WHEN FANDOM BECAME NO-FUNDOM

I came to genre journalism the same way everyone else did: above all else, I was a fan.

I like monster movies, science-fiction, superheroes, comics. You name it, chances are I’ve read it, watched it and consumed it. I love escapism. I love to be inspired, scared and challenged by visions of other worlds and the fantastique. I’ve even been lucky enough to share my opinions and critiques on the creations found in genre entertainment, as well as talk to or interview those who make this stuff for a living.

I feel this needs to be said before going any further: I’m not a critic by nature. I can find and analyze the good and bad in a film or book for professional purposes, but my guiding instinct is very simple: it either works for me or it doesn’t. Pacific Rim is still the best movie about robots punching monsters in the face, because – really – that was its goal. Taking it to task for not being what you anticipated is on you, not the artist.

It doesn’t take much to satisfy me.  If something succeeds at being what it is, then I’m perfectly satisfied.  There’s a time to put on the critic pants and do my job but, above all else, I want to be entertained.

That principle keeps me going as a fan. We can talk up all the high-faluting aspirations we want but in the end, we’re still talking about monsters and superheroes and slasher movies. It’s meant to be fun. So when did being a fan become such a grim and dour chore?

Something’s changed in circles of fandom, a tidal shift in the culture, and it’s not necessarily for the better. Knee-jerk cynicism, hostility, exclusionary elitism and an inflated sense of self-entitlement have become standard procedure for much of fan discourse. Look at any message board or social media outlet and it appears everyone has an opinion (And yes, I’m aware of the irony as I type this out for my blog).

As someone who’s found himself on both sides of the velvet rope ( as a fan, as a writer and as a convention organizer), I’d like to think I have a decent, semi-informed perspective on the scene. Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass. Either way, I’ve been thinking about things we can do, as a subculture, to make this an enjoyable thing again. And I’m going to be blunt about this, because dammit, it’s time for a little tough love. I only do this because I care, kids.

  • Hardcores: no one cares but you. Hey, I said I was going to be blunt. Look, your dedication to *fill-in-the-blank* is admirable, but it doesn’t make you any more or less important than a “casual” fan of the same ( I deplore the “casual” label. As if we need to start grading levels here). Not everyone is going to have your encyclopedic knowledge of Italian Giallo cinema or your Audobon-like grasp of the entire Pokemon menagerie. And that’s okay. Hardcore is fine, and it has its place, but stop lording over the rest of the herd as if you have something to prove. You don’t. Just enjoy it like everyone else is.
  • It’s not a Members-Only Club: This kind of ties into #1. Not every horror fan listens to The Misfits. Not every comic fan likes superheroes. And as shocking as this is to some, not every sci-fi fan has seen every iteration of Star Trek. There’s no checklist for admittance, nor should there be. For a culture born of outsiders, there are a lot of people quick to throw up the gates around the pool for fear of contamination, aren’t there?
  • You Don’t Get Final Cut: Didn’t like the ending to the Mass Effect series? Upset that Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman? Feel like George Lucas “raped your childhood”? Guess what? Too bad. You’re allowed to be upset. You’re allowed to voice your disapproval. And that is all. Demanding that the creators create what YOU want is wrong, on more levels than I can possibly illustrate here, but it boils down to this: the creator creates, the fan consumes. Sometimes you’ll like it. Other times, you won’t.  Criticism and disappointment are normal reactions. Creating petitions, orchestrating boycotts and demanding that things be done your way? Nu-uh. You ever seen a kid throw a tantrum in Wal-Mart because Mommy won’t buy them that really expensive Transformers toy?  Same deal. Not acceptable for a kid, sure as hell not acceptable for an adult.
  • Girls: I’m going to make this one REALLY simple. Women and girls have and always will be a part of the scene. They are not rare and magical unicorns to be puzzled over, nor are they interlopers who want to ruin all the fun for the boys. Girls read comics. Girls like horror. Girls play video games. And they don’t do it for YOU, lads.
    Not gonna sugar-coat this one, boys

It’s the 21st Century. Fer chrissakes, grow up.

  • We’re All In The Same Boat: I’ve heard this time and again working conventions. The horror kids can’t stand the anime kids. The sci-fi fans think the horror kids are weird. And nobody likes the Bronies. Well, I call bullshit on this. If you are attending a convention, either as a guest, a vendor or someone working the floor, you have zero right to criticize anyone for their interests. It’s all part of the bigger mosaic, which your particular interests are but one portion of. Your nerdy shit may come in different packaging, but it’s all nerdy shit. So get over yourself. And fast.
  • When it’s no longer fun, time to move on: I can’t stress this one enough. If you spend more time complaining about everything wrong with the scene, if your first reaction to any kind of genre-related news is to take to your Facebook page or Twitter feed and start typing out your moral outrage…. maybe it’s time to find a new hobby. And that’s what all of this should be – a fun hobby. When all of this – the conventions, the books, the movies – becomes a source of irritation and anger, then for the sake of your health and sanity…move on. Better yet, make your own art. Write, draw, cross-stitch, finger paint. Make the art you want to see.

Again, these are suggestions, things that we can do to return fandom to its rightful origins: enjoyment and entertainment. More importantly, maybe we can start having fun with all of this again.

Until next time, nerd nation.

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