Ghosts of fandoms past

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You many be looking for the 2016 South Park essay I was thinking about the ghosts of fandoms past.

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Title: Ghost of fandoms past
Creator: fictualities
Date(s): March 16, 2007
Medium: online
Fandom: various
Topic:
External Links: Ghosts of fandoms past; archive link
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Ghosts of fandoms past is a 2007 LiveJournal post by fictualities.

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

In every compulsive pack rat's life, there comes a moment of truth: a moment when her habit of saving every single scrap of paper comes back to haunt her. Such a moment has come for me: I'm moving, and am faced with the grim task not only of packing but of clearing out a storeroom filled with . . . stuff.

Software manuals for Windows 3.0. Ticket stubs for concerts I haven't thought about in years. The warranty for a daisywheel printer. (A daisywheel! Yes!) And oh, yeah. Fandom stuff. Lots and lots and lots of fandom stuff -- old emails, old fics, old message board posts and debates and squeeing.

What is it about a physical object that brings back memories in the way that nothing else can? Maybe this is why I save stuff. My memory sucks, generally, but holding, say, a ticket stub in my hand brings back the concert as if it was yesterday: the hot outdoor theater at the summer festival, the applause for the first violinist, the guy behind me who could not stop coughing, the moment when everything stopped mattering because oh my God, the music.

The fandom stuff is the same. It's the nature of fannish passion to wax and wane, I guess, but that really becomes clear when you pick up a printout from a message board you haven't thought about in years, and GOD, it all comes back: that dizzying sense of love and squee and near-total absorption, and BAM, it's 2002, and I am waking up every morning thinking Frodo Frodo Frodo Frodo Frodo!!11!!!111!11!

My fannish history is a little weird in that my first fandom was associated with with books (Tolkien) that I'd already loved for decades -- but loved with a different kind of love than first-fandom love. First-fandom love is like first love generally: you're convinced that NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE HAS THERE EVER BEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS, EVER. And maybe you're wrong about that (everyone falls in love, and you will fall in love again). But also maybe you're right: first love only happens once. Back in the day of my greatest first-fandom passion, fannish friends who had been around the block a few times said to me, with what felt at the time like infuriating condescension, "ah, there's nothing like a first fandom, is there?" The clear implication was that at least some of my lurve was both unreasonable and transient, and that irked the hell out of me.

Well, they were right: the love for Tolkien isn't transient, but that sense of overwhelming passion is. I still love Tolkien, obviously. But seeing the old printouts brought back to me how much that love has changed. It's like our white-hot weekend of passion in Vegas is over, and now we've settled back into a comfortable and affectionate marriage.

In a way that's a good thing. Total fannish passion is a fantastic high - but no one can live like that. At least I can't. There's room in my life for a hell of a lot of squee, and I'm always going to be the sort of person likely to grab other people by their shirts and say OH MY GOD YOU MUST WATCH THIS SHOW! And I'll be talking about Tolkien for the rest of my life. But the twenty-four hour a day immersion thing isn't ever going to happen to me again, I don't think.

So is that good or bad? I don't know. I sometimes wonder whether we see both things and people truly ONLY through the eyes of love -- whether the passionate engagement that in our more sensible moments we dismiss as unreasonable is the only thing that lets us escape the cage of selfhood and value other people as they should be valued. Love of stories, love of people -- maybe they give us a tiny glimpse of what the world would be like if we were strong enough, emotionally, to see things as they are; if we were strong enough to understand that the fact that anything exists -- yes, anything, even stories and people you dislike -- is pretty fucking miraculously cool.

I can't sustain that intensity of perception. But sitting here today, holding the papers in my hand, I can remember feeling like that, and you know what? It was pretty fucking miraculously cool, and I wouldn't exchange that year and half of total fannish love for anything.

Excerpts from Comments at the Post

[juliebeth]:
A good summary of my feelings. too. A Tolkien book fan for decades, then in the Spring of '99 BAM! I followed the filming and the films intensively until ROTK won all the Oscars, then the intensity faded, almost overnight. I'll always be a Tolkien fan, and I'll treasure all the terrific friends I've met through the film-fandom, but I don't think I'll be so passionate again about a fandom. It is exhausting!
[fictualities]:

There's a special intensity to fannish relationships that's a carry-over, I think, from the intensity of first-fannishness generally. It's as if the world AND the people in it become a more dazzling place -- and I don't know about you, but my normal emotional boundaries become more permeable, somehow, and I find myself opening up to people much more than I ordinarily do. The result is that you find yourself making a lot of great friends, but when the fannishness fades, the friendships can at least feel like they're in danger of fading as well. They don't HAVE to, but they take investment and care in a way that they might not have done before, and in some cases you have to fiddle around a bit in order to find the common ground that before you could simply assume.

