A couple of days ago I had a really interesting conversation. I am still wondering why it happened at all, but the context is this: My son is currently travelling in South Eastern Europe with a friend. Master Guylty was calling from the Greek island of Samothraki on Sunday, and by way of conversation I reminded him that I had been to Greece myself a few years ago, travelling with a group of fandom friends.
2016 – goodness, already five years ago! Shout-out to Obscura, Jholland, Kathy Jones, Cramerry and Wydville. 👏🏻 While Master Guylty and I were battling with breaking up internet connections, he must have told his friend about his mother’s activity in the Armitage fandom. So when the line was reestablished, it was Master Guylty’s friend who took over the conversation. He is a recent psychology graduate and was evidently fascinated by the notion of fandom. His first question – “Is Armitage a good guy compared to other celebrities.” So I answered essentially saying yes, he is, but also adding that there are things about him that I see in a critical light. His response was that he was surprised – he had assumed that fandom was “mainly about adoration” and he had not expected that there were also critical voices within fandom. In my reply I explained my hypothesis that some of the different approaches may be explained by the length of time an individual has been a fan of the particular celebrity. The more you know – the more details you may find that are *not* to one’s liking. A bit like a relationship – there is a honeymoon period during which every little thing the other person says and does is just wonderful, but over time you also get to see the flaws and the opinions where you differ. But generally within the fandom there are some fans who always react enthusiastically to Armitage *no matter what*, and others who maintain the right to voice criticism. – So far, so pedestrian. But then we got to the interesting part.
What is the biggest, recurring issue within fandom?
In particular, he was referring to the issue that sparks most conflict between the two above mentioned groups of fans – those who prefer to react *only* positively, and those who reserve the right to express criticism.
I suspect he expected an issue that either referred to Armitage’s body of work (such as “Armitage was great as Adam Price” vs. “Armitage was lacklustre as Adam Price” –
don’t kill me, this is just an example. I don’t believe he has *ever* been lacklustre in anything) or Armitage’s body, full stop (“TeamShrubbery vs. Team Lawn”). And so he was quite surprised by my reply. Can you guess? In my opinion, the most contentious issue is not whether Armitage is gay, whether he has a US passport or whether he is leading us on with his constant hints about his writings. Where *I* see the most volatile skirmishes, is not the Armitage-related issues – although they are often the starting point for the *real* point of contention. In my opinion, the recurring issue is “how to fan”, i.e. whether you can only applaud and adore Richard, or whether you can also critically react and analyse Richard’s work and public appearances. Connected to that is the ever-resurfacing issue of one group telling the other that “you must not…”.
Unfortunately, the line broke up after this, so I didn’t hear his reply to my answer. But the conversation has stayed with me since then. You know where I stand on the issue. I have always been of the opinion that every fan has to fan the way they feel is right for them. Fandom, more or less by definition, is a “happy place”. If that means you don’t want to hear anything that has even the whiff of criticism but want to perpetuate happy thoughts, then by all means be a fan who exclusively reacts with enthusiasm and admiration. That is perfectly valid, and more importantly, is what makes *you* happy. However, for some people, *their* happy place is where they can critically analyse and discuss Richard in depth, expressing their thoughts without suppressing critical opinions. Spending time and energy on a discussion is simply another form of expressing enthusiasm and admiration. If I didn’t like Richard, I wouldn’t bother to critically assess his work or what he says. My general disposition to like what he does, is a given.
I can happily arrange myself with “peaceful coexistence”. I don’t feel any urge to convince “the other side” to fan the way *I* fan. We can all do it the way we feel is right for us individually. I’m sure that there are “happy fans” who roll their eyes when the “critical fans” get stuck in discussions of minor details – and vice versa. The only thing I have a strong reaction to, are attempts by either side to tell the others “don’t do it this way”. No. *You* don’t get to decide how *I* or *they* should fan like. If you don’t like how *I* fan, then I respectfully ask you to ignore me and let me be. It’s better for both of us – and for the fandom at large. Because ultimately, skirmishes between fans make the whole fandom look bad. We don’t *have to be* a homogenous group – and we most certainly aren’t. In a way, that is the most fascinating part of fandom – being a gathering place for people of all backgrounds, ages, genders, nations, approaches and opinions. I’d rather celebrate the diversity than synchronise us all into conformity.
In any case, I would love to continue the discussion with my son’s friend, especially since he also briefly touched upon the gender issue in his questions. I’ll have to wait until he returns from Greece. But what is your take on the most contentious issue within our fandom? It comes down to our own perception of fandom and what role it plays in our individual lives, I suppose. What can I say? I’m deRAnged…