27 Mar 2010

My failure at fandom

I've been a fangirl for more than two thirds of my life. It started in 1985, when I first heard about a Norwegian pop group called a-ha, who I still follow today (and have tickets for their last-ever *sniff* UK concert in November this year). I bought all their albumband_bws in the 80s (replaced them on CD in the 90s, put them on my iPod in the 00s), read all the magazine articles and bought the merchandise. In my 20s, I collected X-Files episodes, memorabilia  and spinoff scientific books on the myths behind them. In a fortunate choice of jobs, I successfully stalked made contact with an actor whose work (and face) I had admired for years and inadvertently got myself invited to dinner at the family home. In my 30s, I followed a British pop band around the country (and even to Amsterdam), then nearly bankrupted myself following a related band after they broke up – this however, resulted in meeting my partner of five years (the drummer's best mate), so there was an upside to financial ruin.

I've hung out on forums and in chat rooms talking about songs, guitars, jeans and haircuts, I've made new friends at gigs (friendships that lasted longer than the bands themselves) and read (and written) all manner of good (but mostly bad) fan fiction, even before the internet existed. I've collected entire series of TV shows and books, I've written reviews (some of which resulted in the band seeking me out to say hi) and taken hundreds of (mostly blurry) photos. I've admired and sighed and swooned, I've cheered and danced and waved my hands in the air, I've gone back to gigs, movies and performances more than once, then tracked down rare footage (well before YouTube) to view at leisure in my home. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the fan thing. Turns out I was doing it all wrong.

One of the things I was got wrong was that I never crowdreally wanted to MEET the object of my admiration. The few times I did meet them, reality was inevitably grounding and sometimes disappointing. How do you live up to a performance in real life? You can't. I think in the back of my mind I knew that, but for the most part, I didn't want their only impression of me to be labeled, with a gigantic neon sign above my head, as a FAN.

As a FAN, I knew the Famous Person in question would be on  their guard. Fans collect information, they collect it and share it, some to gloat over their ability to acquire it, others just to share and enjoy it with others they know would appreciate it. People in the public eye are aware of this and adjust their conversation appropriately. I wanted to have the kind of conversation I'd have if I was meeting someone through friends, or work, go to dinner, coffee or a pint and have a chat, not the one-sided kind where that someone was worried I was secretly taping the entire thing.

My other apparent mistake is that I don't approach fandom in the same way as a lot of the 'serious' fans out there, who don’t collect information or art, but experiences: conversations, photos with, signed objects, touched objects, waiting at stage door, attending multiple book signings, not to tell the actor/musician/author how much they enjoyed their work and have a conversation about process or other work, but just to say hi, shake hands and tally up another meeting. It's not to enjoy the object or the experience itself, for what it is, but to log another point in the grand scale of fandom.

I came to this realisation very recently – last weekend in fact. I went to my very first book signing. I've never gone to one because I figured while it's nice to have a book with the author's signature on it, I always wondered what the point of it was. The author isn’t my friend and speaking to him for 20 seconds that he isn’t going to remember in the thousands of 20 second meetings he'd have in his lifetime isn’t going to overly enrich either of our lives.

Fandom, I'd always thought, is about trying to make a connection. You see a film, a play, hear a song, read a book, you're impressed, moved, something about the work touches you. The person who created it is obviously someone you admire for their talent and creativity – and we always want to make a connection with someone we admire. In this age of interconnectivity, of Web 2.0, suddenly this becomes more possible. We follow a Famous Person on Twitter, and if we're lucky and clever enough, they'll see a tweet we send to them and reply to it. Receiving a response from someone you admire is heartening and I always harbour a microscopic (and therefore futile) hope that this could, might, just may be the start of an ongoing conversation… but it rarely is. Particularly if, like me, you back off immediately, in terror of being labeled as a FAN.

The book signing was for Joe Hill's new book Horns, and as I've outlined in a previous post, I had a fairly triumphant experience discovering this particular author.

So I went to the signing, queued up for an hour, had my book signed and chatted about jet lag – my 20 seconds with Joe Hill. All fine. But the odd part of the day was the other fans.

hornsI already had my copy of Horns and had considered taking my copy of Heart-Shaped Box, but thought that was a bit presumptuous, as the signing was specifically for Horns. I shouldn't have worried. Some of the other people there had brought two, four, eight and ten copies EACH of the book to be signed. And sign he did, nice chap, knowing full well that these books were going straight onto eBay and he wouldn't see a penny of the mark up his signature would give them. He posed happily for photos and made jokes with everyone, some of whom had been to a few, if not all, of the signings he'd done throughout the UK that week, despite being weekdays and all times of the day.

