I ranted on Chuck’s Facebook thread (sorry, Chuck…) concerning yet another dust-up over Star Wars. Thing is, this brouhaha brought up a few memories worth sharing. These are memories about me being a hardcore fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, and about hardcore fans of Doctor Who…
…and how that can sometimes be a problem.
See, what’s happening within the Star Wars fandom—in the wake of other “real fan” movements—is nothing new. It’s just more public. “Real” fans who draw lines in the sand, piss all over a movie poster or toy collection (mint-in-box, of course), and claim to be the Keepers of the Sanctity of Insert-Your-Favorite-Science-Fiction-Sacred-Cow-Here, thanks to social media and the Internet, are making their voices heard; and are exhorting to extreme measures to protect their Precious.
To understand just how dangerous a mentality this is, you can take a look at my own experiences. Experiences where I was on both the receiving and the giving end of this kind of “real” fandom.
Let me take you back to the 1990’s. I’m thinking the summer of 1996. Yeah, that sounds about right…
As you might read in my bio, I was an actor back then; and I could fill me some crushed velvet tights at the Maryland Renaissance Faire. It was backstage when I suffered a brush with something I had never experienced as a fan of science fiction. It was me and a bunch of the nerdier actors, all hanging out and talking scifi. As you do. The talk got around to Doctor Who, a property that I dreaded as a fan of the genre. At that time, I had tried watching Doctor Who. I had seen Baker, McCoy, and even Hartnell (an acting teacher of mine had written an episode); but try as I might I couldn’t get into the Doctor.
Except for what had aired earlier that year: The Doctor Who movie on Fox that introduced Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.
I tried to contribute to the conversation and said something along the lines of “I’ve tried watching it but just can’t get into it. I did enjoy the movie on Fox though. It was really entertaining.”
WITHOUT MISSING A BEAT, one of the actors sneered at me and said “You liked the Fox movie because you aren’t a real Whovian.”
And just like that, I was shut out the conversation.
For a long time, I hated Doctor Who, just because of that fan. I mean, if the fans of Doctor Who were like that, why bother? The Eccleston year welcomed me into the fold.
Now, fast forward to 2003. My first year as a professional author and my first visit to Phoenix, Arizona. CopperCon was the event…
At a Firefly panel, after listening to all these GREAT things about a show that I gave several tries and just thought was a red hot mess, I asked during the Q&A session something along the lines of “I have tried—really tried—and I just don’t get Firefly. So please, would you give me a good reason why I should try to watch this show again?”
No one came at me like that one “real” Whovian. Instead, a panelist politely asked “Have you seen the pilot? It opens with the battle of Serenity Valley.” I said “No.” There was a shared “Oh okay…” murmur amongst the crowd and the panelist said “Watch the DVDs. Keep in mind, the second episode was the first one Fox showed. Watching the episodes in order matters.” So I got home, bought the DVDs, and watched the pilot, “Serenity.”
That night, after mainlining a fistful of episodes, I became a Browncoat.
The older I get, the more “factions” I’m finding in fandom. I’m not talking about the Whovians, the Trekkies, the Trekkers, the Browncoats, the Scapers, or anything like that. I’m talking about the Gaters, the Puppies, the “Fake Geek Girl” hunters, and now these turd-burglers from a galaxy far, far away. Once upon a time, “S.M.O.F.” (Secret Master/Mistress of Fandom) was a brand best avoided, but lately it appears to be worn as a badge of honor. This kind of behavior accomplishes nothing more than keeping people out of a fandom. Elitism does nothing to bring in new fans, and only makes those passionate about a property look like dinks.
I’m not going to say I’m guilt free. My reaction to the recent Star Trek: Beyond trailer went live full of sound and fury:
The Beastie Boys?
Seriously, Star Trek, I don’t fucking know you any more…
Going off on the new trailer, on stepping back and looking at the sentiment expressed, doesn’t make me any better than the elitists, shaking fists in the air and howling at the moon in anger. This is the new direction of Star Trek, whether I like it or not. It could get better. It could get worse. Does this desire to preserve the purity of my beloved Starfleet justify me being a total prick and rallying others to ruin what could be a really good movie? (Hey, Idris Elba is in Star Trek: Beyond. That has my attention.)
I’m working to practice what I preach, and really shouldn’t rain on what a lot of people love. Right?
Admittedly, that higher road would be easy to stick with if it weren’t for one more story for you all to consider…again, from the nineties…
The Phantom Menace is out. We’re backstage, waiting on stage calls, and the conversation turns to Lucas’ First of Three Movements. There is a divide. Some are trying to defend the movie. Maybe out of love for the franchise? Maybe out of shock wrought from what they had just seen? I don’t know, but I chimed in with what I considered strong arguments, one of them being “The Pod Race was very exciting, yes, but you can’t rave about a movie based on one scene. That was roughly five-to-ten minutes. The movie was over two hours.”
Moments later, I’m in the wings with a handful of other actors, all waiting for the opening of the show. That’s when one of the show’s extras—a teenager no more than sixteen—came up to me and said, “I couldn’t help to overhear, Tee, what you thought of Episode One. Do you want to know the real reason why you didn’t like it?”
No kidding. He asked me this right before our cue was coming up.
Oh this ought to be good, I thought. “Okay, tell me why I didn’t like Episode One.”
And with the Wisdom of the Ages (all sixteen of ‘em) behind him, he said to me “The problem is, Tee, is that you’re an adult. You really don’t get Star Wars. You see, I grew up with Star Wars.”
I should have let it go.
I should have taken a higher road.
I grabbed him by the cuff of his collar and got nose-to-nose with him. In the sharpest whisper I could muster, I let loose my reply…
“You grew up with Star Wars?! Let me tell you something, I was a fan of Star Wars before you were a gleam in the milkman’s eye. Before you were even a vague idea, I was collecting the original twelve—yes, twelve—figures, and watching Star Wars in the theatres when it was the Not-So-Special edition. I joined the Official Star Wars Fan Club. Read every issue of Bantha Tracks. Hung up my posters. No, you didn’t grow up with Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars. You just got my sloppy seconds, never knowing the joy of waiting years between films, so please don’t tell me you grew up with Star Wars because you saw them on Dad’s VHS because I was fucking there at the Ridge Cinemas and the Belwood Drive-In in 1977.”
…and then I released him, and we hit the stage. I gave a great performance that day.
Elitism. It made an actor look like a punk in ‘96. It make this kid look like a punk back in ‘99. Today, based on how I reacted to the Star Trek trailer, not much has changed.
We’re better than this. We need to be, lest fandoms die and fade into obscurity. Don’t be a dick. All that does is alienates new fans…or brings down the thunder as this young teenager accomplished. Before opening your mouth, just think for a moment.
And for those “REAL” Whovians who thought Paul McGann was brilliant as the Doctor in the “Night of the Doctor” short film: I told you so.