Pandering: What Does it Mean Now?

Pandering has become quite the confusing thing these days hasn’t it? The phrase in the context of fandoms refers to when a writer forces something into their story in a hollow attempt to appeal to his or her fanbase. For example, if I’m writing a popular TV series and there is a one-off character that people found tremendously funny, me contriving that character back into the show and going against its natural flow solely to appeal to the fans is an example of pandering. It is compromising the story for the sake of a shallow appeal, but unfortunately that isn’t exactly a rigid definition. What constitutes as “compromising the story”? How much “compromising” is acceptable if the result is something everyone enjoys a great deal? Is there such a thing as good pandering? What exactly is the difference between that and “fanservice”? These questions are all important, and the distinction that pandering deals with something that directly effects a story’s quality is important, because if we were to consider any time a writer including something they think their fans would like pandering, then far too many things would be classified as such. It is in these questions that people find difficulty in answering that we find the main issue with the phrase. Today, the criticism of pandering is thrown around for just about any subplot featuring a fan favourite character, any pairing they don’t support, anything even vaguely alluding to a particular political affiliation, and essentially anything “I don’t like but other people do”. Due to these reasons, the once valid and important criticism of pandering has lost all weight.

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The Legend of Korra’s Weird and Wonderful Love Triangle

When people found out The Legend of Korra would focus on teenagers, they knew what it would result in. On some level I’m sure we all saw a lot of angst and heartache coming for these narcissistic little teenagers, and when it came, it brought out a mixed reaction (which is often the case with these things). The teens placed way too much stock on their romantic lives, they acted recklessly and selfishly, and none of them seemed to know what they really wanted… which is exactly like real teenagers. Trouble is, real teenagers have a habit of being infuriating. In the end, we received one of the most infamous romantic subplots of all time, and on an animated series no less. This one is going to be remembered for a long time because of the notoriously angsty behaviour these characters engage in, but also because of the unexpected and strangely fitting turns it takes. Before I discuss this particular love triangle though, its best to go over its players. We’ve got Korra (the show’s star), Mako (the original male lead), Asami (Korra’s chief romantic rival), and Bolin (a non-factor, but still worth mentioning).

The Original Love Triangle

Asami seeing the obvious

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The Thing About Love Triangles

Veronica Mars actors supporting their opposing factions by wearing the “wrong” T-Shirts.

Love triangles are essentially double-no, triple edged swords. They are tricky to begin, even harder to keep interesting, yet are incredibly easy engage the audience with. So many of these love triangles fall flat, but writers keep turning to them every chance they get. I have yet to see a single love triangle that didn’t do at least one thing wrong, but at the same time, I have yet to see a single repeated trope that gets as much as a response as these do. As terrible as they often are, people love love triangles. Everything about them just draws you in. They involve characters you care about, they incite dangerous shipping instincts in all of us, and they are so damn divisive. There is nothing in this world that unites us more than an enemy, and love triangles create them in spades. This is why when love triangles are introduced, people tend to classify their preferred choice for the fought over party with teams (Ex: Team Peeta vs Team Gale). Its that adversarial aspect that initially draws people in, but its also the ways people can relate to them in real life that strikes such a cord. Not everyone will be locked in a three-way love or death struggle, but whether you like it or not, someone’s going to end up on the wrong side of a choice between two suitors. However, even with our natural desire to be invested in romantic entanglements, they still tend to fall apart a lot for a few big reasons.

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The Conventions of Shipping

True despair awaits those who choose to “ship”. No, I am not talking about boating, I am referring to the fandom practice of “shipping” (as in relation-shipping) two characters together in hopes that they become a couple. At first it begins as innocently as anything, maybe a remark or two about how “perfect these two would be for each other”, but then it begins to creep into your thoughts. Eventually, you’ll suddenly find yourself consumed by the idea of two fictional characters falling in love with each other, pray that they will become “endgame” as the series concludes, and proudly declare them to be your OTP (One True Pairing) to anyone who is (or isn’t) listening. Conversely, you can become dedicated to the sinking of a ship, to hate one so completely that you’ll never miss a chance to insult it; since the two characters are “obviously wrong for each other” and no one else can see it. Shipping is a complex thing indeed, but perhaps the most interesting thing about it is why people enjoy doing it. The joy of having a ship of yours sail (become canon) is nothing compared to the joy you get wanting it to sail. The pain, the heartache, the despair, and the frustration are all things people truly enjoy out of the shipping experience. Like masochistic servants pleading for harsh admonishments from their master/mistress, shippers tend to flock to the most tumultuous of pairings, ones where the Will They/Won’t They dynamic doesn’t come off as a forgone conclusion.

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