The True Fan……Is a Myth

A couple of days ago Adam Rodriguez was on Access Hollywood and made a statement that not only upset me, but gave me pause. When asked about Criminal Minds and this season without Thomas Gibson he said, “We’ll see who the true fans are.” I’m glad I wasn’t eating or drinking anything when I heard that, because it made me sputter.

Here is an actor in a new role on a beloved show that fans, who had stuck with it for eleven years, he dared to insult by saying something like that. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise me. This statement has been bantered around in fandom for decades. It was heard quite often in comic book stores, game stores, conventions, outside movie theaters and basically anywhere fandom exists.

You want to know what my answer to this is? There is no such thing as the ‘true’ fan. Now, I may get a lot of flack for saying that, but bear with me and let me explain. Fandom fluctuates. People’s tastes change, outgrow, or they get tired of various fandoms throughout their life. Or, sometimes people will fall out of love of their fandom because of a lot of the behind the scenes controversy. Maybe, if you’ve been out of the fandom for a long-time, then go back you find you no longer like that particular television show, movie, comic, video game, whatever. It goes right back to tastes change as we age, or find new fandoms we like better.

For example, when I first watched Babylon 5, I loved it. It was mine and my husbands go to show on the struggling UPN network way back in the mid-1990’s. Then, the main actor, Jerry Doyle, left the show and they brought on Bruce Boxleitner. I had so loved Doyle’s presence on the show I just couldn’t see Boxleitner as his replacement. Especially coming off of the lighthearted, and quite silly, Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I just couldn’t see it. Then, the show left UPN and was put onto a cable station. At the time my husband and I couldn’t afford cable, so we lost out on watching the show when it was on.

Years later, the show was in syndication and we were able to watch it from start to finish. And boy did it have it’s ups and downs, but we stuck with it because Captain John Sheridan wormed his way into our psyche, and we loved him and how he handled all of the happenings on and around the Babylon 5 station. Then it went off the air again. It would be another few years before we tried to watch it again, and found ourselves not liking it as much as we did years before. We knew the show hadn’t changed, but we had changed. We found other shows and other fandoms we liked better. Now, while the show was still a good show, we just found it was no longer one that we loved like we had previously. We were fans, but as our tastes changed, we were no longer fans.

This happens all the time. Especially in the Sci-fi, Sci-fantasy, and fantasy genres. Better things come along to take our attention away and we focus on the newer and, frankly, sometimes better. This in no way takes anything away from the fans that still love Babylon 5. This was just how we personally felt about the show. This doesn’t mean that we weren’t “true’ fans it just meant we were no longer fans. There is a very big difference.

The two biggest fandoms of today that I see this happening a lot in is the Sherlock Holmes fandom, and the Doctor Who fandom. I’ll address each of these separately. I will not, however, get into the Star Wars, Star Trek debate. That is a subject for its own blog post.

Let me start with Doctor Who. There are three camps of fans. The people that are strictly fans of the old show that ran from 1963 – 1989 who call themselves the ‘truest fans’. Why? Just because they watched and are fans of the older version of the show does not make them the ‘truest fans’. All it makes them is fans of the original run of the show. That’s it. It’s rather arrogant of anyone when there are multiple iterations of a show to claim that they have dominion over the show and that the original version is the only true version.

Now, there is the newer seasons of the show that began in 2005. A whole new slew of fans were drawn to this odd, quirky Sci-fi/Sci-fantasy show and it became a worldwide phenomenon. My husband, who is a lifelong fan of the show, was rather weirded out when we started seeing freeway billboards for it. This was a man who dressed as the fourth doctor for Halloween in High School and absolutely no one in a school of over 4000 kids knew the character. He’d walk into a Suncoast (I know, I’m dating myself.) and ask for Doctor Who videos and the clerks would look at him and ask, “Do you mean Dr. No?” It was frustrating and amusing at the same time.

My point is, it was weird for him that this very staunchly British show that he grew-up with here in the States, was now everywhere. He embraced the new, he loved the new Doctors and each of the takes on the role. He also embraced the fact that there were new fans of the show, but what he didn’t embrace was the hate that was brewing between “new” fans and “old” fans. The show changed. It changed with the times. In some ways it grew-up and in some it dumbed down. But, it is still an excellent show and is a testament to what came before. In my opinion there is room for all fans. There is no true fan, they are all just fans.

