I see them often, headlines that blare urgently: “Fans Flip Out Over _____” On the flip side, the ones that proclaim giddily: “Fans Are Thrilled About _____” The blanks differ, week to week, but the mood is always vocal eleven; outrage or delight; thumbs up or thumbs down. (As Jerry Seinfeld put it recently, it either “Sucks!” or it’s “Great!” His genius is pointing out they can be the same thing.)
For me that level of involvement in fiction is a bit alien. Even as a young Star Trek fan, I distinguished between Trekkers (the sensible sort of fan that I was) and Trekkies (those goofballs running around with Spock ears and toy phasers). Love versus obsession; appreciation versus Let’s Pretend.
What concerns me sometimes is we’re amusing ourselves to death.
To the extent that fan means fanatic, I’ve never been a fan. It’s that line between loving something or being obsessed by it. Attaching too much to a book, TV series, movie, or whatever, strikes me somewhat like having an imaginary friend.
It’s fine to a point, whatever puts helium in your balloon, but it can go too far.
I worry about blurred lines, for one thing. Not everyone separates reality and fiction effectively. For some those bleed together. In some cases that has disastrous results (RIP John Lenon, Rebecca Schaeffer, Selena, and others).
As always, it’s a question of how much is too much. What constitutes over the line? Clearly gunfire is way over the line; any criminal behavior is. At the other end of the spectrum, fans can certainly express their opinions in a variety of (legal) ways.
One art Yin-Yang question that interests me involves the tension between creators responding (or not) to their fans. (Another involves consumers knowing (or not) the artist and context of their work.)
What I find a bit weird is that fan opinions are headline news.
Partly my fault, actually. A newsfeed learns what interests the reader. I sometimes read articles about “the industry,” so it calculates I may want to read others.
My gripe is, having read a handful of articles about NCIS (regarding Cote de Pablo returning to the show), now I get tons of articles about NCIS. It’s slow to learn I don’t read most of them.
I don’t want NCIS out completely, but I wish there was a way to have only important articles. The problem is defining what’s “important,” not to mention getting an algorithm to recognize content on that level.
A byproduct is that these headlines (let alone the articles), hoping for clicks, contain spoiler information. Writers are so eager to discuss the latest episode of Doctor Who (or whatever) they spill beans the day after it airs.
When those beans are in the headline, bang, you’ve been spoiled. This has happened to me many times.
The situation is worse when a whole season drops. It might be weeks or months until I get around to watching. By then the season has been thoroughly discussed.
We all seem to suffer crippling FOMO. We don’t savor things anymore. We gulp them down and move on to the next thing. People don’t even realize how crazy it’s all gotten. (Koyaanisqatsi! I’m tellin’ ya.)
[I was fighting off learning about Westworld, season three, because I don’t have HBO and haven’t decided what (if anything) to do about that. I couldn’t resist reading two recently because the headlines implied season three was worse than season two, which it sounds like it was. Unfortunately, now I basically know what happens and almost don’t have to watch. (Maybe that’s actually fortunate.)]
Devoted fans develop a sense of ownership. That leads to a natural desire to participate, to be heard.
I’m of a school that says, generally when it comes to the art of others, we like or not like, but our opinion shouldn’t steer or sway the art or artist. I try as much as possible to let art wash over me. I try to go with the flow and embrace what the artist has produced.
Sometimes I find it not to my taste, but my taste is on me. Nowhere is it writ all art must appeal. People don’t like every kind of food, every kind of music, or every kind of sport. Why would other art be different?
The simple solution to a food you don’t like is don’t eat that food. (It leaves more for those who do like it.)
That said, we all have our Waterloo. To this day I wish I could have talked with the people making Star Trek (the closest I ever came to fanish, but I was in high school). I desperately wanted a few words with them about transporters and replicators.
Many years later I wanted, even more desperately, a few words with those making Star Trek:The Next Generation about that damn holodeck. (For me, that one went from SMH to D’oh! to Arg!!)
But other than quietly ranting off in my corner to anyone who’d listen, I never expected to be taken seriously. It certainly wasn’t headline worthy. Fan Flips Out Over Holodeck!
Put it on the fridge: It’s just a TV show, keep your pants on.
Her stress on the second “love” — the overtones of obsession, of crossing a line — are exactly the sort of thing I mean about fans.
It’s fine to love a show. Just don’t love a show.
With art, taste can almost entirely define our reaction. We might be captured and enthralled, or we might find it doesn’t grab us. We might even find it annoying or otherwise seriously unlikable. But that, again, is us, not the art.
If anything, it’s a compliment to the artist that we reacted so strongly. Reaction is one of the whole points of art. (Which makes the whole fan thing kinda complicated.)
I think it’s even more complicated when it comes to storytelling art. There is the craft — the beauty or elegance — of the story, but there is also (for lack of a better word) the logic of the story.
I don’t mean a story has to be logical (although that’s often a good strategy). What I mean is that a story says something specific that we react to on top of the craft of the telling. A story has rich content.
Which is where our opinions about things really kick in.
It’s one thing to be touched by a poem or bored by ballet, but when art presents complex ideas that engage with our ideas, we may be confronted with cognitive dissonance. We may find ourselves strongly disagreeing with, even arguing with, what is, in a very real sense, another person — another mind.
With fiction, the willing suspension of disbelief asks us to accept and try to understand. If the plot seems preposterous, we should ask if things could happen that way. A story isn’t about what should have happened, but what the author says did happen.
It’s a matter of seeing the good and going with the bad… to a point.
(My big ask with stories has always been: Don’t take me out of the moment. Don’t do something so stupid my mind just can’t go along anymore.)
Something to keep in mind: Criticism implies superiority. Especially negative criticism. It suggests the critic would have known better. But it’s like proofreading. It’s easy to spot mistakes in something. It’s a lot harder to create a something that’s even mostly free of mistakes.
(I believe absolutely in the theory that says eliminating all errors requires N+1 proofreads, where N is the actual number performed. This holds regardless of how large you make N.)
((As such, I’ve adopted the Navajo rug-weaver and sand painting idea of deliberately leaving an error, because [a] perfection is for the gods, and [b] the N+1 theory means there will always be at least one error anyway.))
That said, writing, proofreading, and editing, are all quite different skills. More to the point, perhaps, they are skills that require training.
The thing about criticism is that sometimes a second look gives one a different take on things. (Which can demand a third look to see which reaction is more true.)
A bad meal at a new restaurant might be the result of a bad night (on their part or yours). One data point doesn’t say much. It certainly doesn’t give you a trend.
On the other hand, fresh eyes sometimes see things. (That’s why having someone else proofread or edit your writing is so valuable.)
Finally, there is that we don’t always know what constraints the author may have labored under. Perhaps there are good reasons for something we think is “wrong” being the way it is.
The point is, informed criticism is more than our gut reactions. There is a world of difference between what is good and what we like.
The attraction to stars and fanish behavior seem linked to me. Or perhaps it’s that I’ve never understood either.
Liking the actor is a first-level understanding of the story. The actors are puppets for the writer and director. They contribute plenty, but their words and major actions are not their own. (I think science fiction fans may lean more into writers and directors, so props for that.)
I’ve wondered if those with a background in theatre are also more prone to see behind the actors than those who only watch TV and movies. In seeing plays, one often sees the same story played by different actors, which may focus on the stories more.
On the other hand, a diet of TV and movies puts (the same) favorite actors in different stories, so perhaps this leads to a greater focus on the actors? #justathought
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone down this road, and it probably won’t be the last. As I said, it’s something I’ve noticed since the days of the original Star Trek when I was in high school.
Stay unfannish, my friends!