Why It’s Not Safe to Come Out of the Fan Closet
I made reference in our last post to the list of Do’s and Don’ts that was making the rounds at the latest Supernatural Convention in Chicago. Posted in very public places – elevators and bathrooms – it was designed to make sure everyone took note.
We’ve seen it happen before. Admonishments on how to treat the talent. The instructions on how to behave circulating before Jensen Ackles’ appearance in A Few Good Men (these included tips on how to dress for the theater as well as how to conduct oneself in a theater – no whooping and whistling please), the audible groans whenever a fan asks for something – a hug, any special recognition – and the hissing and booing that accompany any and all mentions of what fans do (fan fiction anyone??)
Whether or not we needed to be told not to ask embarrassing or uncomfortable questions of that weekend’s guests begs the larger question – whence comes the odd phenomenon of policing the borders of fandom? And why doesn’t anyone ever instruct us on how to treat each other?
Fan conventions are the proverbial safe space, or at least we like to think of them that way. A place where we can all let our inner geeks out, secure in the knowledge that no one will point, no one will judge, and where our passion for our favorite television show doesn’t need to be explained or worse – defended – yet again. We’re free to wear our “Winchesters Rule!” tee shirts with pride and affection. We all get it.
Expect for the part where we claw each other’s eyes out.
And so I ask, borrowing the words of a frightened and annoyed Mick Jagger standing on the stage at Altamont, trying to calm the chaos, “Brothers and sisters! Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting?” Our own utopian fantasies about the nurturing, empowering arena of fandom nothwithstanding, there seems to be a fundamental need to take sides that plays itself out here as it does everywhere else. Team Edward vs Team Jacob? Sam!girls vs Dean!girls? Exclusionary fan communities are the norm, but it’s one thing to toss people out of our virtual sandboxes and quite another to exclude fans who are in the same very large room – telling them, to their faces (or as close to that as an exchange with a poster in a rest room allows) that they are potentially not the “right kind” of fan. Not that there’s anything like general agreement on what the “right” kind of fan is.
My own theory? Fan shame. Even as we embrace our inner geeks, we are banishing them, telling ourselves that we are not that fan, that we have a better grip on reality, that we’re not as over the edge as that woman over there. The fact that we’ve all traveled, sometimes hundreds (or thousands) of miles, to be close to the objects of our fannish devotion, that we all line up for the autographs and the photo-ops, and that we’re willing to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the pleasure does not seem to matter. The fan stigma is strong and distance is the only viable option.
We all know about fan shame. Many of us may have even experienced it from time to time. Fandom Secrets is teeming with it. Even the media is slowly starting to catch on. The shame of the Twilight fans (don’t snigger!!) has made it into the mainstream press.
You’d think, in the face of all the judgment we experience from the outside, that we’d all be rallying round the fan flagpole, watching each other’s backs. Fandom is, unfortunately, full of judgment self-directed and otherwise.
So my question to critics is, how are we being empowered by something we’re so ashamed of? And my question to fans is, why are we so critical of something that should be empowering us?