How do you feel about labeling/defining yourself as a dedicated “fan” of a show or creator? How about the preaching of shows, or the nature of hype/anti-hype?
Oh, fandom. The easy answer here would be “I think defining yourself as a fan of a show is a terrible idea, and a form of identity politics that leads to generally uncritical us-versus-them attitudes. If you define a part of yourself as your love of and attachment to a show, a common next step is to define any criticism of that show as a criticism of you personally, and to respond accordingly. Your identity should be more than what you consume, and defining yourself according to any arbitrary, external text, group, or belief generally leads to arbitrary conflict.”
That’s the easy answer, and for what it’s worth, all of that is true. You really should be more than what you consume, you really shouldn’t take it personally when people criticize shows you like, and you really do need to accept that the things which may seem valuable to you are not necessarily valuable according to any general metric.
But the thing is, the instincts that lead people to fandom – art’s ability to inspire, to illuminate, to challenge, to foster self-understanding and emotional connection – are why we make art. People become fans because art works. Yes, if you take your favorite shows and sew a full identity out of them, you are basically denying the self – but pretty much everyone is partially reflective of the art that has inspired them. And far be it from me to say our experience with art should be either fully cerebral or visceral, and not emotional – my favorite shows are the ones that connect to me, that make me cry for characters and pump my fist at themes that resonate with me. I certainly enjoy things that are well-constructed even if they don’t necessarily resonate with me – for example, I gave Gatchaman Crowds a 9/10 even though I largely disagree with its ultimate view of human nature. On the other hand, I’d rate Urobuchi’s shows highly just because they’re smart and interesting, but his shows actually resonate with me because the contradictions he struggles with are ones I can completely empathize with. So I’m a “fan” of his shows, for sure, and I continuously seek other shows and writers to be “fans” of – finding like-minded artists is an incredibly rewarding experience for me.
So how do I square these two things?
I try to keep conscious of the fact that the feeling of being a “fan” of a show, that actual emotional connection, is almost always a personal thing. I recommend Urobuchi’s shows because they’re interesting and take place in compelling worlds and generally have solid dramatic structure, but I won’t recommend them because they speak to the inspiring contradiction of the human condition – that’s my experience of them. There are things I think are generally well-crafted, and things that really speak to me either idea-wise or just artistically, and as a rule of thumb if I start to get blubbery describing why a show is good then I am probably veering into why that show is Good For Me. I don’t recommend preaching shows – preaching shows creates expectations, and unless the person you’re preaching to exactly mirrors your own values, life experiences, and artistic priorities, that show is not going to match those expectations for them. And hype/anti-hype fall into this area as well – if a show has a large, rabid fanbase, then that means it probably speaks to some instinct common to a large group of people. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean the show will be great for you – ten thousand strangers can’t offer a more valuable recommendation than one person whose instincts you know and trust. And getting “mad” at the show for failing to speak to you is just silly – that doesn’t mean all those people were “wrong,” it just means different things speak to you. Artistic quality doesn’t even really have to come into it – yeah, if you watch or read many things you will generally come to desire certain qualities in prose, direction, characterization, or whatever, but that is basically a secondary line of evaluation from the Does It Speak to You evaluation. Quality’s a tricky thing, anyway – as I’ve said before, evaluating a show means evaluating it relative to its own goals.
So I guess I’d ultimately say being a fan is a wonderful feeling, but we should all be more than fans. People come online to share that feeling, and that’s also great, but a group should be more than a fandom. Great art works because it speaks to universal instincts, but our experience of those works is always going to be personal. I’m proud to be a fan of the works I love, but they don’t define me, and if other people hate those works, good – that means those works at least got a reaction out of them, and maybe that can inspire an actual conversation. Because my own understanding doesn’t have to end at defending the works I love – art is a platform for engagement, not a defense against it.