The Crowd Fundeth, And The Crowd Taketh Away: The 'Veronica Mars' Problem
[Spoiler alert: This contains information about the new season of Veronica Mars that dropped on Friday. Do not say you were not warned.]
I confess at the outset that I was skeptical about the 2014 Veronica Mars movie that was crowdfunded by fans. I wrote at the time that "the movie feels more commemorative than creative; more of a gift to put on a shelf than an expansion or even an extension of the story."
Creator Rob Thomas agrees, or so he suggests in an interview with critic Alan Sepinwall published today:
The movie was intentional nostalgia and fan service. It was a fan-funded movie. It was like making a list of all of the things that we thought fans wanted to see, and trying to build a mystery plot that would allow us to get to those bits of dessert.
In other words, as Thomas goes on to explain more explicitly, the project started with the fans' collectively understood wish list, and the story was back-built to grant those wishes. That's probably why the changes in Veronica's once bad-boy boyfriend, Logan, felt so unnatural — not because it seemed impossible that he could have grown, but because it felt like he had been sanded down to the point where, as I said back then, he'd become a cartoon prince. (His one flaw that remained was — and I am sorry for the degree to which I cannot let this go — that his Navy whites didn't fit, which made him look like he was wearing somebody else's clothes. I cannot let it go!) The fans paid for a fantasy, and that's a lovely idea, and they got it, and they loved it, and that's a good thing.
[Do not say you were not warned of spoilers more than once.]
But of course, that crowdsourcing campaign ultimately killed Logan.
Of course, of course I am exaggerating. But what Thomas explains in the Rolling Stone interview is that he didn't think it was believable that Logan would suddenly go back to being the dark figure he had been during the run of the regular show. Not after such a makeover in the movie. Thomas wants to write real noir, he says, and you can't write real noir with a beautiful, stable relationship at the center. Once that relationship became the fantasy the people who 'ship Logan and Veronica wanted to see, the relationship couldn't be presumed to continue unless the show ended. It's less that nothing gold can stay; it's more that nothing gold is noir, which makes sense in both the language of television and the language of French.
This is a problem fundamental to fiction. You have to be unfulfilled until the end. It's fine to have a happy, wrapped-up conclusion at the end of a story, but you can't have one in the middle of a story. So by giving the fans the happy ending they wanted, Thomas forced it to work only as the end of the story. But he didn't actually want it to be the end of the story.
This is why Logan had to die. A living cartoon prince doesn't belong in the show Thomas wants to be making, but the trauma of losing your cartoon prince does. Excellent pieces about the new season from Caroline Framke and Libby Hill among others have wrestled with the strange way that the show begins to address Veronica's unhealthy attraction to Logan, only to seemingly drop it and go back to treating the couple like a beautiful dream. There's a very promising sequence in which Veronica makes clear that she's turned on by the same ugly behaviors Logan is trying in therapy to quit, but it's not pursued. It's frustrating when you watch the season, and it's a kind of lumpy and graceless arc at times. But it all makes a certain kind of sense when you realize that the Logan and Veronica story in this season is almost entirely devoted to digging Thomas out of the hole he dug by giving the Logan/Veronica people what they wanted in the movie.
At the same time, while reactions are still coming in, crowdfunding also risks leading contributors to believe they've become investors entitled to a return. How do you feel today if you contributed to a movie because you wanted to see Logan and Veronica together, and now you saw him die? On another show with intense fan preferences — Jane The Virgin, for instance, where there are people who are extremely Team Michael and people who are extremely Team Rafael — you might generate a certain disgust from people who didn't get what they wanted. But you don't get the consumerism-style sense of betrayal from people who didn't get what they think they paid for.
Had the movie not been crowdfunded, or had Thomas not interpreted crowdfunding to mean undertaking a wish-list project, perhaps Logan would have remained a more complicated, elusive, genuinely bad-idea attachment of long standing in Veronica's life. And that would have fit perfectly into a longer noir story of a woman unable to free herself from ghosts. In other words, if he hadn't gotten so perfect, maybe he'd still be alive today. (Such a mean thing to say. So mean! Talk about unhealthy. I know.)
Nobody who crowdfunded the movie is to blame for this in any real way, obviously — it's a perfectly understandable impulse to put up your own money to make way for a creator to continue a project. Who could be against such happiness, especially in this economy?
But as we go forward in this new environment, if more projects are funded in this way, it's going to be important for fans and creators to think beyond wish fulfillment and to the future. There are unintended consequences to upending the creator/viewer pact, which involves a delicate balance between giving you what you want and not giving you what you want, especially not giving you what you want too soon. You mess with that, and you can accidentally ... you know, blow the whole thing up.