Monday, November 22, 2010

The Ships Hit The Fan

This post was originally written as a personal blog entry on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki. It is reprinted here with only minor modifications for posterity and for the interest of this blog's readers.

As a fan of Phineas and Ferb for almost a year now, I've done my best to keep my edits to the wiki in the best behavior and be a good citizen, interacting with the fan community in order to discuss a show I love. Sadly, for me, doing so has been difficult, because it seems that, with the except of a certain few, the most outspoken only seem to enjoy certain aspects of the show which are, for the most part, inconsequential. Particularly, the topic that always seems to rear its ugly head so much that it is now off-limits in blogs: shipping. (This is not a shipping blog. Rather, it is a blog on the subject of shipping.) Some events occurred recently in the field of kid pop culture that made me think a lot about shipping and its effect on the Phineas and Ferb fan community and how it seems to be affected by shipping. This is in part me basically just rambling to get the thoughts off my chest and on paper (or screen, as the case may be), but I still think it's relevant.

Recently, Dan Schneider, the creator of a ton of kids shows I used to watch and still do to this day (Kenan and Kel, Drake and Josh, Zoey 101...the list goes on), posted some very funny videos lovingly poking fun at some of the more vocal of his fans.

Clearly, with these, he's following a philosophy I myself often follow when I make jokes online or in public, summed up best by The Simpsons's Krusty the Klown: "I kid because I love." It's clear that the only reason he's poking fun at them is because he knows that the fans are ridiculous at times and, even though it may annoy him, he still loves his fans no matter what. It's part of a long line of pop culture poking fun at the more overenthusiastic members of their fanbase, alongside the 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch where William Shatner (playing himself) tells the audience of a Star Trek convention to "get a life!," the Simpsons character Comic Book Guy and his newsgroup-taken catchphrase "Worst. Episode. Ever" who has now been adopted by the fan community as one of their own, the very funny "Please Please Pleese Get A Life Foundation" Animaniacs sketch which featured quotations from an actual document and was first shown to members of that newsgroup, and Phineas and Ferb's own hyper-obsessive superfan, Irving (as voiced by 30 Rock's Kenneth the Page himself, Jack McBrayer).

I was so inspired by Mr. Schneider's sketches that I wanted to write one of my own poking fun at the members of the Phineas and Ferb fan culture that are even more obsessed than Irving is, but I never got around to doing so. And this is one case where procrastination paid off, since Mr. Schneider paid off once again for me personally this week.

His popular Nickelodeon kidcom iCarly ran an hour-long episode entitled "iStart a Fan War," written by Schneider himself, which basically revolved around the main gang- Carly, Freddie, and Sam- going to a website convention in the vein of Comic-Con and other cons. Though there was nary a Ducky Momo in sight, there was a lot of comedic chaos to be found as the iCarly panel devolved into mayhem as the audience started asking if Freddie was in love with Sam (Seddie) or Carly (Creddie), even going so far as to use screenshots from the webshow to prove their points. (Here, just as The Simpsons often uses ''Itchy and Scratchy'' as an in-universe replacement for itself or the animation industry in general, here "iCarly" the fictional webshow is taking the place of iCarly the real TV show.) Sam- who, if you watch the show, loves to cause chaos- decides to tell the audience she's madly in love with Freddie. All you-know-what breaks loose as the convention floor devolves into an all-out Creddie-v.-Seddie war. "My goodness," I said to myself, "I've actually seen this stuff on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki! People using photographic evidence to show Phineas and Isabella really like each other, shipping wars...they really did their research!"

However, not surprisingly, it all becomes too much to bear, and the trio attempt to defuse the ruckus with a speech...

We love all fans of iCarly. Totally. The average fans, the super-fans, the psycho fans, even the super-psycho-fans. But iCarly is not really about our romantic relationships. I mean, sure, we're better-than-average-looking teenagers with "those feelings." But iCarly's about comedy. Stupid, pointless comedy. Just to make people smile and laugh...sometimes groan. I know the whole who-should-date-who thing can be fun to think about, but don't get TOO caught up in that stuff, you know. Sometimes you should just watch iCarly...laugh, and share an apple with a friend. Any fruit, really.

