Last Sunday, I met up with a new friend at this random but completely fabulous superhero-themed café. Not only do they specialise in some of the most delicious milkshakes I’ve ever had but their walls are adorned with posters of comic book heroes and villains. They even had a special shelf dedicated to action figures although Batman looked slightly huffy at his current incarnation as a rather cuddly toy. Between the two of us, we discussed the finer points of the DC versus Marvel universes, agreed that we were decidedly sceptical about Agents of Shield but we might give it a go and pondered why all heroes/heroines must have such a tragic backstory. (I mean seriously – is anyone NOT an orphan/lab experiment/seriously wronged victim?) Uh huh, Red, I hear you say, so basically you’re just going to boast about your social life? No, my dear Wanderers. Well, yes, maybe a little. You see, this lovely afternoon and potential friendship would probably never have happened if I hadn’t mentioned to this person that one of the best films I had seen all year was The Avengers.
Sometimes, being a fan can be a bit embarrassing; it can be surprisingly difficult to just come out and admit that you enjoy certain things. There are a whole myriad of reasons for why we might conceive of our fandoms as being a guilty pleasure, one that must only be enjoyed by ourselves and kept from others in case of judgement. Instead of viewing our interests as something worthy of mention at a party or other social gathering, we hide them away – possibly missing out on some great conversations and friendships.
Societal expectations and stereotypes in respect of gender and age can play a significant role in making us feel that our fandoms are, for lack of a better word, ‘weird’. As a ten year old kid who loved Batman and Spiderman, I’ll never forget the bewildered and condescending look that the local newsagent used to give me when I picked up my specially ordered comics. It made me feel like I couldn’t enjoy the comics simply because I was a girl. You would hope that things have improved in recent decades – Oi, I’m not that old! – but there are indications that advertising, especially for children’s toys and entertainment, is becoming more gendered. You can see this when you walk into any toy store. Even going into my local Disney store, there is an invisible but distinct line separating the Disney princesses from the cars, swords and Iron Man outfits. This isn’t just relevant to the younger fans out there – romantic comedies and action movies are often the butt of many a joke about dragging a reluctant member of the opposite sex to the cinema. In case it needs stating outright, you do not have to be any particular gender to love Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or The Terminator or both!
Age can also be another tricky issue to navigate in fandom. As our GUST feature clearly demonstrates, we at Fandom Wanderers love all sorts of wonderful things including those which are directed at a younger audience. These books, television programmes and films can explore morally complex issues, create engaging characters and have well thought out plots, even better than some of their ‘grown up’ counterparts but – and here’s the catch – sometimes you may feel like others will judge you as babyish for still enjoying something that is clearly not targeted at your particular age group. I, for one, often feel like I have to justify my preference for children’s films on the basis that I dislike sex and violence and these provide a welcome respite. Well, that and the fact that children’s films take into account a shortened attention span.
Yet, sometimes, I catch myself and wonder why? Why do I, or anyone else for that matter, have to justify my tastes and preference? Such conversations now inevitably remind me of the comedian Dara O’Briain who had this to say about musical preferences: “Oh, you like those noises, those sounds, in your ear? Do you like them? They’re the wrong sounds. You should like these sounds.” Now, Wanderers, if that doesn’t make you crack a smile at the sheer ridiculousness of telling anyone what they should and shouldn’t like, I honestly don’t know what will. So what if you loathe musicals with a vengeance but think that True Blood is the most socially relevant programme to come out of the U.S. in recent years? So what if you are thirty years old and still like to snuggle up on the sofa to watch Toy Story? So what if you seem to be the only person on this entire planet who thinks that Schumacher’s Batman and Robin is superior to Nolan’s The Dark Knight? (Too far? Nah.) The point is that these are what you enjoy and nobody, not least of you, should make you feel guilty about them.
The great thing about fandom is that there are other people out there who share your interests and perhaps, just perhaps, they won’t make you feel guilty for shipping that rare pair or enjoying an unusual genre. Remember Wanderers, this works both ways. Next time someone tells you about something they like and you happen to disagree, bite your tongue for a moment and reserve judgment. You never know they might actually have a pretty darn good point about that actor or television show. And if not, well then, who are you to make them feel bad about it?
Red Hamilton (has too many ‘guilty’ pleasures to care anymore.)