You With Your Fandom, Me With My Fandom Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-06-15 10:30:00-04:00 No comments

Godzilla & The Flaws of Tribal Film Criticism; or, Joe Brody is Godzilla | Cinefantastique Online

... as counter-intuitive as it seems, the famous radioactive reptile got a fairer shake from mainstream critics than from genre specialists. Many viewers with a Sense of Wonder seem to have checked that sensibility at the door, replacing it with symptoms of Early Onset Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (also known as: All You Kids Get Off Of My Lawn Syndrome). ... I am interested in the sensibilities underlying these reactions, which I see as another example of the Tribalism that permeates modern film-going, in which the actual quality of the film is frequently less important than how well the film acts as a Tribal Identifier that helps “Us” define ourselves as different from “Them.”

The whole essay is great (especially the analysis of the film in the later sections), and it serves to describe a phenomenon I see in many other circles apart from film fandom.

Most every fandom in general has certain shibboleths used by the fandom to make people demonstrate the depth of their love. With comics, it's not just buying those silly overpriced special editions (although I think mercifully that fad is passé with publishers), but also applying purist's arguments to things like whether or not Superman can or should kill. With movie buffs, it's not just protesting obviously inane things like colorization, but also fretting about the encroachment of digital technology over film. With book lovers, it's prizing the printed word over the digitized one. The list goes on.

The dark side of this is nitwit stuff like using spot trivia tests to tease out the so-called fakers — the "fake geek/gamer girl" thing comes to mind — but if this fandom thing is about emotional devotion first and factual mastery second, such tests are more a measure of the emotional insecurity of the self-appointed gatekeepers than anything else.

Back to the core behavior, though. The word I'm looking for to describe such things is reverence, and the problem with reverence is that it begins and ends its lifetime as an emotional reaction. It doesn't begin with intellect and end in emotion, or vice versa; it's a gut feeling from birth to death. Most fans would never know this to be a problem, because fandom is, as I just pointed out, emotional on top of anything else. It's about the love people feel for something, the attachment they have to it, the desire they express towards it, etc. Analyzing something like that rarely comes up, because who among us analyzes any of our emotional reactions to anything? Vanishingly few, because why bother? Emotions are things to be felt, not examined.

But if there's anything worth looking in the mirror over, it's the very things we feel so strongly about, because it's through those things that we stand the greatest chance of not only understanding ourselves, but learning how our fever for such things affects others. An old Buddhist saying is said to go something like this: "However strong the emotions are, to that degree the fire of wisdom will blaze." The word wisdom seems strange in this context; how's wisdom supposed to come from strong emotions, when the two are typically at odds? From the very fact that it's the things we care about most that grant us the greatest possible chance to derive wisdom from our experiences with them — although none of that comes without work.

Few fans think of being a fan as work. Or, rather, they think of the work to be done as being entirely outer-directed — proving their worthiness as fans to others, instead of looking down into themselves and understanding what it is about the things they love that they respond to. Ultimately, they just want to be fans, to embody the ideal by doing what they're most naturally motivated to do, and let the little details of fandom-as-such take care of themselves. Trouble is, those details bristle with devils.

Tags: entertainment fandom movies