How to be a Good Fan: Don’t be the Comic Book Guy

Off the Edge

This is kind of a case study of the quintessential “bad fan.”  Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons as a character pre-dates the spread of internet criticism, but it seems every forum, website that allows commentary, or YouTube video is packed with almost nothing but Comic Book Guys (hereafter referred to as “CBGs”).

What makes the CBG type such a bad fan?  He’s the one who loves something so much he ends up obsessing about it without end; then his love (as love of anything can do) turns to passive-aggressive hatred.  He can’t wait to take something he loves, and tell the world why it’s not good, not what it used to be, or somehow a “betrayal” of his obsessed loyalties.  He knows everything about it.  He’s the kind of “fan” who takes the time to learn all things about something (including it seems watching entire films in slo-o-o-o mo-o-o-o-tion) just so he can point out its flaws.

The most famous and now apparently meme-worthy quote ever uttered by CBG was from the “Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” episode of The Simpsons.  After Poochie’s “hilariously unfunny debut” CBG commented that it was the “Worst. Episode. Ever.” And later went on to state that “As a loyal fan I feel they owe me.”  To which Bart responds, “What could they owe you? They’ve given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free!  If anything, YOU owe THEM!”  CBG’s retort, “Worst. Episode. Ever.”  This exchange pretty much sums up what bad fans like CBG are all about.  There’s a bit of narcissism to them — they feel that entertainment is all about what should entertain them personally, and they are somehow owed this for their patronage.  I can see CBG on every 4Chan, Bell of Lost Souls, YouTube, and TV show webpage I’ve ever been to.  Even sometimes quoting CBG proudly, “Worst. ::WHATEVER::. Ever.”

This guy is one bad fan…

In my Warhammer experience I see it a lot. Games Workshop comes out with new models.  Annoying posters all say, then build on each other’s comments like, “Wow that’s ugly I won’t get one.”  “Why are they so expensive!!!  I’m quitting.”   “They ruined xxx by changing the rule to do xxx.”  Yet…they still sell the miniatures, special editions of books, and these people are coming to the site day after day…just to say how much they hate everything?  One post I saw kind of summed these posts up, “Will you all quit complaining?  You’re going to end up buying them…”  I bet that person was right.

Another point is, like CBG did to Poochie (who was designed to be awful), focusing on something bad and channeling all fan hatred on it.  Nothing shows this better than Jar-Jar Binks.  People were severely disappointed with Phantom Menace.  It was kind of a slow, mediocre movie, but it had its fun parts.  I liked Darth Maul.  But for some reason what everyone heaped their rage on was Jar-Jar Binks.  He was almost a scapegoat.  Fans didn’t like the movie like they thought they would, so it became Jar-Jar’s fault.  I don’t find him any more annoying that C3P0 or the Ewoks honestly…But all the fury was directed right at him.  I thought Anakin’s “chosen one” story was far more tired than the comic relief character.

I won’t say CBG doesn’t have a point; any kind of entertainment eventually suffers from its age.  Again from that episode of The Simpsons, Lisa points out that over the years the innovation and characters can’t maintain the same impact they once had.  To try to make the show, comic book, music, whatever fresh creators try all kinds of things.  They add new characters, kill someone off (often only to bring them back…somehow), or totally change their style (say going from hard rock to techno or rap).  Some fans actually love these changes.  Some don’t.  But I actually feel it’s more impactful to simply change one’s own behavior than complain without end about the new status of whatever you’re obsessing about.

Going back to The Simpsons, for its first 9 seasons it was close to my favorite show ever.  After season 9 it seemed to get a bit “stupider” in its jokes and, to me, became more about watching Homer scream and guest stars.  Now that was to ME.  My response was to try it for a bit.  Watch the odd one here and there…and then give it up.  I haven’t watched a full episode since season 11.  I didn’t continue to watch it just so I could go to the forums later and complain about how it was the Worst. Episode. Ever.

