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How Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ Predicted Modern Fandom

How Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ Predicted Modern Fandom

When you’re an artist, you need an audience. You want people to love you. You just don’t want them to love you too much.”

Thanks to the ubiquity of social media, it’s never been easier for fans to connect with their favorite celebrities. In the past, if a devotee wanted to touch base with someone famous, they would have to sit down with a pen and paper and write several rough drafts until they’d composed the perfect letter expressing their admiration for the artist in question. They’d seal up the envelope and cross their fingers, hoping it would reach its destination. The lucky ones got a response in a few weeks. For others, the letter would go unanswered, and they’d never find out why. They’d just go on with their life, not concerning themselves too much with the sweet, embarrassing, or just plain weird thank-you note they had sent off into the abyss.

These days, things are much different. Find your celeb obsession on Twitter, fire off “i love u @TheRealElvira!!1!” in a hastily fingered tweet, and receive a response from them almost instantly in the form of a like, retweet, or ideally, an actual typed out message. (Elvira, it’s true, every word of it.)

At some point, however, things started to change. The fan’s power became too great, and their unhindered access to the inbox of any celebrity they chose, with just the click of a finger, had suddenly become weaponized. One of the greatest targets of these aimed attacks is the film world in general. Films themselves, but also the people who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in them. More often than not, it’s the new releases that get the worst of it, but even old movies end up in the crosshairs every now and then. And what it boils down to in almost every case is not that the fan simply didn’t like the film; it’s that they didn’t like it because it didn’t fit their idea of what it should be. They claim ownership of the film and in turn take its shortcomings as a personal offense. And then they lash out. It’s clear that the dynamics between fan and star are totally different now.

Recently, I rewatched Rob Reiner’s award-winning 1990 thriller Misery, based on the Stephen King story* of the same name. In the film, a mercurial nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), rescues a man, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) from a snowy mountainside car accident. As luck would have it, Sheldon just so happens to be Wilkes’ favorite writer. He’s the author the entire Misery Chastain series, a set of successful Victorian-era romance novels which follow the sweeping adventures of the titular character. Naturally, Annie’s read them all – owns them all, too – and she’s committed every word and detail to memory. In many ways, it seems as though her real life is completely consumed by the fantasy world of Misery. Annie clearly cares about Paul as a creator, so who better to tend to the battered wordsmith than she, his biggest fan?

Anyone besides her, as it turns out.

About halfway through my revisit of the film, I was struck by somewhat of an epiphany. As her glowing admiration for Paul started to turn into unwavering contempt, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Annie Wilkes and the modern social media superfan.

After Paul has had a few days to mend, Annie asks him if it would be alright if she could read his latest unpublished manuscript that she also rescued from the car. The grateful Paul is immediately amenable to the idea. What Annie doesn’t realize, however, is this new material has nothing to do with Misery Chastain. Later that week, while spoon-feeding Paul, a visibly upset Annie tells him she doesn’t like his new story. She doesn’t like the language or the violence. She cannot wrap her head around why Paul would write about anything besides Misery. She grows increasingly incensed as she talks. A bewildered Paul defends the material, explaining that it’s the most personal thing he’s written in a long time. But Annie won’t hear any of it.

To make matters worse, Annie later finds out Paul – to prevent being pigeon-holed as a writer – has actually decided to end the Misery Chastain series altogether, hence the different direction of his new book. Enraged by the idea that Paul has “murdered” Misery, Annie forces him to burn his newest manuscript and to resurrect Misery. Fearing for his life, Paul does his best to force a new Misery Chastain story from his fingertips, but it isn’t good enough; not for Annie. She reads the few chapters Paul is able to muster, and immediately rejects them as being unbelievable. She throws them out and forces him to start from the beginning, yet again, until she is happy with the final result.

Sound familiar?

Annie’s behavior mirrors the same type of scary, petulant overreaction certain fans project at creators on Twitter everyday. Where Misery really nails the nuance is how oftentimes these fans, through sheer verbal jujitsu, will both laud and dismiss someone in the very same tweet. Trying to converse with them is impossible. It’s a no-win situation for the directors, writers, and actors on the receiving end of their assails.

On filming Misery, Reiner said, “You definitely see in this film why fan is short for fanatic. It’s tricky, because to some degree, getting attention is a real compliment. But if you go one step farther. . . When you’re an artist, you need an audience. You want people to love you. You just don’t want them to love you too much.”

So what does the future of the fan/celebrity relationship hold? How will social media play a part in it? I can’t predict the future. But it seems Stephen King can; he wrote Misery 30 years ago, and it’s proven to be eerily prescient. So maybe we should ask him.

*While King has stated that Misery is mostly about getting sober (“Misery is a book about cocaine. Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan”), he was initially inspired to write the book after experiencing fan backlash over his 1984 fantasy novel, The Eyes of the Dragon. Readers who had expected another horror tale from King rejected what they considered a children’s book.



COMMENTS

32 Comments
  • Jada Maes

    This is exactly what we need to hear right now.

  • FlixtheCat

    I’m reminded of the story King told that when he was signing the copies
    of his latest “Dark Tower” books, a few fans expressed concern when they
    found out he’d been hit by a car and almost died. But not because of
    him, but because they feared he wouldn’t finish the book series. Still
    blows my mind to this day.

  • Elizabeth

    People are absolutely f*cking nuts on Twitter when it comes to fandoms. A creator posts something that doesn’t fit exactly with their view of how characters should look or act and they treat it like a room full of puppies was knifed. The reaction is so completely out of proportion to the actual act. I mean, do these people not have real problems to deal with? I worry about whether I can pay my rent, not what the hell ethnicity the movie character of my favorite book hero is.

