Whoosh! Issue 57 - June 2001

By Nola Johnston
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
1490 words

Collecting As Avocation (01-06)
Fandom in General Admission Seats (07-09)
The Wall Was There (10-12)
Most Fans Are Not Vampires (13-15)


Collecting As Avocation

Also legal tender in 16 different countries

Sure they are probably fakes, but WHO CARES!

[01] I do not collect stamps. I never have. I am not the collecting sort. My interests go in other directions. So at a Xena convention, I do not go overboard when I hit the sellers' stalls. I came away from Pasadena with a T-shirt that I had bought because I liked it. No autographed memorabilia at all, because such things do not interest me. I have been transfixed by the show, but not by the accessories.

[02] Nevertheless, many people do collect Xena memorabilia. They buy every T-shirt, every rack item, and every autographed photo. It is obsessive, some might say. I looked at all the merchandise at the convention and thought, "Lord, you could drop a lot of money here!" And many did. But you can also drop a lot of money collecting stamps, or coins, or butterflies, or plates, or baseball cards.

[03] The same "obsessive" description could be applied to other aspects of fandom, too. To the detailed analysis of every aspect of the show, for example: the discussion of obscure technical details, arcane references, and psychological implications. It could describe the determination to read every bit of fanfiction ever written, or to write stories explaining the things that are not in the TV show.

[04] I have never functioned in Xena fandom at quite such enduringly committed levels, though I have pursued other interests as enthusiastically. For example, for several years I spent every available moment in the outdoors canoeing, socializing with canoeists, or talking about obscure canoeing arcana. Those years followed the ones where I spent every available moment playing folk music, talking folk music, living folk music. You get the picture.

[05] Was I obsessive? Just as much as any Xena fan who follows the show with close focus or collects memorabilia. The difference is that I was not seen as somehow "weird" because I was so intensely involved in those things, and the general public does see Xena fans, or any fan of a TV show, as definitely wandering toward the loony side of the forest.

[06] I am not going to try to examine here why one obsession is seen as healthy and another is not, though I think that would be an interesting discussion. However, I do want to connect some dots, to draw a relationship between those attitudes, and some of the things I saw at the con.

Fandom in General Admission Seats

Remarkably what it was like in steerage on the HMS Titanic

General admission was waaaaaaay in the back.
(photo by Marilyn Cristiano)

[07] I missed Hudson Leick at Pasadena (though I have seen her before), but I saw Claire Stansfield and then Alex Tydings. The following day, I saw Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor. I was struck with the differences between those appearances. Claire and Alex seemed relaxed when they came onstage. They looked at the fans and obviously thought we were cool, and they made that reaction clear. They answered questions and performed directly to us. Lucy and Renee, on the other hand, framed their appearance as an interview, so their direct interactions with the audience were minimal, and what interaction occurred was much more controlled, much more mediated.

[08] Let me be clear about one thing. There are indeed weirdoes and stalkers out there. Lucy Lawless, according to a rumor I heard but cannot possibly confirm, received death threats concerning Pasadena. Even if she had not, I am not surprised that any TV or movie star chooses to be careful in managing their interactions with fans, and in fact, I find it quite sensible.

[09] I am also aware that some of my reaction to their appearance was influenced by the fact that I was sitting in General Admission. Apart from not being able to see much, the sound was appalling. Mostly I could understand one word in ten, and if I was very lucky, one word in four. Certainly, those who were in the front reported a very different and much better experience than I had, because they could hear and see many things that I could not.

The Wall Was There

[10] However, whether or not the fans in the front got more out of it than I did, I believe that the interview format served very much to separate the actors from the fans. As several have observed, it created a wall between them and us. There may have been any number of reasons for framing the appearance as an interview. It could have been to avoid awkward questions, to provide a structure that made Renee O'Connor more comfortable, to maximize returns within the available time, or to have a format that was easier to record by Creation for the purposes of making a video. But no matter what the reasons, the wall was there.

[11] I am not trying to claim that Claire Stansfield and Alex Tydings were genuinely intimate with us while Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor were not. I am perfectly aware that Claire and Alex put on a performance. But what is key here is that that performance was for us. It acknowledged the fans directly, and they did it again at the cabaret. That performance and those responses lead us to believe that they think that fans are kinda cool.

[12] Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor interacted with Sharon Delaney in their appearance, rather than with the audience. It may have been intended to seem more intimate and genuine, but for me it had the opposite effect. It shut me out. It made me wonder if they think they need to be protected from us, because we are weird. Because we are fans.

Most Fans Are Not Vampires

Amazons... Pose!

Fans dressed in their ceremonial Amazon attire
(photo by Philip Tracy)

[13] It must seem to them sometimes like there are thousands of demanding, needy, "I want you now" people out there, hovering like vampires. However, most fans are not vampires. They are not stalkers. They are people with a hobby. For some it is collecting memorabilia or autographs, and for others it is examining the show and all its aspects in extraordinary detail. For some, the hobby is simply a mechanism that increases their social interaction with other like-minded people. For others, the creativity that writing fan fiction or creating fan art has unleashed is important. The key for all of these interests and activities is that it is rewarding. Fans, like anyone else, do their thing for fun. For many fans, the show and its stars simply provide a framework to hang a lot of other stuff on. Stuff like collecting, socializing with friends, having academic discussions, writing, and donating to good causes. We do these things because we enjoy them, because they give us pleasure, as any hobby should.

[14] Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor's interaction was too structured to allow a strong sense of connection and interaction with the audience. It is sad to think that a few more direct and unmediated responses could have made all the difference in making fans like me feel validated by them, instead of wondering if they are afraid of us. It would not taken much, just some more off the cuff remarks or interaction to and with the audience, instead of Sharon. Something that was clear to those in the nosebleed section, not just those in front.

[15] When it comes right down to it, I suspect Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor do not understand their audience in the way that Claire Stansfield, Alex Tydings, and Hudson Leick do. I do not think they understand at all that for many of the fans, the show and the actors are not necessarily the most compelling interest. If they do not understand that, then they will not understand that many fans really require very little from them. They do not owe us intimate interaction, but I wish they understood the difference between that and validating the fans generally as human beings who are sane and reasonable, as human beings who could equally well be collecting stamps.


Nola Johnston Nola Johnston

Born in 1954, Nola is an illustrator and graphic designer by profession, and a whole lot of other things by inclination. First Xena caught her attention ("Holy cow, they're kissing!") and then the online world ("There's what online?!?"). The result: a piece of fanfic ("The Ghost in the Forest"), new friends, a wonderful partner, and a lot of fun.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE, IDES OF MARCH
Favorite line: Changes frequently, but at the moment: Gabrielle: "So be it." WHEN FATES COLLIDE
First episode seen: DESTINY
Least favorite episode: Season 5

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