The Hierarchy of Fandom and Why it’s Bullshit
While reading through an article on Cracked.com (which, though it shames me to admit it, is a thing I do once in a while), I came across this tidbit that implored people to shut up about Batman:
You are not a fan of Batman. Very few people truly are. Understand, that’s not a knock against Batman. It’s a knock against you for being angry at me for having the audacity to question your love of Batman when you’ve “seen, like, all of the movies.” OK, well, so have I, but that’s just because I’m a fan of movies. That doesn’t make me some kind of Batman historian by any stretch of the imagination, though. Until you can list the names of comic book writers and illustrators I won’t recognize and don’t give a shit about anyway, I have every reason to doubt the authenticity of your claims to Batman super-fandom.
This is, quite honestly, bullshit. I’m not going to blame the writer for it, though. The guy’s writing for Cracked.com, and it’s foolish to take anything presented there as anything more than an amusing diversion.
My problem is not with this particular article. My problem is that many nerds tend to present that same point of view, and not as a joke for a list-based comedy website. There’s a large portion of nerd culture that seems to think you need to pass some sort of test in order to be considered a fan of something, and that attitude is asinine.
I spend a lot of time immersed in nerd culture on the Internet. I read blogs, I participate in forum discussions, and I even moderate an Incredible Hulk message board. One thing I can say with certainty is that the Internet is capable of sucking the fun out of just about anything. I have seen people harassed on comic book message boards because they mixed up the comic book and movie origins of Doctor Octopus. I’ve seen folks ridicule a poster who started playing Dungeons & Dragons with 4th edition because they supposedly didn’t appreciate the game’s history. And I’ve had to put a ban on the term “true Hulk fan” on the message board I moderate because the fanaticism with which people applied that label got way too close to creepy cult territory for my liking.
Being a fan of something doesn’t mean that you need to have an obsessive knowledge of that thing. If you like the Batman movies, you can be a fan of Batman. You don’t need to know about the contentious history between Bill Finger and Bob Kane in order to appreciate the character. And if you like the Tim Burton movies more than the Christopher Nolan movies, that’s fine, too.
There is a belief shared by a lot of people in nerd culture that people who are fans of things like role-playing games and comic books are more enlightened and more tolerant than those who aren’t. the theory is that we know what it’s like to be ostracized and looked down upon and don’t want others to feel that way. While this may be true for a lot of folks, there’s a very vocal portion of this community that proves that notion wrong. There’s a lot of vitriol and paranoia and discrimination in various fandoms, and it’s all the more terrible because we’re raging against people who have different tastes in fiction. I’d say that’s as bad as hating on somebody because they like a different kind of coffee than you do, but I think it’s actually worse because at least coffee is a real thing.
Speaking for myself, I am a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons. And yet I didn’t play 4th edition, I probably won’t run a game in 5th edition, and most of my RPG fun is had in the Pathfinder sandbox. But however you want to play your elf games is fine by me, and if you’re willing to bring me up to speed on what a moon druid is, I’ll play along.
I am also a huge fan of the Incredible Hulk. I can give you a complete and detailed history of the character (in fact, I have already done so…in four freaking parts). But you don’t have to have read a single issue of the comic to be a fan of the character. Maybe you thought he was funny in the Avengers movie. Maybe you liked the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show. Or maybe you just like the way the character looks on a t-shirt. It doesn’t matter. You can enjoy the green rage monster stories in whatever way you like.
The Cracked.com article didn’t bug me because of what that particular writer said. It bugged me because there are a lot of people who genuinely feel like you have to graduate into becoming a fan of something. Not only is that an obnoxious attitude, but it’s bad for nerd hobbies as a whole because it makes them more exclusionary than they need to be.
Being a crazy super-fan of something is fine. But looking down on those who aren’t and treating fandom as though it’s some sort of hierarchy just makes you an asshole.