The Fickle Fragility of Fanatical Fandom

If there is an upside to being sick the past few days – acute bronchitis, by the way – it’s that this downtime has allowed me to catch up on my shows, check out what’s new in my fandom groups, and sleep. Although, if you’re familiar at all with any fandom whatsoever, it might’ve been better had I just slept 24/7… which, trust me, it was already close. I think I’ve slept more in the past four days than I have in the last year.

My weekend perusal of the typical fandom groups left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And it’s not those pickles that might’ve been a bad idea to snack on. Maybe it’s the meds or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been able to breathe since Wednesday that has me curmudgeonly, but when on earth did we become a society where being a fan of something now comes with a list of rules and regulations seemingly longer and, apparently, far more strict than the U.S. Constitution?

Back in the not too distant past, it was acceptable to enjoy something just for enjoyment sake and discuss said enjoyment mid nibble of an appetizer at a dinner party and the person you were talking to would either nod in agreement or back away in shock… you know, depending.  If you were lucky, you could while away a happy – or heated – half hour of camaraderie discussing your favorite show or book or comic before people started to stare and you both just sort of wandered off to mingle with other, less geeky, party-goers.

These days, not so much. I mean, you’d think it would be easier to connect to like-minded fans, what with the internet and all, but sadly, no. The aforementioned rules and regulations, of which there are many and most are vague, if widely known at all, come into play and work to kill the fandom rather than build it up.

An actual conversation from a Doctor Who fan-discussion group:

Random Doctor Who Fan: Oh, I love Doctor Who, I’m such a fan!

Twatty McTwatterson: Oh, you’re a fan, are you?

Random Doctor Who Fan: Erm, yes.

Twatty McT: Riiigght, well, have you seen every single episode ever made… twice?

Random Doctor Who Fan: Well, no, I really only like the newer ones.

Twatter Von FuckFace: Alright then, that’s not really a true fan then, is it? Jumping on the bandwagon only when it gets cool. Cooler, of course, I mean cooler.  It’s always been cool. But YOU, you’re not a real fan, are you?

Random Doctor Who Fan: I think as long as you really enjoy something and watch it weekly you can be a fan.

Asshat McPedantic: Yeah, well I bet you can’t even tell me…

and proceeds to fire off a bunch of very specific, if not obscure, questions about the show and if the new person to the group can’t answer them in what the self-appointed inquisitor deems to be an acceptable amount of time, then clearly they’re googling the answer and therefore not a fan.

I mean, yikes, right?  But as I’ve sadly discovered, this sort of possessive fandom does not begin and end with Doctor Who.  People experience it constantly with whatever they are a fan of. It does seem to be most toxic in what we might term “geek” culture though *cough cough* it does happen in sports as well. I know, I know, perish the thought.

Speaking of geek culture, both Marvel and DC are filled with fans so driven by their passion for the genre that they are adept at channelling that energy into very positive ways through fanfiction, cosplay, Comic-Con conventions and the like. But equally, there’s a serious division in this world between the, for lack of a better term, regular fans and those who class themselves as the super fans (ha!). They almost seem to have formed a cult-like existence believing that they are the purest form of fan, and they alone have the right to the characters of these comic universes. Only like the movies? Not. A. Fan. There is just no room for posers, people.

Just take a look at what happened with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We’ll call it Jedi Gate – The Star Wars enthusiasts bat shit crazies lost their minds over the Asian heritage character of Rose. The racial abuse and toxic harassment got so bad the actress Kelly Marie Tran was bullied off social media by these hateful creatures. And what’s even worse is the studio apparently listened to them because, after building her character up to be something important to the franchise, she hardly featured in The Rise of Skywalker. The worst thing a major movie studio can do is give in to these snivelling keyboard cowards over-the-top fans. It sets us back decades each time they do, and it encourages this harmful sort of bullying in the name of fanatical fandom.

My first love – books – aren’t even immune.  Technically, this is a play, but still. Harry Potter fans are where you might think there’s some quaint British-inspired relief from this sort of behavior. But, oh no. When the West End/Broadway production came out, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Potter fans speculated for months on just what the story would be about. They all posted about what they wanted from the play, you know, as one does… and when they didn’t get it, the outrage was, shall we say, palpable. From the casting (gasp!) to the storyline, people were pissed. In a franchise where tolerance, empathy, and inclusion are the mainstays of the literary universe, it was shocking to watch the fandom, or at least portions of it, crash and burn by their own hand. Those members of the fandom who were apparently personally offended at the play, deemed it “not canon.” True fans, indeed. Pfftt.

How have people become so obsessed with these franchises that they seem to have an unhealthy possessive sense of ownership over them? The only people that own these ideas are the people who came up with them in the first place, and the studios that own the rights. That’s it. After that, you get what you’re given and if you don’t like it, fine, you have a right not to, but you can express that without threatening an actress for playing a part, for God’s sake. If you do like it, great! But you also don’t get to appoint yourself the bouncer of fandom, deciding who gets to make it past the velvet rope.

