The Siren Song of Fandom

November 23, 2005 No Comments »

When I was in high school and early in college, I had a bad habit of dating boys back to back. I’d already have another one in the wings by the time I got around to breaking up with whatever poor soul I was stringing along, and it just rolled on like that for years. I’m not saying that I was proud of my philandering ways, but that’s the way it was. I was a serial dater.

These days I’ve settled down, but I still get around. Fandoms, that is. I dive into each new television show like we were having a tawdry affair. I passionately consume each episode and read everything I can get my hands on about the cast and crew. I lovingly stroke each new spoiler, sweetly caress each in-focus screen capture. By the end of the first week I’ve memorized all the necessary trivia about the show and its cast. I can recite entire paragraphs of dialog. I have read at least one reputable fan fiction archive. (And I mean the ENTIRE archive.)

To date, I’ve been fairly predictable in my affections. I go after well-written shows with slightly unconventionally hot actors (The West Wing, Veronica Mars and Sports Night). I dig low-key science fiction, especially if the characters are angsty young adults (Buffy and Roswell). It follows, then, that I would also like other shows about angsty young adults (Dawson’s Creek and The O.C.). The good news here is that I’m not into crime dramas like Amy, because there are a gazillion of them and it could seriously be my undoing. The bad news is that I’m not getting any younger, and there’s a real danger of me asking for a Degrassi: The Generation After That Last One cake for my 50th birthday.

Despite the enormity of the above list, it’s only a few shows that can make my heart go pitter patter. As I heaped six new shows on my Tivo lineup this season, I wondered which ones would make the cut. Would there be a show with the power to knock Veronica Mars out of its current position as Number One Fandom Obsession? (I now know that the answer is a resounding “no,” but there’s something fun about starting each new television season with such potential.) So what is it about a show that turns me on? Is there a tried and true formula?

Kind of. And since I’m not good at math, now’s a good time to break out the trusty bullet points. I am almost guaranteed to go ga-ga over a television show if it…

