Friday, August 17, 2007

Are You Fan? Really?

What exactly is "fandom?" I had assumed all this time that it meant you were part of a group of people who were big fans of something. Often spending money on related products seems to be part of being a fan. Maybe I'm not even referring so much to "fandom" as simply being a fan of something - a group membership isn't necessary.

Let's take comics for example. If you are, say a Daredevil fan* you probably buy Daredevil comics, statues, t-shirts, etc. Maybe you belong to a Daredevil forum on the internet, maybe not but you love Daredevil - he rocks. Go DD! Right?

Maybe not.

Lately it sure seems like being a fan isn't so much about loving something as it is about griping about it. In fact, it almost seems like the more one gripes and complains the bigger fan one claims to be. Does that even make sense?

One might say, "DD rocks, except the comic sucks, the movie sucked, the most recent Bowen mini-bust sucks - and I know because I'm the biggest DD fan EVER."

Ummm.... OK?

First, why spend money on it if you don't like it? Just because one is a supposed fan?

Maybe one does like it, at least a little, but he/she really just has to, as a fan, complain about some little nit-picky thing because, well he/she IS a fan. Or is the logic that one has to spend the money buying things that he/she doesn't like, just to prove that he/she is a fan? Perhaps in order to be a fan people feel the need to rip apart every bit of the very thing they are a fan of, in order to support an idea or concept or product they want but aren't getting?

I still don't get it...

Is that what being a fan of something has become in this internet era? Is being hyper-critical and never happy the way to show the on-line public how much you really really like something?

What happened to fans who LIKE and say GOOD things about the item/character/show/etc that they claim to be fans of? What happened to buying things they like and brag about how awesome the items are?

Let's say our Daredevil fan buys DD comics, but can't stand the current artist or writer - well rather than wasting money on something the DD fan doesn't like and then posting the negative feedback all over the internet, how about this DD fan instead simply stops buying DD until things change. There are plenty of other characters one could decide to become a fan of. Or one could stay a fan of DD but not buy the offending comics and instead go back to the issues he/she loved and tell people how awesome it was then and how people should run out to the nearest comic book store and find the graphic novels from back then because they were so SWEET!

WHY, if one is really a FAN of something, is there so much vile screed being spewed by those same "fans?"

I have been to comic book fan boards, news sites, and comic blogs and comic podcasts and you know what so many (but not all, mind you) supposed fans of comics are doing? They are saying what the don't like, what they can't stand, how everything is wrong and nothing is interesting. They're mad. They're disappointed. Yet, they continue to spend money on the exact things they don't like, seemingly just to have more to complain about. And they spend more time on the internet complaining about how they don't like these very things they've supported with said time and greenbacks.

If these fans REALLY are fans, and REALLY don't like what the comics are about now, the ONLY way to convince anyone of that, and to maybe even enact change, is to stop spending money on the things one doesn't like. In addition, maybe said fans could support what they DO like by talking positively about those things, rather than just groaning about what they don't like.

It is getting harder and harder to go to these "fan" sites and blogs because suddenly I find myself being more grouchy and critical as well. Complaining is contagious! I knew a couple back when I was in college who were ALWAYS negative. They never had anything positive to say. My friends and I would be hanging out somewhere and having fun and then these two would come over. In a few minutes we'd all be complaining about this or that, rather than just enjoying the moment. Often we wouldn't even realize we'd taken the negative turn until later, when we were doing something else and thinking back. Something similar starts to happen when I read about how comics are crap and comic book movies suck and comic book stores are ruining the industry...and...and... you get the idea.

How about those of us that claim to be fans of something talk about how GREAT that thing is. How about we actually like and enjoy and support with words and deeds, and probably some cash, those things we are fans of. And not be hypocrites who dish out time and money on something we claim to be fans of, only to bitch and moan about it on every fan site around.

Personally, I'd like to start enjoying a more happy and less stressful fandom experience.

*the Daredevil fan is purely fictional, but exemplifies what I've seen a great deal of lately on the Internet


Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, you are brilliant. I bow to you. You get it. In my "middle age" I sometimes really wish I could get back to that enchanted period of times where comics were fun and we got stuff because we loved it. These days there are people who miss the point completely and just look for stuff to hate and complain about.

