The other day I was listening to a Pandora playlist as I was washing the dishes, and a cello cover of the Game of Thrones main theme came on. It made me smile; I strongly assosciate that music with the very early days of my marriage, when my (then brand-new) husband and I watched the first series together. Shortly after that, I read the books — or at least as many as were out back then. As was the case with many people, my entry into the novels themselves was the TV series.
But that reminded me of something else that happened around the same time, which was that I read a post — I don’t remember whether it was on facebook or a blog — by an acquaintance who was genuinely upset about people like me, ie. people who only became fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (as the series is properly titled) after they had watched Game of Thrones. You see, we weren’t real fans. We hadn’t known and loved the books first, like she had. We were just jumping on the bandwagon. She had been reading the books for years, and somehow that translated to a stance of possession towards them: in some way those characters and their stories were more properly hers, not ours.
But isn’t that kind of gatekeeping silly? We have such a need to feel better about ourselves that we’re willing to assign tiers and levels of privileged fandom to things that we otherwise might — as shocking as this sounds — simply enjoy for their own sake.
Another example. I first read The Lord of the Rings in November 2003 — I remember this quite distinctly as I wanted to finish before seeing the last movie in theatre. Ever since then I have read the whole thing every December, which probably makes me “more” of a Tolkien fan than many. But then again, I think The Silmarillion is desperately boring and have never finished it. So maybe I’m “less” of a fan, too. And I don’t like the movie adaptations very much — so does that make me a better fan, or a worse one? I know someone who has not read the books as many times as I have, but who did teach himself to write in Dwarvish Runes — so is he the bigger fan, or am I? Do you see how silly this gets? It’s not as if we could line up all the Tolkien enthusiasts in the world and rate them against each other in order to find the One True Fan (and then — what? do him homage? cut off his head?).
The crux of the matter, I think, is why we identify ourselves as fans of a particular work/artist/philosophy/etc. Is it because we love it for what it is? If that is the case, we shouldn’t mind sharing it with the world — indeed, we should be delighted — even if people enter into the fandom in a way that we don’t necessarily like. Or are we fans because we see the thing we enjoy as giving us some sort of status, or have otherwise incorporated it into our identity and sense of self? If the latter is the case, then we will take offense at people who are fans in the “wrong” way, and simultaneously feel threatened by those who are obviously more committed fans than we are. It’s not about the object of interest at all anymore; it’s about finding another marker by which to bolster our self esteem. In this case we’re not fans so much as users.
Well — with that said, I’m off to keep reading Bella Poldark, the last novel in Winston Graham’s sprawling Poldark series. Don’t tell any True Fans that I only came to them after watching the PBS series!