Fandom – when obsession becomes passion

My post on fandom a couple of weeks ago was very much coloured by the fact that I’m not part of a fan community. I thought that this would give me an objective outside view of the world. All it really did was provide a barricade behind which I could lob brickbats and snarks without fear of blowback. That’s unfair to a lot of people, and nudges me dangerously close to the kind of snobbish commentary that drives me to fizzing spasms of rage when it’s directed at something I happen to like.

I’ve decided to offer a right to reply to a friend and writer who is deeply involved in fandom. WDW runs a very well respected blog on one of the more interesting A-listers on the scene, Jake Gyllenhaal. She knows the highs and lows of being a fan, and I’m delighted to offer her a slot on X&HT in order to set me straight.

Ladies Love Cool J

My name is WDW and I am a Gyllenhaalic. Fandom can strike without warning. No-one is immune, there is no place you can hide and there is no cure – at least if you decide to do it properly.

My advice is, if you catch it, don’t fight it. Revel in it. Open yourself up to the opportunities it will offer to you. You’ll need a stout heart, strong shoulders and resilient shoes because, without doubt, it will lead you on adventures. If you decide to be ‘out’ then you may be teased for your fixation. Ignore the naysayers. What they call obsession, I call passion.

It is true to say that there are different levels of fandom and it is unlikely that a three-week fixation on Colin Farrell or Leo DiCaprio will do little to change your life beyond emptying your wallet on extended directors’ cut DVDs. But, if you’re lucky, at some point in your life, maybe more than once, you will hear or see something, and you will never be the same again, especially if you meet others on the way who feel the same as you.

Let me tell you a little about myself.

I was a Beatles fanatic in my teens and that experience was coloured by a few factors: a) the chief object of my affection died – leading to a very bleak Christmas in 1980; b) I was a teenager and young adult and so had no money to chase my obsession (beyond a few drunken weekends clubbing in Liverpool); and c) there was no internet. I interacted with people from fanclubs but it was not an immediate experience and everyone was very different depending on which Beatle they preferred and which album they liked best. Did this fandom change my life? No, but it did forever enhance my love and joy for music.

I will never forget the time I was in Liverpool for a Beatles convention, while across the street there was a Star Trek convention – and in town there was a Prisoner convention. Without doubt, this was one of the most peculiar and crazy and hysterical weekends of my life.

It was difficult for me, though – I wanted to be in two places at the same time. I have been a Star Trek fan my entire adult life, so I must take umbrage with the blogmaster’s uncalled for comments re Voyager in his fandom post! Chakotay will always have just a little piece of my heart.

I was a thirtysomething when I discovered the object of my affection, or rather when it found me – because I wasn’t searching. Before I knew it, I was becoming a ‘fangirl’ without ever having heard the term before. Some use the term as an insult, as if their own obsession is ‘better’, more grown up, than someone else’s. But to deny the term ‘Fangirl’ is, for me, to deny the fun of being a fan. And fun is paramount for me.

It wasn’t about fun in the beginning. I became a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal years ago. But when I saw Brokeback Mountain I saw a film that changed the direction of my life because it badly needed a kick up the bum. Jake Gyllenhaal provided the boot and it hurt, others were hurt too. But, finally, I emerged on the other side, months later, with my life and personality altered and I discovered I was a Gyllenhaalic. That’s when the fun began.

I am a big movie fan and so, perhaps it was inevitable that it would be a movie star who would become my passion. But I have seen countless actors through my life and I have been immune to the charms of all.

But not Jake Gyllenhaal – it’s not just cos he’s hot (as he so obviously is), it’s because there is something about his relationship to his audience while he is on the big screen. He is hugely generous. The choice and intelligence of his varied roles and the emotion behind his eyes and smile make him stand out.

I couldn’t describe here all the reasons why Jake was and remains The One, for that you’d have to wade through the many hundreds of posts on WDW from the last three plus years, and it is almost irrelevant to this article anyway.

To quote from the blogmaster:

‘Fandom is an ugly, messy, partisan, tribal business… I know fandom in all it’s perverse glory, and observers of human behaviour have a petri dish seething with activity to enjoy.’

I’m glad that we fandom people give everyone else a chuckle. But not all fandoms are the same, and not all sections of the same fandom are the same.

