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The limits of fandom; or, I just wanted a poncy-sounding title for this post August 23, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, sraffies.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This post is inspired by a few things, although it’s about stuff I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

My last post, about fangirlishness, and the books, TV series and music that makes my life worth living, was about the more personal, individual side of fandom. But as any internet-addict knows, half the fun of fandom is finding a community of like-minded social misfits with whom you can obsess, pontificate, squee, rant and argue about your chosen literary, televisual and cinematic loves. Online it’s easy. You gravitate towards sites, communities and groups that like similar stuff, whether it be Harry Potter, Star Wars, Jane Austen, Veronica Mars or ’90s memorabilia.

Often, your online friends and communities act like vast, libraries of recommendations. Clearly, if people have the good taste to like Joss Whedon’s TV series, they’re bound to know what they’re talking about when they recommend books. And if they like Anne Rice, they’re likely to have read other vampire novels and be able to compare and contrast pretty well. Essentially, we’re all geeks here, and although we won’t see eye to eye on every book, movie, TV show or band, we’ll see eye to eye enough that we can trust each others’ recommendations to be mostly decent and to each others’ taste.

But what about in real life? What about when you try to convince the people at your work that their life will not be complete without having read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? What happens when you’d give anything to watch Buffy with your beloved younger sister, but she’s more of a Sex And The City girl? What about the embarrassment and indignation you feel when your Milton lecturer has never heard of His Dark Materials?

There’s a long thread on Obernet about attempts to introduce friends to the books, films, TV series, music etc that we passionately love, and the mixed results that have ensued.

I’ve become much more wary (or perhaps selective) of recommending stuff to my friends because I’ve been burnt so many times. My best friend and I used to swap books all the time in high school. She was a fan of sweeping historical sagas, a la Leon Uris and Sebastian Faulks. I was the same nerdy fantasy girl that I am today. HDM was (as it is still) my favourite series of books. I lent her the trilogy. She liked it, but it wasn’t life-changing for her. She just got on with life.

One of my housemates last year (whom I’ve known since Year 7) and I share very similar taste in the trashier end of fantasy novels. It was excellent because I was getting a pretty good supply of unwanted review books from work, which we’d pass around. We both discovered the Tide Lords books at the same time. She introduced me to Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books. Good times.

Raphael and I have probably had the most success at recommending stuff to each other which has since become great favourites. I take credit for turning him into a card-carrying Whedonista, while he introduced me to the joy that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I’m grateful that he told me to start with Guards! Guards!, since Samuel Vimes is certainly the finest guide you could have to Pratchett’s wonderful universe.

Mimi is the one I’ve most struggled with. I know for a fact that she would adore Stephen Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series. It’s a detective series, set in Rome at the end of the Republic and beginnings of the Empire, and it presents the era as one of debauchery, political machinations and soap operatic melodrama. She’s an ancient history nut, and she loves detective stories, but she absolutely refuses to read them.

I’ll never forget the day she decided that she liked Massive Attack after all. I’d been raving about Massive for years, since Year 11, I think. She always professed disdain. Then, one day, I got more obsessive about their song lyrics than I usually do, and raved for about an hour about their brilliance. Her ears pricked up. ‘You say that Teardrop’s opening lines are ‘Love, love, is a verb/Love is a doing word’?’ she asked. ‘That’s insanely cool.’ The next thing I know, she’s imported all of Mezzanine onto her iPod and telling me how ‘you really have to be an adult to appreciate Massive Attack, I think.’

But why is it that we try so hard to get our friends to like the things we like? And why does it hurt so badly when they don’t?

I thought about it, and the answer, at least for me, is that I’m the sum of my fandoms. I’m not a 23-year-old book-reviewer/patisserie worker/childcare worker/about-to-be-Cambridge-postgrad-student. No, I’m a Whedonista. I’m a sraffie. I’m a vampire fangirl. I love house music, trip-hop, ’90s Europop, Calexico. I have a love of Robin Hood: Men In Tights that borders on the pathological. I think the most wonderful character ever created is a foul-mouthed, sarcastic, arrogant yet self-doubting illegitimate 12th-century Christian Arab Templar squire/novice monk/Archdeacon of Carcassone. I gravitate towards dark fantasy and stories of unlikely lovers saving the world. These things are my identity, more than who my friends are, more than the way I present myself to the world, and more, definitely, than my job/s. So when I’m recommending this stuff to people I love, it is like offering a piece of me to them. So when they dislike things, it’s like they’re rejecting something essential to me. They’re part of the Ronni package, and, irrational though it is (why should the people I like love the things I love?), it feels like they’re saying, ‘this part of you, this part of Ronni, I dislike/think ridiculous/despise.’ Which kind of hurts, when you think about it.

