Friday, August 23, 2013

DragonCon 2013: Fandom

No, unfortunately we’re really not. Think about the people who say you’re not a Whovian unless you’ve watched every episode of every season involving every Doctor. Think about the people who say you don’t like a particular comic unless you’ve read every issue. Then there are the wrestling otaku who claim you can’t like Daniel Bryan unless you’re familiar with every match he ever had in ROH or every other indy organization he’s ever worked for. Fandoms can be the most exclusionary groups I’ve ever encountered. My take on it, like what you like and the rest be damned.
           This comment was left on Facebook under this post:
I just heard somebody say, ‘I was a nerd before it was cool.” C’mon nerds, we’re better than that!”
That was my post and I was admittedly being kind of snarky, but the statement did bother me. Not as much as the opening comment up there, but I’ll get to that.
To address the “before it was cool” thing – just stop that kind of thinking right now. Nobody here was the first nerd. And anybody who grew up after A New Hope was released doesn’t really know what it was like before being a nerd was cool. Because we have all had the luxury of a single franchise that is adored the world over that is massively nerdy and that got the nerd foot in the popular culture door, so to speak.
Yeah, I still got picked on. I was called “Batfaggot” when I showed up to school in 1989 wearing a Batman t-shirt and some kickass Batman Chuck Taylors that I wish I still had, except that I went home that day and stuck them in the back of my closet and never wore them again. I was mocked mercilessly by a group of cheerleaders for talking about GI Joe comic books at school. Luckily for me I have always been a big guy so there were only a couple of occasions where I was physically abused (not by the cheerleaders) and they had nothing to do with being a nerd – those were because I was a white boy in the wrong situation.
But that’s nothing. That’s the cruelty of children looking for a target. Ever since May 25th, 1977 things have been changing. Science fiction, comic books, animation, fantasy, and literature have been able to become true forces in the world of pop culture.
And don’t get me wrong – obviously there was popular genre fare before Star Wars. Lost In Space, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone; the list goes on and on. But there was something about Star Wars that broke the floodgates. Or at least put a crack in the dam. There is something so appealing and accessible about that movie that just wasn’t present in previous franchises.
My point is that nobody under the age of 40 was a nerd “before it was cool”.
Now, I understand that in the last decade those genres that we love so well have experienced an even bigger jump in popularity. Our society is changing and embracing all manner of things that have previously gone on behind closed doors or were only spoken of in closely knit groups. Now we have supermodels wearing comic book-inspired clothes, high-end jewelry designers making Green Lantern Power Rings, and these ridiculous Batman shoes:
My point in saying, “We’re better than that” is that we should do our best to be an all-inclusive community that support each other’s interests and enthusiasm. Not trying to one-up folks who might be newer to things.
Before I cue up the “Mr. Drummond has a Serious Talk with Willis and Arnold” music, let me go right ahead and say that I’m no paragon of nerd virtue. In trying to find my voice over the past five years I’ve said mean things about people that didn’t deserve it, I’ve gone to cons and broken most of the cosplay etiquette rules, I’ve talked down about other people’s fandoms, and I’ve just been a dick in general on more than one occasion. I’m not proud of this stuff, but I’m not going to hide it, either. It’s all here in Needless Things. I’m not going to go back and edit old posts to try and make myself look better.
But I am trying to be better. Last year, Dan Carroll said something that really got to me – “Promote what you love instead of bashing what you don’t.”
I know he didn’t make that up, but I’ll always attribute it to him because it comes through in everything he does. The man may not have been the first to put the words together in that way, but everything I’ve seen about him embodies that phrase. And when I heard that, it made me take a look at myself and what I do and realize that everything I say has a potential impact on somebody, somewhere. My words on any given subject could well be a person’s first impression. So if I’m being a dick and bashing steampunk, somebody who isn’t even familiar with the genre or Alternate History might dismiss it entirely and miss out on all of the wonderful things that go along with that term.
On the other hand, if somebody who has never heard of Dragonlance hears me being all stoked about it, they might go check it out. Maybe they love it like I did, maybe they hate it. But at that point it’s up to them. And if I just keep my big mouth shut about stuff that I don’t like (or more likely don’t understand), then folks will be able to form their own, untainted opinions about things and I won’t have crapped on anybody’s parade.
I’m meandering a bit here, but this is a tough – and real – topic and I don’t deal with those a whole lot. My point is that those of us that might feel we’re the “Real Deal Nerds” have a responsibility to perpetuate and grow the culture. And positivity is what does that. I’m not saying we need to print up tracts and go out recruiting, but let me paint a picture:
Imagine you’ve just discovered the world of Middle Earth (the books – not, like, a for-real Middle Earth). I know, I know, we had all finished The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Sillmillirilllium, and all of the other resource materials by the time we were three. But not everybody in the world does that. So imagine that as a grown-up you’ve just discovered all of that. You go to Dragon Con and you see a group of people that are easily identifiable as hobbits, dwarves, and maybe a wizard. They look like they’re straight out of the books. It’s exciting to see such things in real life and you approach the group.
