According to the latest update from ShtGvr–an app that ranks how many shits the world could give about a particular topic, and something I just totally made up–most users could only spare, on average, a total 1 out of 10 shits about what Britney Spears’ next album cover will look like. There are several reasons for this, though the main one might be that Spears, despite having made several culture-shifting singles and music videos, has never managed to put out an album cover that didn’t appear as though it was made in either a state-fair photo booth or a factory that turns out Russian bootleg CDs (and also maybe bucket hats). Even with her numerous crimes against typography, few artists have been less controversial, and therefore less interesting, when it comes to album-cover aesthetics.
Yet there about 1,224 fans who are very, very concerned about the design of Spears’ next album, Glory. They’ve all signed a recently launched Change.org petition demanding that RCA change the record’s artwork, saying it’s not “suitable representation of the music that Britney is putting out,” despite the fact that only one single from the album has been released so far. The Glory petition is one of several headline-sprouting pop-culture petitions that have appeared on the site in the last year. There was also a call for people to stop listening to Suicide Squad-bashing movie critics (22,028 signees and counting); a demand that Madonna not be the lone artist to pay tribute to Prince at the Billboard Awards (9,047 beautiful ones signed that, to no avail); and a request to bring George Lucas back to the Star Wars fold (25,899 names, including at least one Gungan). Oh, and there was also the other Spears-related petition last week, this one asking RCA to release the original version of her latest video, which has picked up plenty of press, even with just 13,879 petitioners.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of these missives, and I can even relate to these fans’ frustrations, if not their specific beefs (Lucas returning to Star Wars?). We all have our nagging pop-culture hang-ups–the things we grouse about over drinks or during commercials, where we’d outline what we would do, if only the studios and the record labels would put us in charge. I have plenty of them myself: I think Mr. Robot‘s current episodes need to be 15 minutes shorter, and that The Night Of should trim its foot-related storyline by, say, 30 percent. I also would have loved to have seen the constant torrent of good jokes in Ghostbusters pay off in a coherent third act, and for Matthew Modine’s character (and his excellent hair) to have been given more to do on Stranger Things. And I really wish Kanye hadn’t included that yuckity-yuck, kinda-beneath-him line about bleach in The Life of Pablo.
I also realize that pretty much no one gvs a sht about these petty, particular grievances–especially the people who’d have any power to actually address them. But Change.org has lately become the unintentional catalyst for a futile, delusional, gimme-gimme-more form of fan entitlement, one in which a relatively small group of people can easily draw attention to a non-issue that’s not only trivial, but, for the most part, non-actionable (more than half a million people this year asked the president to pardon Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery–despite the fact that he wasn’t a federal prisoner). Clogging the site, and social feeds, with a lot of unfulfillable complaints undermines the Change.org’s ostensible primary goal: To effect actual, you know, change.
Since its inception a decade ago, Change.org’s launched several socially and politically important petitions, many of which have yielded actual results, from a petition calling for the presidential pardon of a woman imprisoned under archaic drug laws (which drew 280,000 supporters) to one demanding Congress crack down on puppy mills (nearly 100,000 endorsers). Not all of Change.org’s campaigns rack up such huge numbers, of course: A mere 33 people signed a petition asking that a 9-year-old California boy be able to keep his D.I.Y. lending library (he got his wish). But at its best, the site–and its users–reflect the way petitions can spur discussion and transformation, particularly on the hyper-local level, which is often where the most fixable problems can be found.
Yet the site’s egalitarian nature and ease-of-use–any ding-a-ling can make a dopey petition in just a few minutes–coupled with the decline of online comments sections in general, means that a small faction of aggrieved users are now threatening to turn Change.org into Imkindapissedaboutthisthing.org, where kevetches become calls-to-arms, even if the demands themselves are non-actionable: Critics aren’t going to stop gagging over Suicide Squad, no matter what. There was no way Madonna was going to cede the spotlight just because a few thousand Prince fans wanted it (this is a woman who’s never followed anyone’s advice, even when they told her not to record a duet with Warren Beatty). And I doubt Spears’ record label–nor Spears–is gonna change an album cover just because 1,224 people don’t like it (BTW: Am I the only one who thinks the constant screams and shouts about Spears’ creative output are a bit fawndescending? Granted, her life and business are now controlled by a conservatorship, but the implication that she’s somehow this powerless victim being trapped by her label, and somehow needs all of these petitions, seems more than a little unfair. She’s been making lousy record covers for years! She doesn’t need anyone’s help.)
Yet, despite their enh-to-middling goals and self-righteous, make-it-my-way-or-else demands, these campaigns often get reported by culture-news outlets that are (understandably) trying to stuff the rapacious maw of the Internet. As a result, they wind up amplifying and semi-legitimizing the kind of grievances that, at best, would normally inspire a few bored back-and-forths on Twitter. As it turns out, if you want to air your criticisms of a work of art, or ding the machinations that made it, you don’t have to write out a cogent argument–or, even better, create your own work of art as a response or rebuttal. All you need is to get a few thousand like-minded thinkers effortlessly rubber-stamp a form, even if they don’t really care about it, and are just looking for way to mindlessly click away the day. That’s not making a difference; it’s just making a fuss, one that can easily be ignored.
Which is a shame, because there are some worthy pop-culture causes on Change.org, like this still-ongoing petition asking that Island Records forgive a (seemingly unfair) debt owed by the legendary punk outfit the Slits. This is not a small-scale gripe–it’s an important, potentially solvable problem, and one that brings to attention decades-old, still-unsettled issues about the way artists are treated by big corporations. It only has 6,286 petitioners so far, but in a relatively small matter like this one, those 6.286 might be all it needs to rattle some nerves and stir some changes. It’s the kind of effort we can all cosign.