By Jaime Green
(Editor's Note: But what of those who love us, the fans? And what of their fandoms? Below, theater blogging OG and current writer extraordinaire Jaime Green delivers a gchat with annotations with her boyfriend, Buzzfeed's Tanner Ringerud.
Jaime Green writes essays and true stories about vegetables, theatre, science, museums, and everything else. She is working on a book about the possibility of life elsewhere the universe.)
I was raised a Mets fan. My dad's a Mets fan, so that's the baseball we went to see. In college I lived with a Yankees fan; the games were always on, and I got to know those players, while the last Met I had any attachment to was pre-Piazza pitcher Mike Hundley. I wouldn't say I was a Yankees fan – couldn't, if I didn't want to be disowned – but that was the team that I followed for a few years. When I stopped living with that roommate, I stopped following the Yankees. I would've picked up with the Mets if my boyfriend had been a fan, or with whatever team he watched, but baseball isn't really his thing.
He is, though, a fan. Of many things, and maybe the first person in my life engaged with things in a truly fannish way, at least since I found my way to fellow theatre nerds in high school and however many cast parties we spent singing along to the entire cast recording of RENT. (More fondly: the car rides around the suburbs singing along to Ragtime. My friend Liisa had a gorgeous voice, so she sang Mother, and I ended up with Tateh.) But Tanner, my boyfriend, is a devoted fan of some things that a person could think were silly for a grown man. Tanner sometimes thinks so, and that tension, between loving a thing and being self-conscious of that love, between being a fan and suspicion of hardcore devoted fandom, is why I decided to conduct an oddly formal g-chat interview with my boyfriend about fandom.
Jaime: so, i wanted to talk to you about fandom for two reasons. one, i think— Wait, I should probably use capital letters— One, I think you have an interesting relationship with fandom.
Jaime: I think you have some mixed feelings about it.
Jaime: Should we start with the good or bad first?
Jaime: What would you consider yourself a fan of?
Tanner: Lots of stuff. Comic books (my favorites are Green Lantern, Batman, and Wolverine), Dr. Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Fantasy Novels (Game of Thrones, specifically), video games. There's probably a lot more stuff I'm forgetting.
Jaime: Is being a fan of these things different from just plain liking them?
Tanner: Yeah. I like a lot of stuff, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan of many of them. I like Superman comics, I like Euro board games, I like How I Met Your Mother… but I'm not a "fan" of them.
This is where I realize a difference. I love How I Met Your Mother. I know Tanner does, too. It has some dumb, easy sit-com episodes, but then sometimes it is brilliant. It warms my heart, makes me feel good, has made many nights after long, horrible days much better. I love it the way I have loved other TV shows – Alias, Doctor Who, The West Wing – which is to say, I love them hard. Maybe because they have such lovable characters, maybe because they make bad days so much better. But other than some repeat watchings of the Alias season 3 bloopers reel [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_wyxYK88JA], I haven't been moved to the sorts of outside engagement Tanner will go on to associate with fandom.
Tanner: I guess it comes down to engagement. With Superman, for instance, I consume media about Superman, but that's where the engagement ends. I don't read about Superman on the side, I don't follow the Superman tag on tumblr, I'd never consider getting a Superman tattoo to show my devotion.
Jaime: I was like, "Is he thinking about a Green Lantern tattoo??" Which you obviously are, but I forgot for a second that you have a Game of Thrones tattoo already.
Jaime: Which, to be fair, was free.
Jaime: And you also have a Maruchan Ramen Noodle guy tattoo.
(Tanner isn't a fan of Maruchan Ramen Noodles. He just liked the design, and was in college and I'm pretty sure trying to impress a girl.)
Tanner: yeah, but [the Game of Thrones tattoo] is still on my body forever
Tanner: I wouldn't have volunteered to do it if I didn't love the GoT books.
Jaime: Do you think there's something special about the things you're a fan of that makes them more engageable in that way, or are you just a fan of the things you love best?
Jaime: Like, is there more to think/read/explore about Green Lantern than Superman?
