Fandom makes you do the wacky

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Title: Fandom makes you do the wacky
Creator: Gwyneth Rhys
Date(s): June 10, 2003
Medium: online
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel: The Series, The Professionals
External Links: Fandom makes you do the wacky; [ Wayback]
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Fandom makes you do the wacky is a 2003 essay by Gwyneth Rhys.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel: The Series, The Professionals
  • the then very recent comments made by James Marsters (actor) at a con, Moonlight Rising, and how they upset some fans
  • warnings on fic
  • fans being disappointed in actors' comments/meeting them in person
  • fans' enthusiasm and investment in fandoms, and the detriment it can have on other fannish relationships
  • differences in age/how long a fan has been in a fandom, and their lack of history and perspective
  • fan discourse as often being demoralizing
  • the encyclical nature of fandom and fan events
  • showing fanworks to TPTB, fans and visibility, violating the fourth wall
  • fandom is not "one big happy family"
  • "net newbies" making older, more experienced fans angry: "they believe they invented everything, which kinds of makes us feel negated"


There’s this thing in gardening called soil tilth — the dictionary emphasizes the meaning of cultivation of soil, but in Seattle there was an organic, natural approach to gardening organization called Tilth where they emphasized the meaning of quality of soil, of the quality of growing things. Since I’m very into gardening, I pay a lot of attention to the quality of soil, and I was working in my garden a little last night checking on some plants that were struggling with my lack of care and poor soil, and it kind of made me think of the two kerfuffles going on that I’ve been reading about the past couple days. I have to state up front that I know only what I read on a couple journals here about James Marsters’s comments at the recent con, and I know almost nothing about the age of consent/smut warning issue beyond people saying what their opinions are.


So back to my analogy — a long time ago I took a runner cutting from a friend’s honeysuckle vine, and it sat in my car on a 90-degree day for a number of hours, and then I planted it in horrid, horrid soil. The thing about tilth is that you endeavor to create good soil, with lots of microbes and wormy guys and beetles and organic matter and whatnot, in order for plants to thrive. Dry, dusty, lifeless soil isn’t good for anything, but stuff will still grow even in the crappiest soil sometimes — hardy plants that can deal with anything. I planted this poor runner in the most lifeless, wouldn’t-hold-water soil, didn’t amend it much with better material, kind of ignored it, and the damn thing thrived.


The thing is, fandom thrives in pretty crappy soil, too, mostly. The majority of the time, we’re (fans) not lucky enough to have been planted in good soil with lots of water. To be fans, especially really active fans, we endure a lot of weather — mundanes who think we’re stupid freaks, people who think we have no real life because we care about a show or actors, friends and family who can’t or won’t support our interests, people who think we’re all stalker types or like that woman who wore her Star Trek uniform to jury duty. We hope that other fans will provide the happy home — the good soil, if you will. Only there’s still strife and arguing and misery. Because the truth is, we can’t be one big happy family. United against the mundane world, sure we are. But inside our own world, it’s fraught with internecine warfare, because we all have different perspectives and different ways of looking at things. There’s no way we can have a united opinion, because we are all so different, even within the fannish world that unites us.
For a lot of people, Buffy (or name your Really Huge Fandom) fandom is a new experience. It’s old hat for me, but most folks I meet are way younger than I am and this is the first time they ever felt this way about anything, ever got involved and did fannish things. Going to cons to see actors is their first major foray of this type. So they don’t have a lot of perspective — that’s not a slam, just a fact. It’s totally new; there’s no history. Recently there was a huge flap about someone taking people’s vids without permission to give to the showrunners of a program. A lot of older fans I knew were kind of denigrating the very upset reactions of the vidders because it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Well, no, it wasn’t. But I pointed out, they’re upset because this is the first time it’s happened to them. They didn’t have any history, and in some cases never cared about those who’d gone before them (one of the largest gripes a lot of us older fans have with net newbies is that they believe they invented everything, which kinds of makes us feel negated), so this was a very harsh, new, bad experience for them. I could see both sides. I could see the upset and the “oh get over it.”
And I admit I know next to nothing about the age kerfuffle, but it seems like yet another example of the cyclical things that happen, the kind of ongoing little viruses and diseases that crop up again and again and infect fandom. The oldsters shake their heads, new people jump up and down. Because this is the first go-round on it for a lot of people, and so they invest their emotions in it more than some of us. I don’t think that the people who get upset necessarily should be chastised for feeling that way; but I also think that sometimes people who get upset could use a hefty dose of perspective, but they’ll only be able to get that over time, really. And some will never get it. I waited for so long to get on the Tabula Rasa mailing list, and then when I did, I played for about a month before realizing it was just as bad as BAPS and filled with angry, draining individuals who were sapping my enjoyment of season 7 so much that I had to just stop reading it. It made me sad, because I wanted a place to play and talk and discuss. But many of them are just too heavily invested to see any POV other than their own, and this is their first go-round, so it’s very intense for them. I just need to be away from that kind of person, mostly. I think the underage and smut warnings and age consents people are probably coming from the same situations.

And I feel like I can see both sides of the JM remarks issue. For a lot of people, this is their first organized fandom and they hear the actor they admire, almost worship, commenting on what they love, so they put a lot of stock in his comments and beliefs. They are heavily invested in something that they’ve never felt before, so they may take things personally when someone they admire says something that could be construed as denigrating. It’s totally natural — and for it to result in name-calling or derision. It’s how people react when they’re angry or hurt. Of course, it doesn’t excuse rudeness, and it doesn’t excuse the over the top quality of people going “I’ll never watch this show again!” and all of that. But that’s the other side I can see — the “shrug, so what” side. Both of them are familiar to me.

When I first got yanked into media fandom (as opposed to SF fandom), I remember everyone telling me the horrible things Martin Shaw had said about The Professionals and his character and his fans, and how rude he was to fans. All this was a way to try to direct me to feel otherwise about being a Bodie and Doyle lover — that I should only love Bodie because Lewis Collins was a nice guy. I never bought it. How MS acted to people or thought of his character was irrelevant to me insofar only as it would affect my ability to a) get an autograph if I ever saw him on stage or b) delayed the release of the tapes of the show. That over the top quality of their hatred of the actor affecting the way they watched the show annoyed me. I’ve seen it with Buffy lately in people vowing off the show when Spike was made a regular, or when he fell for Buffy or when blah blah blah happened; or recently with Cordelia being written out of the show and people dramatically stating they’ll never watch Angel again. People who make up their minds ahead of time just baffle me. But I try to stay away from that now — only then something like this JM kerfuffle starts, and it’s hard. Because it reminds me of all the times I got upset or was too heavily invested. These days, I’m old and jaded, but I remember what it felt like to be young and new and excited. I get that.
Anyways. What I’m mostly getting at is that all the stuff that’s going on is stuff that’s been going on for a long time. Pretty soon we’ll probably see the next cycle of the feedback wars and the BNF wars and whatnot. It comes and goes because fandom is always drawing new people. And we don’t really prepare the ground for them anymore. It used to be you got mentored in fandom, especially slash. You met people, they taught you the rules of the game, etc. Now it’s a free-for-all, and so the little seedlings are coming in and have no sense of history of what this is all about. They have invested heavily in this new thing called fandom, but there’s not a lot of places where they might be able to find out about what went before. So the cycles will keep happening, and people will still have their own interpretations different from others’, and actors will say and do inane things, and showrunners will continue to piss us off, and arguments will ensue. Because it’s not a big happy garden where we’re all the same kinds of plants with the same kinds of needs. The things that ail one plant don’t ail another, the stuff that makes some people wither and die is perfectly fine for others.

Further Reading