By Caitlin Abber
My Twitter feed is blowing up with everything Comic-Con this week. Photos of celebrities dressed up as cartoon characters, Elijah Wood shaking hands with tall hobbits, and a bunch of actors I don’t know sitting on stage looking really happy. It seems like a fun party, but one I would inevitably feel uncomfortable at. I don’t think I’d have much to say to anyone there, because, well, I am just not a fan girl.
I say I am culture obsessed, and I am not going to refute that claim – but perhaps it needs some clarification. My interests are varied, but often I only skim the surface. I have never called myself a nerd, a geek, or a ninja. I can’t watch TV for more than three hours without feeling like a useless lump. I don’t have a favorite comic book character, or actor, or book series. The most intense fan-girlish thing I’ve done is hang a screen print of Beyonce over my dresser – solely for daily inspiration purposes, and because she is so pretty.
People who get obsessed with things – especially in the fantasy/sci-fi realm — fascinate me.
I don’t know if it is because I can’t suspend my disbelief that far, or if I am just more interested in documentaries about Appalachia. But to be completely honest, the thought of flying to San Diego, putting on a Catwoman costume, and walking around an exhibition hall filled with a bunch of dudes dressed like Iron Man and Legolas Greenleaf seems like a total nightmare to me. It’s a lifelong dream for some people, but to me it sounds like endless Halloween, and I hate Halloween (such a curmudgeon, I know!)
My boyfriend can (and often does) watch the same episodes of television shows or movies over and over again. For the past three weeks, I have walked in on him watching “Game of Thrones,” ad nauseam, even though he has seen every episode multiple times, has read all the books, and visits the online forums. I don’t know if I am happy or sad that I don’t share his obsession or need for information about this fictional book series – but what does bother me is that there is just nothing in the world I am that interested in.
In a 2009 Psychology Today article, “Sports Fans Seek Self Esteem”, professor Allen R. McConnell, breaks down the science behind fandom, specifically as it relates to our need for affiliation and self esteem boosts. “In psychology, the phenomenon of Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) helps to explain how the performance of one’s favorite sports team can change one’s sense of self-worth. Specifically, people will symbolically associate themselves with others, such as sports teams, in order that their successes rub off on themselves, increasing one’s own self-esteem.”
I can’t help but think this phenomenon extends itself into the arena of sci-fi/fantasty as well. True fans always root for a favorite character, or good vs. evil, dark vs. light. Picking a character to follow, or a celebrity to worship, seems to connect people to someone outside themselves, real or unreal, who can determine if they are a winner or a loser.
The science of self-esteem and affiliation gets even more personal when we consider our perceived relationships with celebrities. People like Kim Kardashian, who seemingly lets us into her home, her choices, her relationships, and almost every meal, can often times feel closer to us than she actually is. “Because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity’s characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves when they think about that celebrity,” said Dr. Shira Gabriel, in a 2008 Time Magazine Article. “And that is something these individuals can’t do in real relationships because their fear of rejection keeps them from getting close to people.”
This makes sense when we think about teenagers hiding in their bedrooms to read Justin Bieber fanfic or play World of Warcraft for six hours, but it doesn’t quite click when we consider the bonding affect shared affiliations have on relationships. While I do think some people use their attachment to celebrities to boost their self esteem and provide context to their own identities, I am not fully convinced that fandom stems from a fear of getting close to others. In fact, what I see is quite the opposite.
Events like Comic-Con exist to bring people together who share a common interest. It is no different than a football game, or the Academy Awards. People bond over their favorite characters, the stories that have provided insight into their own personal lives, and the comfort the genre has given them every day. Friendships are born because two people found each other in an online chat forum, where they can be themselves free from the judgment of non-fans. To play with a Voltaire quote, while I may not necessarily understand Hello Kitty, I will defend your right to cover your body (and your apartment) in her likeness.
Perhaps that is why I sometimes feel sad that I am not a fan girl. It does not make me feel superior that I don’t have a favorite baseball team or Stark child, but I wish I could talk endlessly about something so intangible and imaginative, and not feel a twinge of guilt or shame at time wasted or topics not discussed. But I suppose there is always that painting of Beyonce, reminding me of the possibilities, should I ever find the dedication.