August 21, 2003
The Comics Journal Hair-Trigger, Or Why Johnny Blogger Ought To Have His Own Comments Section
So I got off a
couple of little zingers about science fiction conventions
while trying to describe why I dont think my own fannish interests in
science fiction, comic books, computer games or anything similar are at all
like two young women hanging around a hotel evidently seeking (and apparently
failing) to get laid by some Austrialian kidvid stars.
went up pretty hastily over at Electrolite
once the faintest hint of a critique of science fiction fandom was sensed in
my piece. I like a cheap joke at the expense of someone badly dressed as Commander
Adama as much as the next guy, but knocking science fiction fandom or mistaking
it for narcissistic celebrity worship would be a supreme act of self-hatred
on my part. Not only do I have a recent essay on this
blog about my irritation that Kang the Conquerors invasion of the
planet Earth was taken with insufficient seriousness by Marvel Comics, my
manifesto on the state of academic cultural studies is in many ways a call
for it to learn from what Patrick
Nielsen Hayden defines fandom as, a bohemian network of affinity groups,
and to adopt a critical voice which is a more rhetorically middlebrow and more
powerfully influenced by and intertwined with the interpretative frameworks
that fans create.
I am a science
fiction fan. A comics fan. A fan of computer games.
My real, material
connections to the networks Patrick describes are thinner and less social, more
solitary, than many. I dont think it makes me less a fan if my participation
in fan networks is mediated through online message boards, email listservs,
and so on, and are largely expressed through my own canonical knowledge of science
fiction literature and media and through private acts of devotion like festooning
my shelves with action figures. You dont have to write filk songs or go
to conventions or write K/S or be a paid member of the E.E Doc Smith Official
Fan Club to count within Patricks definition, I hope.
I had thought that
was clear in my Wiggles essay. The distinction
Im shooting for there is between something that squicks mesquicking
being a visceral, not entirely rational desire to distinguish between your own
practices and someone elsesand my own fan involvement with science
fiction, comic books and computer games. What squicks me is the narcissism and
perhaps also lack of proportionality that a certain modality of fannishness
seems to license for those in its grip, the lack of ordinary empathy for the
humanness of the people who write the books and sing the songs and act the parts.
That it wasnt
clear may have something to do with my own writing, but I think Patricks
reaction also has a lot to do with what I have come to think of as the Comics
Journal approach to cultural devotion, which is to react with a mixture
of erudite fury and defensive praise of the comics form to even the slightest
whiff of someone failing to appreciate the genius of comics and more importantly
the legitimacy of devotion to comics. Whats interesting is that this reaction
can be triggered easily by either a clueless outsider slamming comic
books as greasy kids stuff or by someone who is unabashedly a fanboy
in his tastes and critical appreciation for comic books, who could care less
about the critical potential of sequential art or about the genius of Maus
but who knows a lot about Wolverine and could care less whether Wolverine is
art or not.
This is a roundabout
way of suggesting that many science-fiction fans, of any and all definitionsand
fans of any kind, really, from soap operas to Holmesianshave remarkably
thin skins and are quick to take offense. Believe me, I know: Ive spent
a lifetime having to defend my tastes and interests to almost everyone around
me, to explain, as Patrick does, that my fandom is orthagonal to
what the non-fans think it is.
A neighbor and
colleague of mine recently got into my inner sanctum, my home office, because
his little boy was over and had found my treasure trove of action figures and
science fiction novels, all watched over benevolently by my Alex Ross-painted
Dr. Fate poster. He was being very pleasant about it, but I could see behind
his eyes: Holy cow, I had no idea he was such a freak. My own little
Comics Journal guy was working up a pretty rigorous screed about how science
fiction is great literature and all that, but I managed to stifle it.
The thing of it
is, though, that maybe my neighbor really wasnt thinking that. In fact,
when I took the time to listen to him, he seemed pretty interested in the theological
usefulness of the Manicheanism of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (hes
in the Religion Department).
And maybe you can say that a fan who lets his fandom turn into creepy devotional obsession or just ordinary narcissistic disregard for an author or a performers humanity is a problem without indicting fandom as a phenomenon. At least, thats what I thought I said.