adventures in fandom

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Everyone talks about fandom these days: (a) the state of being a fan of something, or (b) the person or work you are a fan of. I've seen the word used in both senses.

I don't make this my whole life, but that doesn't mean I don't have fun with it.

I. generational differences

Let me tell you, it is an entirely different experience being a fan in the 2020s than it was in the pre-Facebook days. Sometimes you could find merchandise celebrating the thing you obsessed about; your chances went exponentially higher if you were a Star Wars nerd. Gremlins fans did pretty well, and fans of franchises that were toys first were pretty happy too -- think My Little Pony, The Smurfs, etc. Unfortunately most of those franchises were aimed at kids, so if your self-image was tied up in how mature others thought you were, it was worth your reputation to try to network with other fans of that franchise, much less wear or display merch.

If your fandom involved real people and not cartoon characters, your fandom was even more challenging. Your two options for most of that period were writing a letter or making a phone call. These people's addresses and phone numbers tended to be unlisted. If your fandom was an author, you could sometimes find published directories of famous authors' contact addresses, or you could simply write to the publisher and if there wasn't an asshole checking the mail, sometimes it was forwarded. Even less often, you'd get a reply. Fan clubs were a lot more common back then, too, but it was a crap shoot whether or not they'd actually be in touch with the Object of Fan Adoration, and you usually had to pay for membership privileges.

If you were very, very lucky, you might meet your fandom somewhere. If you were very, very smart, you carried an autograph book everywhere you went, especially in places you were likely to meet such a person -- say, if you were on vacation in Hollywood.

I have it on authority that there were fan conventions back then, but awareness of them had not reached the mainstream, so most of us didn't have that as an option. They were pretty narrow in their focus anyway, from what I can tell: mostly sci-fi writers. Maybe the occasional Trekkie convention.

And that was basically it.

Never mind the glut of fandom merch and all the fandom conventions you can find these days -- social media is a fucking revelation.

The fans, of course, are ruining it: harassing actors for their characters, harassing performers for their personal views, trying to ruin their careers over basically nothing. Famous people have always had to contend with crazy fans. Once, appalled, I read an account of an actor who played a Bad Guy in some TV show being slapped on the street for their character's behavior. Couldn't believe it. So I am less than surprised that people as nice as Josh McDermitt (Eugene Porter on The Walking Dead) have been hounded off Facebook by all the assholery.

But once in a while I have those nice little moments. Like the aforementioned McDermitt liking a comment I left him. That's also happened with Chad Coleman (Tyreese in the same show) and Chris Eccleston (Ninth Doctor, Doctor Who). And the less impressive, like the time I was followed on Twitter by Roseanne Barr. (I tolerated her as an inherently difficult woman -- I know how that feels -- until she said some really horrible things and blamed them on Ambien. Maybe it was the Ambien. I can't know for sure, so bye.) Whatever we feel about these little moments, they didn't happen before 2009, really.

Closest I had gotten before then was being on an email chat list with Parris McBride in the late nineties and early aughts. She used to talk about her boyfriend George and these fantasy books he was writing. I will forever kick myself that I did not immediately begin reading them. I would have gotten the jump on an international fandom fad for once -- by at least ten years. (I will be late to my own funeral.)

You kids don't know how good you have it. So quit fucking it up.

II. all my best

Considering the obstacles, I guess I've done pretty well.

David Copperfield: Fox Theater, St. Louis, Missouri in '86 or '87. Then-stepmom took us kids out of school to go see him. He sat in the lobby afterwards and signed people's ticket stubs on their way out. My brother complained about the autograph just being a scribbled DC. My stepmom saved the day by explaining that Copperfield just didn't want people forging his name on stuff. Truth was the man was exhausted. You could see it in his face. He'd already had some TV specials by that point so it wasn't something he absolutely had to do. I hope he never lost that bit of himself. Stellar guy.

(I have no idea what happened to our ticket stubs, and there were at least two [not sure if brother got in for free]. I don't want to believe Reba would have sold them on eBay, but... maybe she sold them on eBay.)

Def Leppard: Last leg of the Hysteria tour, late 1988. Friend of mine in Algebra II was going to the show in Tacoma, their very last stop, and also had a backstage pass. I wrote a note wishing the guys well and went around trying to get people to sign it -- I think I picked up maybe three to five signatures -- and sent it with her, just thinking "oh hey, I get to send them a message they'll actually get."

She came back with an autograph for me and one for a dude in our class who was probably an even bigger Lephead than I was. (And that was saying something.)

"To Dana, Thanks for the comment. All my best, Joe Elliott."

I still have it somewhere. Probably better get it mounted and framed before I lose it.

Dream Theater and Night Ranger: The first I saw from a distance at a fair somewhere in the Northeast in '93. The second I saw at The Zoo, a club in Savannah, Georgia, in 1995. My then-husband was running a hot dog stand as a side venture at the time and set up shop in front of the club, and got to meet them and get their autographs. I didn't really care because I was only familiar with one of their songs ("Sister Christian"), but I got to actually see them play, which was fairly cool. It wasn't a big stage, either. I think they were level with the floor, and I could have walked right up and grabbed them.

