I had a conversation with someone last night which prodded awake some half-conscious musings I’d recently been having about what it means to be a “fan” of a particular person or cause. Obviously I am a fan myself (a Fluffette, in fact!) and so I think it will be difficult to separate out my own feelings on this. It may end up being an extremely rambling and confused blog, so I apologise for that, but it’s something that I think will be interesting to explore. If you feel that I am indeed talking absolute poppycock at times, please bear in mind that my ideas on this mainly stem from my own very personal experience and will therefore be different from your own.
To put it simply, I want to look at why we (well perhaps not everyone, but many people) become attached to certain celebrities, clubs or causes, what it means to be a fan and whether there are different “levels” of “fandom”. Already I can feel myself becoming defensive towards MYSELF for writing this – “how can you treat your own love & loyalty to someone in such an over-simplified fashion?” I hear myself ask myself. This will no doubt sound ridiculous to some, but I hope there will be others who understand what I mean 🙂 I should add that I had already started writing this late last night before I had heard about an interesting post on the stephenfry forum by someone who was obviously bewildered by the whole idea of being a “fan” of something. Will mention more about this later.
So, to start off, are there different levels or “types” of fandom? I think the answer to this s is almost certainly “yes” – most people would probably agree that the word “fan” covers quite a range of devotion and interest. This can go from the person who is a “fan” of Mozart, has several recordings of his music and has perhaps read a biography or two, to the person who is a rabid Liverpool or Man Utd supporter, has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of their club’s history, agonises over the physical health of the team’s players and has never missed a single game. The fluffettes as a whole (I hope they will forgive me for saying this!) are probably positioned towards the latter half of this “fan” spectrum.
So what does it mean to be a “fan”? In my view, it’s more than just having a strong liking for something. I mean, I like pizza, but I don’t feel the need to go to “pizza conventions” and mix with fellow pizza-lovers (though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that other people do!). Obviously I would be upset if pizza for some reason became unavailable, but I wouldn’t be *devastated* or anything. I think that being a fan involves having a slightly stronger level of interest than “I enjoy reading/eating/watching this”. There has to be a spark, rather like rubbing two stones together. When the oxygen of enthusiasm is blown on a spark of interest, it grows into a flame of passion. Or something.
Let’s do the thing properly and have a look at a dictionary definition. The Free Online Dictionary says that “fan” is short for “fanatic” and can be used to describe either “an ardent admirer of a pop star, film actor, football team etc” or ‘a devotee of a sport, hobby etc”. Not sure I’m terribly keen on the word “fanatic” – it seems to imply…well, let’s see what the FOD says. “Fanatical – surpassing what is normal or accepted in enthusiasm for or belief in something; excessively or unusually dedicated or devoted.” Yes, exactly. You get words like “excessive” poking its nose in where it’s not wanted. The other way of putting it was “excessive or irrational zeal.” But notice that it says “surpassing what is normal or accepted”. Why do people get worried or concerned by unusually high levels of devotion to a person or cause? Is it because it seems unrealistic, particularly with a person? You may never meet them, they might not even know that you exist, and even if you do meet them, it still follows that in most cases, they will be a much bigger part of your life than you are of theirs. But I’m sure that most fans realise this. There are very few who are that deluded, certainly none of the fluffettes that I’ve met (unless they’ve been keeping quiet about it!) harbour delusions that one day Stephen will fall in love with them and they’ll live happily ever after. I think that as much as we may joke about that sort of thing, perhaps even fantasise about it, most if not all of us realise how unlikely that scenario would be. And I don’t even think that it is what people are hoping for. When asked by someone (I forget who it was, sorry!) “what would you actually do with Stephen, if you had an evening alone with him?” the answers were much sweeter and more innocent than one might have supposed. I know I was surprised that so many said “I’d just have dinner with him and then listen to him talk”. I think this shows that being a fluffette is not so much about being obsessive. It stems more from how we feel about him, whether it’s because we just admire him for whatever reason (his work, his character, his ideals), or feel grateful towards him for some reason – perhaps for his “Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” documentary that helped to raise much more awareness of bipolar disorder – or maybe (as in my case) they see him more as a father-figure or role model. In my case, I think this is because my own father died when I was 15 and my step-dad was…well, let’s just say he was in no way a decent role model. Hence my need to go out and find one.
God I can’t explain how weird it feels to be writing this, to be trying to explain it in words. Am getting rather emotional and I’m not even sure why.
Let’s move on to another point I wanted to mention. Being a fan also means that you tend to be rather biased in favour of your chosen person or cause. So what happens if someone criticises them? Do you get all defensive and deny whatever person B is saying? “Oh no, they’d never do that, I know they wouldn’t”. Or attempt to justify it? “They must have been having a bad day or something, usually they would never do that”. Or do you just keep quiet because you know that you can’t deny what person B has said (because that’s effectively calling them a liar) and you also can’t try to justify the claim, because then you just sound like you’re making excuses so you won’t have to accept that the chosen person or cause (call them C) may possibly have flaws and faults too. The thing is, I *know* that my C is only human and will occasionally (or possibly more often) make bad mistakes and awful cock-ups. I do know that. Part of the reason I admire Stephen so much is because he is willing to admit when he has messed up and apologises accordingly (as far as I know). But at the same time, I do realise that I am far from impartial.
A good example of this is when Stephen did a television interview for a news item speaking out against conservative Polish politics (something to do with marginalising gay people, I think) and during this he said: “and let’s not forget what side of the border Auschwitz was on”. Now I guess you could justify this by saying that he was under pressure due to it being a televised interview and perhaps he hadn’t time to think about what he was saying. But you still can’t get away from the fact that it was a very stupid thing to say and he later apologised for it (“It was a rubbishy, cheap and offensive remark that I have been regretting ever since”). But here’s the thing. When I heard the interview, my first thought was: “What?? Did he just say…? No. He can’t have done. I must be mistaken. I can’t have heard it right. Must have misunderstood what he meant.”
And there’s your partial biased favouritism right there.
Going back to what I said earlier about possible reasons for others being bothered by your “fanatical” (still hate that word) attitude to C (chosen person or cause, remember?), perhaps this could also be due to embarrassment. It is often considered “uncool” to have particularly high levels of enthusiasm for things, which I think is a shame in many ways. Why should having a passionate interest in something be a cause of embarrassment? Alright, a little mick-taking can probably be expected, especially if your C is more in the “geek” line, but outright scorn and jeering is just…well, not cool.
Besides, if we are getting an enormous amount of fun and friendship from our wholehearted support of our chosen C, surely it is the jeerers and scoffers that are missing out?
As a proud fluffette I may well be “excessive and irrational” and perhaps “surpass what is normal or expected” in terms of enthusiasm, but you know what? I love Stephen, he is still very much my hero and/or role model and I have met amazing people and been introduced to many fabulous new things because of this. So I think I will be sticking with my C for now 🙂
Do you think they have free pizza at Pizza Conventions?