Last night on The Newsroom, our nation’s preeminent show in which supposedly brilliant women can’t get their shit together, Maggie and Sloane used FourSquare to stalk a Sex and the City fan fiction writer to a laundromat in Astoria.
The whys of this are largely inconsequential, the gist is that Maggie needed something from the woman in the laundromat, Erica, and in a fit of desperation–Maggie’s default state could probably be called “fit of desperation”–she cornered this poor woman who was just trying to wash her clothes in peace.
Aaron Sorkin has never had a great relationship with his own fandom. He once tried to engage with the Television Without Pity forum devoted to The West Wing, and when that didn’t go the way he wanted it to he got defensive and started writing attacks on what he referred to as “the Pajama People” into his shows.
Who are the Pajama People? I’m not really sure. Their identity seems to shift from week to week. Sometimes they’re fans on message boards, the cultish ones who, in Sorkin’s mind, spend their days sitting around the house in their pajamas and picking apart the work of greater men. Last week they were apparently internet pirates. Now they’re, what, fan fiction writers?
I have been in fandom for about twelve years now, since I was just starting high school and falling head-over-heels in love with Gilmore Girls, and I’m not going to say that it’s a place without mean people or crazy people, but overwhelmingly I have found it to be a welcoming, nurturing, inclusive environment.
I haven’t always found it easy to make friends in the so-called “real world,” but the number of friends I’ve made through email and instant messaging, LiveJournal and message boards, Tumblr and Twitter, over the last twelve years, is nothing to sneer at. Some of those relationships have faded in and out with time, but some have lasted since I was a teenager. I have dear friends that I’ve never seen face-to-face and a roommate/best friend I first “met” in a LiveJournal comment.
And while these online friendships were always founded on some fandom, whether it was Gilmore Girls or Buffy or The Office or Doctor Who, they were never exclusively about that one thing. Just like those college friendships you build out of a shared class or dorm or campus job, online friendships grow and evolve. My LiveJournal friends knew how I felt about Matt Smith replacing David Tennant as the Doctor, but they also heard about it when I got into college, when I got into a fight with my roommate or broke up with my boyfriend. They have comforted me when grandparents and pets died, given advice on school and work, and I’ve done the same for them. Fandom is often like having a constant supply of extra international siblings around to hold your hand or talk things out when needed.
The scene between Maggie and Erica is just the latest example of Sorkin looking down at fandom at large. His favorite target these days seems to be fans of Sex and the City, for whatever reason, and Erica fits right into the Sorkin mold of what a Sex and the City fan should be: vapid and uninformed. She’s too busy trying to get the details of Maggie’s love life to pay attention to Maggie’s request, and her response to learning that Sloane has 450,000 Twitter followers is to ask if she’s famous–this is not a woman that watches that pinnacle of news broadcasting, ACN. When Maggie says something about the fact that Erica writes Sex and the City fan fiction, Erica gets defensive: “I don’t write fan fiction. I take experiences from my life and I write them in the voice of the characters.”
Never mind that that sounds potentially awesome.
Fan fiction was how I first developed my voice as a writer. Writing in other people’s worlds taught me more about characterization than any creative writing class I ever took, and playing around with style and theme and point of view honed a lot of skills I still use in my writing today. It was a safe space to develop as a writer, surrounded by supportive, encouraging voices.
And the idea that Sorkin’s Pajama People aren’t paying attention to the world outside of their fandom is laughable. I’ve never met a more passionate, invested and informed group of people than fandom at large. Spend two minutes on Tumblr and you’ll encounter at least a half dozen eloquent posts about feminism, race, politics, current events, art, culture, etc… Sometimes those topics intersect with fandom, sometimes they don’t, but the people behind them are always willing to engage in a thoughtful debate.
Fandom is not just about watching a TV show or movie or reading a book and then squeeing about it on the internet (although that’s part of it, don’t get me wrong), it’s also about engaging with the material, exploring it through other lenses. I spent half the money I made last summer seeing The Avengers in theaters over and over and over again, but that wasn’t just about the fact that I find Chris Evans very attractive–though I do–it was also about the beautiful character beats you get as Captain America reenters the world after 70 years, the way he and Iron Man play off each other until Cap has goaded Tony Stark into making a genuine sacrifice–and the way that sacrifice sets up so much of this summer’s Iron Man 3–the leap in the pit of my stomach as the music swells and the camera spins to catch each of our numerous heroes in a single shot at the height of battle. I would go online after the movie and talk about Chris Evans’ butt, sure, but I’d also talk about the complexities of Tony and Steve’s relationship, how Joss Whedon’s language turned Loki into a truly evil villain and just what a badass Natasha Romanoff is.
Fandom is not Sorkin’s vision of crazy people, sitting in their parents’ basements in their pajamas and sharing vapid observations on the internet–I’m sure there’s some of that, but there are outliers in every group. It’s a community made up of passionate, invested ethusiasts, people excited to engage with culture the same way Will McAvoy and crew engage with the news. Sorkin has always written stories about people imbued with passion to extremes, fans of sports or politics or comedy or current events.
I think he may have missed the point.