-plus figure would be significantly lower if any real world action was required of the signees, and has launched petitions for everything from Super Bowl Halftime suggestions (more than 280 petitions have been hosted on the topic) to "Replace Confederate statues in New Orleans with statues of Louisiana hero Britney Spears." The media frenzy around the petitions help fuel their popularity, and the cycle repeats itself.   

But those petitions speak to the swelling feeling of entitlement among fans, and the idea that they deserve to see their favorite shows and movies play out the way they want, which is worrisome for artists and the nature of art.

Fans have always had a say in art: they vote with their wallets. This current wave of meddling is something new, with fans weighing in during the creative process, attempting to sway the final product. The more creators listen, the more likely they are to dumb down their art so that it turns out as bland as possible. That’s bad for everybody.

Art isn’t meant to coddle or please, it’s meant to comment, challenge our perceptions and make us better understand the world around us. Creators should follow their vision and present their art in a way that best expresses the thoughts in their head. The more checks and balances that are placed between artists and their final products, the more corrupted their vision becomes.

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."

It remains to be seen how the toxic reaction among "Star Wars" fans to the series' last installment, "The Last Jedi," affects "The Rise of Skywalker," due in December. Will J.J. Abrams work to smooth over the edges of Rian Johnson's entry and bring fans back into the fold? And how will that alter the series' direction?  

We’re seeing more of this now for numerous reasons. One, the internet. Two, a generation of consumers, emboldened by the internet, who feel that their voices as fans deserve not only a platform, but a receptive audience.

And three, we’re living in a time of great political turmoil. Basic freedoms are being threatened, the system is more corrupt than ever, and it feels like individuals have no say in the big picture. It’s easier to complain about entertainment than it is to, say, organize a political rally. So people go where they feel they can make a difference, and if that’s complaining online about Sonic’s teeth, a small victory is better than no victory at all.

The fact that creators — or at least those who are financially backing the projects — are listening shows how the balance of power is shifting. Not all are listening, of course: trolls bombed "Captain Marvel" with negative reviews before it even opened, upset over everything from Brie Larson's casting to the fact that her character wears makeup in the trailers. Producers stuck to their guns, and the movie grossed more than $1.1 billion worldwide. 

"Sonic's" team was not as steadfast in its vision. With a reported budget of $90 million and a potential franchise on the line, "Sonic the Hedgehog's" team caved to the fan outcry; in the end, they need those fans. So whether Sonic's teeth were integral to their vision for the character is irrelevant, because fans spoke, and they buckled.

Where this goes next is anyone's guess. But Sonic's teeth have already left their mark.