The third camp is the group who have grown to love the Big Finish Audio adventures. People love the Doctor Who Audio shows and for some that is the only Doctor Who for them. Does this negate them being fans of Doctor Who? No, it just means that they choose the audio adventures as their level of participation in the fandom. They have the right to call themselves fans of Doctor Who and no one has the right to take that away from them.

Sherlock Holmes. Wow, want to talk about multiple views and multiple iterations on this fandom. You have the old Basil Rathbone movies, the Jeremy Brett BBC Series, Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary, then all of the source material that all of these iterations are based on, the old radio shows, the odd film here and there like Young Sherlock Holmes. Fans of the books and collected short stories will say that they are the only true fans of the titular character. I, ashamedly, was one those people for a long time. I love the literary works that the movies and television shows are based on.

My Grandmother was a huge fan of the Rathbone movies. While I enjoyed them with her because she enjoyed them, they weren’t my favorite. Though, I did love their Moriarty, each actor that played him brought a different flavor of malice to the character that was just loads of fun. However, if I had to personally choose which were my favorites, I’d have to go with Jeremy Brett as the strict period production of the character, and Johnny Lee Miller as the modern interpretation of the character.

Why Johnny Lee Miller and not Benedict Cumberbatch? There are several reasons why. The folks at Elementary actually try very hard to bring in a lot of canon characters and canon stories,  but modernize them in a very real and organic way. The character of Captain Gregson is actually taken from the canon literature of Sherlock Holmes. He was an Inspector for Scotland Yard, just not in London. Other characters have been brought in that are canon, and sometimes obscure, but you get the sense that the writers and producers of Elementary are trying to pay homage to Doyle’s vision of the character.

Elementary strives very hard to not only talk about the Baker Street irregulars, Sherlock’s physical fighting prowess, his strange experiments, his drug addiction, and his overall eccentricities, there is also that humanistic side to Sherlock. The side that Joan and Captain Gregson bring out in him. The side that would pop up in the literary stories. The compassion he’d have for the victims and the families that were oft left behind. Sherlock often felt too much and it’s what causes his disconnect with people. His empathy hurts him. There was even a beautifully done scene in last season’s Elementary where Sherlock himself talks about this and how he needs to stay cutoff or else his empathy and his intellect could consume him. Miller’s portrayal is by far one of my favorites of the modern versions of Sherlock.

Does the fact that I prefer Elementary to Sherlock make me not a fan of Sherlock? Absolutely not. There are a lot of good things to like about Sherlock, but there are a lot of really bad things not to like about Sherlock. He’s loud, he’s unsympathetic, he berates the very people he’s trying to help. He verbally beats people over the head with his intellectual and moral superiority. Moffat is often way off the mark with how loud and flashy the character is in Sherlock. Would I be considered not a ‘true fan’ because of my criticisms of the show? Sadly, many would say yes.

I had many, many criticisms of Stargate and their last two season, but, again, it doesn’t negate that I was, and still am, a fan of the previous seasons. The last scene in season eight when Samantha Carter and Jack O’Neil are sitting on his dock next to his cabin fishing, that should have been the end of the show. It was a perfectly sweet ending and fit the characters perfectly. Then TPTB had to go and ruin it by making seasons nine and ten. Which, essentially were poor derivatives of the previous season, just the bad guys had a new name. While I liked the characters that Ben Browder and Claudia Black played, I did not like the direction the show took or how the quality in writing dropped. Those seasons should have never happened. Still, it did not take away my love of Stargate. It also does not mean that I am not a fan, when obviously, I am. Yet, in my criticisms of those last two seasons, the more fanatical in the fandom that I spoke with berated me and said I ‘wasn’t a true fan.’ I backed away slowly and just shook my head. Again, fandom is personal. It is a persons choice to take part however they see fit and to criticize the fandom when it does something so utterly stupid it just makes you scratch your head and wonder.

Epilogue? What Epilogue?, I know many who read this will know exactly what I’m talking about. And just because I hated that epilogue to Harry Potter, doesn’t mean that I’m not still a fan of the books.

