At some point, we’ve all been fans. Not just in the sense that we’ve declared our passion for something. Rather, we’ve all been so devoted to an idea, an intellectual property, a story, a person, a sports team, or an institution that we’ve become blind. It’s easy to do because it requires little to no thinking. And as much as we pride ourselves on our intelligence, human beings will often make choices that value comfort over critical judgment.
In recent years, fans and fandom have showcased this kind of obliviousness on a larger scale than we’ve seen before. You don’t need me to recount the aggressive demeanor of DC fans or the vicious privilege of Star Wars fans. And they aren’t anomalies. I’m certain that you could name some other property that has displayed an immature and cruel following. Heck, sports fans straight up engage in riots. Everyone is attached to something that fosters an element of toxic fandom.
And the word that keeps popping up in all of this is "fan". Which led me to a question: does anyone acknowledge the origin of that word? I’m sure you already know that it derives from the word "fanatic", but have you ever actually investigated what that means?
"The Latin adjective fanaticus, a derivative of the noun fanum, meaning "temple," originally meant "of or relating to a temple." It was later used to refer to pious individuals who were thought to have been inspired by a god or goddess. In time, the sense "frantic, frenzied, mad" arose because it was thought that persons behaving in such a manner were possessed by a deity."
It’s appropriate that "fans" started as people who believed they were channeling gods. Today, fictional properties have become so ingrained in the identities of fans that it has reached a religious fervor. Instead of approaching these mediums as art, they are regarded as pieces of gospel. And when you attach something fictitious to how you define yourself as a person, you often end up with the kind of zealotry we see in radical religious sects.
That's not to say that we shouldn't be learning from fiction and using it to explore our own humanity. That's a crucial role that art has to play in society. However, a line is crossed when we go from critical appraisal and appreciation to integrating these make-believe ideas into who we are as individuals. That's how we get to people believing that fictional constructs have to conform to ideas that only reflect their approach to the material.
With this, I come back to the word "fan" and the concept of "fandoms." As descriptors, their roots stem from persons and collectives that were looked upon as crazy. And as fan culture began to infiltrate the mainstream, they continued to maintain a somewhat dismissive tone with the idea of the "fanboy." Now, I'm not even going to attempt to open the can of worms labeled Toxic Masculinity in Pop Culture, but it's worth noting that the "fanboy" title implied a level of obsessive immaturity and rightly so. This is all to say that "fans" were still viewed as overenthusiastic outsiders.
But, that's changed. As pop culture has become overwhelmed with entertainment that was once considered more niche -- or, at least, rampant consumption of that material was less pronounced -- the idea of "fans" and "fandoms" has become more widely accepted and even embraced. Add to this the instant connectivity of digital communication and the vocal elements of these groups have been empowered to attack creators, performers, and other artists because they feel entitled to what they believe in.
And that's why we need to get rid of "fans" and "fandoms" as concepts. They are structures and roles that encourage ignorance in how to interact with art. Fanatics believe that only they and those like them have a direct line to the "truth" of an idea. It's a stance that discourages diversity -- not just in representation but in creativity -- and rewards anti-intellectualism in how to digest art as well as how to hold onto it. Instead of dissecting a film, fans only get hung up on the surface elements of it. Not to mention that fandoms seem more interested in accumulating factoids than examining art as a method of emotional resonance.
So, what's my proposed solution to the problem of "fans"? I'm not egotistical enough to believe that my suggestion of changing how we use a word will actually help things -- and there is a lot more wrong with fandoms than just what we call them -- but I can only speak to my own experience with labels such as "fan." I don't use that word for myself anymore when talking about the things I love. In fact, "love" and 'lover" is usually what I default to when describing how I approach art. And in that spirit, I went to the Bible's definition of love:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Even though I don't consider myself a religious or spiritual person, I think this approach is a good one when we consider how we should act and interact with art and artists that matter to us. Stop being fans and start being lovers.
Shelf pick: Big Fan - As we do on the GenreVision podcast, I'm going to recommend a movie that pairs well with my thoughts. I'll always make sure you get a little present for sitting through another long-winded internet thinkpiece. This one stars Patton Oswalt as a majorly obsessed New York Giants fan who gets a chance to meet one of the members of the team. Things go badly and Patton's character spirals into a very dark place. It's a criminally forgotten film that features Oswalt's best screen performance. It's currently available to stream through Amazon Prime Video.