For years, I have cringed whenever someone called me a “fan” of anything. I. Am. Not. A. Fan.
Now, before you twist your head in puzzlement and wonder, how can she not be a fan of anything, perhaps I should take a step (or ten) back and explain what the word ‘fan’ means to me.
‘Fan,’ as I’m sure you already know, is simply short for the word ‘fanatic.’
Need I say more?
Historically, words that end in –tic do not have good connotations. How about lunatic? Heretic? Spastic? I could go on, but that would be to digress.
No, no, it’s not just how the word ‘fanatic’ is spelled. It’s the connotation of it. Let’s look first at the dictionary definition. Dictionary.com tells us that a fanatic is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics,” while the same website says a fan is “an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.”
Now, wait a minute. Neither of those definitions sound bad at all. A fanatic specifically being “uncritical?” A fan defined as “enthusiastic?” What in the world is so horrible about either?
It’s not the dictionary definitions that have made me shy away from either…or both. It’s the way that professionals in the television and movie industry – to whom I was exposed directly for just over four years – react when you say you’re a fan of whatever or whoever it is they’re working on or with.
For example, I’d go walking the movie lot every day at lunch for the particular studio I was with. I can’t tell you how many actors and actresses, directors, producers, screenplay/script writers and the like that I met. I attended lots of sitcom tapings, got to know some of these people quite well, and the one thing I was never ever allowed to tell any of them, was that I was a fan.
Because telling them that made me UNSAFE to be in their sphere.
As long as I was just another employee, working for the same place they were working for, the biggest names in the business asked no questions, because the implication was that I wasn’t going to maul, molest or otherwise harass them. That I wasn’t going to ask for favors. That I wasn’t going to try to get something out of them or ask for an autograph (I never ask for those…I’m not sure why owning someone’s scrawled John Hancock is such a thrill, but I’m weird like that).
So I guess I learned from my association with people both in front of and behind the camera over those four years. I learned a lot about actors and actresses. About the guys (and gals) who sit around writing, rewriting and doing last-last-last minute rewrites of scripts (oh, the multi-colored pages). About the directors and producers who alternately shouted, frowned or just plain threw their hands up in the air at times. Yes, I saw one do that, poor guy. But his actors were just as frustrated!
To me, none of these people are anything more than…well…people. If I met them while hanging out on a Saturday night down on Beale Street here in Memphis, would I be drawn to them if they weren’t a “big name” shooting into millions of household living rooms every week via TV screens? I honestly don’t know. In some cases, I’d like to think so. But when you boil right down to the bare facts, they’re doing their jobs just as much as the stock market broker in Manhattan, the waitress in Los Angeles and the farmer in Somewhere, Iowa.
So combining my own experiences with my personal beliefs about folks who are “high up” in the television or movie industries (I’m one who says “Hey, they put their pants on same way we do”), I bristle when I get called a fan of anything, because it’s been ingrained in me that that’s bad. That you cannot let them know you are this horrid, horrid beast called ‘fan.’ (I half expect horns, fangs and an arrow-tipped tail to sprout from me if someone actually calls me that and makes it stick.)
Hmmmm, that description sounds like it might make a decent character in my next book…
I’m just going to mention here that even Facebook stopped using the word ‘fan.’ For those who don’t remember, it used to be that instead of clicking “Like” if you appreciated and wanted to recommend a Facebook page about something/someone, you clicked a button that said “Become a Fan.” And then Facebook found out that a lot of people did not really like that word. People resoundingly said that just because they “liked” something doesn’t mean they wanted to be called a “fan” of it.
I guess I should admit that while I might quietly sometimes admit to myself that I am a fan of something or someone, I try to pretend the origins of that word aren’t from ‘fanatic’ when I do so. I shall make one final distinction between ‘fan’ and ‘fanatic,’ though, as I see it.
I don’t think a fan is a bad thing to be, but I think a fanatic is. Let me explain.
To me, saying I am a fan of…let’s use an actor. Actor Joe Anyone, we’ll call him. To say I am a fan of his implies that I enjoy watching him. Or perhaps that I enjoy what he does in his “non-work” time, such as charities he supports, perhaps…or hobbies or how he spends time with his family or whatever the case may be. That maybe I like the majority of Joe Anywhere’s body of work.
The same could be said of me if I declared myself to be a fanatic of Joe Anywhere the actor.
Here’s what I think the difference is.
I believe that a fanatic will love Joe Anywhere to their dying day and GOD HELP THE POOR SOUL who dares to say one little thing against Joe. As an example, suppose I go to see Joe’s latest film and I think he didn’t quite capture the spirit of the character, or thought he seemed disengaged, or really thought he’d been miscast and wonder why he took the role to begin with. If I said that to Joe’s fanatics, they’d sever my head, serve it up on a silver platter and probably disembowel me in the bargain, asking how the heck I could call myself a fan of Joe’s if I don’t support him 100%.
Of course I support Joe 100%. But that doesn’t mean I have to love everything he does without reservation…it just means I should support his right to try it. It does not mean I have to view every project he does with hearts in my eyes and blindly follow him no matter how painfully bad his current project might be.
If I think a film was excellent except for what I thought was ten minutes of poor scriptwriting, that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of the movie. It means I cared enough about the damn movie to lament that I thought something wasn’t perfect about it!
Am I starting to make sense?
If I think my favorite pretend actor Joe Anywhere is an asshole for how he acts during an interview, and voice my opinion that the guy needs to lighten up and stop acting like said asshole to the reporter, that does not mean I’m not his fan. I am Joe’s fan. It simply means that either I was embarrassed for him, or concerned about how his behavior might affect his reputation or the project he’s currently working on…it could be any number of things.
In short (too late, I know), I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I am indeed a (closet) fan of some things and even of some people. However, those things and those people won’t ever really know that from my lips, because it was drilled into me not to show it.
Yes, I write fan fiction, as I have already made public. Just because that’s what they call it, though, doesn’t mean it’s not good, solid, decent writing. Any more than calling me a fan of someone or something, means that I’m not a good, solid, decent human being. And like a lot of fan fiction writers I know who work hard on their craft, I get a little tired of the portrayal of it in the media as if it is all badly written, self-indulgent crap. After all, I’ve seen plenty of professional writing that fits those two categories to a ‘T!’
Are there some scary-ass fans out there who do things like stalk celebrities to their favorite hangouts or to their homes? Who have fantasies all worked up in their heads that Celebrity A is their boyfriend/husband and Celebrity B is their long-lost past-life love? Oh, yeah. THOSE are really and truly what I’d call ‘fanatics.’
But please, folks, don’t sit there and tell other people they aren’t true fans of something or someone just because they have the unmitigated gall, in your eyes, to critique something the person you think walks on water has done.
That person is human just like the rest of us. They are not perfect no matter how much your rose-colored glasses tell you they are. And I have the right to say “Dude, you are seriously screwing it up,” if I care about whatever it is he’s screwing up. Sorry, but I’m not going to openly support someone just because I’m supposed to be their ‘fan,’ if I think they’re making bad artistic or personal decisions. Because I care about them, I am going to say, “Oh, man, why did you do that?”
Yes, this is all my not-so-humble opinion. But it’s something that grates on me, and has since my studio days. So there you have it.
And dammit…I am not a fan!