There is an odd sense of ownership when it comes to fans and their favorite fandom. They believe that just because they are fans and participate in the fandom they have the right to say who and who isn’t a fan. Now I’m not talking about the random Joe who picks up a cool looking Avengers t-shirt at Target and wears it, yet has never cracked a comic or gone to see any of the Marvel movies. There are people like that out there. They could be fans of the artwork and like the style, but haven’t necessarily delved into the meat of the fandom. And you know what? That’s okay too, because it is their right to participate in whatever level they see fit for themselves. Yet, they would be called out for it, and told they aren’t a “true fan.” No one, except those people involved in the production of the movie, tv show, artwork, literary work, whatever, owns the property that we base our fandoms on. I will say again, we as fans do not own any part of the fandoms we participate in, and have no right to call others out for their level of participation. We have no right to call someone ‘not a true fan’.

Coming back to Adam Rodriguez and his statement about Criminal Minds. I think when an actor calls out fans on their level of participation it makes them look ugly. It makes them look petty. An actor, and a new actor to the fandom at that, should not make a disparaging remark so early in his run as a new character. In fact, it’s something that he shouldn’t have said at all. Oh, it will get swept aside and brushed under the rug, but some of us noticed it, and feel that it is a remark that was completely uncalled for.

I am a fan of Criminal Minds. What I am not a fan of is the way those involved behind the scenes of Criminal Minds have been disrespectful towards fans, and towards the character of Aaron Hotchner. They have been trying to erase the character from our minds. Pretend he doesn’t exist, and are acting like they are trying to erase him from the show. It is petty and short-sighted.

None of us know the whole, true story of what went on. I can only judge by what has happened since. And what has happened since has been a very poor showing on CBS and Criminal Minds parts. Thomas Gibson has conducted himself with grace and honor through this whole situation, CBS/ABC and Criminal Minds has not. You cannot erase from fans minds a character that is in eleven seasons of the show. He’s still there, on Netflix, on DVDs, on marathon reruns of the show. People know he was there, they see the character all the time, and the way that the powers that be are acting has me seriously considering not watching the show. Does this make me not a true fan? No it doesn’t, it make me disappointed in a show that I once couldn’t wait for Wednesday’s at Nine o’clock for. Now, it is two days after the premiere and I’m still vacillating on watching. I was like this even before Thomas Gibson’s firing.

Criminal Minds seems to be in some bubble of obliviousness when it comes to fan criticism. The show for the last two seasons has dropped in production quality, level of writing, level of directing, realism of set pieces and more. The fact that Joe Mantegna got to do his little political statements about vets for four episodes, when it had nothing to do with the actual show, and took time away from the cases, and the procedural portion of the show just made me cringe. While I agree it is a worthy cause, and that we need to be more compassionate towards our vets, Criminal Minds was not the venue to showcase that. It felt like he got a chance to get on a soapbox and ran with it.

The surprise daughter and sudden family for Rossi felt forced and over the top. Garcia at the beginning of season 10, when she went to see the person she shot to save Reid, that was unrealistic and frankly, stupid. There were so many moments in those two seasons that had me going, “Where’s Criminal Minds? Where’s the show I grew to love over the previous nine seasons?” I don’t know. That show is gone. That show that had me gripping my sofa cushions is no longer there. It’s no longer compelling and interesting and has lost focus. Does the fact that I have all of these criticisms of the show make me not a true fan? No it doesn’t. I think it makes me a very true fan. Just because I choose to no longer participate in the viewing of the show does not mean I have lost my love of the show. I love the previous nine seasons. I will still participate in the fandom, I just may not participate in the farce that has become a shadow of what it once was.

