Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Frustrations of Fanhood

I'm not certain that Fanhood is even a word...well let's say it is now. I read a really great blog post tonight about something that is rather close to my heart. I'm not entirely certain why...okay I am, but I don't really want to share it with everyone.

Written by someone who I only know by the Twitter handle of @shockingblu it is a wonderful personal exploration of her experience of being a fan. A music fan, a TV show fan, a scifi fan and so on.

What Miss Blue has said really strikes a chord with me. You should read her post yourself because it is both eloquent and well written but I will, very briefly, summarise what I feel is her key point. For her being a fan isn't about collecting fan points by meeting your heroes in 'drive by' opportunities so often found at conventions or book signings. It's about wanting to forge a genuine connection with someone whose work has inspired and moved you.

Amen to that Miss Blue!

I don't bother with signings and conventions. Don't get me wrong, I go to conventions but I never queue up to see my hero/heroine (on the exceedingly rare occasion that any of them come to the UK). Why? Because what I really want is to have a chat with them about their work and their world, to gain an insight into their own personal inspirations and perhaps to share with them how what they do every day moves me. This is simply never going to happen. What will happen instead is that I will appear before them with a queue waiting impatiently behind me, make around twenty seconds of small talk while they sign whatever piece of random merchandise I've brought for signing and then move on. Right now I can't really think of a more unsatisfying and frustrating experience.

Miss Blue is also spot on about the average celebrity's (internet or otherwise) guarded approach to fans. Please don't get me wrong, they must be guarded. Their reputation, public perception and sometimes personal safety can be on the line when dealing with fans. The sad consequence of this is that I will, no, must be treated the same way as anyone else. It's the nature of the business.

To be clear, I'm not necessarily talking about any kind of friendship. I'm one of millions and I have it on good authority that people can only maintain relationships with around 150 people at a time. What I'm talking about is a connection, even a fleeting one. A genuine connection to another human being is a rare and precious thing and no less so for being brief. Rather than signing my 'whatever' I'd prefer to have a candid five minute chat but that isn't what's on offer and according to Miss Blu and based on my limited experience I agree with her, it isn't what most fans want.

Do you know I've never understood the point of the autograph? What's it supposed to be? Proof positive that I've met the undersigned? As if my life is populated with friends who wouldn't believe me without proof? Is it to prove it to myself, a record of an experience? I don't need it!

Let me share with you something that happened to me about six months ago at the MCM Expo. I went along primarily because it was a scifi/gaming convention and as such was a rare creature in this country. Use 'em or lose 'em! I was also tempted to go by the announcement that Terry Farrell and Nicole DeBoer would be in attendance. I loved their work on Star Trek Deep Space Nine and laughed a great deal at Terry Farrell's work on Becker. In my heart of hearts I knew I'd not get the chance to really see or speak to them but hope is sometimes a terrible thing and so off I went. Truth to be told, I didn't even set eyes upon them until the last hours of the day and the only opportunity on offer was to have your picture taken with one or both of them. I wasn't really interested in a picture but, again, that's what was on offer so I stood near the stand and thought about it. I watched them with the guy before me and they seemed animated and engaged and I thought, hey let's say hi and tell them how much I've enjoyed their work. So I said to the tired and harried woman taking bookings, yes please.

What then became clear to me was that the animation I'd witnessed was mostly inspired by their belief that they had taken their last picture after a long seems they were not thrilled by the thought of one more short, fat fanboy wanting a picture. Terry Farrell handled it with what I felt was real grace under the circumstances, Miss DeBoer on the other hand dealt with it by ignoring me completely.

Do you know something, I don't blame her at all. After a day of being treated, I suspect, much like a piece of meat for people to score celebrity points off she must have been ready to split. I look at that picture now and am reminded of an embarassing and thoroughly unsatisfying experience and what's more I didn't say more than two words to either of them. Connection? I shudder to think about how far from that lofty goal I was. Keep the pictures and authographs, spare me two minutes of your time for a genuine conversation. That's what is meaningful to me.

I wonder if the people I've come to so admire, Felicia Day, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, Tom Siddell & Wil Wheaton for example, have a different experience of and with fans? I suspect that they experience fans who are more like Miss Blue and I than any of the variety that Miss Blue so vividly describes. And yet, the result is much the same. They can only be spread so thin, they cannot possibly connect with the millions who admire their work and want a connection...I realise I'm not painting a very hopeful picture.

So what's left for the admiring fanboy/girl? Well, I suppose to admire from a great distance. To take inspiration while being sure to say thanks. And to be grateful that there are people in the world who you're inspired by, even if you are never to make a personal connection.

A frustration of the human condition I suppose.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

What Do You Do?

Can you think of a more ubiquitous question when meeting someone new? It seems that we're driven to define ourselves by what we do for a living. I think that this is part of a powerful need to maintain a static, unchanging image of ourselves. The reality that new experience changes us all the time is too unsettling and so we search for clear definitions. I'm a lawyer, accountant, doctor etc etc. How limiting is that?!

It's also something about the western worship of money. If some of what you 'do' doesn't produce the green, well, it's basically a waste of time. "No, no Phil don't get us wrong" some well meaning acquaintances will say, "it's nice but where's the bottom line?"

I'm far from immune to this phenomena, in fact I know that much of my life has been a mad scramble to define myself in clear and unequivocal terms and prove that I can earn a living. It's only now with the little maturity that has crept up on me that I find myself rebelling against this drive. What do I do? Just once I'd love to answer, "me? Oh, I'm a gamer/blogger/writer" and stand there as they try to work out where the money is. This is followed by the delightful moment when they say, with a perplexed look on their face, "no, I meant what you do for a living?"

Tee hee, I think I'll save that one for someone heinously pretentious :)

What got me thinking about this was, once again, Wil Wheaton. He wrote a post tonight about some sage advice he received from an acting teacher. The advice was to make sure there was a space in your life to do what you do for the love of it, not just for money. And, of equal importance, not to allow yourself to be defined entirely by what you do. To find something else you're passionate about and get to it. In Wil's case what he did back then was, of course, acting and the teacher's words were geared towards that but I think it's clear from his blog that he sees this as good advice to anyone who has a creative streak or does something creative for a living.

Don't just be defined by your day job or the need to earn money, explore your depths and discover new interests and passions! Do them for the sheer joy of it. Expand your self-definition to such an extent that you lose sight of the boundary. That way when someone inevitably says "what do you do?" You can answer, with a knowing smile, "lots of stuff!"

This is a fairly rambling rant about what his post brought up for me, I hope it's of some interest.