Carly proceeds to end the speech (which I thought was heavy-handed but necessary, and on rewatching isn't really as anvilicious as I first thought it was) by explaining she isn't even seeing anyone at the moment, though there is a new guy (introduced earlier in the episode) she's interested in. The fans...proceed to beat up said new boy for ruining their beloved ships and keep on fighting. Ba-dum-bum.

Personally, as a self-aware criticism, I thought the episode was perfect, since, as I said earlier, I had seen similar behavior in the Phineas and Ferb fanbase. And I thought the ending was particularly inspired: rather than resolving a question which can never be resolved (at least, not at the moment), the show basically poked fun at the fact that despite its efforts and well-meaning attempts to explain that the show is about comedy first and relationships second, people probably won't listen and keep on complanin'.

And boy, did they ever. To paraphrase a classic Comic Book Guyism, rest assured the iCarly fan community was on the Internet within minutes registering their disgust throughout the world: the way they saw it, Schneider was basically saying they were watching the show for the wrong reasons, had no life, and should basically just give up because nothing will ever happen on iCarly ship-wise- none of which are even remotely true. (The "no life" claim came from a line I personally thought was hilarious but some people apparently took way too seriously, as a convention staffer feared the war could last for days since most nerds have no jobs or lives to get back to. I guess it's true- people think things are funny until they're the ones being made fun of. Jokingly suggesting nerds have no life is one of the oldest nerd jokes in the book, dating back to that classic Shatner SNL skit if not earlier- which in itself ended with Shatner hastily backpedaling to calm the nerd rage by explaining he was recreating his evil self from a classic Star Trek where, much like Split Candace once was, he is split into the two halves of his personality.) Fans were also accusing Schnieder of lying, since the earliest promos for the episode claimed that it would settle the debate once and for all. Both sadly and hilariously, they ended up proving the stereotypes poked fun at were 100% true.

Earlier today, Mr. Schneider wrote a very nice blog post explaining a lot of things: for one thing, the promos are the network's responsibility, not his. Secondly, for those fans who were disappointed in the episode, he teased some future ones which he said will "make a lot of fans extremely happy – especially those who felt they were mislead [sic] by the promos for iStart A Fan War." And most importantly (in my opinion), he said this:

'If you're an enthusiastic iCarly fan, and you felt that iStart A Fan War was making fun of you (in a mean way), please don't feel that way!  The writers and I love the iCarly super-fans!

Sure, the episode was a parody of some iCarly fans, but only a very specific type – the type of fans who fight bitterly and are mean to each other – the ones who take the whole Creddie vs. Seddie thing too far, and actually get verbally abusive with others who don't agree with them.

Those are the fans we were parodying – the mean "fighty" ones.  But they only make up like 0.0000000001% of iCarly fans.  And honestly, we don't dislike those fans.  We just think they'd be a lot happier if they'd calm down a little bit. :)

Do you act like the psycho fans you saw in the episode?  Probably not.  More than likely, you're just a normal person who feels passionate about iCarly.  If you are, then you're not the kind of fan we were parodying.

But if you're the type who would actually get into a physical confrontation with someone over Creddie vs. Seddie (or write nasty comments online), then yeah, we were making fun of that kind of behavior.  But even so, we didn't mean it in a mean-spirited way.

On Saturday Night Live, they're always making fun of the President of the United States, other politicians, and celebrities… but that doesn't mean that the SNL producers, writers, or actors are trying to hurt those people's feelings.  SNL is a comedy, so sometimes they parody people, but it's all meant in good fun.  Parody is an exaggeration of behavior.