As for whether you are truly living when you're on that high -- damn, I'm an optimist! I want to believe that all that giddiness is a response to something that's really there. The love for the fannish source continues, and the friendships do too -- maybe the emotional rush of fandom is what gets your attention, but the essence of the story and the essence of the person are what keep it.
[p zeitgeist]:

So is that good or bad? I don't know. I sometimes wonder whether we see both things and people truly ONLY through the eyes of love -- whether the passionate engagement that in our more sensible moments we dismiss as unreasonable is the only thing that lets us escape the cage of selfhood and value other people as they should be valued.

This sounds remarkably like what Charles Williams called the "Beatricean Experience" (after Dante's perception of Beatrice, obviously), except that Williams was talking about the whole thing within the context of the courtly love tradition. His argument (if I'm remembering accurately) was that that overwhelming falling-in-love experience, where for at least some period of time the beloved appeared in a blaze of transcendant glory, was in fact a glimpse of the reality that lay behind all of creation. It was doomed to fade, but rather than looking back on it as a brief delusion you should cherish it as a foretaste of heaven.

Poor man. I hate to think how he'd react to the idea that the very same glimpse of the divine was available through the miracle of fandom, the internet, and the pr0n.
[kameni]:

I've got that kind of nostalgia for my first fannish experience (which had nothing to do with fiction, movies, TV, or writing, and which doesn't count as "fandom" to most people :/ ). Everything since then... I look back at the experiences with the bitterness of someone who keeps falling for the same kind of hopelessly inappropriate lovers, in the same miserable, self-destructive way. :/

(And maybe it's just the desire to fall in love with something in some kind of perfectly blissful way next time.)
[golden berry]:

Is it pathetic to look back on those days and wish for another fling with that intense, gleeful, wondrously squeeful time? Because I'm still clinging to that special, incomparable experience, in my heart. I don't want to ever, ever lose it. It was something I wasn't looking for, but when it showed up, I knew it was what had been missing from my life. New bonds with terrific women. Hot hobbits, men and elves. Angst and loss and sweetness and...wow. New discoveries, endless topics of intense conversation, silliness and swooning.

No, we can't live like that always, but the fact that we did, for a while, was real and it was glorious!
[matildafilch]:

One or two years ago - I can't remember exactly when - a BNF in a particular fandom posted angrily about the mocking treatment meted out to badfic writers by other fans. Her argument was a brilliant polemic about fan-writing as an amateur activity done for no commercial gain, which comes from the gut and the soul, and that when someone is laying that stuff bare, grammar and spelling and cliche are irrelevant. Yeah, I know, my reaction now is a great big 'Hmmmm, well, steady on old girl...' But my reaction then was to word-sister in her journal. I absolutely agreed with her, and it was only in the ensuing wank-storm when I read many others' points-of-view that I modified my opinion.

But yes, there was a time, and actually there still is occasionally, when it doesn't matter how 'bad' a piece of writing may be, a truth - one other than a literary or intellectual truth, but a truth nonetheless - is being uncovered. I remember that fannish moment, that insanity, with nostalgia, and I still have the odd flurry of fannish excitement (last night, for instance, accidentally stumbling on an unmined seam of fic about my favourite pairing in a new fandom), and I still zone out thinking about porn talking to my best friend about her divorce in the supermarket queue.

But ultimately I regard those ultra-fannish days as I do my past love affairs: with a certain amount of relief that I'm no longer in that emotional maelstrom. Like you, I haven't been consumed like that first time again. And you know, on a purely practical level, I'm quite glad about that.
[fictualities]:

As for the eternal Fanfic Quality Debate -- I think that yeah, absolutely, people's opinions on this vary according to where they are in the Cycle of Fandom Lurve. There's a moment when you've first discovered a fandom or pairing when EVERYTHING is wonderful, and then there's another moment when you're still in lurve but less enslaved -- for me, that's the stage where I'm far more likely to get picky about fic quality.

One of the issues for me, now that I'm up to fanfic fandom four or five, is (frankly) fandom preservation -- I've developed this theory that if I cling to the passionate, all-embracing stage of the lurve for too long and read too much in a fandom or pairing, that I'll get sick of the fandom or pairing much more quickly than I'd otherwise do.

