Star Trek wasn’t hugely popular right off the bat, or even for a long time. The first series, after all, lasted only three years and had to fight for survival for most of that time. But it did catch on hugely with us fans; many of us fell in love right away.
From an early point even within the fan community, let alone to mundanes, some of us were careful to identify as Trekkers rather than Trekkies. As I used to put it, “Trekkers are grown ups who love science fiction. Trekkies own a pair of Spock ears.”
Then, because of a little movie, named Star Wars, science fiction went mainstream. And so did the divide between two rather different kinds of fans…
Let’s call them Fans and The Fannish and note that the word “fanatic” applies far more to the latter. It’s a key part of the difference.
The other key difference is the degree of self-centered ownership taken by the fannish. This often manifests as outrage when the object of their worship fails to conform to their desires.
A third important aspect of the fannish is exposed by the common nickname “fan boys” — the fannish trend strongly towards young males. (With all the testosterone-fueled idiocy that implies.)
One example of the worst of fannish behavior is what happened with the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters.
Firstly, there was a negative reaction to the female cast in general.
Secondly, there was a negative reaction specifically to Leslie Jones, the black female cast member.
The harassment of Ms. Jones resulted in her leaving Twitter for a while. At one point, her personal website was hacked and defaced.
The film was a box office bomb and lost money, but critics were fairly kind. I thought the movie stood on its own pretty well. I enjoyed it and give it a low Ah! rating (at worst a very high Eh! rating).
It bombed, in part, because many of the fannish felt such strong ownership for the original and were offended by the changes. Some of that is perfectly legitimate; one is allowed to resent changes to beloved canon on artistic grounds.
But much of the reaction was racism and sexism rolled into an ugly bludgeon. Mobs often bring out the worst in humanity, and the fannish are no exception. Strength in numbers works for the bad guys, too.
(The legitimate negative response shows one danger of reboots! I’ve always been a little askance at them. See Reboots.)
Another especially egregious example of fannish behavior is well-known in gaming circles: Gamergate.
(More properly, Gamergate controversy, because there’s an ant named a gamergate. As far as I know it doesn’t play computer games.)
I’m not in gamer circles, so have only heard the echoes of a distant thunder. If you’re interested in the details, read the Wiki link, but essentially it was a gender-based war with anti-PC mixed in.
The percentage of “fan boys” among the fannish is especially high when it comes to computer games, and misogyny is apparently rife, not just among fans, but within the industry. (The tech industry in general is predominantly male, which is an important related topic for discussion.)
These two examples illustrate how that third trait of the fannish, the large fraction of young males, is behind some of their uglier aspects. It’s a “young boys” club rather than an old one.
As with Ghostbusters, the outraged fannish take issue on two related levels.
Firstly, that Doctor Who has become too much into “social justice warrior” (SJW) issues.
Secondly, The Doctor is a woman!
Perhaps it’s a testament to the overall quality of the new season (or Who in general), or that real life is too distracting right now, but fannish outrage hasn’t been terribly strong this time around. Maybe malcontent Whovians are smart enough to not make too much of this.
There have been some rumblings by various bloggers or vloggers. One (young white male) did a video about the “vandalization” of Doctor Who, which — as much as I could stomach before stopping the video and unfollowing the channel — was directed at the idea of a female The Doctor.
That video came out before the show ever aired a single episode!
Based on trailers and word of mouth, this fannish jackass decided that Doctor Who had been “vandalized.” Makes me embarrassed to be a Whovian.
The fannish in general make me embarrassed to be a science fiction fan, because they make us look bad. But the reality is that I’m, once again, embarrassed by my species. (And by white men in particular.)
I blame Star Wars, because it made science fiction mainstream. Before Lucas (B.L.) science fiction was niche and the purview mostly of the geeky. But Anno Stella Bella, it became big business, a commodity.
I have long believed in the idea that reading (good) fiction makes you a better person; reading lots of good fiction makes you a lots better person; and reading lots of good science fiction makes you a lots better and interesting person!
But most get their SF from movies and TV now, not from books. I think that matters. Perhaps a great deal.
So imagine my dismay about the 2015 Hugo awards, which were polluted by fannish foolishness.
As with Doctor Who, most of the energy was a reaction to perceptions of SJW and reverse bias. In the case of the Hugos, the presumption was that too many “affirmative action” choices were made in selecting nominees.
(I mentioned in my last post how “being PC” has become a negative accusation. Likewise, the accusation of being a “social justice warrior” as if fighting for justice is a bad thing.)
I’m sad that even literary science fiction isn’t immune to the fannish.
Not all, or even most, of the fannish stink, by any means!
The line between just being a fan and being one of the fannish isn’t a line at all; one fades into the other. Fans join the fannish.
For many, it goes no further than wearing those Spock ears or dressing up as their favorite Star Wars character to stand in line for the next movie.
That’s good clean fun; more power to’m!
As I will have mentioned in my next post, I’m just not a fan of “dress up” in any of its forms (including tattoos and piercings). My sense of self and originality is entirely based on my mind, not my body or my coverings.
That’s just me. I’m definitely not prescribing it for anyone, but it does bring me to what is actually the main topic of this post.
Which is Bill Maher and his recent viral comment with regard to Stan Lee’s death:
“The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.”
Now, full disclosure, I can’t stand Bill Maher. I think he’s ignorant, stupid, and a complete jackass. I think his comment, in terms of its timing alone, shows exactly what a fucking jackass he is.
That said, there is a bit of truth behind what he implied.
What he said was stupid. The inspiration Stan Lee afforded fans young and old is vastly greater than the modern Marvel Movies.
Someone recently asked me if I “liked Marvel,” and I had to stop and ask them exactly what they meant.
Marvel movies? Yeah, they’re fun, and nearly all watchable. Some more than others, but there have been some real gems.
Marvel TV shows? Don’t have much experience, but I got tired of Agents of SHIELD and stopped watching it. Agent Carter was pretty good.
Marvel comics (these days)? No clue; don’t read them.
Marvel comics (from the old days)? Ah, now you’re talking! Those I loved!
And those are the key to the greatness of Stan Lee.
What the fuck, I ask you, has Bill fucking Maher ever done to match that?
(Sorry, I really don’t like the guy.)
Now that I have that off my chest, the thing is that Maher had a point, and it’s one I’ve made repeatedly before about the infantilization of our culture.
When challenged by the outraged fannish (and fans), Maher doubled down:
“What I was saying is: A culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb f—ing culture. And for people to, like, get mad at that just proves my point.”
And that, I think, is worth discussing.
Comic books have certainly grown up (starting in 1984), and many are explicitly not for kids (because of all the explicitness). Some of them are even quite amazing.
That doesn’t make them the nonpareil of literature, though.
For one thing, they’re nearly as visual as the movies and TV shows that implement them. A few movies (Sin City, Watchmen) seemingly used the comics as storyboards. Which worked very well, because the two mediums have so much in common (any they’ve informed each other).
Where I agree with Maher, especially with regard to the movies and TV shows (and video games), is that placing these things at the center of your world is, yes, pretty infantile (or at least damned childish).
Being a fan is fine, even being a little fannish is fine, but at some point it crosses a line into a fantasy bizarro world, and it’s wrong.
It’s especially wrong when you get your knickers twisted over fictional characters that you didn’t invent in the first place and certainly don’t own.
This has gotten long, but there’s more I would say about it.
I think I’ll hold off until the last episode of this season of Doctor Who airs this Sunday. I’ve been thinking of trying to write an account of the season, and where I’m leaving off here would fit in well there.