A friend of mine wrote a piece the other day that, despite the initial appearance created by the title of apparently chastising bad celebrity behavior, chastises bad fan behavior. It is a great example of bad fan behavior, but I’m not really interested in specifically discussing the incident or the celebrity involved here. Rather, I’m more interested in the comments by some in discussion threads where the article was posted to social media; comments that I’ve seen put forward for years now by others in multiple conversations on the topic.
And these comments are a defense of “fans” acting with ill manners towards people they claim to like. They’re comments insisting that a celebrity, tired, in public, and simply wanting to catch their ride home/to a hotel, or out with their family, is the one acting poorly by not stopping and giving in to the demands of every person who wants something from them. They’re comments condemning the celebrity for not staying hours past a scheduled time (even after staying over a scheduled end time) to sign stuff when there were still people in line. These comments come in two basic forms.
(1) Celebrities owe their fans something for the fans making them rich and famous.
(2) It is the fans who make the celebrities what they are.
You know, I’m a fan. I’m a geek. I can get well into fan worship and praise of someone when I really dig their work. But this garbage, this sense of fan entitlement? No, it really needs to stop.
Celebrities, actors, writers, musicians, artists, etc., do in fact owe their fans something. In a way, they almost contractually owe their fans something. What they owe their fans is a bit of entertainment or enjoyment in exchange for money paid to be entertained. And it’s a very simple social contract concept. If I go to the local theater and plunk down my $10 for a ticket into the movie of my choice, I’d like to be entertained by what I just paid for. If I go to my local bookstore and plop down my $6 to $25 for a book, I’d like to be entertained by the words found in that book. If I’m entertained, well, the artist in question has given me what they owe me for my money.
Now, does that mean that if I’m not entertained they still owe me something? Not really. Let the buyer beware after all. It becomes the eventual task of the consumer, of the fan, to decide if the instances of entertainment outweigh the instances of not being entertained enough to continue following, and paying for, that artist’s works or not. But, either way, at that point, there is no longer anything owed by either party. The artist has been paid for their art, and the fan has experienced the art that he or she paid for. The contract is now completed.
Anything given beyond that by the artist is a bonus for the fans, it is not an obligation. Do I like it when celebrities make themselves accessible to fans at various events? Well, yeah, because I am a fan. As a fan I absolutely love being able to meet and shake the hand of someone who has created work that has brought me joy and entertainment over the years as well as telling them how much I did love the X, Y, and Z that they did. And, yeah, I dig getting the odd photograph with or autograph from the artists who gave me these works over the years.
But the simple fact is that no fan should ever confuse that bonus interaction between fan and celebrity as an obligation, as something owed, on the part of the celebrity. You as the fan have already been given everything that you’re owed by the artist in question. If you’ve experienced work from that artist that excited you or moved you so much that you and your friends have discussed and shared your love of it for days, weeks, months, or even years on end, I’d say that they’ve given you what they owed you. If you’ve experienced a piece of work from an artist that has moved you or inspired you in your life, I’d say that they’ve given you what they owed you. Anything beyond that, a handshake, a few words, an autograph, is a bonus to the fans, and not an obligation on the part of the artist; certainly not when it’s believed by some fans that it’s owed to them anywhere and at anytime of the fan’s choosing rather than the artist’s.
If nothing else, take the words artist, celebrity, and fan out of the discussion about such encounters and interactions. What are you left with to describe the people involved? How about simply acknowledging that both parties involved are in fact just people?
Celebrities, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what they’ve acquired in life from their status as celebrities, are just people the same as any fan. They get tired, they get grumpy, and they can have times when all they want is the space to be lost in their own thoughts or to spend time with family and close friends just the same as anyone else. If you know that there are times when what’s going on in your life has you dead dog tired, or in a hurry to get from point A to point B on a tight schedule, or simply desiring the personal space to be alone in your thoughts, and you would be annoyed by others, by people you don’t know, demanding you make time for them and give them things, why would you even begin to think that it is in any way good form to bother others in such moments?
Well, actually, I know why some fans think that. It is, after all, they will tell you, the fans who make the celebrities what they are. That’s why the fans are “owed” things.
You know what though? To a large degree that line is absolute and complete horse shit. Fans don’t really make the artist or the celebrity. The “making” of the celebrity is pretty much a shared job, but it starts first and foremost with, and falls most heavily on the artist.
The artist has to create or perform in such a way as to inspire devotion and/or loyalty in a fan base. If the artist creates something that’s unlikeable or performs something in a manner that’s unlikeable, the odds are good that there won’t be much of a fan base there for the artist to have their celebrity status created with.
Fans didn’t make Stephen King a major celebrity writer and then, after that, King started writing popular books. It happened the other way around. King wrote stories that people liked. In fact, he wrote books that a lot of people liked. And those people liked them enough to want to buy more books written by King and to tell others about them. He wrote stories that struck a chord with readers and made them become fans of Stephen King.
It’s the work that creates fans of the work. If the work begins to become less appealing, the fans tend to drift away. I’ll give you a perfect example.
Stargate SG-1 was a great little sci-fi show. The acting, the writing, the entire package was a nice blend of action, adventure, comedy, and sci-fi that attracted a nice viewership over the course of its run on television. Eventually, like so many shows do, it started to become less than what it once was. As the product became less attractive to fans, the fans left the product and the ratings suffered before it was finally canceled.
