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TV/Media Commentary and Societal Insights. With a Beard.
The whole concept of being a “fan” of something has exploded in the past few years, no doubt thanks to things like the internet, and the internet, as well as the internet. Being totally in love with and knowing everything about the thing you like no longer makes you a nerd, it’s just kind of accepted. Movie fans, sports fans, music fans, video game fans—everyone’s on the same level now in terms of societal acceptance of utter devotion, now that it’s so much easier to form a fan community with people all across the globe.
That being said, there’s still a huge chunk of fans that are on a wholly different playing field. People that become well-known staples within the fanbase—running websites, moderating message boards, crafting loads of fanfiction, fanart and GIFs, organizing campaigns, travelling to conventions, following concerts. I myself have pretty much gotten out of the habit of being crazy intense with fansites after some bad experiences. Now, I don’t want it to sound like “I don’t participate in fandom” because I’m a pretentious dick or something. I mean, I kind of am a pretentious dick, but not about this stuff. In fact, me not being able to get too fully immersed in some of the most intense fandoms just means I don’t have the balls to be in them, and here’s why.
It’s the downside to getting excited about anything—when people are excited, they’re going to want to find out everything there is to know, and then talk about it. And since the major hub of fandom is the internet, they talk about it on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with it (I do it too, obviously) but it is hard to achieve a balance with how much you want to spoil or speculate or pound into other’s heads.
For example, you might have heard of that recent movie directed by the guy who wrote that one Kristy Swanson movie in 1992, and it kind of broke a bunch of box office records and was a big hit. You know, the one with the superheroes?
Before it came out, there were GIFs, quotes and photos all over the place for it. I mean all over the place. You’d have to work hard if you wanted to avoid the trailer because every little scene and line was repeated, edited or recreated in every single form of audio/visual media in all of creation and posted on every social media site. People who never gave a crap about comic books would quote that “We have an army/We have a Hulk” exchange. Ultimately it wasn’t a bad thing, because just look at how freakin’ successful that movie was. But up until that point, if you wanted to remain unspoiled (which there are actually people out there like that, oddly enough) you’d just have to turn off the internet for about a 6-month period.
It’s even harder for things that have already come out. I’ve caught Community GIFs that were posted on the big fansites about 20 minutes after the episode first aired, hours before it aired on the west coast, and the GIFs were made from the ending backwards. Sherlock was even worse when it first aired in the UK, since there were only three episodes in the season, so basically the entire show was made in GIF form months before season 2 ever aired in America.
There are ways to avoid it, of course; Google Chrome has the Tumblr Savior program, and if you’re missing a big event, it’s just going to be smart to stay off the internet for a little while. But you’re sort of expected to be on top of things these days, especially if you’re a big contributor (i.e. work with a fansite, write reviews, are on message boards, etc.)
And beyond all that, even if you don’t mind spoilers—if you’re at the center of the information hub, cycling through every bit of data and information and rumor that spreads around, it takes a ton of devotion to still get enjoyment out of what you’re a fan of. Plenty of people get burnt out on their hobbies when they actually go to school for them or get careers in that field, in part because it becomes something they’re surrounded by all the time, instead of what they could run to when they needed a break.
“Why oh why did I get did I become a Professional Masturbator?!”
You have to be extremely devoted to something to be able to read so much, know so many spoilers, or put so much time into fansites, creative endeavors, discussion and debate without having those experiences mar your time just watching/reading/listening to the actual content. Being emotionally invested in what you love definitely helps you stay passionate even if you know everything that’s happening and will happen. But even then, the downside to being so emotionally invested is, well…
It’s obvious, right? And clearly, with all that emotional investment, not everyone will agree on things since you see things on a bit more of an abstract level (you know, feelings a junk.) Part of the fun of being on a forum are the debates; friendly arguments over speculation, interpretation, and opinion. Unfortunately, not everyone is on equal terms when it comes to how to argue (using tons of sarcasm vs. having a hard time deciphering sarcasm.) Considering how inconveniently emotionally invested you already are, this means every little thing will hurt you just a little bit more than it actually should. But those little stings are going to happen all the time, because no one ever agrees on anything. And when you’re as invested as you are, and wholeheartedly believe what you have to say, you’re going to feel personally offended when someone says something. It’s like how Kirk Cameron feels when we tell him his Crocoduck theory is stupid.