One of my favorites, that I came to very late, is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I love that Joss Whedon style of humor+drama+weird.  But even it made the classic changes.  It went for “introduce new character” (only kinda made sense, even in fantasy world), then “kill character” as options for extending its life.  It was still great, but not as good.  Same goes for Eureka.  TERRIFIC sci-fi show. Then they went back in time, changed the reality, and kind of rebooted the show.  Still great, but I personally preferred the original set up.

The same goes for The Walking Dead.  Great show.  Great story, fresh characters, interesting take on the zombie apocalypse.  Halfway through last season I kind of lost interest.  The show wasn’t any different really, but I just stopped watching unless I wanted to catch up later.

I’m not saying voicing your opinion isn’t positive.  But it should be constructive and not just bitching for bitching’s sake.  Constructive complaints are what happened with Futurama.  The show was cancelled.  The fanbase came together and made its support so publicly known that they eventually released new episodes on DVD and then returned to TV (sadly ending this year…).  THAT is how fans should work.  The constructive way to voice your beliefs about something you’re a fan of is to do so positively, seeking to change what’s wrong, not just repeating what you don’t like in snarky and anonymous form in the internet.  The positive way I expressed my dislike for the newer Simpsons was to stop watching.  I didn’t like it, but people do, so why should I spend my time complaining a.) The show is bad now, b.) These new stupid fans are the reason it’s bad c.) They should just go back to “the way it was.”  Who am I to say what other people should like?  New fans like the new version, they shouldn’t make a show just for me…and maybe, just maybe, I’m the one who changed.  Maybe the things I once obsessed about don’t, as Lisa said, have the same impact.

So many of us fans still watch shows they no longer love just to make bad jokes (usually just quotes from something else, or different versions of memes that have been around since 2006) on forums and sites later.  THAT’S being a bad fan I think.  If the toys you once loved aren’t fun anymore…stop playing with them, and maybe, pick up something new.  It’s the only way to grow.  Staying with the same-old-same-old that you now hate is to decay.  Again, it only breeds hostility and negativity.  Why do that to yourself, or worse, inflict your negativity on others?

The Simpsons gave us many perfect caricatures of nerd fans.  I remember one who asked, “In episode 2F09, when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes that same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe that this is some sort of a…a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.”  Homer’s response, “I’ll field this one. Let me ask you a question. Why would a man whose shirt says “Genius at Work” spend all of his time watching a children’s cartoon show?”  Yep.  That about sums it up.

For the sake of all fans, please don’t be the Comic Book Guy…

The next post ties into this one, Don’t Build Them Up Just to Tear Them Down.

How to be a Good Fan: You Like this, I Like That…Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off…

Off the Edge

In my “Just War” philosophy course in grad school, we learned that during any kind of conflict there comes a time where combatants start to see the situation as “us” versus “them.”  Viewing an opponent this way essentially dehumanizes them and makes it easier for people to do horrible things to each other they wouldn’t do in any other circumstances.

While that might seem like a strange opener for a series about fandom, the same holds true for disagreeing fans.  We all fall victim to it, but recently I’ve started to catch myself doing it and tried to curtail it when I feel it creeping in.

I remember during what James Rolfe calls “The Bit Wars” between Sega and Nintendo; I was in the Sega camp.  But I don’t remember hating Super Nintendo.  I just never played it and vehemently disagreed with comments disparaging Sega’s games or systems.  I still do.  I had loads of fun on Sega CD and 32X!

It’s gotten much worse with Xbox and Playstation fans.  I’ve had both systems from previous and current generations.  I prefer Playstation simply because I’ve found it to be more reliable, more a fit for my gaming needs, and more consumer-friendly.  I admit I have sunk down to the “us versus them” mentality, especially when the now recanted Xbox One specs were announced.  But the truth is both are good systems for their fan bases, both have a good line up of games, and we NEED both to keep competition healthy.  Monopoly is always bad for the consumer.