If it was the fans that made the work successful, the work would still be there because the fans would still be making it successful. The fact is that as the work became less and less of what it should have been the fans left. It was the end product that made people fans of the work, just as the end product eventually caused fans to lose interest.
Do we as fans contribute to success? Well, yeah. We can be excellent word of mouth endorsements to others as to the quality of the work in question. But, let’s not kid ourselves, there’s a selfish side to doing that just as much as there’s an altruistic side to it. Yeah, when I discover something that I think other people I know will enjoy but are unaware of, I tell them about it because I think they’ll enjoy it. That is kind of a big aspect of being a fan of something. You tell people of similar tastes to yours when you’ve discovered something new that they might like.
But, again, let’s not kid ourselves here. When I find indie stuff that I like and I then tell people about The Milan Job, The Gospel According to Booze, Bullets & Hot Pink Jesus, Monster Madhouse, A Few Brains More: Summer of Blood, 400 Ways to Kill a Vampire, Kaijucast, or the Earth Station One Podcast, I’m doing it because I enjoy them and I want them and the people behind them to become more successful so that I can have more of what they created that hooked me on them to begin with. And the same can be said of early fans of Stephen King’s work. If they didn’t like the work, if they didn’t enjoy it, if they didn’t think others would enjoy it and desire more work from King in the future, they wouldn’t have shared it with others and wanted King to be a success.
If King’s skills as a storyteller didn’t make people fans, if they didn’t enjoy the work and want more of it from him, then they would never have promoted it to others. If you don’t think that’s accurate, I have two words for you.
Uwe Boll has got to be one of the worst filmmakers alive today. Maybe he’s not the worst insofar as technical proficiency or basic storytelling, but he has an ability to make amazingly sub-par, bland films combined with an ability to regularly snag licensed properties that people wanted to see turned into film franchises in the hands of far better filmmakers. As a result, he’s not very popular in some genre circles.
He also, despite for a time acquiring properties more popular than the prior property he had acquired, had a big screen track record of increasingly smaller and smaller returns. The work did not inspire large numbers of people to become fans, and he slowly went from a $10 million domestic box office to a $2 million domestic box office to Video on Demand when he’s lucky.
If anyone feels that it’s the fans that make the celebrity rather than the work eventually earning itself a legion of fans, feel free to start a movement to make Uwe Boll a bonafide mega-celebrity. Start buying his films on VOD and DVD in numbers that earn him a spot back in the theaters, and then go make his return to the big screen the smash hit of the year and him an in demand fan favorite at conventions and other appearances.
Or admit that it doesn’t work like that. Fans don’t make the celebrity. They can help, but it’s the work that makes people fans, and it’s the love and enjoyment of the work that makes them want it to be well known and successful as well as creating a drive in the fan to follow the work and the artist behind the work.
And, you know what? I think that to a degree we kind of need them more than they need us. Maybe we don’t need them strictly in the form of “celebrities” as we’ve come to define celebrity, but certainly in the form of performers and storytellers. You’d be hard pressed looking back through the history of this world to find many significant cultures that didn’t have performers and storytellers. Even now, you can go to remote parts of the world and find small tribes with whom one would think we share few things in common culturally and they have performers of sorts and/or storytellers.
We want, maybe even deep down need, performances and art and stories. We seek these things out, and when we find the ones that bring us joy and entertainment we latch on to them and follow them. When we find the performer or storyteller we really like, we celebrate that fact. Hell, some people with such zeal that it’s borderline veneration. And we do it because they’re giving us something that we want, something that some people even need.
Or at least some of us certainly seem to think we need it. Look at the dystopian futures we embrace as “nightmarish” in popular fiction. There are two themes that pop up quite a bit. One is the ultraviolent future as seen in the Mad Max type of story. What’s the other? We see as nightmarish the idea of a forced peace where, in order to keep mankind peaceful, we are stripped of emotion. And what’s one aspect of how that’s done? Mankind is stripped of all or almost all stories and art. And we believe, at least somewhere in our minds, that the works of the artist are so powerful that we easily accept as a credible plot device in these stories that the playing of a piece of music, the viewing of a great performance, or the reading of words from off of a page from a book can light the fires of revolution in this particular form of dystopian future.
We view art, performance, storytelling, or creating beautiful pictures on a page or a canvas, as something that’s essential to who and what we are. When we find someone who, in our own personal opinions, creates that kind of art we flock to them and embrace the art. And it’s the art that art makes us their fans.
Fans don’t really make a celebrity, certainly not in the way that the idea is expressed by “fans” excusing boorish behavior, and the celebrity doesn’t really owe the fans more than what the implied contract of fans seeking entertainment and entertainers seeking an audience provides. You pay your money to be entertained, be it via a book, movie, music, or whatever, and you are provided with something to entertain you. Anything else beyond that isn’t something that’s owed to fans. It’s a bonus, and it’s not a bonus that is given at the demand or whim of the “fan.”
Or there’s the short version.
Celebrities or not, we’re talking about fellow human beings. They deserve the same courtesy, respect, and treatment that any of us would demand that we be allowed, and that doesn’t include hounding, and that doesn’t include shoving pens and pieces of paper or other items under their noses when they’re tired, when they’re with family and friends, or when they’re at airports, restaurants, or bathrooms.