That is why I enjoy an occasional cocktail. :-)

ben from arizona said...

What helps me out is being a fan of a character's legacy. There are certain things about certain characters and storylines that i might find odd (like the current storyline of Batman Confidential), but I accept, because in 10 years, it'll be the same story, but a different telling of it.

James Meeley said...


This is all sounding very familar to me, probably because I've said many of the same things over the years. As something of one of the original "positivity flag-wavers" for comic fandom out there, allow me to give you a little bit of the insight I've gained on this situation.

Firstly, you have to take most people's "fandom" with a huge grain of salt today. When they say they are "The biggest DD fan EVER" (to use your own example), what they mean to say is "I'm the biggest Frank Miller's DD fan EVER!" You see, they don't really like the character or concept, inasmuch as a certain presentation of them. A lot of those who belly-ache and hate on the thing they profess to be a big fan of, do so because what they love isn't what it was when they fell in love with it. As creators come and go on coporate mainstream comics, the presentation of that character or concept will also change. The DD you read about 20 years ago, while supposedly the same character/concept, really isn't. It has changed with the passing of the baton from one creator to the next. Each out to put their own personal spin on the character.

For some this isn't a problem, as they either know how to roll with the changes or they simply stop buying it and try something else. But these "die-hards" of a peticular presentation, they can't do this. They've invested too much time and emotion into this. They can't just roll with the chnage or let it go and move on. For them, it's almost as if you are slowly killing a close friend or family member. And just like one of those real life people, they fight and rage to make this horrible thing stop. These types are a big part of the reason the Simpsons "Comic Book Guy" stereotype is still seen as the "default" for what a comic fan is.

The other major factor I've learned, is that the internet, with its ability to give every opinion an equal space, despite that all opinions are not equal, has played into two very basic desires within most people: the desire for power and fame.

With the ability to have your own blog so easy, it is just too tempting for folks to not let their selfish feelings of wanting attention and control run wild. With your own little soapbox in cyberspace, you now have the ability to sound off whenever you want, as much as you want, at whoever you want. Add in the anonymity factor and you have a brew that is quite a toxic combination.

People who once felt they were beneath others notice, can now create their own community of like-mindedness, where others who agree with them can pat them on the back and tell them how right they are. People who could never get past the enterence exam for the high school debate team, can now tell everyone how right they are and tell those who disagree to go shove it. Inculding those who create the comics themselves.

Back in the "old days," the only way to get yourself heard was to get a letter printed in the comic. But you have to have something special to do that. You couldn't just run off a rant and expect to be heard. The Internet has changed all of that. Now, it's not getting heard that's the problem, but getting those unworthy to shut the hell up. As I said, not all opinion are created equal. Not all of them should be heard. But the Internet doesn't have anyone enforcing a standard of debate and/or behavior to allow you to express an opinion.

You also have the fact that when someone complains, as you noted yourself, others will join in. Rant and rave about things and you are practically assured to be (in)famous in no time. People have made a living off doing this kind of thing online. Negativity always attracts more attention than positivity. And what matters most to many bloggers? Getting lots of hits. Most would sell their mother into slavery, just to get a link at a popular website (even if they hate the people who run it). Anything to grab the attention of others.

Some of this is why I gave up doing comic commentary and now only do my fun blogging with comic cover art. Needless to say, my "hit count" isn't as good now, as it was then.

I am a firm believer that all the negativity so many "fans" spread online is hurting comics. It keeps those who aren't already into them at arms length and not wanting to join in. And it can turn longtime fans off enough, that they just drop out of it altogether. Unfortunately, I see no way to stop it.

I wish I had some answer for you, on how to make the situation better, but I've been struggling with this thing for years and still see on light at the end of this tunnel. Heck, there may not even be an end to it. All I can suggest is that you do what you can yourself to "bring the positivity" as much as you can. That's a part of why I do Cover-By-Cover. We can't stop the negativity of "fans". We can only try to stem the growing tide of them and bring a little more balance to the comic web-o-shpere. Would that I thought it were enough.

For what it's worth....