Thursday, January 05, 2006

Understanding Fanboys: Definitivity

Before we start: Yes, I know I made that word up. In fact, I'm rather ashamed of it, even though its tone and cadence fit the entry, so I'm asking you please not to repeat it. Let's keep this one out of the lexicon.

As you discerning nerds will have guessed, the title of this series of entries is a riff on Scott McCloud's seminal work, Understanding Comics. The even more discerning among you may also recognize that the best possible riff on that title was done last year by Neil Kleid in his column, Take That! entry entitled "Understanding Nazis." Nothing says funny like a pupil-less Captain America sitting over a drawing board.

I'm moving off-point, and I want to keep this one brief, so I'll move right along: What I want to do with this entry, similar to what McCloud does in the beginning of Understanding Comics, is (1) define "fanboys," and (2) explain why it might be worth understanding them.

So, what's a fanboy? Well, here's a visual aid:

Bet you thought it was going to be Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, right? (In all fairness, I was tempted to go with a nice DMV-style shot of Harry Knowles I found, but I couldn't resist making a Spielberg/WB reference.)

The fanboy, as I understand the term, is a devotee whose love for some aspect of culture has so far exceeded rationality as to be embarrassing not only to himself, but to the very human genome. And I don't make any exclusions based on what a fanboy is a devotee of. Those guys who go to Packers games with their shirts off and painted the team colors are just as much fanboys as your average Talk@Newsarama poster. (I will be mentioning them a lot in these entries.)

And it's a very fine line most fans tread. Enjoying flipping through your old Official Handbooks To The Marvel Universe is not fanboyish. Loudly protesting on the Internet that the newer versions don't include every damn thing in a character's 40-plus year history is.

Liking Wolverine is not fanboyish. Hating Hugh Jackman's performance in the X-Men movies because he's taller than 5'2'' is.

Being disappointed by the events of Emerald Twilight is not fanboyish. Swallowing that "Yellow Fear Monster" tripe just to have Hal Jordan back, washed clean of all sin, is.

One more, and I note that these are all real-life examples: Reading Witchblade is not fanboyish. Reading Witchblade while not being a teenage boy is. And it's also fucking sad.

So, fanboys are a taint upon us all, the distillation of our worst instincts as fans. So why understand them? I strive for it for three reasons.

1. There but for the grace of God (and Kurt Busiek) go I. By learning to recognize the signs of fanboyism, I can avoid it in myself.

2. Know thy enemy. Against my better judgment, I engage in conversation with fanboys often on the Internet. By knowing how they operate, I can better smite them. And damn if I don't enjoy a good smiting.

3. An exercise in psychopathology. I'm by nature both a curious and twisted individual, and examining just how these particular people's brains are broken gives me a vicious sort of thrill. I read Stephen King novels and real life serial killer biographies for largely the same reason.

You're no doubt balking at the last one. I'll ignore those of you know so little about me to be shocked that I'm a psychic rubbernecker, and instead focus on the creepy feeling you're getting at my describing fanboys as psychopaths. Perhaps it's too harsh a word, but I can't deny that the average fanboy is stuck on a mental escalator. Obsession of any kind is a dangerous mental state, as our good friends Charles and Mark proved when they expressed their appreciation for the music of the Beatles. And that's what fanboyism is: Obsession combined with lack of restraint and personal dignity.

It's also the ability to make me shout obscenities at my computer, but that's another entry.

1 comment:

Ragnell said...

Are you sure that's not in the dictionary?