I hope this explains things to any fans who felt the episode was mocking them.  Unless you're a crazy, extreme fan who gets in fights with other fans and hates anyone who disagrees with you, we weren't mocking you.  If you just love iCarly (for any reason), WE LOVE YOU.

Still, if you felt offended, then I'll take the blame, and I'm sorry.  My goal always is to make you laugh, smile, and have a fun time – not make you feel angry or hurt.

So, what does all this have to do with Phineas and Ferb, you may ask (if you got this far)? Well, the sort of fan behavior Schneider poked fun at in this episode of iCarly is exactly the sort that I see on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki. People complaining about certain character pairings, or appearing to care only for the relationships between the characters rather than everything that makes the show great. I would say moreso than iCarly, where both the comedic interactions and the romantic tensions between the characters take center stage often equally, romance takes a backseat to comedy much more so on Phineas and Ferb- which isn't surprising, given as there's a lot of characters and a lot of things going on. And, unlike iCarly (*coughJaneLynchcough*), the comedic foundation of Phineas and Ferb hasn't cracked yet- if anything, it gets stronger with each episode as the writers find even more cleverly comedic ways to twist the formula to its breaking point and make it seem less like one. Sadly, the most outspoken members of any community always seem to happen to be the craziest- there may not be a lot of them, but they sure are loud. All this combined actually gave me the inspiration to finish the sketch I was talking about- which I hope you watch if you're interested in what I have to say.

To paraphrase what I myself said in that little film, Phineas and Ferb is a comedy first and foremost. It's about comedy first and romance...geez, do I have to make a list? Whatever number it is, it's down near the bottom. Or somewhere in the middle, maybe. Either way, even more so than iCarly, the romance aspects take a backseat to the comedy- or sometimes, even add to it. As my idol Charles Schulz once said, "There is nothing funny about being happy," and I think the way Phineas and Isabella's relationship is right now- with Phineas completely unaware as to what is going on with Isabella's crush on him- is much funnier and more entertaining to watch than if they were both in love with each other equally. That's just not funny. Will Phineas ever wise up? Maybe. Will this ever happen on screen? Doubtful. Same with Ferb worshipping Vanessa from afar despite the fact that they barely even know each other, or any other relationships in the series, both real and imaginary. As Mr. Schneider himself said through Carly and friends, it's fun to speculate, but let's not go insane doing so and start wars over it and nonsense like that.

And Mr. Schneider's comment on the promos also brings up a good point, too: people often think that the creative arm of the show (as helmed by Dan and Swampy) and the licensing/distribution arm (as represented by The Walt Disney Company itself) are either one and the same or very closely involved with each other. I don't know 100%, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case. I've read some things on Martin Olson's SoundCloud page and just listened to an interview with Laura Dickinson, who is one of the major female singers on the show, and even they didn't know when the third season is going to start. They're just as clueless as we are as to future developments, nor do they have any control over what Disney is going to do with the series in terms of distribution. So let's keep that in mind and not ask questions of the staff that not even they know the answers to.

I realize this is really long and most people probably aren't going to read it to the end, but if you did, I hope you see what I'm trying to say. If you disagree with me even only a tiny bit- good. That means you have a brain and know how to use it. I hope, though, that the more outspoken of you who did read to the end keep what I have to say in mind: the creative end has no idea what the distribution end is doing, and most importantly, if you ''must'' talk about shipping, please do so amongst yourselves or lightly and non-confrontationally (if at all possible). Let's talk about all the aspects of what make Phineas and Ferb great as a whole: the plotlines, the music, the voice acting, the writing, the comedy, and yes, the character relationships. Alone, all of these aspects are great. Together, they're even better. So, as Carly herself suggested, let's try to take some time to share an apple and laugh with Phineas and Ferb and everything that makes them great. Together. Because if you like something a lot, chances are you hope there are other people who want to talk about it with you too. I know I do. And it kind of disappoints me that a lot of people in this community- at least the most outspoken ones- don't seem to enjoy the show for all that makes it great as I do.

Ryan is out! PEACE!

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