So for me, some caution about what I read makes sense: it helps me work with my own reading habits. But that reading practice doesn't answer the question I asked in my post, the question of which stage -- the passionate stage or the more "objective" stage, is really the one offering us the most insight. I just don't know, Tilda. I guess all I can say is that I think my life would be impoverished without those stages of passionate engagement when I really, truly don't give a crap about anything other than character lurve. I also know that those stages are (and again, YMMV) exceptions to my usual reading habits. Dazzling, fun exceptions, but exceptions.
[xylohypha]:
LOTR wasn't my first fandom. Doctor Who did that for me, nearly thirty years ago. (Eeep.) There is nothing quite like that first blissful fall--but I've found subsequent fannish obsessions enthusiasms to be nearly as much fun. And it can be reassuring in a way to know how the cycle tends to run for you: it makes it easier to think, "I know it won't be this all-consuming forever...and that's okay."
[hobbitdogs]:

Oh yes. My very first fandom was many, many years ago long before there was a word "fandom". It was love, and passion and excitement that never stopped. I quite literally (I made up a chart, really!) could count how many minutes away my special show was from any day or time in the week. I ate, drank, slept and lived for my fandom. I wrote too, long hand on college ruled notebook paper. Piles of stuff. Just for me, as there was no computer to go find others as insane as myself. But, a few years passed, and it faded away. What an empty feeling. But a new one came along, and off I went again, headlong into the renewed passion. Over the years, there have been a few others that hit that magic chord. It seemed that the older I got, the harder it was to find the magic again. That's why this was such a fantastic ride. I had always loved the books, but this whole thing brought a new excitement to them, and new friends and lo! and behold! Websites and chats and LJ and oh my.

Yes, it is sad when it goes, and one hopes that the next adventure won't take too long to show itself....

Um, er.....*whispers* The Man From UNCLE was my first love.

Trek TOS was the second one.
[baranduin]:

It's a funny thing. I'm sitting here trying to remember my very first fannish love and it has just come back to me ... sitting at home watching Ed Sullivan introduce the Beatles and feeling something going booooiiiinnnngggg inside me.

Though I'm one of the ancient Tolkien book fans, I'm just now recalling I had that same sense of booooiiinnngggg -- a sort of what's happening? -- when I sat down in December 2001 and saw FOTR for the first time. Heh, have always described it as my brain going into massive gridlock about an hour in but I think boooiiinnngggg works better.

Have had other boooiiinnnggg experiences over the years though those were the strongest. Then again, maybe not because in some ways it's always like the first time or at least a hint of it. I'm always relieved a bit to be out of it and get some *normal* perception going on again, but when it comes again, it's such a joy.
[rabidsamfan]:

I always figure that if I picked up a piece of paper and it made me laugh out loud, or grin like a loon, it's worth keeping. Especially since as I've gone from computer to computer the electronic versions of things that I thought would be my archives have become inaccessible for one reason or another. Paper survives better than diskettes... Or thumb drives!

I have boxes labelled "Fannish", and I put anything that still strikes a love spark in them. There are so many other areas of my life where the excess paper really can go away that I usually can manage to make enough room. And every few years (or a move) I might flip through them again. Very seldom have I ever regretted keeping those memories. (And that's only when I have to carry the boxes into a new place.)

Those of us with foggy memories, or right brainedness or whatever it is, we're the people archives and mementos were invented for. Some other person may have perfect recall of an incident or a con or a story, not me. I need the nudges and I know it. So I keep the papers about my loves and toss out the stuff I no longer need for work or business instead.
[siljamus]:

Thank you for a beautiful essay that captures something that I think is fundamental to the fannish experience, and I even tend to use the imagery of love affairs when trying to explain it.

I’ve conducted many love affairs in my life with TV shows, books, movies, music. There is that very first love that will never leave you. Mine came early as a child, but I still travel with a few of the mementos, battered and worn, but mine. And I'm never going to get over it.

My greatest love will probably always be ballet, and I have saved every ticket stub to every performance I've ever been to and most of the programs as well. And then where are all the other affairs. They have run the gamut from the briefly acknowledged moment of attraction that isn’t going anywhere right through to those born with the potential for a trip down the aisle. Some turned out to be hot, short and dirty affairs, some became slow paced romances, there have been summer flirts and winter cuddles, and then there are the lifetime commitments.

As we grow older as fans we also become more experienced lovers. We know the thrill of hearing the opening line in a courtship, and we know the agony of seeing the end of the affair coming at us out of nowhere. But I think we just keep doing it, because it is part of who we are - it's in our bones not just as fans, but as human beings.
[mollyringle]:
When I see my (usually younger) LJ friends gushing in post after post about their current fandom love, I shake my head and think, "Yeah, I know, but you'll get over it in a couple years." But I would never type it, because as you say, that experience was amazing. Dorky, a little embarrassing, but amazing.
[fictualities]:
Darkover! I loved those books when they came out -- still do, and those books are definitely surviving the move. They were my first exposure to fanfic, too, though I didn't know that at the time: I read those anthologies of MZB approved fan stories and loved them. They had a certain quality I couldn't define at the time, but which I now think of as ficcish. Was entranced, but then they seemed to disappear overnight (yes, I now know the whole sad story) and so that fannish lurve faded a bit before it could blossom into fannish commitment.

References