But here’s an inaugural post about both.
I found my way here–to the internet, to blogging, to writing enthusiastically about television–through fandom. I wouldn’t think that’s an unusual path to take, though my perspective is surely skewed by personal experience. I think if you care passionately about a show or a character or a relationship (“ship” from here on out) or anything really, tv related or otherwise, it’s only natural that you’d seek out like-minded people. In my life, the internet has served its greatest purpose in bringing me into contact with people all over the world (Israel, Singapore, Bosnia, Italy, England, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Michigan…this is not a complete list, just a sampling) who love the things I love, or who introduce me to new things to love or vice versa.
I’ve inhabited many parts of the internet (inhabited in the truest xkcd sense). I first followed a “Rory Gilmore” keyword search down the Google rabbit hole to fanfiction.net in late 2001. My first 3 online “friends” (though I hesitate to even put that word in quotation marks–many of my most sincere, honest friendships have taken place entirely through IM and message boards and livejournal comments) ranged in age from 12 to 21. I was 14. We exchanged emails for over two years. Then came a Gilmore Girls message board, where my fandom family expanded, and then LiveJournal. These days most of my fandom-ing is done on Tumblr. The sites change, some of the people change, the fandoms change, but there’s something about the experience of fandom-at-large that remains constant.
And here is the most important thing I’ve learned from 10 years in this world: fandom is about people. It is not about a tv show or a ship, it’s not about a character or a creator or about that one fanfic that changed the way you regard fanfic as a whole. Fandom is about finding people who love what you love. It’s about finding someone in Israel who has the same reaction to Milo Ventimiglia’s bottom lip, or someone in Singapore who will share in your Downton Abbey geekery, or someone in Michigan who knows what you mean when you can’t express your emotions beyond “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.” And who will then ask you about your day, or send you a link they know will make you laugh, or recommend something else (a tv show, band, podcast, book, youtube video) they know you’re going to love. Because they know you.
It was fandom that gave me an idea of what caring passionately about television looks like. Obviously there’s more than one way to love anything; just as not every relationship looks the same, not everyone’s relationship with tv is going to look the same. But the number of people I’ve met in fandom who want to someday work in television is so large…wouldn’t you think that some of the people working in television would once have been a part of a fandom? Wouldn’t they at least understand it? The place of passion and excitement that it comes from? And hasn’t everyone, at some point, formed a friendship founded on mutual interests? Hell, Deep Blue Something found “kinda” liking Breakfast at Tiffany’s to be enough of a basis for a love story.
It doesn’t seem to be the case, though. I would say at least once every tv season a show (generally some sort of procedural: police, medical, legal) will try to tackle “fandom” in what they must think is a nice wink to the fans.
Castle last season did an episode about the murder of a soap writer that turned its eye on television fandom. For a show that fully embraces its will-they-or-won’t-they central characters (spoiler alert: they totally will), whose creator speaks eloquently about the relationship between them, and whose fanbase is largely composed of the hardcore shippers it so brutally takes down in the episode–for a show whose star has always shown an understanding and appreciation of fandom–the plot was handled with minimal sensitivity. The fans at its center were sneered at by the characters, depicted as cliché loners and crazy cat ladies, the type to live at home well into their forties. It was an unflattering funhouse mirror reflecting fandom and shipping back at the audience.
Most recently, last night’s Grey’s Anatomy involved a stampede at a local Comic Convention, inspired by a first-come-first-served TARDIS give-away (they’re signed by Russell T. Davies, which is not a name I ever thought I’d hear on a prime-time, American medical show). While there was a moment of joy at the realization that one of the guest stars was dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, it was quickly soured by the way the show treated his love of fandom. While a plastic TARDIS is hardly worth dying over, the lecture he receives from his roommate over his collectibles comes across as superior. It’s sneering. Surely these creators must realize they’re alienating a chunk of their audience.
Now, there are shows that get it right. Whenever Bones attempts to infiltrate geek culture it makes sure at least one of the main characters shows just as much enthusiasm for the subject (though that sometimes leads to episodes that are actually 40-minute Avatar commercials). The Big Bang Theory at least knows what it’s talking about, but tends to look down its nose at its own main characters. And Community has given us Abed and his obsessive love of Cougar Town, among other things–as well as the catch-phrase “six seasons and a movie”–and it shows him embraced by his friends, even if they don’t really get it all the time. It’s maybe the kindest portrayal of a TV addict I’ve seen on television.
If these programs could learn to follow Community‘s example and show television fans as people, rather than caricatures, there are plenty of interesting stories waiting to be told. Stories about long distance friendships and mutual appreciation and what it actually means to filter the world through fiction. But thus far most of what I’ve seen has been, if not outright offensive, then at least ill-informed.