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Internet a Prime Forum for Venting at Big Names, but Some Rules Should Be Enforced

Once again, we’re seeing technology race ahead of ethical considerations

Actress Anna Gunn was recently moved to write a first-person account for the New York Times, expressing concern over the vitriol triggered by her “Breaking Bad” character, Skyler.

If she thinks that’s tough, she should thank her lucky stars she wasn’t cast as the next Batman.

Gunn’s op-ed might have sounded a trifle dramatic — she lamented how “hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person” — but she articulated an increasingly common discomfort in this age of the superfan, where social media has provided a conduit for the most vociferous pop-culture consumers to publicly announce their pleasure and pet peeves, enthusiasm and outrage, frequently in absurdly exaggerated terms.

Twitter, in particular, has helped erase many traditional barriers or lines of defense, allowing members of the public to follow and tweet back at celebrities and other creative talent. (OK, so the “Lost” finale was disappointing; time to get over it, no?)

Once again, we’re seeing technology race ahead of ethical considerations, without any rules of the road for this latest offshoot of the information superhighway.

When the news broke that Ben Affleck will play Batman, the response was loud and vehement. Those who dared question or mock that fusillade were generally met with the same rejoinder: We’re the fans. We pay the money. We have a right to publish our displeasure, a right to have our voices heard and opinions considered.

Part of that, at least, is true. But some of it isn’t, and Hollywood — which at its core simply wants to separate fools from their money — has scant interest in issuing reality checks or doing anything else to rock the boat or invite negative feedback at the next Comic-Con.

What’s needed, ultimately, is a bill of rights — and wrongs — for fan behavior. While these simple guidelines won’t ensure every heart’s desire gets fulfi lled, it will offer fans a path to engage in a genuine conversation, as opposed to being dismissed as just another lunatic with a better-than-average Internet connection.

Fans have the right to:

  • Complain — passionately, publicly, even pugnaciously. And they can do so via a variety of social media channels.
  • To withhold their money (or boycott, if you prefer) projects that offend them. That said, if you spent more than five minutes in a state of agitation over the Batman casting news, one suspects a team of gamma-irradiated wild horses couldn’t keep you away from a movie with Superman and Batman in it. So who’s kidding whom?
  • Participate in a dialogue with other fans and those creators/performers who are amenable to it. Many TV showrunners and movie directors have the fan gene themselves. They understand the passion, even welcome it — provided one realizes such creative endeavors can’t be designed and executed like community-works projects. They’ll also be more responsive if you stick to legitimate criticism or praise, not name-calling or stalking.

Fans do not have the right to:

  • Be overtly threatening. This should be obvious, but in the heat of the moment and the unfi ltered, anonymous nature of Web comments, too often isn’t.
  • Engage in ridiculous hyperbole, at least if they wish to be taken seriously. Yes, the “Twilight” movies or “Avengers” are important to many people, but try not to confuse them with Middle East peace.
  • Lose your grip on reality — or fail to differentiate between actors and writers developing fi ction (or even reality TV stars appearing in carefully molded “stories”) and the characters they play.

Now, many diehards will no doubt take umbrage at even these modest suggestions. And that, too, is their right.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt anyone to dial down the outrage and rhetoric several notches, if only to create the illusion of perspective.

Because, to put it in terms those who most need to hear the message should appreciate, the memorable promotional tag from “Alien” requires a slight tweak: In cyberspace, the louder you scream, the less likely it is anyone will hear you.

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