The Thing About Fans Is…

…they’re a curse and a blessing. On the downside, they’ll over-analyse everything you’ve created, ask awkward questions, put words in your mouth, misquote you for their own ends, claim you’re not up to the job and generally make themselves a pain in the arse. On the upside, they always deliver the spark of passion that motivates you to carry on. They’ll tell you when you get it right, and let you know just how much they enjoy what you produce, or what a difference you’ve made to their lives. For instance, I’ll never forget the teenager in the Netherlands who thanked me for my work on Warhammer 40,000, a hobby which helped him to avoid falling into drug addiction. Not every story is that dramatic, but when they tell you that you made them laugh and cry, that they had to turn the next page and couldn’t put down the book, it’s a great feeling.

Fans Care

They really do care about whatever it is they’re a fan of, which is both their moment of glory and their downfall. On the positive side, this means as a creator you can draw on that enthusiasm, take it as a reward. On the negative side, this means that sometimes fans develop a love-hate relationship with the thing that they are fanatical about.

I have a friend who is a fan of a local football team. The result of a match can define his mood for hours, even days. When they win he’s happy, when they lose, he’s sad. More often than not it’s the latter. He has a season ticket and goes to every home match, often just to shout at the players and referee, but occasionally to celebrate a goal. As fans go, he’s reasonably self-aware, never says that he could do the job better and always tries to be a realist about the team’s abilities and potential. That doesn’t stop him from saying ‘I hate football’ after a bad Saturday afternoon. His team has been lacklustre, the decisions went against them, the manager seems clueless and there’s no end to the dark tunnel of despair… And you know what? At that moment he really does hate football, I’m sure of it. And what else? Next Saturday, he goes again, with hope if not expectation, and goes through the same rollercoaster of highs and lows.

Why does he do this? What manner of person would visit such self-torture upon themselves? A fan, of course. He’s not going to abandon his team, as a supporter it’s his job to go there every week to cheer and sing and boo, and if he does that then he knows he’s done as much as he can. As much as he might hate every game, despise the manager, players and even his fellow fans, he loves football and cares about it.

The same is true of all other fans. Sports fans are fairly widespread, but there are fans of all sorts of things, from gaming, to writing, to art, to music, to tv shows and stage musicals. To listen to some of them (or frequent discussion forums and message boards) you might think that some people exist purely to be negative about something. They constantly bitch about movies, have the lowest expectations about the next series of X or feel that the Book Y is rubbish. They never seem happy. That’s because…

Fans Want Perfection

Most fans don’t expect perfection, but deep down they want their experience of whatever it is they are fans of to exactly match what they want from it. My football fan friend may not expect or even hope his club to play brilliantly from front to back, scoring a dozen spectacular goals, and refund his ticket price for being such a loyal supporter, but somewhere that’s what he wants.

Fans Love Detail

In the quest for that perfection, fans will break something down into every constituent atom and analyse it piece-by-piece, looking for the flaws. Take the most ardent ‘fanboy’ (surely there are ‘fangirls’ as well?) who will defend his (or her) love to the death, and even they will be able to tell you something that flaws their love, be it ever so small. It might be just that one tiny thing, if only it had been done in this way or that, that mars the perfection.

For the others, the so-called ‘haters’, imperfection abounds. One might think they must despise everything about their chosen object of fandom when one encounters the sort of vitriol unleashed. Sometimes the question gets asked, ‘If you hate X so much, why are you on this board/ at this convention/ stalking this author?’ Because they are fans! See my friend earlier, who can hate football seven days earlier and yet still queues up at the turnstile.

Fans are People Too

Why do fans exhibit such ridiculous behaviour? It is because they are people and people are, without exception, rubbish. We are. To greater or lesser degrees we’re each a roiling bag of self-aggrandisement, self-pity, self-involvement, self-destruction and self-loathing. Some people are glass half-full; some are glass half-empty. Some are mean-spirited and vocal; some are generous of heart and meek. Some wonder how the world is going to continue revolving when they die; some wonder if the world even knows they exist.

If MagnoliaFan wasn’t bitching about Jay and Silent Bob on Poopscoop.com, he’d be bitching about his family, or his neighbours, or his work colleagues. If Fanboy_28 wasn’t singing the praises of Stargate: Atlantis (poor soul) he’d be singing the praises of his country, or the company he works for, or the local council planning decisions. They do this because they’ve made their fandom part of their lives, with all the attendant frustrations and fulfillment that come with that.