I’m not certain that a 40-year old goes through the same fandom experience as a 15 year old. Not to devalue the teen experience, as it’s vital for growth, but as an older fan, it’s not quite expected behaviour and you have to decide the extent to which you wish to expose your ‘hobby’. Surprisingly, on the occasions when I have made known my fandom to my non-Jake friends, every single time the response has been hugely positive and excited. My family and partner have likewise supported my interest (with rolling eyes on occasion, of course) because they know how important the blog is to me. All now read Wet Dark And Wild.

Do I have a propensity for fandom, just as others may get other kinds of habits? Maybe we all go through life and experience some kind of fandom – maybe some people are more able to shrug it off? Or maybe they didn’t find the right subject.

Rob talks at length about how your heroes can let you down, and how both fan and object of adoration have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of each other.

I don’t entirely agree with this – it certainly hasn’t been my own experience and I think this is possibly the reason why my interest and my affection has lasted for so long. I know the limit of my expectations (although when it comes to Jake’s movies, my expectations are limitless). Obviously, I’m on a winner to start with because the general opinion is that Jake Gyllenhaal is a very pleasant human being – and that certainly makes for a much more pleasant fandom experience.

I also have been clear from the beginning that I do not expect anything from him. It’s my choice to be a fan – I don’t expect anything in return except for a succession of fabulous films to enjoy. I have a thing for red carpets and have had some great times, but I’ve also had my share of less successful experiences. But if Jake doesn’t show up at a premiere or if he walks right past me along the line, that’s not his fault. He doesn’t know me. It’s my choice to be there and to take the chance. And when it works out it’s well worth it.

But the Jake Gyllenhaal fandom has its factions like any other. It has its dramas and arguments and fallings out, in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the object of affection. Fortunately, new fans come along, unaware of the history, and the fandom moves on.

But, what have I got out of this strange tribal beast called fandom? Close, lasting friendships. You discover that you have much more in common than you ever thought. I’ve been to film festivals and premieres around the world, I’ve gone on road trips, I’ve had adventures. I have a hobby that has become much more than that – I’m a writer by trade and now I’ve found something to write about that truly inspires me and interests me and WDW has been a fantastic experience, not least for its community of like-minded people, of all ages, sexes and countries. I’ve learnt so much about other cultures, movies and people. The readers always tolerate my off-topic interludes and so now the blog is much more than it was when it began. Its goal was to explore why people like me are interested in Jake Gyllenhaal and what it is about him that keeps us interested. That’s still the blog’s mission. And a blog inevitably reflects its author.

And I’m still curious, still confident that my expectations will be exceeded and that more adventures lie ahead, and so I continue. Without doubt, WDW has become hard work – the release of Prince of Persia and all of that hoohaa was like nothing I have experienced before. But it was so much fun!

This post on fandom is long overdue – it was promised quite some time ago but then I was delayed by a conspiracy of my fandoms – Jake Gyllenhaal, World Cup, Wimbledon. Each of these on their own could be surmountable – although the first, maybe not, but the third, definitely so – but the three together meant that there was little time for anything else. But Rob understands. After all, if it weren’t for Jake, I would never have met him and his TLC.

(image via I Heart Jake)

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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

One thought on “Fandom – when obsession becomes passion”

  1. Yup, that’s pretty much how it is. Even if I have less time to indulge these days… 😉 I’m amazed at how you – WDW – manage to keep your site so classy and interesting day after day, and I hope you know I (and many with me) appreciate your effort.

    Rob – loved reading your initial post about fandom. Sorry I didn’t comment back then. It’s an interesting topic, and I doubt people on the outside of a specific fandom can ever understand it. I’m definitely the type who can get truly passionate (right, WDW) about something, but I still find myself shaking my head at people who are equally passionate about something I don’t appreciate. And inside a fandom there will always be people who can’t accept that others, inside the fandom, have a different view of it. You’re right, it can get ugly, but even if some specific “events” inside my fandom has left a really bad taste (and made me pull back from certain fandom “enablers”), I still think that the overall experience is a positive one. And, as WDW mentioned at the end of her post, you can come out of it with beautiful friendships from all over the world.

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