  • …has appealing actors who fall into one of two categories: Awkwardly Sexy or Geeky Cute.
    On VM I was head over heels for Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) before he’d finished his first cutting remark to Veronica. He’s got hot arms this season, but if you put him in a lineup with 15 other actors in Hollywood, he probably wouldn’t earn any awards for pretty. It’s Logan’s spunk, his gritty tragedy and his predilection toward angry violence that makes him unbelievably hot. VM has lots of other things going for it, but if Logan were to simply read the phonebook in his intensely quiet way, I’d still go scampering off to the web to find fan fiction about him reading the newspaper.At the other end of the spectrum, there is my beloved geek. We’ve immortalized our love for Xander Harris ( Nick Brendon) before, and if hard pressed to explain my love of the geek, I always end up blurting out something like, “Xander was so sweet and hot and such a losery dork that I just wanted to have sex with him!” But he is not the only dork to catch my eye. Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) from The West Wing could easily fall into the awkwardly sexy category, but I list him here because what I love most about Josh is how he is utterly incapable of carrying on a normal relationship with a woman. It is guaranteed that he will say the absolute worst thing in every situation. He’s a political genius who still carries an old backpack around the White House, and somehow he looks hot doing it. When Josh fucks up he does so spectacularly, and each time I want to give him pity sex, feed him soup and cuddle in bed to watch C-SPAN. His utter dorkiness pulled me into TWW fandom so quickly that I can’t even pinpoint the moment it happened.
  • …it has exceptionally witty dialogue that I want to find ways to quote in real life.
    Buffywas the show that started it all for me. I was helpless against Joss Whedon’s quirky banter and had no choice but to go online to find the best quote pages. I still, to this day, add the suffix “age” to pretty much every verb possible. I shamelessy steal quotes and use them in everyday conversation, soaking up all the glory when someone laughs and thinks I’m funny. Among the most quoted lines are:+ I’m the Slayer. Ask me how! (Replace “Slayer” with something that applies to me. Like, “I’m the producer. Ask me how!”)
    + I’m just gonna go home, lie down and listen to country music. The music of pain.
    + Well, we don’t have cable, so we have to make our own fun.
    + Don’t walk away from me, bitch!
    + Bitca?
    + I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.
    + A ritual sacrifice… with pie.
    + Been there, done that, and deja vu just isn’t what it used to be.
    + My head… feels big. Is it big?
  • …it has a dedicated online community that has not yet gone insane.
    This last part is super important. If I’m late getting into a show, which happens more than I would like for it to, my fandom status hangs on whether or not I walk into a community full of bickering or one full of thoughtful meta. When I got into The X-Files, I was about four years too late. After consuming all available episodes in a mad rush, I ventured online to find others to talk with about how mulderandscullyaresoinloveomg! What I found was madness. There were no fewer than five warring ‘shipper factions, each with their own theories and code names and other wackiness.It is extremely hard to become part of a new fandom when it’s in the middle of a war. You’re forced to pick sides almost immediately, and when you’re new it’s hard to understand all the choices. For instance, if I am a new Roswell fan watching the show for the first time via DVD, I am faced with some scary options. First, there’s the pairings. Do I want to pledge my allegiance to Max and Liz or Michael and Maria? Do I want to be part of the fringe and pick Max and Michael or Michael and Liz? Or do I really want to go outer limits for Isabel and Sheriff Valenti or Liz and Tess?Second, there’s the type of community. Do I make my debut giving feedback on a Yahoo! fan fiction group, or do I find a message board on a Roswell fan site, or how about a LiveJournal community? Choosing an initial fandom affiliation is important, because a) you don’t want to be associated with lame-ass fans, b) you don’t want to be part of a group at war with another group you might like to join, and c) you want to make sure your new friends will help you get the most out of your fandom experience.Finally, you have to choose what kind of fan you want to be. Will I post only the day after new episodes, when I’m the most in love with the show each week? Do I feel the pull of the characters so much that I’ll probably end up writing fan fiction? Or am I looking for a new home-away-from-home on the web where I can talk about Roswell and get away with bitching about my boss?This is an intimidating process. But let’s say I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to root for Max and Liz and will read, but not write, lots of fan fiction about them via a Yahoo! group that will allow me to have the fic-y goodness delivered to my work-safe email account. I’ve already got lots of friends, so I’m pretty much just looking to talk about how hot Jason Behr (Max) was that one time when he kissed Liz in the diner, and I mostly want to talk about that stuff right after it happens. Even if I’ve decided ALL THESE THINGS, I will run screaming away from the fandom if all I find are turf wars and other wanky zaniness. Because those things kill fandom, dead.
  • …there is a wealth of quality, lengthy fan fiction.
    In the minds of non-fandom-oriented people, I’m guessing that this is the thing that sets “normal” away from “freak” on the Scale of Being Obsessed With TV Shows. Like, people usually tolerate my rambling about various shows I’m watching, but when I pull out the fan fiction references, the conversation goes downhill or ends abruptly in a blank stare. (Just imagine how those people would feel if they knew about all variants within each fandom, huh? Sometimes I like to tell people about Harry/Snape in Harry Potterjust to horrify them.)But, for me, fan fiction is a necessary part of the fandom experience. It’s the perfect way to satisfy my craving for new material every day – why wait a week or more for a new episode, when I can read a fake mini-ep whenever I want to? Frankly, one of the best reasons to come into a fandom late in the game is that writers have had enough time to produce enough stories to keep you busy for a while. When I first started following a certain boyband, there was already six months worth of fiction just sitting there waiting for me to read. There was so much stuff that I started keeping a list of the stories I had read, just to keep it straight. Conversely, when I was digging on the now-canceled Radio Free Roscoe, there were maybe seven non-crappy stories in all of Internetland. Bummer. My love for that series remained a spark when it could have been a flame.Of course, all fan fiction is not created equal. In a perfect world, every story would be well plotted and edited, with spot-on characterization and snappy dialogue and poetic prose – and in MY perfect world, every story would be novel length and take days to finish. Sadly, the reality is that most of it is shite, and if you go in for the smuttier stuff (and who doesn’t, really?) the percentage of quality stuff goes way down.
  • …it has well-organized online archives.
    Fandom archives fall into one of two categories for me: Fan Fiction archive or Information archive. Fan fiction is pretty self explanatory, right? A good archive will have lots of stories sortable in lots of different ways – by author, title, character, length, rating, etc. Information archives, though, are a different beast altogether.When I’m first getting into a fandom, I want to know things. Can I find my favorite cast member in other TV shows? Is that cute boy who plays a teenager on TV actually a teenager? What song was playing when my two favorite characters macked on each other for the first time? Is there an episode guide? Is there a quote guide? Is there a reputable gallery for quality episode screen captures? Can I easily track down the cast photo from the cover of Entertainment Weekly six months ago? The Buffy fandom spoiled me for all of these things, because there were dozens of really good sites that provided all the information I could ever want. Imagine my shock to learn that every fandom isn’t like this! My love for Joan of Arcadia, for example, was almost single handedly snuffed out because it had poor online archives – fic and otherwise. My interest in Lost in on a rollercoaster ride because, while Lost-Media.com is a brilliant place to find information and pictures, but there isn’t a similarly awesome fic archive.

Now, I’m a list-making psychopath, who actually plotted out this story in a spreadsheet before I wrote it longhand with a Pilot Razor Point II pen in my hardbound college-ruled notebook. So I’m curious. What kinds of things do YOU look for in fandom? Are there things that should light my fire that I’ve never thought of? If I’ve overlooked an important facet of fandom, I want to know! Share them below!

2005-11-23

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