Now I get the following-around thing. I've taken days off work to travel to the other end of the country to see a band play and meet with friends who are also fans. But that was an entire evening, sometimes a weekend including sight-seeing, four or five hours of music and dancing and drinking… not two minutes of small talk and watching someone sign a book.

A lot of the fans knew each other, obviously from attending signings, and were comparing notes about the next one they were going to (for another author) and past signings with other authors. One woman was joking about how she'd had to curb her book signings because her 'social life' was starting to encroach on the time she was spending with her children. But the most extraordinary thing were the lists. Lists of who'd been to what signing and how many books they'd managed to get signed, whether the author was happy to sign multiple copies and have their photo taken. These signings, it seems, were not a chance to connect with the person who'd enriched your life with their creativity, they were notches on the great bookmark of fandom. Your status as a fan increased with the number and variety of signatures you'd managed to acquire.

I’ve done some obsessive-compulsive things in my fan career, I own some rubbish merchandise and have spent way too much money on things non-fandom folks would see as irrelevant. But if this acquisition of two minute meet-and-greets is what it take to be considered a 'fan' in the age of the internet, I feel that my aversion to meeting the Famous Person, my contentment with a one-sided 'relationship' and my desire only to connect with them to tell them how much I enjoyed their work appears to make me a failure. But I do wonder if my experience of fandom isn’t richer as a result.

9 Mar 2010

The nervous youth

We renewed the tenancy agreement on our flat this month, for another year - mainly because (aside from the fact  that we like it here and the rent's good) we don't want to move house again. We've moved five times in five years and that's just a few too many cardboard boxes. 

As part of the renewal process, our letting agent decided they'd send DSCN3961asomeone round to a) get the agreement signed and witnessed in person and b) do an inspection of the flat to make sure we hadn't sold off the appliances, repainted the walls black or ripped up the carpet. Fair enough, if I was a landlord I'd want to check that too, even if the tenants paid the rent on time, didn't complain (much) or cause any complaints to be made. Like us.

So, in anticipation of a middle-aged hawkeyed spinster obsessed with grease on hob exhaust grilles (yes, I'm speaking from experience), we got up early, Hoovered,  tidied, dusted and even washed the balcony windows (not a big task, but, oh my, the difference - we live on a very busy road with many polluting cars and trucks). The flat looked more than presentable and I was no longer paranoid about the disdainful inspector's imminent arrival.

The doorbell went and I put on my best welcoming smile, prepared to offer said harridan a cup of tea, when in walked a boy.

Yes, in a suit (or rather a sweater vest and tie) but a boy nonetheless. He couldn't have been more than 19, but looked about 15. He smiled nervously and shuffled a plastic sleeve of papers, looking for our tenancy agreement. They hadn't even given him a clipboard, bless - first tool of intimidation, the clipboard. As a stage manager I found it a terrific symbol of authority, right up there with walkie-talkies.

The boy finally found the agreement and we signed it, then he swallowed and said ‘I’ll just do the inventory’ and poked his head into the few rooms of our wee abode, rushing off a series of ticks on his list. I altered his list before signing it (we own the fridge but the other flats came with theirs installed) and he blinked, then nodded, wide-eyed and agreed. Too bad we're so honest, could have got ourselves a washer-dryer and cooker.

He was gone a minute later in a flurry of floppy hair and nervous nodding, but I have to wonder - what would he have done if he'd turned up to find we'd gone all Pacific Heights on the place? What if we'd repainted the ceilings to match the Sistine Chapel, torn up the carpet and carved Satanic symbols into the floorboards, punched holes in the walls and torched the balcony with a bonfire-style BBQ? What if, my chap said, we'd taken out all the walls and tiled the entire flat in pale green, with nothing but a toilet in the centre of the room?

I have to wonder, would our young inspector just have nodded, hyperventilating, and got us to sign the agreement anyway, then run away in tears of terror? I felt at the time that if I'd looked sideways at him and suddenly hissed 'BOO!' he might have wet himself. I can't imagine him standing up to the Andrex puppy, let alone a psychopathic Satanist decorator. Which, fortunately for him, we're not. But I have no idea about our neighbours.