Take a list article I wrote a while back, regarding a certain show with a very unpleasable fanbase (TV Tropes’ words, not mine.) I put my heart and soul into that article as a normally do, because I really loved what I was writing about. Of course, not everyone agreed with me. And that kind of sucked, because there were plenty of pretentious, cynical “HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IS STUPID?!” shit comments that you’d expect. But then there was this one.
Right off the bat, there doesn’t seem to be anything worse about this comment than any of the others. I mean, that person doesn’t even try to explain why it’s bad, when I explained everything thoroughly, so clearly it’s not a big deal, right?
Here’s the thing though. I know nothing about Rendar. There’s no link to his website, and I don’t recognize the name. Is Rendar male or female? What country is Rendar from? How old is Rendar? He doesn’t seem dumb, does he? Maybe he’s actually a really great guy who was just having an off-day. Or maybe he didn’t explain himself because he’s simply a busy guy and didn’t have time because he’s working three customer service jobs to support his four children with developmental disorders, after being laid off and having his wife die, plus he’s late on his rent, but he was so horribly, deeply offended by just how bad what I said was, that he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he didn’t say something. Or he’s pissed off because he’s a woman, but our society has us inclined to refer to hypothetical people and examples as male instead of female or gender neutral.
…See what I mean? If you are the slightest, just the slightest bit insecure, you’ll go insane. Completely, utterly insane. Out of all the positive or constructive responses, that one stuck with me the most and the longest. And I know for a fact that it isn’t just me, because plenty of writers that have received even the slightest notoriety say they ignore comments because they know it’ll just be shit that makes them hate themselves. But me–I’m writing more as a fan than as a writer. So I do actually want to see what people have to say about it, and I’m already in love with what I’m writing about, so it’s only going to make it hurt worse. If this happened on a message board, I can guarantee I’d go off on the guy for being both rude and vague, even though he didn’t really say anything offensive. It just stuck me in the wrong place.
If the guy was trying to be a troll just to rustle my feathers, he succeeded completely. On the internet, those people exist all over the place, and within fandoms people like to be fans specifically to get a rise out of other fans. And the reason they can do this is because it works. This shit is important on some abstract, freaky level, so someone saying “the character you love is actually the WORST!” is like someone punching the one little sister you actually like.
Which brings me to…
Depsite my bashing of emotional investment before, the best part of being in a fandom is still that everyone is as emotionally invested as you are, and you can share in that investment. For me, if I watch a TV show, and I enjoy watching it, I want to talk about it. Sometimes it’s gushing, sometimes it’s critiques when it’s a little disappointing, and I can be snarky when I recognize it’s being stupid, but it’s never without love and affection at the core. But other fans have different ways that they do their…fanning.
Yeah I guess that’s not really the right use of the word.
They get a different kind of high; some of them just like watching/reading/playing it like any other fan specifically to trash the living fuck out of it and everyone who likes it. I don’t really get it, but so many people do it that it’s apparently a legitimate thing. There’s even a valid argument as to why it’s perfectly acceptable to, say, “hate-watch” things. This article from The AV Club discusses how “Hate too is a form of expression…Some say that love is meaningless without hate, and that we define what we’re for by declaring what we’re against.” Some people openly hate on the stuff that doesn’t appeal to them, not because they’re bad people, but simply because that’s how they express their love for everything else that’s good. I honestly don’t think that’s really how it should work, but I’ve also never tried it. And nevertheless, the problem is that in any given fanbase, the people expressing that hatred are so loud that they appear to be the majority even when they aren’t.
This also means that being a fan of something often gets you inadvertently drafted into a war. Sports fans have been doing it for ages, but it makes a certain amount of sense since the entire idea of sports is competition. But in any kind of art/entertainment medium, fandom wars are a really weirdly big deal. Avengers vs. The Dark Knight Rises is a popular one now. David Tennant vs. Matt Smith in the newer Doctor Who. It’s especially big in music, like fans of Justin Bieber vs. One Direction, or Adele vs. Lady Gaga. The last one doesn’t even make sense, considering their music is completely different, aside from being up for Grammys, I guess.