Once you get close you can overhear their conversation and they’re making fun of another group across the lobby that are wearing blue wigs and have gigantic swords strapped on their backs. You hear the words “losers” and “weirdos” and “stupid”. But for all you know those blue-haired people are a bunch of weirdos – probably are, as a matter of fact, if the LOTR people say so – so you approach the group. They ignore you super-hard until you finally speak up and ask them about their costumes, which is when one of the dwarves rolls his eyes without looking at you and says that yes, of course they’re from Lord of the Rings. And they all kind of chuckle or make that “pfft” sound.
At this point you’re probably no longer interested in talking to people about Tolkien because they might turn out to be douches like this crew. And it’s entirely possible that your enthusiasm for Middle Earth will have been killed just a little bit because of this interaction. And you might not ever go back to Dragon Con.
Now imagine the opposite – you walk up to the group and they eagerly begin to explain their costumes and which characters they are and how to make hobbit feet. This leads to discussion of the books and further costuming and whatever else. Common interests outside of Tolkien’s works might be found. Everybody has fun. Next year you have your own costume. Maybe not with that group necessarily, but that interaction gave you the enthusiasm and confidence to do it. On top of all that, you will continue to spend money on that nerd interest and perhaps even expand to others, increasing and perpetuating the field.
I am not saying that I am that enthusiastic person. But I know I should be and I want to be.
I think a lot of us that run in the nerd circles have been hardened over time. I know I’ve been lured into displaying my enthusiasm for things, only to have it turned in my face and mocked. I think anybody who has a niche interest might be a little wary about sharing. A lot of the time rightly so. But Dragon Con is not the place for that. We’ve all had hard times, but Dragon Con is where we go to be ourselves and have fun.
Mr. Beau Brown is another guy that has impacted my point of view. He holds Dragon Con up as an almost sacred event. Last year during a podcast interview for ESO, Beau pointed out how much he disliked it when people put down other people’s fandom. I didn’t say anything. I had been that guy. And I felt bad about it. Who am I to judge what somebody else is into? Believe me – I have come to realize that there are plenty of people who don’t understand a guy in a luchador mask. Even at cons. There’ve been a couple of times where people have said things that I could have gone without hearing. And I don’t want my writing to make anybody feel small.
I suppose part of this revelation has come with the increased exposure I have been getting over the past year or so. Before I felt like I was just writing to entertain my friends and a select few people who happened to find Needless Things online. Now I am really starting to understand that there is a wider audience out there. I know there are people that follow this site and take things that I write very seriously (don’t do that – I am an idiot). I have the opportunity to make some people feel badly or the opportunity to maybe introduce a lot of people to some really cool stuff.
And now, with no segue whatsoever, I am going to address the quote that kicked all of this off. Go ahead back to the top of the page, because I’m sure you’ve forgotten it by now.
Okay.
So that quote bums me the fuck out because I know exactly the sort of people she is talking about. They set themselves up online, behind their computers, and pretend they are the kings of a certain thing – whether it be Doctor Who, comic books, or wrestling - whatever. They have situated themselves on top of a false hill and any who try to ascend that hill to join them will be shoved back down by their landslide of bullshit.
Not a whole lot of people have seen every episode of Doctor Who. Given the conditions surrounding many of the First and Second Doctor stories, I’d guess that number is, maybe, ten.
Nobody is an authority on comic books. We can all have opinions, but none is “right”. This, in particular, is a point of contention with me. Why does anybody have to be right about anything? Where must there be a final word? Why can’t people express divergent points of view without anybody “winning”? If somebody else wants to believe that Hawkeye is better than Green Arrow, that’s fine by me. I don’t agree, but I am okay with the fact that they don’t agree with me. Chill out.
(I wrote this a good bit before the Affleck-splosion that happened last night. And if you're wondering, I am pro-Affleck.)
As far as wrestling goes, anybody that claims they’ve seen even half of Daniel Bryan’s indy work is full of shit.
The bottom line is that if you’re the sort of person that would rather lord your knowledge and experience over others than share it and perhaps gain new perspectives, then you can just stay on top of your imaginary hill, all by yourself. Come down when you’re ready to act like a grownup.
The lady that made that comment is a cool and talented writer who is new to a lot of things. She has a wonderful perspective on those things – wrestling in particular – and doesn’t deserve to have some internet shitbags bringing her down. If only the most experienced and “knowledgeable” people can take part in a pastime, then things are going to get stale pretty quick.
The point of all of this is try not to be a dick. I’m not saying you have to like everything everybody does. There’s plenty of stuff that does not make a lick of sense to me and that I simply cannot fathom how people can be so into it. But I’m just gonna try to not talk about it. I want to try and be productive, in some way, with everything that I do on Needless Things; and mean-spirited mocking just isn’t productive.
That’s not to say that I won’t be negative from time to time. If I buy a bad product or have a bad experience you guys are going to hear about it. While I am going to do my best to refrain from unwarranted mockery, I am still going to tear the shit out of things that I think deserve it. Like Mattel.
Oh, and if any of my long-time, faithful readers are concerned that this new outlook might affect my DCW recap – don’t be. Those worthless slobs are still gonna get hammered come my Dragon Con recap.
-Phantom

2 comments:

  1. Well said, sir. Well said.
    See you at Dragon Con.

    Bobby

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, man! And yes - you will. We have a GI Joe panel Sunday night at 7 PM in the Marriott M303-304!

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