Moaning in the Pub

It used to be the case that people would air their views and heartaches and triumphs amongst friends and colleagues  in the pub (or other venue of choice). They might disagree with each other, fall out, argue and do all the other things people do, but they start out with a (generally) self-selecting audience.

Now we have the interweb, with a potential audience of millions. Our voice can carry to distant corners of the globe (this has always confused me, globes and corners…) to find both the like-minded and the opposingly-viewed.

There are two big differences between ‘net communication and ‘real life’ communication. First is that the audience isn’t confined to those that know us personally. Strangers can wander into the conversation at any point. This means that you don’t know them and, more importantly, they don’t know you. The only judge they have of you, your character and opinions is what you write, there is no other social context. You could be the most balanced, mild-mannered, good-humoured individual on the planet, but if all they have to go on is a tirade about The Phantom Menace they may well form the view that you’re an angry, negative tosser. Or, conversely a naive, impressionable dolt. So it’s important to be aware of what you say and, just as importantly, not make instant judgements about other people, their lives and their views based on very marginal information. Many an internet debate has turned nasty through such assumptions.

This is because of the second difference – distance and anonymity. If you get into an argument with your boss or your husband, you have to see him the next day (or maybe not if it was a really bad argument). If you get into an argument with Rioxxor_101, it means nothing. The entire event can be temporary, ephemeral and without consequence. Some may think this is a good thing, but of course it isn’t entirely without guilt or consequence. Chances are you may end up angry or upset, or aggrieved or guilty. In ‘real life’ you might apologise, try to mend things and get on with life. This happens so little on the internet because people forget the person behind the username, sometimes even themselves.

Ding Ding! Course Correction

I didn’t intend to go off on such an internet tangent, sorry about that. Let’s get back to what I was meaning to say. Where was I?

Right, moaning in pubs.

The main thing about moaning in pubs is that it is done in the privacy and comfort of friends, usually out of earshot of those we are moaning about. When my friend whines about the latest result, he doesn’t storm into the team dressing room and start ranting, though I expect he would like to now and then. He is also fairly certain that the object(s) of his scorn aren’t going to wander in and start hearing him. The same is not true of t’internet. People used to write letters, be it fanmail or hatemail, now they can post on discussion boards and leave comments on blogs. They can directly address their views to the people concerned with far less effort than composing and posting a letter.

I’m old school, during my time at Games Workshop I was told from day one that we reply to letter that get sent in, even if only to acknowledge their receipt. I think it’s only common courtesy to do so. The sheer volume of electronic communication these days can make that impossible, so the courtesy often has to stop at simply reading what people have written without being able to address every question or comment.

But that isn’t my point… A phenomenon that has increased in the electronic age is a misplaced sense of entitlement by fans. I don’t know if it’s a personal thing, a generational thing or something else, but more and more one can be left with the impression that a whole bunch of fans seem to think that what they have to say is the most important thing in the world. It’s not just fans (see Fans are People Too), but a strange culture has developed over the last two or three decades around individuality. It’s a bizarre contortion of free market democracy that seems to have forgotten the idea that it’s majority vote that counts, not the single person. Everyone has a choice and everyone has a right to express their opinions. I firmly agree with that. What I don’t agree with is the idea that each individual view has to be listened to or acted upon. News programmes want us to text in with our opinions, entertainment shows want us to have the vote on which act is best, sports shows want fans to call in. We’re all individual consumers and customers and our choices matter.

It’s a lie. Who cares? Really, who cares? Isn’t this just pandering to the part of all of us that just loves the sound of our own voices? Isn’t it utterly disingenuous to propagate this myth of self-power in a world where increasingly the powers that control our lives, both governmental and commercial, are beyond our accountability? Does it actually make us feel better to express our views, or does it ultimately lead to more frustration when it seems that no matter what we say, it doesn’t affect any significant change?

With regards to fans, this means remembering that it isn’t always about you. Decisions made are not taken to personally affect you, and while in an ideal world everybody gets what they want, that is usually not the case. The idea that because you have a differing opinion this somehow entitles you to expect some kind of action based on that opinion is delusional. If umpty million people go to see Transformers: The Movie, does it matter one jot that I think it’s the biggest pile of steaming crap to stain a cinema screen since the remake of Planet of the Apes? Nope. Not one bit. In fact, much to my horror they’ve made a sequel! Oddly enough, I don’t think that would have changed even if I’d filled every movie-related message board and website with my views. We’re each just one voice crying out for justice amidst the roaring approval of the masses and if we don’t recognise that, we’re in for some serious disappointment.

