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It will not have escaped most people’s notice that some fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead are not happy – and not just your run of the mill “zombie apocalypse means there’s no more frozen yoghurt” unhappy. Fans of the show’s teenage songstress Beth Greene have been up in arms since the untimely death of their heroine in the show’s mid-season finale, Coda, last month. Not content to simply mourn their character’s loss on message boards and Tumblr, they set about protesting the decision for Beth to join the choir invisible by starting a petition on change.org.
This petition on the social activism site has gathered steam and currently has over 45,000 signatures proclaiming they want to “Bring Beth Back!”. This not in any way surprising given this is a group of fans who believe the show has planted numerous “Easter Eggs” throughout the show indicating Beth’s future importance; clues that suggest she would become the new Andrea, or the new Rick, or even – and I kid you not – the new Jesus (that is, God’s Son Jesus, not the dreadlocked homosexual in the comics).
As the character was thrust to the forefront of the pack with her latest storyline, so her fans believed she was being pushed towards greatness. So much so that when filming spoilers began to leak that pointed to Beth’s demise in the mid-season finale, her fans began to conspiracy theorize to a degree that would make Fox Mulder proud.
They put forth that Emily Kinney (who portrays Beth) was being paid by Walking Dead’s bosses to create fake social media postings which would fool people into thinking she was in Los Angeles or New York, while filming was taking place in Georgia. They believed she was being smuggled on to set in covert black ops manoeuvres all to keep Beth’s (living) fate a mystery, and even those who were working with Kinney in her new projects were being paid to lie and say they were working with her in other states, when in fact she was secretly filming.
Given this growing faith that the show - nay the entire network - was revolving around Beth and her future on the show, it’s not surprising her on screen death hit so many so hard. However, the manifestations of this anger is perhaps more eyebrow-raising.
While few could argue the harmless and healing nature of a petition, or the cathartic writing of “why why why” letters to the show’s creators, some of the other methods of expression employed by the Beth fans is more dubious and harmful.
It began with Emily Kinney’s co-star Melissa McBride, who plays widow-turned-warrior Carol. Many assumed Carol would be the one to kick the proverbial bucket in Coda (not unreasonably, given her propensity for being involved in car accidents two episodes previously). When Carol lived to fight another day, their anger turned on her. Many postulated that Carol was intended to die in this episode, and a sudden change of mind would account for the surprising death of Beth. Despite the fact show runner Scott Gimple stated that Beth’s death had been planned since early in season 4, the Beth fans ran with the last minute rewrite theory. And blame fell, for many, on the shoulders of Melissa McBride as the catalyst, with some suggesting – entirely unfounded – that Melissa had “thrown a fit”, cried, and begged for her job whilst simultaneously throwing her friend Emily Kinney under the hangman’s noose. Some even went so far as to suggest sexual favours were involved, or that one of the shows’ producers had propositioned Ms Kinney and when she demurred she was fired in revenge.
Seemingly completely unafraid of the libel laws, these fans have passed around and accepted these erroneous explanations as fact. Yet still they seemed to need more targets for their righteous anger.
The choice of Carol as the preferred victim to fall under the writer’s sword is not simply based on her proximity to the hospital, and the tunnel with the light at the end, in Coda, but also due to her proximity to redneck hunter Daryl Dixon.
Since season 4 a war has raged amongst the trenches of Tumblr and twitter between those who wanted Daryl to get together with Carol, and those who believed he should hook up with Beth. It is due to this ongoing battle that many Beth fans have taken against Carol and her fans, and vice versa. While unpleasantness has raged from both sides, Beth’s death has brought on a kamikaze spirit amongst some of her fans where Carol and her supporters are concerned.
Some weeks ago a group of Carol fans began a charity fundraiser to raise funds for a domestic abuse shelter, to honour the character’s on-screen journey. (carylbyob.tumblr.com) The drive coincided with an episode which explored Carol’s troubled past, and featured a shelter where Carol and her daughter had stayed in an attempt to flee from her violent husband. Carol fans rallied around the drive and over $1,700 was raised and handed over to the charity last week.
Suddenly this week, with the media attention on the Beth’s fans successful petition, this charity drive became a bone of contention. Beth fans mocked the amount raised, in comparison to their 40,000 signatures, calling it “miserable and insignificant”. Carol fans were sent anonymous messages telling them Beth had beaten them, as their petition had “won” over the charity drive. They were told if they had been nicer to Beth perhaps Beth fans would have supported the charity and helped them, and worst of all, Carol fans who shared their own stories of abuse were sent mocking and abusive messages from Beth fans, calling them weak.
These messages are only a symptom of a growing sense of entitlement that some fans appear to have developed. It began with believing their favourite character was fated for an important storyline, and a love story for the ages, and grew into a belief that she would be an allegorical Jesus who would rise from the dead to lead her people to the Holy land (Washington), and now has become an out of control juggernaut of self-belief that won’t even stop for LeBron James.
LeBron James, what does he have to do with it? Well, with the increase media attention on their petition came an increased sense of validity in their outrage, to such an extent that they co-opted LeBron’s recent stand against the murders of unarmed black civilians by police officers, for their own cause. Fans photoshopped LeBron’s “I can’t breathe” t-shirt, to say “Bring Beth Back” and tweeted this image out to official Walking Dead accounts, with the enticing declaration that you too could buy this t-shirt to support their cause.
It’s a staggering lack of self-awareness that most experienced in fandoms will be familiar with, although the success of this petition, both in terms of numbers and media presence, seems to have been the flame under this particular boiling stew of vainglorious outrage.
The petition and the need for Beth to be brought back (which, by the way, seems staggeringly unlikely due to the large bullet wound which gave her scalp a nice skylight, and the burial she appears to be receiving in the previews for the next episode) is a symbol of a need some fans have to be right, and to win – at all costs. Though the question remains, what would they be winning, especially when it comes at the expense of the very qualities they claim to have found in the character of Beth?
These are fans whose petition calls for Beth’s return due to the hope she represented; due to the fact her character stood for kindness and forgiveness; for overcoming tragedy and finding strength in yourself. Sadly it seems, the strength many of her fans have found is the strength to demand that others bend to their will, and the strength to belittle and attack those who attempt to do good.
Like a child throwing a tantrum when they are refused a toy, these fans are turning against … well, everyone now their prize has been taken from them. And like a child, it seems the more attention their tantrum gets the worse their behaviour becomes. Babysitter Beth wouldn’t encourage that behaviour, and neither should we.
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