The deranged traditions of science fiction “fandom” are overwhelmingly attractive, particularly to those few boys and girls who are the outcasts of their high school classes because of wonky thought processes, a flair for the bizarre, and physical appearance that denies them the treasures of sorority membership or a position on the football team. For the pimply, the short, the weird and intelligent…for those to whom sex is frightening and to whom come odd dreams in the middle of study hall, the camaraderie of fandom is a gleaming, beckoning Erewhon; an extended family of other wimps, twinks, flakes and oddballs.
– Harlan Ellison
“All the Lies That Are My Life”
I have been a fan of comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and horror for a long, long time. Comic books began coming into the house at a very young age, as did superhero toys. Star Wars caught me quite young, as well, and opened up a lot of possibilities in both storytelling and the beginnings of science. Horror was huge in the 1980s, when I was a child, and by 1987, I was a full-fledged horror fan.
I’m not a stranger to fandom. Everywhere I look around my workspace I see something that indicates fandom. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and literary figure action figures are to my right on a bookcase (that’s devoted almost entirely to Stephen King books). Freddy Krueger and superhero action figures are on the Harlan Ellison bookcase. There are other strange tchotchkes around my work area, too. Hell, this very blog has seen me geeking out, or being a fan many times.
After the last few weeks, though, I think I might have had my fill. I may be ready to turn in my geek card. I may be ready to walk away from fandom.
The first incidents that irked me came through the news two weeks ago. In one week, Todd McFarlane, Mark Millar, and Gene Conway essentially said that comic books have always been for guys and if a woman is interested in them, they just need to accept that. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can look it up.
As a parent of two daughters, one of whom is a 15-year-old who is discovering fandom, this gets me very angry. It leads to the bigger discussion that has been popping up in the last year or so about the mainstreaming of Geek Culture and, especially, Geek Girls.
The first idea is that Geek Culture exists because it is a safe haven for those whom Harlan Ellison so eloquently write about above, the kids like me, whose minds are faster, weirder, and more prone to flights of fancy that others in their peer groups. Kids to whom social interaction is a difficult thing. Kids to whom the idea of people with powers, or flying around time and space in a police box, or any number of other scenarios are more comforting than going to a party. Now, suddenly, people who were never considered geeks, or ever considered themselves geeks, are going to see the movies that feature these symbols of adolescent impotence and calling themselves geeks. They’re going to ComiCons and wearing tee shirts with the symbols of these fantasies on them. And, goddamnit, how dare they it belongs to US!
The second idea is far, far uglier. The second idea is that attractive young women aren’t allowed to call themselves geeks because they are attractive and girls. A fat, pimply, odd girl is acceptable because the Omega Moos know what it’s like to be ostracized because of their looks or their brains, but the pretty ones do not. How dare they wear superhero- or science fiction- or horror-themed tee shirts?! How dare they call themselves geeks?!
Both arguments are total bullshit, of course. The mainstreaming of geek culture means we won. It means that all those lonely nights working on whatever dreams we had are paying off. We’ve watched them and we’ve reported back on their lives and they’re giving us their money for it. The Geek Girl argument is just simple paranoia that builds when one has been bullied too much. It’s the thing that makes us not trust the pretty, the beautiful, the self-assured.
That’s the first piece of ugliness.
The second piece of ugliness is only 48 hours old. Thursday night, Warner Bros. announced that the actor chosen to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel, joining Henry Cavill as Superman, would be Ben Affleck. I wrote about the decision here. I like it. I think Affleck is a fine actor, a very good director, and he will be fine in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Well, it seems the fanboys/-girls don’t agree. Online petitions have been started trying to oust the actor from the project. Memes ridiculing the actor have gone viral. The sad thing is, these fuckers will be buying the goddamn action figure in droves in 2015 (as my friend RJ Sevin said). These numbskulls don’t remember the hoopla surrounding 1989’s Batman when it was announced that Jack Nicholson would be playing the Joker and Michael Keaton would be playing Batman. Nicholson sounded great, but Michael Keaton?! Mr. Mom?! Beetlefuckinjuice?!
I was too young to know the severity of it in Xeroxed fanzines and letter columns of various magazines, but I’ve heard stories. I remember the mainstream media was also shocked and dubious. No one thought Michael Keaton would make a good Batman. And yet…the fans were so very sad when it was announced that he would not be reprising the role in the third Batman movie, 1995’s Batman Forever. Even after the disastrous Batman & Robin (1997) fans held out hope that Keaton would return to the franchise. A few years back, these same fanboys were upset about the casting of pretty-boy Heath Ledger as the Joker, and look how that turned out!
The brouhaha over the casting of Ben Affleck would be amusing to me if it wasn’t so vicious and coming from the “professional” websites of the comic book industry. And on the coattails of the other two problems I wrote about above, it’s enough to make me think that maybe…maybe…I’ve had enough.
I mean, I don’t have to stop liking the stuff I like. Maybe I don’t even have to stop writing about the stuff, though I have to wonder if my essays on the Nightmare on Elm Street and Superman movies are a teeny, tiny part of the problem. I like to think that they’re not unnecessarily mean, but let’s face it, they’re written by a fan for a fan. But maybe it’s time to leave the reading about such things behind. Maybe it’s time to unfollow Newsrama, and the Batman sites, and the other sff sites that have this attitude. I’ve already decided that there will not be any more money given to Todd McFarlane (though I made that decision back when I found out how much of a liar and thief he actually is).
The problem is that the fans of these types of stories will talk at length about heroism and strength, of openness and inclusion, of progressive action and of harmony among all. And yet, when it has come time for them to act as the fictional heroes they worship, they have failed. Not all of them, but a vocal segment that seems to be, well, quite large.
Groucho Marx used to say that he wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have him. I’m thinking that this might now apply to me and fandom.
Prove me wrong.