I’m a Fan Too

Throughout this post I’ve often used ‘you’, by which I mean ‘me’. I’m a fan of all sorts of things, and I fall prey to all the same delusions of grandeur that other fans possess. I play a lot of Call of Duty, have put in considerable time, effort and money to the point I would consider it a hobby and myself a fan. And I disagree vehemently sometimes with things that are done with that game. I feel that the developers don’t understand me (and by extension the many thousands  of others that I must surely represent) when they leave tanks out of every single new map pack (grrr!). Clearly they’re just pandering to those Halo-jumping/ sniping/ camping (insert disparage epithet of choice) crowd who don’t want to play the game properly?

Or those executives over in the US who decided to cancel great shows such as Firefly and Reaper. The bastards! Clearly, short-sighted, money-grubbing, spineless suits who can’t see genuine quality and are only concerned with the bottom line. Forget that they have advertisers to be accountable to, and families to feed, they’re all a bunch of back-scratching morons mass-producing crappy pseudo-science detective programmes and Friends wannabes!

See, this fandom thing is easy!

One of the things that separates me from those vocal fans is that I can bitch and whine with my mates, who will undoubtedly share many of my views because that’s why we’ve become friends, but I feel no urge to visit the Call of Duty message boards to post ‘Treyarch Suck Donkey Dick!’, or sign an online petition demanding that I am given a personal apology by the CEO of Fox for cancelling my favourite show. Maybe it’s because a) I’m just too lazy (not a ‘proper’ fan), or b) the mediocrity of the world has worn me down over the years, or c) all of that time and energy is better used doing something productive like campaigning for true free trade agreements and human rights (I don’t do those things either, but that’s because the real answer is ‘a’).

And that’s my last point about the nature of fandom, and the biggest pitfall. It’s not that we want everyone to agree with us on some superficial level, it’s that we want other people to share our fandom with us, to see the world as we see it. Fans have a strange urge to want their niche to become mass market. If only everyone else read comics, watched sci-shows, read fantasy novels, played with toy soldiers, the world would be a better place. Possibly it would…

The shame is, the very act of being a niche is what gives many of these things their appeal. Cult movies get their followings because they are not mainstream. The underground music scene appeals because it hasn’t been commercialised by publishing and marketing interests. Mainstream is, on the whole, about the average, the least offensive, the lowest common denominator. Mainstream is risk-adverse, appealing in a shallow way to a lot of people rather than deeply to a few. Being niche, being geeky, being a nerd is something we have to accept about ourselves, and revel in it. Just because a lot of ‘other people’ like or don’t like some thing does not affect our personal experience. As I’ve said before, quantity is not a quality of its own. Is the weirdo who dresses up like Rincewind and pesters Terry Pratchett any more or less pathetic than the fat bloke wearing his Rooney shirt shouting unheard in a crowd of eighty thousand people?

Wear your anorak with pride!

[Addendum] The other great thing about fans is they get drunk and do things like this:

(Apologies to Guy, apparently what happens on YouTube doesn’t stay on YouTube ;-))

[Extra addendum] I forgot the entire reason why I started composing this post… Thank you to everyone I met at Games Day last Sunday. It’s always great to talk to people, sign their books and hear what they have to sayin person. Bless all your little cotton socks.

[Yet another addendum] It is a common belief that ‘bottling up’ anger is not good for you, and that it is healthier to let it out rather than allow it to fester until you turn into a raving psycho who wants to knife next door’s dog. Apparently this is not true. As this study shows, angry outbursts are habit-forming, perhaps even addictive,  and therefore the more we allow ourselves to have tantrums and rants, the more likely we are to get angry again. So, next time you feel like unleashing your wrath upon the world, take that chill pill, count to ten and do something more useful (like reading this).

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 1:57 pm  Comments (26)  

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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Superb!

    Now get on with Crown of Blood you slacker!