Essentially, I feel the world is interesting because we are all different. We enjoy the same things differently, and our unique personalities mean we can be fans to different levels. Love the Doctor Who classic episodes or just the Tenth Doctor? Still a fan. We can be faithful to the original Star Wars movies only or embrace them all. Guess what? Yep. Still a fan. Just started watching your newest favorite series on Season 4? Still. A. Fan.

And if you want to call yourself a super fan, go for it; have fun. That’s the whole point. Just don’t humiliate or bully others for not living up to your version of a “fan.” There are way too many exclusive spaces in our world as it is, fandom (of anything) should not be one of them.  Repeat after me: I am not the fandom bouncer.

The Golden Age

The Golden Girls is one of my all-time favorite shows. Even in reruns, I love it. I love the repartee, the relationships, and the zingers that flew like confetti at Mardi Gras. But there is one thing that bugs me about it…

Articles about the show go on and on about these “elderly” women and how they’re roomies living together in death’s waiting room. When The Golden Girls show started, the characters were not that old.  The actresses who played them weren’t that old either. Rose (54), Blanche (53), and Dorothy (53) were only in their mid-fifties.  Sophia was 80. I’m in this age-range (think Rose, not Sophia) and I certainly don’t feel elderly. Sharing a house in a warm climate with a trio of besties as roommates sounds pretty damn cool to me, but the way they frame their “old age” really bothers me.  I mean, these brilliant women were just hitting their stride.

I read an article recently that suggests this show was about death and how these elderly women were just hanging out in death’s waiting room, waiting to die since life was apparently over for them. WTF?? If you read through the whole article, you’ll see that the writer equates these women with being on death’s door, and that the characters are devastatingly lonely because apparently all their family and friends have passed on… I know this came out in a different time but come on!

In an article simply listing “14 things you never knew about The Golden Girls,” Buzzfeed gives the backhanded compliment: “A group of elderly ladies, still in the prime of their life…”

Elderly.  Pffft.  These women were in their early to mid-50s – they weren’t 110!

I will say that their outfits and hairstyles probably did contribute to the age factor though. But even then, they dressed stylishly for the time.  An interesting interview with the costume designer of The Golden Girls revealed that they had a significant budget for clothing because the creators/producers were intent on making the female characters fashionable and high-end chic. Rue McClanahan even had it written into her contract that she got to keep the clothes. There definitely wasn’t any thrift store shopping on that set!

I guess you could argue that The Golden Girls characters were made to seem old despite their deliberately trendy appearance. The actresses and by extension, their characters, were victims of their time. Par for the course in a Hollywood where women weren’t allowed to age “well”… even in their own sitcom. I’m not sure that has changed all that much even today.

Because the article mentioned above annoyed me so much, I looked into the show’s history a little deeper and found that the creators specifically wanted to make the sitcom not about age. And for the most part, it wasn’t. This show talks about way more. You hear different perspectives of love and relationships. The writers were also brave enough to pull the audience’s heartstrings and open the viewers’ minds with progressive topics like social justice issues, LGBT rights, male privilege, the HIV/AIDS virus, suicide – all while making us laugh… and sometimes cry.

Quite an undertaking for a quartet of elderly women languishing in death’s waiting room.

The Dinner Dilemma

Don’t you miss it? That magical experience of childhood known as the dinner table. Not impressed? Neither was I … back then. But I sure wish I had one of those tables now, of the magical variety that is, not the useless one I currently own.

I mean, as a kid, most of us could just rock up to the table at dinner time and have food, just waiting for us, prepared by somebody else and bought with money from somebody else’s pocket.

Now, here we are. Look at us. Just look! We’re adults without a magic dinner table. Oh sure, you can still rock up to that lackluster piece of furniture in your dining room, but all you’re going to find is an empty surface and a gurgling stomach, served up with a cold side of pity and despair. This is the real world, folks.

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest struggles I face in everyday life is the question of what I’m having for dinner. Yes, breakfast is technically the most important meal of the day, and granted, I sometimes have breakfast for dinner… but dinner seems to be the most difficult meal of the day.  Or at least, it is in my household.

It’s not even about deciding what to have for dinner, although that’s hell in itself.

What do you want for dinner?

I don’t know, what do you want?

I don’t care. What do you want?

I don’t know, I just know I’m hungry.

Me too. What are you hungry for?

I don’t know… how about you?

For most of us, you can’t just play a rousing version of the “what do you want for dinner” game and end up on the “lobster and steak” space. Oh no, you have to take your bank account into consideration. One of the most devastating and shocking realizations of growing up is discovering just how much food actually costs. Now you understand why your mother was always harping about eating everything on your plate. She was worried about your health sure, but the money!  Good grief, the money!

