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.

1 comment:

  1. Phil - *SNAP* :) Thank you for such a lovely response and all your articulate and effusive words, I suspected I wasn't alone out there in my fan experience (I know I'm not, some of my best friends are fans like us, who I only met by being a fan!). I hold out hope that a lot of Famous People know there are fans like us, and I suspect they even now and again they get the opportunity to meet us 'properly'. I know fans who have gone on to run official websites and are trusted with a degree of personal information (mostly to do with upcoming projects), which they are happy to discuss because they know the projects will be appreciated and their personal privacy respected.

    I hold out this hope because of people like Wil Wheaton, who seems to genuinely enjoy meeting his fans - particularly gamers - possibly because he had such a bad experience with Trek fans in his early career. I read a Dave Grohl biography and he spoke about fans in very kind terms, being a lifelong fanboy himself. But what really hit home for me was that he said when Nirvana were first getting started, the 'real' fans were the ones whose house you were showering at, whose floor you crashed on, who made you dinner when they were nearly as broke as you were - because they believed in what you were doing. They couldn't be a part of the creative process, so they supported it in other ways - just as rich patrons did in days gone by for artists and musicians (though I do suspect there was a good deal of 'I have Mozart staying at my house this summer don't you know' then too).

    I feel the internet and the mass media marketing of artists (sometimes so painfully obvious they are trying to recreate the 'natural' evolution of fans by forcing artists upon audiences and making sure you know you can only be 'cool' if you like this person) has contributed to the spread of the 'drive by' fan (I LOVE that term). And it's not just the kids. One of the women I work with, very high up in the company, VERY posh (think 50-ish Camilla Parker-Bowles posh), went to Reading Festival last year. Before she left to go, she cornered one of the younger boys in my office with a festival program in hand and demanded he tell her who she 'should' make sure she sees. Not because she was even vaguely interested in the music (he advised her against Kasabian but she was insistent on Pete Doherty), but so she could say that she'd seen them. She was going to Reading simply to be able to tell people she was cool. Made me want to vomit.

    I don't have a solution either, so, like you, I just keep enjoying the work from afar. Things like podcasts make me feel more 'connected' (again, Mr Wheaton comes through with the goods) and Twitter has been a great insight into the minds of Famous People (sometimes not in their favour!) outside the framework of their writing, characters or music. Yet again, a few (or more than a few) bad apples spoil it for the rest of us, but as I don't see this mindset disappearing within our lifetimes, I vote we continue as we have. Maybe one of the Famous People will read our blogs and, even if they don't comment out of wariness of being stalked, they'll smile to themselves and know that they've made a difference to our lives. :)


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