    🙂

    Like

  2. […] The Thing About Fans Is… « Mechanical Hamster mechanicalhamster.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/the-thing-about-fans-is – view page – cached …they’re a curse and a blessing. On the downside, they’ll over-analyse everything you’ve created, ask awkward questions, put words in your mouth, misquote you for their own ends, claim… (Read more)…they’re a curse and a blessing. On the downside, they’ll over-analyse everything you’ve created, ask awkward questions, put words in your mouth, misquote you for their own ends, claim you’re not up to the job and generally make themselves a pain in the arse. On the upside, they always deliver the spark of passion that motivates you to carry on. They’ll tell you when you get it right, and let you know just how much they enjoy what you produce, or what a difference you’ve made to their lives. For instance, I’ll never forget the teenager in the Netherlands who thanked me for my work on Warhammer 40,000, a hobby which helped him to avoid falling into drug addiction. Not every story is that dramatic, but when they tell you that you made them laugh and cry, that they had to turn the next page and couldn’t put down the book, it’s a great feeling. (Read less) — From the page […]

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  3. Thanks for being there. It’s nice to see real people who look and sound like real people who actually make the things I buy. It’s much harder to be unreasonable when the creator of your object of fandom is a real person you have spoken too (even if it’s just to say hi, thanks for the blog). You can whinge about having to clean up the casting on your own resin minatures, but talking to the bloke who casts them makes you realise it’s an actual person, it’s his job just like I have mine and actually just casting something is pretty impressive. Listening to a codex author helps you remener he had his reasons for every decision. I suppose it’s about communication, when you speak to people you reaslise that no one is the evil person trying to personally ruin your hobby. The Internet is wierd, it’s supposed to facilitate communication, but it sometimes makes things worse, makes people feel further away not closer, lets people say things they would never say to someones face. So thanks for being at GD, for shrinking the gap between irrational fan and faceless author down to two blokes in a room chatting about men with big guns or pointy hats.

    Like

  4. One thing I’ve learned as I grow up (I’ll probably always be growing up) was that the people who create the things I am a fan of are just people too. And that what they do is a result of their effort.

    Like reading about what the bands I like do for a living, because they sure don’t make enough from music to live off it. Maybe I could be one of them if I ever practiced enough.

    Or the guys that run their own small miniatures companies because they wanted to create their own ideas, and they’re just making what they need to get by. (Shout out to Heresy Andy). I’ve done small amounts of sculpting for conversions, hey maybe I could sculpt a whole miniature if I ever practiced enough.

    Or people that run a website that has its own fans. Or write blogs which occasional random strangers comment on because I helped with a problem they had. Oh wait, that’s what I do 🙂

    Thanks Gav.

    p.s. Could I write a novel? Maybe if I ever practiced enough.

    Like

  5. Some time ago I’ve read this book (from a psychologist woman on relationships) that stated that males are only loyal to their football team. We can change wife, forget about sons, change jobs, never see family again… but we never change football team, no matter how they do, and mine makes me suffer every weekend. Even if this season has been almost perfect I KNOW they will screw it somewhere in the play offs…

    It’s good to read your random thoughts. Now that I think about it, my Space Marines are like my football team too 😛

    Like

    • I annoy my brother no end by not being loyal to any particular Football team, but instead I am loyal to a particular football player (a chap called Peter Crouch).

      Whatever team he happens to be playing for this season, that’s the one I support…

      Like

  6. …fat bloke wearing his Rooney shirt shouting unheard in a crowd of eighty thousand people?

    Fat Bloke would be wearing a Notts County shirt as any WD reader of a certain vintage should know.

    Your point about entitlement is well made but you seem to have missed at least part of the reason for it. The entitlement is there because these people have made an investment that is personally significant to them. Whether it’s hundreds of pounds and months of lost weekends on some toy soldiers or £12 a month for a video game subscription or perhaps a complete DVD collection of every series of their favourite show along with a merchandise collection to make the marketing men’s palms itch.

    Whatever it is that they’ve given up for their object of desire, whether it’s time, money, social acceptance or all of the above, they feel that you owe them for this. Their loyalty is worth something tangible even if that merely means acknowledgement. I work in computer games these days since leaving the Studio and you haven’t seen entitlement (and yes, I did read the threadnaughts on C:CSM) until you’ve dealt with gamers who feel that £10 a month and a hundred hours /played entitles them to a seat on the board.

    And, as the person who provides this sweet, sweet candy, you have to smile and remember that they are only shouting at you because they care.

    Like

    • There have certainly been times when a certain portion of the computer gaming community have made the most raving miniatures fan seem reasoned and objective!

      “And, as the person who provides this sweet, sweet candy, you have to smile and remember that they are only shouting at you because they care.”

      So true.

      Like

  7. I absolutely love fans who over analyze. I haven’t actually published anything yet (someday!), so my opinion may change later, but when working I always try to predict fan reaction in order to stay two steps ahead of the game. The back-and-forth of a fan challenging one’s established points can do wonders for helping one to flesh out their universe or simply avoid falling into a predictable rut. If I can successfully predict the wild assumptions a fan is likely (or unlikely) to make about my work, I have the freedom to either quash the theory before it gets out of hand or to toy with audience expectations before they expect anything to begin with. When my friends and I brainstorm, we like to be each others worst fans, scrutinizing every detail and seeing subtext where none was intended. It helps keep everyone on their toes, and keeps us on the dominant side of the eternal struggle between creators and their fans.

