Fry’s Fluffettes – what does it mean to be a “fan”?

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?

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7 Responses to Fry’s Fluffettes – what does it mean to be a “fan”?

  1. fryfan20 says:

    oh I am absolutely defensive of my C. partly because I know how sensitive he is and I want to protect him (I know I can’t but I have to try).
    also very interesting what you said about him as a father figure, I get that. my father is still with us and very well and I love him dearly but he is quite emotional unavailable and I kinda miss having a close bound with him. (hope this isn’t too bad on my dad he is really a good guy) but now I am rambling.
    good blog post sweets 🙂

  2. nongenderous says:

    Hmm. How’s my Frydom? Not at all like any of my previous fandoms.
    I became a fan in 2007, I think. Anyway, it was via Rik Mayall, because I was a fan of him at the time. I read “Fat Chance”, by Simon Gray, because Rik Mayall is the opposite of Stephen. He is joking most of the time and keeps his private life very much to himself. I found out about “Fat Chance”, because someone at a Rik Mayall forum had said that it gave some insight into what Rik Mayall was really like. Rik Mayall written an autobiography as well, though I think “autobiography” is more accurate, as it’s mostly jokes, with some small serious parts in between. Some people claim that “Fat Chance” is unfair when it comes to how it portrays Stephen, but I don’t think it does. It is what made me find out who he was, and it’s interesting to read about the dynamic between Rik and Stephen. Their differences and similarities. Never judge a book by it’s cover!
    I got curious of who this Stephen Fry was, and googled him, watched videos on YouTube and joined the official Stephen Fry forum. It was green back then and Stephen was made out of fruit. This happened to be around the time of “The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive”, and it’s probably what made it say *click* in my head. It was the first time I’d been watching a documentary I could relate. I’m not bipolar, but the parts about depression, mood swings, suicide attempts; I could relate. His honesty, how he was caring about the people he interviewed. I was drawn to him. That’s how it all began…

    Is this the time where I can say that I certainly do not agree with everything Stephen says or do? Because I don’t. I sometimes “argue” with him, if I’m listening to something he says that I don’t agree on, and there really is no reason why I shouldn’t. Yes, I admire him, but I’m able to have my own thoughts and opinions. Does anyone remember the talk he had about history last year? I remember I was very frustrated and couldn’t agree with him, on how he managed to link monarchy and the welfare state. I had a course named “European Welfare States” in college, and from what I know they don’t seem linked to me, but that’s another story.

    So, hmm. Where am I on this an scale? I guess it depends on who you ask. I travelled from Norway to England to see him. He is the reason why I’m on Twitter and I’ve got friends because of him. Judge for yourself. I’m too subjective to judge myself.

    I guess I see him like I do with the rest of the world; in shades of gray.

    • zanyzigzag says:

      Well you sound a lot less partial than I am! 😉 which is great, diversity is very important and this is why it’s so interesting to hear other people’s views and stories. Thankyou for sharing yours Anne 🙂

  3. This is such an interesting post to me because I’ve been researching fandom for Book Two. I might be asking you loads of questions leading on from it!

    I’m with you on not especially liking the term ‘fan’ because of its roots and being linked to obsessive or excessive behaviour. I just think that if you admire or like someone and want to follow and support their career, to whatever extent, you should be able to do that without incurring the criticism or derision of others.

  4. Nems says:

    Oddly enough, the “unrealistic” thing is what makes fandom so comfortable and appealing for me.:) It’s a sort of alternative reality (I’m kind of addicted to them) which completes my real life, makes it brighter and more beautiful. This reality will never be mine, I know it and I’m fine with it. Kind of a fairytale for adult girls, not only fascinating, but also quite useful, because it makes me learn a lot. This is certainly the most thought-provoking fandom I can imagine.:)
    As for Stephen himself… this man does mean a bloody lot to me and I’m very proud to call myself a Fluffette.:) My love to him is based on admiration and gratitude in equal proportions; I love his works, I love him as a personality and I’m extremely grateful to him because one day he saved me from absolute darkness (it was The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, yup). Now, 2 years after, I owe him much more than this, but this is a long story.:) He puts his personality, his soul in everything he does, and this is the most wonderful thing he could put in his works – he’s never distant, never neutral, he talks to you, he holds your hand and makes you follow him, sometimes he even grabs your shoulders and shakes you.:))) And you can’t be indifferent – he makes you feel concerned whatever is the subject. This is what he does in his documentaries, in his books, this is even in his acting (I fell for him as an actor, before discovering other talents of his).
    I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t look for points of disagreement.:))) sometimes he makes me yell with anger (especially when he goes all self-hateful *sigh*).:) I was extremely pleased to find out that the man I love and admire so much shares some of my views and speaks about it much better than I could ever imagine. Stephen Fry didn’t change my world, but he definitely set it in order in some ways. Father-figure? No, certainly not for me. Hero? Certainly yes. Vulnerable, fragile, human in the very best sense of this word, and yet a hero. The one you want to look into the eyes and say two things: “Don’t you bloody dare doubt yourself, you mean so much to me!” and “Thank you”. And then give him the biggest hug in his life.:)))

    Thank you for blogging about him – it was an enormous pleasure to read it.:)
    Nems (@nemelle)

    • zanyzigzag says:

      That was a beautiful comment @nemelle, I am honoured to have it on my blog 🙂 you’ve described Stephen’s wonderfulness perfectly, much better than I could have done. Thankyou 🙂 *hugs* xx

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