Tanner: Yes and no. I think some of the properties to a really good job to encourage fan culture. Dr. Who and Star Wars encourage their fans to get involved and do stuff, and they have full, rich catalogs of information and back stories to explore and engage with. There's a lot for fans to feed off of. Both Superman and Green Lantern have long histories, but Green Lantern's just appealed to me more. I discovered Green Lantern after hearing about the Darkest Night books, and that universe and story really appealed to be, so I ended up getting really into Green Lantern. Superman is just a book I read every month, and even though his universe and story is as big and interesting as Green Lanterns, I don't really get into it.
Jaime: The kind of fan culture you engage with - or the way you're a fan of these things - it seems to me like it's more solitary, right? You don't go to cons or hunt down other Dr Who fans to geek out with, do you?
Tanner: God no.
Jaime: Why not?
Tanner: Because I am an adult man. Dressing up as a Red Lantern for a convention and writing Dr. Who/Sherlock slash fiction is just so much time and effort, and it doesn't really prove that I am a bigger fan than someone who doesn't do those things. It requires so much energy and effort to be a part of fan culture, and I already work in a creative industry, so I don't really need that creative release that I think a lot of people need. I just want to consume the media I enjoy consuming. I don't (generally) disparage the people who like to do those things, but I don't need to go to those lengths to feel like I am a fan of something.
When I was, I don't know, eleven or twelve, my dad took me and my little sister to a traveling Star Trek museum exhibit. This wasn't a convention. I'm not entirely sure what it was. It was somewhere in suburban New Jersey. This would have been in the early- or mid-nineties. I had been watching Star Trek with my dad for years, first on Saturdays with him – he had custody on the weekends – and then later, at my mom's house, running into the kitchen to pick up the ringing phone at every commercial break. (We did this in later years with The X-Files. And then my dad gave me a hard time for being single, and I was like, dude, you brought this on yourself.) We went to this Star Trek exhibit and I remember jewelry from the show, possibly for sale, and a Ferenghi head. Maybe a Klingon head? I'm not sure, now, which it was, and I guess it was a mask and not a head. It was cool. It was something to do. It was something usually contained by the TV box now here in real life, in New Jersey.
In high school I waited with my friends at stage doors for autographs from actors in Broadway shows. There was something powerful about that personal interaction, something about watching from an audience that made me want it. (I only stopped doing this, I think, because I felt self-conscious. And still, when life or work has brought me into the vicinity of an actor or artist I've loved, I've been moved to thank them, but much more for my sake than theirs. To get to talk to them, for a second. The thanking is just an excuse. Beth Leavel, John Cameron Mitchell, I'm sorry I was disingenuous. It's not that I'm not grateful for the awesomeness you've brought into my life, I just used that gratitude as an excuse to get to talk to you.
I don't know that people are going to great lengths to feel like they are fans of things. I think people want to be close to the things they love. And I think people want to find their communities. It's rare to hear sports fans disparaged for devotion to their fan communities. Fans of nerdy things are just less accepted in society. Nerdier. But then they need that community even more.
Jaime: You don't "(generally)" disparage those fans, but you do, if I can paraphrase things you've said while looking at tumblr, "hate Dr Who fandom."
Jaime: Is that an accurate paraphrase?
Tanner: I mean, Doctor Who fandom is a whole other beast. Doctor Who fans (on tumblr, at least) seem to be younger and of a more female persuasion, which leads to a lot of saccharine, emotional garbage. They're also the ones that I was talking about before, who are looking for more outlets for their creativity. I think it sort of drives me crazy sometimes because of what I was saying before about how I can be a fan of somethings, but not a fan of others. I like Sherlock just fine, but when you start jamming it into my Dr. Who, I check out. They also tend to do it with stuff that I actively dislike, like My Little Pony.
Jaime: That's just people wanting to see cute boys from different tv shows make out. People I do not understand definitely not. Martin Freeman and Rory hold no appeal whatsoever.