Ray Park, Barry Bostwick, and Lou Ferrigno: Sat in on the first two's panels at Wizard World Columbus in 2017. Both were highly entertaining. The third had a table at the same con, but basically I was at a fan convention while broke, which is always a mistake. Apparently he is a regular, and I grew up with his Incredible Hulk, so I'll try to get around to him eventually.

David Tennant, John Barrowman, and Catherine Tate: Met all three! Same convention as previous. Autograph from Tennant (I got it for my daughter and, noticing that her name was unusual, he asked me where I'd gotten it), photos with him in one session and the other two in another, joint session. Tate gave me a brief hug. Tennant and Barrowman liked my shirts. (I think the photo sessions happened on subsequent days. That, or I changed my shirt because I wore a different one for Barrowman and Tate.)

These days I would not be in a photo op with Barrowman after hearing, via Noel Clarke (who has no room to talk) and Camille Coduri (who was one of Barrowman's victims), about his vile backstage behavior during his time on Doctor Who. But I'm not going to exactly burn my photo or anything, and wouldn't even if Tate weren't in it. I do wish I'd gone to Tate's panel instead of Barrowman's, though. Had to pick one. The program schedulers were idiots.

Tennant himself either is the Tenth Doctor with a Scottish accent, or he deliberately put on Ten's persona for his panel, but he was a hell of a lot of fun. I recorded most of the interview, and maybe one day I'll put the transcript somewhere here.

Also met one of the guys who played Davros (creator of the Daleks) back in the '80s, as well as the young woman who played Amelia Pond, or Amy Pond as a little girl, later that year. Both of them appeared at a smaller convention at a comic-book shop, and they were super cool.

III. in which I become sort of a dog person

Probably the most fun I've had with a fandom started in 2019. That was the year I started an unofficial fan site for actor Rory McCann, who played Michael "Lurch" Armstrong in Hot Fuzz (the big bald grocery-cart boy who says nothing but "Yarp" the whole film) and Sandor "The Hound" Clegane in Game of Thrones. I'd been developing an interest in him for several months beforehand, but one day in April realized he would be turning fifty soon and thought it would be neat to start a fan site for him as a sort of pointless birthday present he'd probably never know about.


From about a month in for about seven months (give or take) his sister followed the related fan account (among many others) on Instagram, and a friend of his who manages(?) the marina where Rory docks his boat followed me from about two months in until I closed the Instagram account down. It's possible neither said anything to Rory, or that Rory didn't want to look at the fan stuff even if he did know about it, but who can say, really?

I've also heard from one of his sister's former high-school classmates who wasn't all that familiar with Rory but knows someone who manages websites and wanted to compliment me on the amount of work I'd put in. And a couple times Rory's former makeup artist for season four of GOT through the end of the show messaged me directly to tell me where certain photos had been taken and when. And there was this one guy I'm pretty sure is actually one of Rory's friends who popped in on my real-name Instagram to comment on a pic I'd posted of Rory one day. (We had this whole mini-conversation about Rory being grumpy before breakfast and coffee and I theorized Rory would probably like a full Scottish, and the friend agreed.) I even got mistaken for Rory himself one day by a female WWE wrestler (don't ask who, I don't remember, only that she was blonde) who thanked me for supporting her career. I said, "Hold on, do you think I'm actually him? I'm not..." and I never heard from her again. Not sure what happened. I've never pretended to be him, just the opposite.

It wasn't so much fun dealing with fans who had emotional investments in various rumors, or who seemed to think it was possible to somehow "win" Rory on social media by beating down everyone else who likes him, but I took the steps I needed to take to minimize the risk of those sorts of things happening. Ahh. Peace.

I did manage to get his autograph in late '19 because he was supposed to show up at Comic Con Scotland that October but canceled almost at the last minute and offered to do a private (no fans) mass autograph session instead. The organizers put out the word that we'd better jump in and order an autograph if we were so inclined because Rory sounded like he wasn't going to want to do another one. For once I got lucky with the timing (versus payday, which was only once a month) and I may be a flake, but I'm no dummy. That autographed photo has pride of place on my shelf and it's even framed under UV-resistant glass that is not touching the photo's surface. So there.

(I didn't ask for a specific message, so he signed it with "All the best" -- is this a UK thing? I am reminded of Joe Elliott's autograph from over 30 years ago. I am definitely not complaining, I'm just curious how this became a thing generally. I am not sure I've ever heard of American celebs signing autographs that way.)

I've sent him birthday cards for '20 and this year. I will probably send one next year. I've never done that for a celeb before. I just send them to send them. I like the idea of him getting lots of birthday cards. Never leave my full name on the return address, so even if he wanted to write back he probably wouldn't. You can send mail to just a first name, in theory, but most people don't when they don't have a full name to mail it to. Some kind of mental block, I guess.

It's been fun. Not so much the social media part -- I already had an inkling of what it must be like for celebs, and this experience drove that home all the more -- but just putting the site together. I can't maintain it as often as I might like these days without getting frustrated from the shitty available internet connection at home (my mobile phone network), but it's still going.

Also I may or may not be contemplating a trip in the next few years so I find myself learning about Scotland and it's kind of disturbing how little I'd really known about the country until I became the big man's fangirl. I have also learned I actually like what we Americans call "Scotch," and specifically some mildly peaty varieties, so that's been interesting.

Obsessing over total strangers can expand your horizons?

I'm as surprised as you are.

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Last updated: 10 November 2021