Positively Fan Street

For anyone not picking up on the gag, the title of this blog is a play on Bob Dylan’s classic song, Positively 4th Street. The song is relevant to a lot of situations, but I chose to make it relevant to this one.

This isn’t going to be a long diatribe about the state of a fandom. This isn’t going to be some lengthy dissertation about the need for positivity. It’s far from my first time addressing this in a public forum (such as a podcast or this blog). It’s just one of those topics that bubbles up on occasion, and so I feel the need to revisit it.

It’s a plea for people to stop characterizing a certain “bad sort of fan” as responsible for “wrecking fandom.” Not because they don’t exist, but because it’s a feature, not a bug.

I don’t think it will ever be solved. Unlike some others, I don’t think that it’s a cause for concern. It’s just a thing that’s true.

Some Perspective

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If they want to loudly and publicly decry the current incarnation of their favorite franchise as garbage, that’s fine. If that conclusion is their starting point, there’s no way to talk them back from that ledge.

Trust me, as someone who has loved the Star Wars prequels from the moment of their release, you can’t. I’ve been personally insulted for the opinion. Every time someone learns I’m a “Star Wars fan,” I’m rolling the dice on it becoming some variant of “the prequels suck” discussion.

I don’t even need to ask for the opinion. It’s just volunteered.

And it’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. Sometimes I engage in a discussion about why I disagree. That discussion carries with it the pitfalls of being called a “fanboy,” having the clarity of my perspective challenged, my honesty about the opinion dismissed and, on occasion, having my intelligence questioned. (That last one happens far less frequently than it did at one time.)

The hysterically funny thing is that it works both ways! When the discussion turns to the Sequel Trilogy (Episodes VII, VIII & IX), I run the risk of having those same critiques thrown at me for not liking it “enough.” In some special circumstances, I have my opinion on the prequels used as some sort of debate point in an attempt to discredit my opinion on the sequels.

It’s fine, and I don’t care. No one else should either.

Because it won’t change. Fan discussions always run the risk of devolving into petty contests of will.

If you doubt me, it’s possible you’re too young to recall when David Lee Roth left Van Halen. Maybe you’re young enough that you just didn’t have a reason to care. It’s possible you simply didn’t have enough of an emotional investment in the band to care either way.

There are a lot of valid reasons for things, I’m not judging.

But the only way I will ever watch Die Hard 2: Die Harder again is if someone deepfakes the infamous “Craigula” into it.

Decades Later…

As of this writing, it’s been about thirty-five years since David Lee Roth left Van Halen. Thirty-five years is a long time.

And yet, some grown-ass adults still can’t get past it. They still harp on how the band was “ruined” by Sammy Hagar. They refer to the band by the supposedly-derogatory nickname “Van Hagar.” They dismiss the idea that there are plenty of people who loved Van Halen with both singers, or there are those who prefer Sammy.

The reason I point to this example is to help anyone who’s worried about “the state of fandom” put it in perspective. The only difference between the venom you might see in discussions about Star Wars or Star Trek is that those are your focus and…there was no easily-accessible Internet connectivity back then. There was no social media.

There were just friends and acquaintances who would occasionally be stupid about these sorts of things. I did it, too. We all did.

The funny thing is that, before social media, if a stranger on the street came up and said the same sort of caustic thing that starts Internet fights, you’d have laughed about it.

Sure, if you were particularly dysfunctional, you’d have started a fight. That was more the exception than the rule anyway. Most people walking down the street don’t care about your opinions on movies, books, music, or television.

Imagine this with plastic lightsabers and far less athelticism.
Photo by ginu plathottam on Pexels.com

In Conclusion

The point is, caustic fandom is never going to be “resolved.” You can ignore it, you can engage it, you can lock your accounts, or you can do some combination of all of it. But it won’t change.

Because if people can hold a self-imposed grudge about a band changing singers for nearly four decades, I can promise you they’re not going to stop being jerks about…anything.

Patton Oswalt doing a routine about how he’d kill George Lucas with a shovel before he had a chance to make the prequels was a bit. At least, I hope it was. This this type of bit had an effect, though.

Patton Oswalt’s onstage persona is exactly the type of comedy that pushed outrageous “fan” reactions into the realm of violent hyperbole. It functions in the same way that Howard Stern’s show shaped people’s attitudes about a lot of things.

It’s a bit, and it’s meant to be outrageous. But people key off of it and it influences their own outrageous declarations. All the world’s a stage, as one guy once wrote.

If anything, I pity the people who rage about franchises the same way I pity the Van Halen grudge holders. If they take their entertainment that seriously, it’s more a plea for help than anything else.

The State of Fandom as Expressed by Ordell and Louis in Jackie Brown

Not a long one today.

Laying unintended meta reads into a film is one of the joys of the modern age. Everyone is a sometime-philosopher as the moon waxes and wanes, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet we can blurt our random musings into the night sky. Occasionally they will be heard by an equally-unintended audience.

To paint it with my own metaphor, I think that fandom is akin to Ordell and Louis from the inestimable masterpiece Jackie Brown.

We’re all friends on the surface tied by a thin bond, ready to turn and accuse each other of treachery. Fans turn on each other, and attack for a large number of nonsensical reasons. My favorite is probably when they rush to attack/defend on behalf of an artist or performer, only to turn on them for their own dysfunctional reasons.

Fans turn on the stars they love over the most minor (perceived) heterodoxy. Fans have turned on the creators of their content in a heartbeat. Like hungry dogs, their only desire is for fresh meat.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Alan Dean Foster himself lamented “toxic fans” after having a cup of vomit thrown on him. Harlan Ellison wrote a powerful essay called “Xenogenesis” about the monsters that fans can be. The stories of fans, regardless of political affiliation, acting like completely entitled children are not new. They are eternal.

Don’t blame social media. All it’s done is allowed people to shine a giant spotlight on their behavior. It’s also allowed some creators and franchise employees to reveal themselves as monsters on their own, but that’s a post for a different day.

In the interim, watch Jackie Brown and let me what you think of the comparison.

Ordell and Louis in Jackie Brown
Or, you know, just watch Jackie Brown. Everyone should.