I posted a tweet the other day that I’m starting to regret. It started out as a quip and became (mostly in my head) a discussion on fandom.
To all the people saying “Hey, this Joss guy is pretty good”, Duh. Best wishes, a Browncoat.
— Merry Mahaffey (@merrymahaffey) May 11, 2012
There has been a lot of talk in the last week about Joss Whedon and the success of The Avengers. Most of it is drama; little of it is constructive. I’m afraid I’ve fallen into that category of people just perpetuating the exclusivity certain fandoms have become famous for.
There are always certain people in a fandom that hold themselves higher than others. Some because they’ve been fans longer; some because they’ve spent more money or time; some because of a barely tangible thread of connection to one or more members of the thing the fandom is focused around (bearing in mind that this can be as flimsy as “saw the Second AD buying a latte one time”). These people maintain a superficial superiority over the newcomers, the “casuals”, and those who have never seen a celebrity out in the wild. They’re generally ignored by the rest of us, the ones that came to the fandom for the community and camaraderie, who just want to geek out about the thing we love. But they can drive new fans away and that’s never good.
On one hand I can almost understand this gatekeeper attitude. The old-timers have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of fans come and go. They see the fickleness of the masses, and resent it. This thing they love becomes tarnished over time by the constant ebb and flow of popularity. For example: the surge of people in the Harry Potter fandom that came on the heels of every movie premiere and book release. Having new fans is great, but when you take the time to get to know the newcomers and then they slowly fade out of the fandom, it hurts. It feels as if they’ve abandoned this thing you love for the latest, more popular thing. Harry Potter saw this with the release of the Twilight series.
On the other hand, I know that being new to something doesn’t mean you love it less than someone who has been around since the beginning. It also doesn’t mean you’ll leave it for the next big thing. Most of the time it simply means that you found it a little later than others. For example: The BBC relaunched Doctor Who in March 2005. I watched my first episode in March 2007, which means I’m either two years or forty-four years behind, depending on how you count it. Does this mean I’m less of a fan than the Brits who got to see it first? I don’t know. I’m sure there are some who would say yes. When Matt Smith took over the role of The Doctor in early 2010, there was a wave of new fans, especially here in America. Do they love it less than I do, simply because I got to love it first?
Which brings me back to my tweet. In hindsight, it’s more than a little condescending and way more sarcastic than I intended. In those 140 characters, I’m a gatekeeper. To new Whedon fans, I’m saying “I’ve loved this thing longer than you, thus I love it more.” At the very worst, I’m calling the newcomers stupid for not coming to the fandom sooner. It’s the same ‘I told you so’ that’s been passed around the internet since the movie’s opening night.
Language like that is the least productive thing I can do for the fandom I love.
What if The Avengers is your introduction to the Whedonverse? Maybe you want to see what all the fuss is about and decide to look into other stuff from that Joss guy. You rent the first season of Buffy, or borrow your roommate’s copy of Serenity. Suddenly you find yourself singing songs from Dr. Horrible while you do your laundry. Before you know it, you’re a member of this rather large fandom. You deserve to be welcomed with open arms, not chided for the path you took to get here.
Overall, fandoms are warm, welcoming, and passionate. Most people don’t care how long you’ve loved the thing or how much money you spend on it. They care about you and your unique perspective on the thing. I’ve been a member of several fandoms and have only had one bad experience with another fan. I would hate to be the bad experience for someone else. If I offended you or put you off the brilliance that is the Whedonverse, I am truly, deeply sorry. What I should have said is:
To all the people saying “Hey, this Joss guy is pretty good”, Yeah, he’s pretty amazing. You should check out some of the other stuff he’s done. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.