Again, this is kind of stupid when you really think about it, but it’s the catch-22 for being emotionally invested in something—it includes all of the emotions, good and bad. Not all fans are angry dickbags on purpose, obviously. But part of the problem with being heavily involved in a community is that a) you don’t want to piss off everyone in that community and b) everyone, by nature of being human, wants to fit in. So if you aren’t careful, acknowledging that “I guess Adele is kind of pretentious” can quickly turn into “BURN THAT FAT BITCH, GAGA FOREVER!” because it’s important to you. Same goes with factions within the fan group, too. Like I said before, it’s like if someone punched the little sister you like—you’d want to beat the ever-living shit out of the 12-year-old bully who did it, even though it wouldn’t accomplish anything.
And don’t misunderstand me, I’m not being an apologist for fans who are unequivocally batshit insane. No, what I am saying is anyone who remains dedicated in a fanbase and travels or communicates with those batshit insane people on a daily basis, but don’t get infected by all the hate and crazy, is awesome, because that’s quite a feat.
And adding to the stress from crazy people in general, there’s also the fact that…
There’s a lot of stuff people do for their fandom, and it takes plenty of work. Sure, making fanart, fanfiction or Cosplay is for fun, and shouldn’t take prevalence over your friends, family, job, education, etc. But people will make time for it, and they put a hell of a lot of time into what they do, whether it’s good, bad, or head-explodingly awesome.
Neil Gaiman has discussed his views on fanfiction; that there’s nothing wrong with it, because “all writing is useful for honing writing skills.” And really, that’s what a lot of this boils down to, isn’t it? It’s a way to utilize and hone your skills, without being at risk of a failing grade or getting fired if you were doing this for a living. And I’m not just talking about people who want to grow up to be writers or artists—a big part of being a fan these days requires a certain amount of managing sense, now that fan campaigns are getting more and more prevalent.
Just from the TV realm: Chuck only lasted more than two seasons because the fans were smart enough to go to one of the show’s sponsors, Subway, and organize a campaign to buy sandwiches on the night the show aired, coupled with letter-writing and the “Not a Nielsen Family” campaign. Community fans have done similar campaigns, like flash mobs, petitions, viral marketing posters, among other things. Sure, adding a hashtag to a tweet doesn’t take any effort, but organizing actual campaigns and doing them effectively takes the marketing prowess and creativity most employers in PR/Marketing look for. You’d have to be creative to come up with a campaign involving sending networks load of peanuts and Tabasco sauce.
This actually goes back to what I said at the beginning of this article—people who get a degree or a career in what was once a hobby often get burnt out. Another reason for that happening is because they’re now being given assignments, have deadlines, and feel the general pressure of needing to do something they once only did when they wanted to. Once it’s out of your control, it just becomes another chore. So you have to really, really love what you’re doing to not become disinterested in it when running websites and campaigns actually become obligations.
So, is it all worth it? Well, fans have done a lot for what they love, actually. Chuck lasted five seasons and got a definitive ending, as have (and will) plenty of other struggling shows. The Avengers phenomenon would have never in a million years happened had comic book fans not spent the last seven decades being absolutely fucking insane about comic books. There are plenty of music, books, video games, etc. you never would have heard of if the fans hadn’t been passionate about recruiting others to their community. And plenty of people’s lives change—and some even decide to keep on living—thanks to the things they love and support from the respective fan communities, as shown in this book of letters from Harry Potter fans.
Not to mention furiously pursuing the notion that everyone everywhere ever is gay together.
You don’t have to give a shit about any of this stuff, but it means something to the fans. And they work harder at expressing their love for these things than a lot of parents do for their children. The creators of the works deserve loads of credit, for sure, but the people who respond to, adore, talk about, and of course spend money on it are the ones keeping the stuff alive.
I’m not going to call someone posting on a Lord of the Rings message board a “hero” or anything even remotely close, because that’s not what it’s about at all. But it is about people actually following through with the whole “doing what you love” idea. People can have a lot of love to give, and even if writing about a TV show won’t be productive in the grand scheme of the universe, it’s a way to make both yourself and a lot of others happy—or at the very least, giving people the opportunity to use their brains and hone their creativity, when they might have otherwise never tried. That’s a big part of what makes life interesting.
And when you can actually invest yourself wholly into it so the positive parts of being a fan continue to flourish, you’ve got to have thick skin, a big heart, and really tough metaphorical balls.