Tumblr is a weird space for fandom. Or, it's a weird space for me – for both me and Tanner – in that a lot of fandom crosses your path with much less effort on your part than you'd have to exert in almost any other platform. If I want to see Doctor Who fan art in my regular internet, I have to hunt it down, each time. On Tumblr, I decided once to follow the Doctor Who Tumblr, and now, daily, the fan art, the tributes. The mash-ups. The Death Cab for Cutie lyrics superimposed over color-saturated stills. I like that song. I like that episode. But together... On one episode of The West Wing, Sam Seaborne, speechwriter to the president, gets into hot water for disparaging a piece of writing by saying it sounds like it was written by a girl. He says, later, that he has no problem with the way a woman writes, but this was written by a girl. These Tumblr bits of fan art, they seem like they were put together by girls.
It's also worth saying that I think Doctor Who fans “seem to be... of a more female persuasion” because the day dream of the Doctor Who world – the way it lives in your head when you're away from it – fits best for a young woman. It's a lot easier to imagine yourself being a companion than being the Doctor himself.
Jaime: Let me know when you have some more downtime for me to get you to crank about Dr Who fandom more.
Jaime: (I think that British Avengers poster is going to factor in)
Jaime: It's super dumb
Tanner: send it
Jaime: What's even the point of that?
Tanner: So fangirls everywhere can fantasize about it and masturbate
Jaime: There is plenty of that in the *real* Avengers
Jaime: Butts butts butts, etc.
My Tumblr dashboard has lately been full of gifs of the excellent butts of the male cast of The Avengers. I love this, because they have great butts, and also, as the butts preceded my seeing the movie, it made me love the movie more. The butts – and, okay, the other Tumblr noise about the movie – set me up to enter the theatre already with an affection for the movie and its characters (and their butts).
I used to read Neil Gaiman's blog. I had read Sandman and maybe a novel or two. But then I started reading his blog, and Neil Gaiman became more than a writer, he became a real person, with children and dogs and beehives. When his next book came out, I bought it in hardcover. But I also knew that it was coming out.
I follow the Doctor Who Tumblr (a few of them, okay) because I love the show, and when I see a screen shot or a gif of a moment I love, I get a little kick of those feelings all over again. This is sometimes a problem – I once came across a gif set of Old Amy and Rory, and was almost late to work because I started crying.
* * *
Tanner and I met through a kind of fandom. We both listened to a podcast called Too Beautiful To Life, or TBTL. I'd discovered it by way of a story on This American Life – at the end Ira Glass said of the storyteller, “Luke Burbank lives in Seattle and is the host of the radio program, Too Beautiful To Life.” Or something like that. And the name stuck with me, and eventually I tracked it down, and added it to my subway commute listening rotation. I loved it. It's one of those podcasts about nothing – about current events and pop culture, about the friendships and dynamics between the people on it. And TBTL was special because it was also about the listeners. (The Tens, as they were called, from host Luke Burbank's early-days references to “our tens of listeners.”) The Tens were involved by correspondence with Luke and producer Jen Andrews, they called in – TBTL was for a long time an evening radio show in Seattle – and sometimes were brought on as guests for segments. Luke and Jen (with engineer Sean De Torre rounding out the triad) would host parties in Seattle – post-show or pre-event gatherings at Mexican chain restaurants, or karaoke, and soon groups of Tens around the country started doing the same. I first went to a Christmas karaoke party, where I met people I'd talked to on Facebook and sang songs with them. Then I helped organize a New York satellite of the celebration of an anniversary for the show – I honestly can't remember if it was a year anniversary or a number-of-shows milestone. But a group of us met up for drinks in the East Village. I called in around 10:30pm. Jen was so excited to hear from us. And Tanner was at that party.
I loved TBTL because it was funny, and because I felt involved. Podcasts are hugely intimate – listening through headphones makes them sound like they're happening inside your head – and the hosts of TBTL were honest and intimate, too. And I liked being a part of that. I helped organize that East Village party because I liked being a part of it, because I like organizing things, and because of whom I might meet. Fans of a thing have that thing in common – if you join a softball team you are likely to meet people who like sports – but TBTL was so amorphous and all-encompassing that it boiled down not to an activity or product but to a sensibility, a sense of humor, a way of looking at the world. Even if I didn't think this consciously, I recognized that I could find a kindred soul or two through TBTL.