Here are some thoughts on one opinion versus another opinion and ways that have helped me avoid “Us Versus Them” situations:

Realizing Nothing is Perfect:  I love my PS3.  I had a launch system that lasted 5-6 years in the same time my bro-in law had 3-4 Xboxes that red-ringed.  That being said, I know lots of people apparently had disc read problems with launch PS3s.  Even when mine died, it did so while a disc was in, and I had to take the #*%^@#$%@&$ apart to get the disc out.  PS3 isn’t perfect, just a better fit for me.  Because Xbox is a better fit for you doesn’t make you wrong, just different from me.  Everything has issues and we enjoy them in spite of them.

Even the chaos god of perfection isn’t perfect…poor, poor chaos god…

Understanding That a Difference of Opinion is OK:  It’s good to truly enjoy something.  If you immerse yourself entirely into the world of whatever your love may be (Star Trek or Star Wars, Final Fantasy, Mario, Legend of Zelda, X-Men etc…) it’s good for you.  Any kind of learning exercises the mind.  I even think it’s ok to drive your friends crazy with your enthusiasm.  You’ve learned ALL this stuff; you want to share it.  Your friends always have the right to say, “You know I’m a little tired of hearing about Spiderman…,” and if they do, that should be respected.  Going a step further, it’s even ok for them to say, “You know I really don’t like Spiderman…”  If they do, even though it may seem incomprehensible to your obsessed brain, it is OK too.  It doesn’t matter what it is, how popular, how important it is to your day, if someone else isn’t interested or doesn’t like it…they don’t like it and they aren’t crazy for having that opinion.  Recently I’ve seen TONS of this.  I was shown three episodes of Game of Thrones.  It was like a high-production value, fantasy realm soap opera to me.  I didn’t care for it.  I’ve had family and friends get me to watch some of Dr. Who.  It was mediocre sci-fi TV to me; I just couldn’t get into it.  I like Joss Whedon, but I don’t feel like trying Firefly right now.  I’m not WRONG for these beliefs.  Certainly not just because someone else thinks these are the greatest things ever.  If you absolutely despise Warhammer, or history, or boxing, or Lovecraft it doesn’t make you wrong just because I love them.  Again, what fits for you, isn’t necessarily what fits for me.  And judging each other because we don’t share obsessions doesn’t help anyone.

The Running Man audience. Definitely the worst kind of obsessed, bad fans!

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off:  Debating is good.  If you want to explain to me WHY Christopher Nolan’s Batman films weren’t a pretentious drag that essentially told the same story three times (someone tries to make fear take over Gotham, so the city destroys itself…) feel free.  I will explain why I feel how I feel.  We can show counterpoints, logic, and conclusions — we can attempt to persuade through example.  It can be fun.  It can be enlightening.  It’s almost always mentally stimulating.  It’s a debate, and it’s good.  Arguing is bad.  Arguing is what occurs when respect and logic abandon a discussion in favor of bias and hostility.  If we’ve both made our points, repeating them or insisting, “You just don’t get it,” “You need to see it from the beginning,” or “I’m not surprised you don’t like it, you’re into stupid stuff like XXXX” doesn’t add to the discussion.  Once points are made and opinions finalized, if neither side budges, in the terminology of the Napoleonic Wars, we should both be allowed to “leave the field with our weapons and colors.”  It’s a sign of respect of each other and our opposing opinions and an acknowledgement that we’re agreeing to disagree.

Methinks any kind of debating with this guy…likely won’t be fair…

With all there is out there to become a fan of, no one can ever be a fan of everything, and even amongst the closest of relationships there are bound to be differences, sometimes VAST differences, of opinion.  If we all agreed on everything, imagine how dull life would be.  But it’s important, no matter how much you love something, how much you devote your life to it, and how much you know about it to respect the opinions of others who may be neutrally disinterested or actively opposed to it — even if they insist on sinking to the negative level — take the high road…people who take the low road probably do so often, and it won’t be in anyone’s best interest to pursue them into the depths.

And finally, maybe most importantly, share the things you are a fan of with those you care about as long as they are receptive, but not if they suggest they are not.  Our interests are a big part of showing who we are.  But people don’t necessarily need or want converting.  Respect that and respect them for their opinions, even if they directly oppose yours.  You’ve said poe-tay-toe, they’ve said poe-tah-toe…so yeah…

And just for fun…Christopher Walken’s sings!