Sad thing is, this is true for many fandoms. Just because we choose not to participate in watching or reading a fandom, does not mean that we aren’t still fans. There is no such thing as the ‘true fan’. There are different levels of participation, but it doesn’t mean that those who only decide to watch, or only decide to make fanart or write fan fiction aren’t fans. We need to stop this idea of the ‘true fan’ because it just does not exist. It’s an idea in the minds of those that are passionate, and sometimes aggressively so, about their fandom, and  that they are the only ones allowed to participate. You know what? Fandom doesn’t belong to any one person. We all have levels we choose to participate in, it’s our right to do so. So, please, stop, just stop using that label. It means nothing and it causes unnecessary rifts in fandom. That isn’t what we want. We want people to participate. We want new people to join, or those of the older iteration to become enthralled and excited about the new version. We want people to produce fan art and to participate in debates, and yes, sometimes healthy arguments. Its what fandom is and has always been. To exclude because you believe a newbie, or someone not willing to “keep going” in the face of bad scripts and bad episodes or movies, is not a true fan makes you look petty. Everyone has a right to be included on whatever level they feel is right for them. Fandom is for everyone. And, its a person’s choice to discontinue the relationship if they feel it is right for them to do so. Again, it does not mean they aren’t a ‘true fan.’ It just means they are just like everyone else a plain and simple fan.

6 thoughts on “The True Fan……Is a Myth

  1. A very poignant essay and I agree whole heartedly with your premise. I’ve been a long time Star Trek: The Original Series fan since I watch the show in reruns as a child in the ’70s. When I got into reading (lurking) in fandom in the early 2000s, I did not have any interest in reading Star Trek: TOS fanfiction and that was my choice for a variety of reasons. I never really liked Shatner’s Captain Kirk, but my love for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and Deforest Kelly’s Bones, know’s no bounds. The show is very dated and misogynistic, a show of its time and also a show ahead of its time. I prefer reading the reboot and that doesn’t make me not a true Star Trek fan. It seems more realistic (even though I know it’s not realistic at all), the characterization is better at least as far as Captain Kirk and the rest of the cast is fantastic in their roles. Women are still sidelined to an extent, but not as badly as the original series.

    I would say I’ve watch all of the Star Trek series, except for Voyager as I couldn’t get into that particular version and I have tried multiple times. I’d say I was more a Next Gen fan over all, but still have no interest in reading fanfiction for that show, mostly because my favorite character, Data is not a good candidate for the type of romantic fiction I like to read. I also didn’t have any interest in changing canon of that show, to me Star Trek: The Next Generation is perfect the way it is (except the last film), so there is no need to revisit it other to enjoy my box set of seasons 1-7 DVD’s every couple of years. To me the emotional characterization is very important within a story and Data has no emotions at all (at least until the films). Does this not make me a true fan, no it doesn’t?

    I too have been a Criminal Minds fan from season one, but I do not actually read a lot of CM fanfiction, which is weird since I do write it. I didn’t enjoy the last two seasons at all, but will give season twelve a chance. We’ll see if I stick with it, if not, I have the first nine seasons to enjoy over and over again and new fanfiction to write for my own head cannon. I’m still a fan, but perhaps just not as enamored and starry eyed as I once was. Best, The Nut.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this whole mess.

    I was around 10 when a friend told me in a very accusing tone that I either loved all songs of a band/musician or I couldn’t be a fan at all. I must have looked really bewildered.

    Being a fan is about being passionate about something, not blind or mindless. That being said I think that it is in many ways the sign of a real/good/true fan to worry about developments they see as damaging to the *insert fanish object*. Turning away from something because of a single change before even giving it a chance is rather fickle, but nonetheless legitimate.

    It’s like with friendships. You have acquaintances that you have fun with, but they turn away when you’re having a bad day/week/month. But they’ll be back when you’re fun again. And then there are the real close friends. They stick with you through a bunch of bullshit, they tell you in the face that you’re being stupid and unbearable at times and still love you, but if you make this one step too far across the line into arseholery or break their trust, they’re gone for good.

    I guess what I want to say is: Depending on what exactly you love in a show/book/music… there will always be that one change that many think is good, but which dulls or even severs your connection to the content. Same thing with something not changing and developing at all: Yes, it’s the exact same thing you liked before, but at some point it becomes stale and everybody has their own point for that.

    And then there is the question of the producers’ respect for the fans. The only reason shows or anything really can go on for more than a decade are the fans. So to take away something that is beloved by the majority either for financial reasons (read: greed) or for some egomaniacal power trip disguised as ‘a vision for the whatever’ is just ugly.

    And as fans we do not have to take it. That’s as much about respect for ourselves as it is about respect for the parts we love(d).

  3. Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth. Agree 1000%. I saw what he said on YouTube and I was like “here’s this new guy and he’s pissing fans off already, not a good start”. Do you mind I shared this article on twitter ?

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