My friends are not my friends because they share all of my literary tastes. My friends are my friends because we have shared experiences both wonderful and horrendous. Because they are part of my history. But that is exactly why I love my favourite books, films, TV series and music. Because they’ve been with me when I’ve been my best, and when I’ve been my worst. They are part of my history. They’ve made me who I am as surely as my friends and family have. Can you blame me for wanting to share their awesomeness?



1. Raphael - August 23, 2008

That’s a lovely article – I agree to the highest degree, our fandoms shape who we are. Well, that may be overstating it a little but they certainly have a great deal of input into our characters.

2. justanotherjen - August 23, 2008

Very well written, I was trying to explain this to myself a couple weeks ago.
If it hurts that much to have your friends reject you, consider what it feels like to have your husband do the same.
I try to get my husband involved in some of my fandoms (which are mostly related to TV shows) and he absolutely REFUSES to watch any of the shows I like with me and then makes fun of me for liking them. I thought we were supposed to share likes, etc, but I guess I was wrong.
And there were so many shows/things I got interested in because he liked them just so we would have more things in common.
Since I can’t even convince my husband I don’t offer anything up to my friends.

3. dolorosa12 - August 23, 2008

I imagine it would be worse to be mocked for your taste by your husband than by your friends, since your partner is supposed to love everything about you…

I guess the thing to do is distance yourself a bit from your fandoms (something I struggle to do) and think of them as things you love, rather than what your are.

4. Anna - August 27, 2008

I’m sorry I didn’t find it life changing… It’s a “love me, love my dog” to an entirely extended degree 🙂

PS Not to add insult to injury, but I’ve recently discovered Sex and the City, (a bit late, I know!) and have to say I’m definitely more that kind of girl than a Buffy one… sorry!

I still like you though 🙂

5. dolorosa12 - August 27, 2008

Yeah, that’s the point I’m trying to make. I like you (and my other friends) because of shared experiences, not shared literary tastes. It’s just…frustrating because you feel that your literary tastes say something essential about who you are as a person, and if your friends don’t share your tastes, it feels, irrationally, like they don’t like that aspect of your personality. Hey, maybe you don’t like my Buffy-aspect, anyway. 😀

6. Sibylle - September 29, 2008

Great article, I’ve always felt that way. Harry Potter has been a part of me for ten years, how some people can supposedly understand me without having read/loved these books is beyond me. Can’t they see how much of it is my life ? Can’t they see how shaped I am by these books ? Same goes for Gilmore Girls and The West Wing, this whole “you insult them you insult me by extension ’cause it’s the same thing”. So in the end what I try to do is keep all this to myself for fear of being disappointed in people. At school I’m the girl who hands her papers on time and reads too much. Period. Nobody even knows what I read. I’m fine with that. My friends are nice and trustworthy but we can only talk about daily things, I won’t go to them to talk about just how amazing it is that Felicity Jones, an obscure British actress whom I know from the ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey (warning : Jane Austen’s one of my favourite authors) is starring in an adaptation of Chéri (warning : book by Colette, another favourite) or that I’ve just bought an Ella Fitzgerald CD that I just can’t get out of my head.
I heart the Internet.

7. dolorosa12 - September 29, 2008

Absolutely. I don’t really keep my literary and other obsessions from my friends, but I’ve had to learn the hard way that liking me is not the same thing as liking my obsessions. Although it sometimes feels like we’re the sum of our fandoms, there must be other aspects of us that our friends like and appreciate.

For fangirlishness, we’ve got the internet, as you say.

By the way, are you the Sibylle who has recently joined BridgeToTheStars?

8. Sibylle - September 29, 2008

This is the same Sibylle indeed ! Your blog is very interesting, I’ll come back often 🙂

9. dolorosa12 - September 29, 2008

I’m glad you think so, although I don’t post here as often as I’d like. I’ve just gone back to university, so I’m going to be a bit busier than before.

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