Your Fandom Wears Combat Boots
by Rana Eros
There is no such thing as perfect source material. For the most part, fans know this. Often, it can be part of the appeal. It's my personal belief that the source material has to have a certain amount of cracks to let the fannish urge in, but also, flaws can be fun. Think about the last time you watched a truly cheesetastic episode of your favorite show, giggling your way through the stilted dialogue and budget special effects, certain that between takes the actors walked up to the writers with script in hand and said, "What the hell were you people smoking when you wrote this?" Think about when you finished the latest book in the series and then hopped on chat with your fellow fen later that night and said, "That could seriously have used an editor, and am I the only one who thinks Author A could benefit from a little research into feudal Japan?" A fellow fan then said, "Yeah, but did you like it?" To which you responded, "Oh yeah, I loved it!" It's a fine balance between flawed and fascinating that drives the Shiny, and it's an equation that's going to be different for everyone.
This is where a lot of the trouble comes in.
Fans are used to funny looks from non-fans. We're used to ignorant questions, erroneous assumptions, and less-than-unbiased media attention. We don't like it, but we're used to it. However, no matter how often it happens, we continue to react less well to harassment from fellow fans. We take it personally, partly because we think our fellow fans really should know better than to believe we are unaware of our fandom's flaws, and partly because it is terribly hypocritical of a fan of Source A to be derogatory about fans of Source B.
Of course, someone's going to argue with me that there are certain sources which are objectively better than others. Of course there are. However, how many fans do you know who are in it for the objective merit? Yeah, I thought so. I am well aware that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer had more consistent characterization than Smallville. That does not change the fact that I could not watch five minutes of Buffy without wanting to smack the main character. Also, the only time I see the "consistent characterization" argument come up is when a Buffy fan is trying to defend snarky remarks about SV. Otherwise, it seems to be about whether you prefer dark-haired alien superheroes to blond vampires, bald archvillains in the making to red-headed witches. Stargate: SG-1 and seaQuest DSV are about the same in terms of production values, characterization, and scripts. They are about the same in terms of ignorance about how the military really works. Nevertheless, I love sQ enough subjectively to overlook these flaws. Because there is nothing about SG-1 that draws me in, I cannot overcome the flaws, nor can I embrace and appreciate them.
In some ways, your fandom of choice is like the family member you liked to bitch about to your friends in grade school. "My little sister is such a brat, she always steals my Barbie shoes." "My dad wears plaid pants. He's so weird." "My mom's a terrible cook. She tried to make meatloaf last night and it got so burned Dad said they could pave the roads with it." You expected agreement and sympathy from your friends, but it was a declaration of war if one of your friends said, "Yeah, your mom is just pathetic. My mom's a way better cook." It didn't matter if it was true or not, it didn't matter if you'd meant to say the same thing yourself in a few minutes, what mattered was that your supposed friend was talking smack about your family. Now, granted, we're not all friends in fandom, particularly fandom at large, but we are all griping about our "families" to each other, so we all hold something of that schoolyard position of trust.
It's not just the source material it happens with, either. I know we've all heard the cries of, "That fandom is nothing but a bunch of plagiarists," "I would never join that fandom, they're all so mean," and the ever-popular, "Oh, you don't want to get into that fandom. It's run by BNFs, and they'll never let you into their clique." The thing is, there is no such thing as a perfect fandom, either. This one might have a lot of flamewars. That one might be more skewed toward teenyboppers. This one over here might have a rabid anti-slash contingent. Again, the flaws are sometimes part of the appeal, and sometimes the flaws are the dues you pay in order to be socially fannish about a particular source. In the end, it's just as subjective as the sources themselves.
Of course, both the above are really external examples of things that also happen within fandom. "My favorite character is better than yours!" "My OTP has more canon basis than yours, and is therefore more worthy of fic!" "My preference for season 2 is superior to your preference for season 5, because season 2 had better storylines/production values/writing staff/dialogue." When we're not directly involved, we can all see the rather...*ahem* flawed logic that is the basis of these assertions. They're all arguments about taste, and you can't objectively argue taste. Also, in such arguments, facts tend to be red herrings (i.e. season 2 had a bigger special effects budget than season 5, which proves the production values were higher), but effective red herrings because they leave your "opposition" either floored that you introduced a point so irrelevant to the argument at hand, or scrambling to explain how their viewpoint is still valid despite the fact you introduced because they're too emotionally involved to realize it's a red herring. Which allows you to feel smug and superior for a little while, I suppose, but to what purpose? In the end, they still like what they like and you still like what you like and all you've done is named some of your enemies for any future kerfuffles.
Now, I'm not saying that any of the above means we should all just shut up and get along. Hell, I am the last person to say that, considering my very public views of certain characters, pairings, shows, fandoms, etc. What I am saying is that it might be good to make any comparisons with a certain awareness of how much we are not, in fact, unbiased judges. And also with an awareness of how little "being right" gets us, even if we have a whole collection of red herrings to pickle.
Then again, I like pickled red herrings. They go so well with cheese and it is, after all, all cheese.