  • David Reese

    This sums up most Alien fans to a T. I won’t even visit AvPGalaxy anymore because of the venom over Alien: Covenant and even stopped listening to Alien-centric podcasts like Perfect Organism for the same reason. Hardcore fans are fine as individuals… but good lord when you get them into a crowd it turns into a virtual moshpit.

    I shudder to think of what people say to actors, writers, and directors when a former favorite Youtuber started referring to Ridley Scott as “Ridley Squat”.

  • Jada Maes

    A perfect example would be the upcoming Star Trek Discovery series. A lot of keyboard warriors are losing their collective shit because it features a gay character and women of color. It’s extremely weird, because Gene Roddenberry wasn’t exactly a conservative white supremacist (of course, how many know who the hell Roddenberry was).

    • Hack Snyder

      A lot of people are losing their collective shit because it looks fucking terrible. It’s supposed to be a prequel to the original 1960s series but it looks like a continuation of JJTrek. Plus there are all sorts of glaring continuity issues like the lead character is Spock’s sister even though in the old series and old movies Spock never mentioned having a sister.

      • Franmon

        I think you missed the point….

        • Franmon

          Oh, I get it. You were being one of the fans mentioned in the article. You know, the type that claims ownership of a property or overreact to trailers.

          • Hack Snyder

            “the type that claims ownership of a property”
            Show me where I claimed ownership of Star Trek.
            “overreact to trailers.”
            I’m just saying it looks like shit. How is that an overreaction? So if I don’t blindly suck corporate cock and praise everything I see I’m overreacting?

      • Jada Maes

        …you sadden me. I feel there’s the wreckage of a fine person in there somewhere.

        • Hack Snyder

          Yes, I’m a broken person because I don’t eat up all of the garbage that Hollywood tries to sell me.

          • Jada Maes

            No, because you’re familiar with Spock’s family history. Farewell, dumdum.

          • Weresmurf

            Because he’s a fan? He’s listed actual logical points there and you immediately sank to ad hominem attacks. While Discoverys production values are excellent, troubles have plagued its production all along the way. False claims during production like ‘the first gay character’ (wrong, Sulu was in Beyond) and ‘first woman of colour captain’ (Wrong, that went to a Captain in Star Trek 4) or ‘First woman lead’ (Wrong, that was Janeway in Voyager) or ‘First person of colour lead’ (wrong, that was Ben Sisko played by Avery Brooks) have simply put people off. I’ll give them ‘first woman of colour’ lead, but even that’s tenuous, as it skips over Roxanne Dawson, who was one of the mains in Voyager, especially brought to the forefront in later seasons. Star Trek has been incredibly progressive and hasn’t needed false trumpeting, they simply needed to just bring the show out without falsely proclaiming all these supposed firsts (which just weren’t firsts in the first place). It’s quite apparent in this case, that you sank immediately to Annie Wilkes level behaviour here when challenged, not him. Sorry.

          • Jada Maes

            …this is the Fifth Circle of Hell.

          • Weresmurf

            Says the woman who going by her history, gets quite pissed off at people for getting details of the Dark Tower wrong… don’t bag fans of one property when you yourself are quite clearly obsessive over another 🙂

          • Jada Maes

            I’m not bagging on the fans… Mostly I just wish people could have fun again. There was a time when everyone liked what they liked and nobody needed to defend themselves about it. Then the internet came along and shoved a big stick up the collective butt.

          • Weresmurf

            Everyone has the right to their opinion, it’s the same as fans have the right to be protective over properties they’ve helped support over the years. The show is going to air, canon is going to be altered and history will progress. It wasn’t the internet that did this, it occurred prior to this too, the net just made it more apparent.

          • Hack Snyder

            You’re a good man.

          • Hack Snyder

            I was going to respond but Weresmurf said everything that I was going to say.

          • Jada Maes

            I like him more than you, dumdum

          • Hack Snyder

            I’m heartbroken, I wanted you to like me. :'( You’re just as cruel as the monsters who aren’t hyped for Star Trek: Discovery!

          • Jada Maes

            Besides, it’s a moot point. Saw the flick. Loved it. Will own eventually. And the moral of the story is don’t let people ruin what you enjoy. Kisses.

    • Justin McGill

      I don’t care for it because it sounds like it’s horribly retconning cannon. But that’s me.

      I had no idea there was a backlash against Eyes of the Dragon. Granted it’s different.. But a pretty damn great book.

      • Jada Maes

        I can understand it, but it DOES have my favorite Flagg aspect 🙂

  • dukeblues1

    It takes a certain level of narcissism to want to be a famous person on any level. It takes a certain level of crazy to be an obsessed fan. I have no use for either type of personality.

  • Darkknight2149

    Uh… How did you know I’m keeping Stephen King in my basement? I used his phone to create an alibi and everything. Someone always finds out…

  • C. A. Smith

    Peephole | My Annabelle Creation Horror Short: https://youtu.be/3ko1NxYUJmM

  • Aslinn McIntyre

    Fandoms can be fun or they can become snake pits. I was in a fandom and never again. I think I would rather be a fan on my own and just enjoy what is going on rather than have to stave off some slavering, slobbering fandom who attacks everyone else.

  • Bart Crowe

    Great editorial.

  • Fantastic comparison and so true, sadly

  • The Ghastly Grimoire

    Definitely accurate. Well-written article, too.

  • labellelaide

    Yeah totally accurate, at least once a week fans are killing creators of things they watch, read or listen to. This definitely sums up fandom; it’s just so bloody and kidnappy.

    Oh, wait – you meant people sometimes write their opinions on Twitter? Err yeah dude. Totally the same actually.

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