Social change has always been a factor when it comes to the progression of media. Take Disney films from the early 20th century, for example, which reflected the dated racial outlooks of the time. Since then, they have removed many of these depictions from their cartoons entirely. The acceptance that these depictions of people of color were unacceptable is a clear positive change to mainstream media.
However, as time has progressed, people have become more and more expressive of what should be socially acceptable. Sometimes, the line becomes blurred, and people may get outraged over seemingly unimportant matters, having a damaging effect and imposing on the media. Artists often release their respective forms of media as a type of escapism. Although artists are also guilty of this, art should be separate from politics.
Social Issues in New Media
A good example of new media affected in this way is in video games. As an industry that has only come into its prominence in recent years, video games were able to escape the social spotlight for a long time. However, over the course of the last decade, video games have come from obscurity and into the fold of mainstream media. With that came a slew of criticisms surrounding issues such as race and gender. Many of these are completely justified, such as the rampant over-sexualization of female characters compared to their male counterparts. Many others are groundless and overexaggerated for the sake of controversy.
Regardless of the validity of these complaints, the sudden spike in concern over depictions within video games, or at least the attention now given to them, is due in no small part to the massive amounts of money invested in the industry. Due to the sudden rise of esports, large cash prize tournaments are ubiquitous now. These tournaments, as well as the prospect of live broadcasts, begin to attract sponsors who see the potential for advertising. That, in turn, makes money for video game developers and the people organizing the tournaments.
This cycle of profit works perfectly in theory, but if people become outraged due to a controversy, the sponsors begin to pull their sponsorships immediately. Such often means that video game developers must bow to social pressure to keep their products successful. This cycle isn’t only applicable to video games, either.
Perhaps the most famous example of this effect on new media was the Adpocalypse, which has permanently affected the viability of a full-time YouTube career for a lot of people. The outrage over the initial controversy was debatably justifiable, depending on one’s opinion regarding the boundaries of humor, but the effect it had on the entire platform was completely unfair for most of the content creators.
Holding Back the Tide
It is crucial for media companies to withstand social pressure at times; otherwise, they risk compromising the integrity of their vision. Recently, one journalist criticized Cyberpunk 2077, a video game set to release in 2020, accusing the developer of racial bias in the demo of their video game. In this case, the developers stood firm against the outrage, which was completely trumped up. The creator of the pen-and-paper, role-playing game, which serves as the source material for Cyberpunk 2077, also took the side of the developers against a clear example of manufactured outrage.
Another excellent example is the current playing out after the announcement that Halle Bailey, a black woman, will play Ariel in the new live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” A vocal minority of people have criticized the casting decision, citing that the original mermaid had white skin. This possessive attitude toward fictional characters has led to several similar criticisms in the history of film, all of which are completely ridiculous. Luckily, Disney has the sense to move forward with their decision and ignore the hate. As a matter of fact, the original voice actor of Ariel has recently come forward to support Halle Bailey.
The key thing to understand about the transformation of media, alongside society, is that it is inevitable and mostly for the greater good. Despite what some people may say, our society’s progression is always on a positive incline. The most important skill to have is the decision-making ability to know when criticism is exaggerated. Ultimately, we must also acknowledge that by letting these criticisms impact our films, books, music and video games, it will only damage the creative freedom that artists of all walks of life should embrace.