Say you can afford the food you want. Good for you. This just means you’ve earned the right to create a weekly menu and accompanying shopping list. Then a trip to the grocery store across town, which is a real treat, isn’t it? Made even more so if you have kids. Lugging everything home and putting it all away is a physical and mental test, if you ask me.

Ahhhh, but there is a bright side … you get to sit down and order a well-deserved pizza because who the hell has the energy to make dinner after all of that!?

How I Learned to Appreciate the Fine Art of Humming

I hate people. I think I’ve mentioned this before. And admittedly, I’m a cynic. I’m a people-hating cynic, there… I’ve said it. I guess the silver lining, if there is a silver lining to being a people-hating cynic, is that I’m aware of it. I don’t live in denial. However, in recent years, I’ve been trying to temper my negative thought process. An incident that happened just this weekend brought this aspiration to the fore, and while I failed – utterly – in the moment, it did serve to enlighten me in moving forward.

Oh, it wasn’t anything dramatic. I was out grocery shopping, as is the norm in our consumer-based society, and besides, I was hungry… when I made a couple of observations about some people I came across in my quest for snacks.

The first was a young girl who was with her family in the cereal aisle. With a smile on her face, she was pushing the shopping cart in front of her and humming. Can you believe it? Humming! Happily, it seemed. And indeed, whatever song she was humming was bright and cheerful. What is she, I thought to myself, some carefree young kid?

Well, yes. That’s exactly what she was. My cynic’s mind put it down to her naivety about the world and continued with my shopping.

A while later, I passed an elderly gentleman. He was also happily humming to himself, albeit much more loudly. I thought it very strange. Two people humming in a supermarket in one day! What are the odds? Aren’t they annoyed by all the people crowding into the aisles, fighting for all the food!? Or that lady on her phone walking soooo slowly through the store and getting in everyone’s way? What about the thought of standing in the massive line at the single open check-out lane? I mean, come on! Who in their right mind would be humming when faced with such aggravations?

The girl I could kind of understand. She was a kid and kids can often see the brighter side of life that the rest of us miss. The man confused me though. He was older – maybe 80, and surely had experienced enough in life that he should be miserable, you know, as one does. How come he has the energy and enthusiasm to hum and send out positive vibes when doing something as mundane as grocery shopping? I’m only 50 and I was well on my way to losing it in aisle 9.

It was around this point that my train of thought derailed, and I realized that maybe, possibly, humming wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Being happy, even in public, could, in fact, be considered quite normal. I know, I know, but bear with me here, there’s more.

It wasn’t those people and their very public apparent happiness that was the problem. It was me. You’re shocked at this revelation, I know. I was too. It’s not that I don’t hum or sing the odd lyric under my breath, it’s just that, quite frankly, I would rather die than draw attention to myself. Sober, that is. And if I’m being honest, I still can’t fathom someone – let alone two someones – being so perky and upbeat in a grocery store, amid gads of people no less, that their happiness burst forth in song.

But just because I’m a curmudgeon doesn’t mean that other people are odd for simply being joyful. Let them spread a little bit of cheer, I say. Goodness knows, we’re all the better for it. Negativity is a vicious circle; it’s so easy to spread around that sometimes I think if it were a fatal disease, we’d all be dead in a matter of weeks.

The best course of action to keep negativity at bay?  Hum at the grocery store. Trust me. It works.

Exit… Stage Left

So. According to my daughter, my writing has never been a paragon of dignity. Okay, I’ll give her that one. After all, she’s not wrong.

With that said, thanks to my children (yes, I’m blaming my kids), my ability to hold back my…  ummm… oh, who cares, I’ll just say it. My ability to hold back my pee is nearly nonexistent. When I have to go, I have to go. And my body, being the asshole that it is, when it senses I’m near a bathroom, it upgrades the urinary crisis to a breaking point. Why is that? Does anyone else experience that? The closer you get to a bathroom, the more urgent the need becomes, to the point of … hey, I’m right here, but I still might not make it?

Sometimes, I tempt fate and wait almost too long to start the trek to the restroom. Who has time for constant bathroom breaks? I don’t. I’ve got better things to do. I’d put an end to bodily functions altogether, if it were up to me. And why do they call it a restroom, anyway? It’s not like we take a nap in there. I mean, I wish!

Anyway, I was at work today and threw caution to the wind in order to finish the marketing project I was working on. Oh, I made it, but barely.

And as I headed back to my office, once again unencumbered, however so briefly, by a needful bladder, I got to thinking.  What happens if that fateful day should arrive when I don’t make it in time?  Well, I’ll tell you, and this I know for certain.

I will go to my office, grab my coat, and without a backward glance or a word to anyone, I will simply walk out, never to return.  I will head East (or North, or West, or South… I don’t know, I’m geographically challenged, people!) until I can go no further. I will take a new name, put down roots in a new town, with a new job, and new people who will never, ever know of “the incident” that plagues my past.

