Not The Fox News: The Superfan Delusion

(‘Son, you need to stay indoors! Burn some books! Don’t worry about the symbolism just do it! There’s a Bad Science Front sweeping towards you!’)

You know that scientist who always turns up in B-Movies? The one who figures everything out, and goes in front of The Board (Of…Science, presumably) to beg them to do something and they don’t?  And then THE AWFUL happens and they’re all ‘Oh save us!’ and the scientist, or Ripley as she does this too, is all ‘…FINE.’

Hi, I’m Doctor Stuart and I’ve worked out two of the things that are killing genre fiction.

Let’s start with language, specifically a single word; ‘Superfan’. There is so much wrong in just two syllables there that it’s almost impossible to unpack. The definition of a superfan is variable, but the general accepted opinion is they’re people who go ‘above and beyond’ to prove their dedication to the things they love.  Because clearly, finding joy in anything requires an entrance exam or a ‘You must know this much to be a fan of this thing’ height requirement. The examples that tend to get cited include the group who renovated the old Gallileo Seven shuttle, convention organizers and some editors and bloggers.

That word is poison, for two reasons. The first is that cultural interaction is as universal as it is unique. If you go to a football match and it moves you, it’s just as valid an experience as when a movie makes you laugh. There’s a triangular dialogue here between:



The text (Text here meaning ‘book, film, game, food, match, fight’ whatever)

The creator


You experience the text, whatever it is. You react based on your experience as well as your past experiences and biases. That reaction is instigated by both the text and the work the creator put into it. The triangle is then closed by you interacting with the creator, either directly or indirectly by talking about the piece of art you just experienced. Your reactions then colour those of the people you talk to who may go and interact with the same art, take something different away and so on.


Example: For me, Pacific Rim is a remarkably smart combination of an old World War II movie and an extended meditation on the merits of a good death and what happens when you realize that isn’t what you want. It also involves huge mechs punching huge monsters in the face.

For others, it’s a mindless cacophony of barely coherent action sequences, cookie cutter characters and immature plotting and direction all of which involves high mechs punching huge monsters in the face.


I’m not wrong. Neither are the people who disagree with me. Here’s why; every single piece of human culture is one we come to alone. No one has the critical Heads Up Display you do. That means no one has the perspective you do and that in turn, means no one’s perspective has the critical high ground because there is always something new for us to learn. Oh sure, some people’s viewpoints will be stupid, and some of them will be too busy beating you round the head with everything they know to actually get to the point, but none of them are inherently superior.

We come in alone. We leave in loose formation. That’s a GOOD thing.

Secondly, the moment you surrender your critical faculties to someone else is the moment you need to be handed the pair of sunglasses from They Live! Culture, in all its forms, is the crucible we live our lives in. It makes us who we are and the beauty of it is we can define the process as we go. You can go to the ballet instead of the football match, I can go see some Oscar bait instead of a Statham punchfest. We may not like our new experiences but we don’t have to, that’s the point. The play’s the thing here, in every sense. Any new cultural experience changes you, even if you hate it. Surrender that? And you’re surrendering your control of your sense of self.

Don’t do that. Please.

No one’s a superfan because everyone is a superfan. We all get to sit at the cool kids table and if the cool kids object then why are they the cool kids? Even worse, why are some of them jumping up and down yelling for your attention by writing ridiculous, sensationalistic faux prose all over the internet?

There have been two examples in the last month alone of blatant, flagrant, clickbait. One was instigated by a so called superfan, based around a petition as flawed and incoherent as it was pompous. If you follow pretty much any genre fiction account you’ll have seen it and its effects. If you don’t, the later entries here will clue you in.

The other was a Huffington Post piece that claimed, with a straight face, that JK Rowling should stop writing so other authors had a chance at her audience. It was a staggeringly ill-advised piece on almost every conceivable level, managing to take the understandable and universal writer’s frustration and chain it to a series of remarkable failures of comprehension. Everyone involved in its creation and hosting looked bad.

And everyone involved in its creation and hosting got more hits off that piece than anything else this week.

(So much this. So.MUCH.This. Also huge thanks to LRGCarter and Sandchigger for the image assist)

I don’t pretend to know enough about the attention economy to guess how much money that piece brought in. I know none of it went to the writer, because Huffington Post don’t pay their bloggers. What I do know is this; the writer in question has an infinitely larger profile than they did two days ago. That profile may be almost universally negative but there’s a case for saying all visibility is good visibility.

That case is wrong. If you have nothing worthwhile to say and you choose to say it anyway, that’s your prerogative. If you choose to say it through the digital megaphone we pretty much all have access to now, that’s my problem. Because every single time this happens, it drags the entire magnificent, rolling conversation that is this corner of the internet off course for weeks on end. There are better things to be talking about and much better ways to be talking about them.

Break one window, you’re a vandal. Break four you’re a rock star. Break them all at once and you’ve massively inconvenienced, and pissed off, every window owner, all of whom are now paying attention to you. Strangely, none of them are going to offer you a job.

I know how frustrating it can be. Everyone having a voice means it sometimes feels like your voice is being drowned out. We’re all, as Ed Mcbain once put it, the heroes and heroines of our own stories and it’s all too easy to feel like we’re in that Empire Strikes Back bit in the middle where nothing goes right. But throwing a tantrum stopped working around the age we stopped being toddlers and hasn’t magically started working again now. Stop yelling. Trust me, more people will listen.