Sometimes It’s Sad To Be A Fan

My name is Nancy, and I am a fan.

Being a fan can mean many things- you can be a fan of an idea, or an action. You can be a fan of a person, or an event, or a sports team, or a band, or whatever. Everyone is a fan of lots of things, every day, and that’s all well and good.

But sometimes? It sucks to be a fan.

I live in the Bay Area of California, and like many people of my age and education level, I spend a lot of time on the internet. Now, the internet, as we know, is a vast and hairy place full of horrors and delights, but one of the things that the internet has done in the modern era is create a space where people who like certain things can all get together and talk about those things with each other. This is fun! Other people to engage with about the things we find exciting! Hooray! However- the internet has also put us in false relationships with the subjects of our fannish attentions, and it’s there that we start moving into the suckiness.

For example:

The other night, as I was getting ready for bed, I was scrolling through my twitter feed, and what did I see? I saw a tweet from @SimonPegg (who, if you don’t know him, is Scotty in Star Trek, as well as the creator and star of Shaun of the Dead, among many other things, and an all around hilarious guy). This tweet informed me that four of my very favorite, most-squee’d-about, deepest, biggest, nerd crushes (namely Spock, Sherlock, Kirk, and Scotty) were… wait for it… getting beers in a bar less than an hour from me.

There were pics.

Now, I’d like the record to show that I was already coming to my senses even as my brain was calculating the likelihood of them being in the same spot if I broke some speeding laws to get to Pleasanton. I will fully own that few seconds of OMG I COULD MEET THEM THEY’LL NEVER BE THIS CLOSE AGAIN WHERE THE HELL ARE MY SHOES?! , because I am a fan, and it’s understandable. BUT, and this is a big but, I am also a rational adult, and I realize that stalking is just not on.

And yet.

Here’s the problem- social media (and, to some lesser extent, tv, I think) have set us up with unprecedented, real-time access to the people we idolize. Which is confusing to us, as emotional, social animals. I feel like I *know* Simon Pegg way better than my neighbors because he “talks” to me multiple times a day. But this is not actually true- I “know” what he’s choosing to present to the world as himself (which can be a very different thing, depending), and he doesn’t know me from Eve.

So, say I were to have grabbed my keys, made it to Pleasanton, and happened upon these four men in their bar- what then? Well, then, at best, they politely acknowledge that I appreciate their professional work, and we all go home. At worst, I am a creepy fangirl who has nothing better to do than to drive an hour to leer at people because of a movie they made a couple years back. Yikes.

Fandom is nothing new, certainly. Tabloids have been around forever in various forms, and heaven knows royalty have never gotten a moment’s privacy in the history of ever. But this is different; this brings us a level of delusion that is unprecedented in the celebrity/fan realm. I, and millions of my fellow fans, can follow the every move, the every bite, the every grocery run, the every blogpost/tweet/instagram of damn near anyone we want to these days, and it feeds this delusion that we have of really *knowing* them, of having some sort of real relationship with them. And, as with all one-sided relationships, it eventually starts to hurt.


I’ve met Wil Wheaton, Secretary of Geek Affairs, several times. I flatter myself that he has some recognition of me when he sees me, but… who knows. I’ve read his books, I follow him on twitter. I’ve seen every episode of TNG, I check his blog. Wil Wheaton is also a very, very nice man- as a fan, when you meet him, he will talk to you like you are not just one of millions of people whose hand he’s had to shake in his lifetime. He is very, very good at being present with the people who think he’s awesome, and honestly? It’s almost worse. If he were a jerk, I could write him off. But he’s a nice guy, who I will never actually get to befriend, in spite of knowing more about him and his life and his thoughts and his family than I do a large proportion of the people I spend every day with.

It’s like… it’s like when you’re in high school, and you just want to be friends with the cool kids (if you were a cool kid, why are you reading this anyway? piss off). You just want to sit with them at lunch; just have them say ‘hey’ in the hallway; just get invited to one party please oh please just one. It’s distracting, and it’s painful, and if it ever happens that one of them acknowledges your existence, you’re euphoric until it fails to happen again, and then you’re crushed.

All I wanted was to hang out with @ZacharyQuinto, @SimonPegg, Chris Pine, and Benedict Cumberbatch. I wanted to be a cool kid too, just for the night.

But it can’t happen. And never will. That’s not how the world works, and that’s ok. But the ongoing pretense that  we manufacture that we are in some sort of reciprocal interaction with our heroes is deceptive at best, and excruciating upon occasion. We’re fooling ourselves on levels our still somewhat primitive brain is not really built to handle.

Am I going to stop following them on twitter? No, of course not. Will I still show up at cons, just for a glimpse of one of my favorites? Odds are good. But will I feel a little guilty, a little disillusioned while I’m doing it?


11 thoughts on “Sometimes It’s Sad To Be A Fan

  1. It’s interesting stuff, isn’t it? Apparently our brains recognise any familiar face as being, well, familiar, and the fact that we only ‘know’ someone from reproductions doesn’t change that. (& I have a gut-level suspicion that this baseness, this edge of humiliation that comes with fandom is part of what keeps the serotonin flowing).

    This response is a hella lot more even handed than the ‘famous people give up privacy because they love the fame too much & they get what they deserve’ attitude, which 1. gives me the willies and 2. strikes me as defense mechanisms on overdrive – to mask this very feeling.

    • Yeah, and I think there’s a certain… naive optimism we all have, too. “If they meet *me*, they’ll see how I’m so much smarter/different/cooler than the *other* fans. If I could just talk to them…” And really, that’s just human nature. But it’s our responsibility to deal with that voice in our head just like we deal with all the other voices in our heads. Falling down on that job… that’s when we run into trouble.

      And… while I do believe in a certain amount of “if you’re a celebrity, you shouldn’t be shocked if rude people confront you in the grocery store”, it also doesn’t make that behavior any less offensive when it happens. Part of the modern era’s difficulty is the mixing of the private and public sphere, and a lack of recognition of the difference in appropriateness between approaching someone when they’re, say, doing a book-signing versus when they’re getting their oil changed.

      • I think the increasing erosion of the ‘public sphere’ into something that is incredibly commercialised ties into this (actually, same could be said for the private, i.e. it’s a product and at the mercy of the market).

  2. I remember when I first met Wil Wheaton, I talked to him briefly about how weird it was that I felt like I knew him and I had to realize that he had never met me. I think he understands that relationship between fans and celebrities more than most, since he is quite a nerd himself, and he went to a lot of sci-fi conventions as a kid.

    • I think he does too; it’s one of the things I really appreciate about him. He really is, in a lot of ways, One Of Us. …and yet, we don’t go for beers when he’s in town, you know? So it goes.

  3. I gotta say, if someone I *honestly* squeal over were going to be so close, I’d consider it. 😉 But for the most part I don’t obsess over celebrities, just their characters.

    David Bowie is the obvious exception here. lol

    • Lol. Well, I think that’s honestly maybe part of the weirdness for me? I really truly don’t care about famous people’s fame? But people whose work I admire, or whose characters I love, that’s a different thing. But even then… not many. So it’s an unusual spot for me to be in, to hit that sort of “OMG SO-AND-SO” moment, whereas I think some people kind of hang out in that mental state fairly regularly. IDK.

      If I ever see David Bowie, I will let you know. 😉

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