They might speak of me around my “old” office, after I’m gone. But in the context of “that crazy woman in marketing who just up and walked out one day,” and NOT “the woman in the corner office who peed herself last Wednesday.”

I’m good with crazy. Oh yes. Definitely, crazy.

On Time But Off Kilter

I recently stumbled upon an article written about a man teaching his family to be punctual…written by the man in question. I suppose it was meant to be an uplifting anecdote, but it was just plain stupid. The story goes that this man once completed basic training and his drill sergeant was the toughest, hardest, meanest guy around, as drill sergeants are wont to be. If the 40-man platoon needed to be anywhere, the drill sergeant would demand that they arrive waaaaay ahead of time. If they were five minutes early that was considered LATE. Anyone who arrived only four minutes early was confronted with retribution and those merely on time with “agony.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’m guessing 1,000 push-ups and a good serving of ridicule delivered with a fine spray of spit all over one’s face. Typical basic training stuff, really, and to be expected in the military when time can truly be crucial to life or death.

So, after leaving the army, this guy started a family and kept up his punctual habit. He even went so far as to instill in his kids, “If you’re five minutes early, you’re late,” and “When you’re late, dammit, you’re WRONG.” Okay, fair enough. To each their own. The fact that this was a mantra they volleyed back and forth daily like some sort of inside joke is a little unsettling. Again, to each their own. However, that this dad encouraged his kids to say this loudly (‘bellowed’ was his word) – so others could hear – as people were arriving to social events and the like, is a little obnoxious, if you ask me.  But, hey, what would the world be without a few assholes. Yeah, don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical as well as sarcastic.

Then, the fateful day arrived! The stars aligned and this guy saw his chance to shine, in all his timely glory, and show his children just what it meant to be a man.  After a school function, at which another family had arrived a few minutes late, the father of the offending family made a comment about how he was sorry they were late – that they were overwhelmed with, presumably, a schedule full of commitments. To which the ever-punctual man, after deliberately checking to see if his kids were listening, replied smugly, “I guess we never have that problem because we’re never busy.”

Personally, I think this was an inane come-back… but, in his own words, ever-punctual man meant it as an insult, to humiliate the “late dad” in front of everyone. And ever-punctual man wanted his kids to know that’s what he was doing, to see it, to hear it.

In response to his little dig, his sons looked at him with these massive Cheshire grins on their faces as if he was some kind of God of Time. “Oh whoa … what? Did you just say that?” They must have thought. “Wow. Our Dad is the coolest cause he knows how to insult other adults. Wow, totally cowabunga, man!”

This whole article is about how great this guy is, albeit self-aggrandizing, since he’s the one who wrote it, and I’m thinking… you know what, I’m just gonna say it, this guy is a total jerk. I’ve met people like this. They are usually assholes.

Let’s break this down.

Sure, punctuality is important. I’m not saying it isn’t. There are a gazillion situations where timeliness is imperative. But turning up half an hour early can, in certain situations, be considered rude. Let’s say someone is hosting a party, they ask you to turn up at 7:00pm, they expect you to turn up at 7:00pm, but actually hope everyone might be a little late, maybe even turning up at 7:15pm because they don’t get home from work until 6:00pm and all they want is to be able to change clothes and get the party things together before people start showing up. Turn up at 6:30pm and this person might be forced to entertain you at a time when really, they were counting on a few precious minutes to have a shower and get ready for company.

Let me just digress for a moment to say that this guy admitted his family is well known for their ultra-punctual habit and regularly get chided for being too early to everything, from school functions to kids’ birthday parties. If you’re routinely showing up early enough to get chided for it, to me that reeks of ill manners, and not exactly something to be proud of.

But here’s the kicker… the reasoning behind the “asshole” label for this guy… if you’re going to deliberately insult other people in a social situation for not living up to your idea of punctual perfection, it means that while you’re patting yourself on the back for counting the minutes, you have forgotten to account for compassion and  empathy.

To teach your children that it’s okay – commendable, even, to belittle and ridicule others to reinforce just how amazing YOU are, is an asshole thing to do, plain and simple. I would go so far as to argue that it’s in fact, a form of weakness. Weakness of character, weakness of intellect, weakness of the soul.

Really, does it matter if someone is only five minutes early to something? Four minutes early to something? Perhaps we need to start teaching our children that what really matters isn’t what’s on the clock or that data graph but what’s in the heart.

Smile at people. Try to be on time, but most importantly, endeavor to connect with others. Strive to be a caring person of good character. Show empathy and treat others with compassion and kindness.

Be here. Now. Because time is an illusion. It moves as you move, it dances as you dance.

And as the great Persian adage goes, “This too shall pass.”