    I love fandom.

    Like

  8. An interesting topic. Thank you for the thoughtful breakdown of fan-dom.

    Like

  9. Thanks for another interesting read!
    I think you have given a VERY accurate description of what it means to be a fan.
    Personally i like to read Angels of Darkness and let the things i get out of it calm my mind and brighten up my days, being a fan is such a posetive thing for a person sometimes.

    Like

  10. Cool writeup. There are a lot of presumptions I have made over time about thought processes by the studio team members – it’s great to have some of them written down, with a link that I can point at when I defend an action. These write ups break down barriers.

    Like

  11. I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

    Like

  12. What a great read!
    I think you’ve definitely hit the small pointy metal thing on the top round part with your comments about fandom.

    By the way, you owe me £12 for the 6th edition vampire counts book which you decided to re-write for your own money-grabbing ideals.
    *shakes fist*

    Like

  13. As always very good.

    I always enjoy my visits here. In all walks of life we bemoan the “faceless” organisation that destroys our country, job, life etc. I think to be honest this is an extension of our now urban lives that involves the interaction and reliance on so many different organisations and people that we cannot possibly know them all. Hummanity has moved well beyond interacting with just the simple hunter-gatherers of your tribe.

    Like

  14. Hi

    was nice to meet to you at gamesday. My own presumptions, gave me quite a shock when you spoke, i didnt think you’d have such a deep voice! And a shame that dennis wasnt there, what has he been planning?

    But i find as a fan its always interesting chatting to the creator and seeing what processes created such works that have lead to me spending hours, reading, painting or playing!

    Like

    • Yeah, I get the voice thing quite a bit… I guess that’s why I write and am not on radio.

      Like

      • i didnt mean it in a bad way. You have a lovely voice.

        Like

  15. Damn, this has become my favorite blog. Between the writing stuff, hobby discussions and randomness, this is just perfect. Not nearly enough flashing icons and popups but I suppose that’ll come later on.

    Good point/followup IanC.

    And don’t feel bad about the voice Gav. This Wednesday someone told me that I sound like Ross from Friends…

    Like

  16. It´s fun to read a text now and then that strikes you as describing part of yourself in so many ways you can´t but smile and chuckle a bit inside.
    Like you said, being a fan is too care about something, usually in a very extreme way. Neither do age seem to affect it, it just comes that sometimes you get tired about ones own fanboy reactions and just have to laugh at it.

    The next day you sit there frantically hitting the keyboard, typing as if it was a way to lay down firepower against your ghastly opponents who happens to disagree with you… on the INTERNET! The very idea!!! How can someone claim Empire is overpowered when my Greatswords got pasted three games ago. That is too important to let pass. Honour must be satisfied.
    And why does my halberdiers suck despite being the most common Empire unit in the book. Actions needs to be taken, and preferably my State troop should be given pikes next edition! Better start writing a long letter to someone responsible…

    And then you suddenly start to realize what you are doing and end up laughing all over the keyboard!

    Good article! Keep it up!

    Like

  17. Was just reading this, and was reminded of this webcomic:
    http://xkcd.com/438/

    Sums it up rather nicely

    Anyway gr8 blog, love your books!

    Ben

    Like

  18. I like this article, it is thought provoking in a way most media is not.

    I guess we’re all just myopic bastards shouting into the wind… but sometimes what we shout is correct. Let’s not forget that rational discourse and debate have a place in this world.

    Like

    • It certainly is worth shouting sometimes, and sometimes all it takes is a whisper in the right ear.

      (That is, the correct ear; you can whisper into the left ear as well, I suppose. Unless the person is deaf in one ear. I’ll stop now.)

      Like

      • Which of Jervis’s ears are deaf? He doesn’t seem to hear too well…

        Like

  19. Great piece Gav. I consider myself one of those fans that completely over analyse everything (especially with 40K). I have to agree with you conclusions. Fandom is both slightly creepy, utterly futile, yet glorious all the same! Glorious I say!

    Like

  20. […] a hobby, show, book series, movie? I’ve remarked on one particular fan trait before – The Thing About fans is… – and I think that what holds true the most over all of the reasons discussed is that fans […]

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