To preface this, I need to acknowledge that much of what I will write in this entry is a product of conversations I have had with various friends in the past few years. One friend in particular, I’ll call him Craig because that’s his name, was especially interested in this topic and we went round and round with it. So, to be totally fair, this is not something that I can take full credit for but I did play a role.
Secondly, I will not be getting into any political or cultural issues. I’m interested in those ideas but that is one can of worms that I have very little interest in opening right now. My focus is more limited and much more focused on fanaticism as it pertains to entertainment culture: Things such as sports, movies, and books. When I use the word fanaticism I am not speaking of the casual fan. I don’t mean those people who enjoy a movie but have very little interest in seeing it again. I don’t even mean those people that follow a particular football team and watch most, if not all, of their games. No, the people that I am referring to are the ones that think about the object of their fanaticism daily. They are the ones that get on message boards to interact with other fans. They are the ones that read every article, review, interview, and internet report about the film they are so passionate about. They are the ones that collect action figures and other film related merchandise to show the world that they are die hard fans. And they are the ones that read scouting reports on high school football players, listen to sports talk radio all day, follow every off-season move their team makes, and wear their team’s colors proudly all year round. In my mind, these are fanatics.
Good. Now that we have the ground rules covered I can proceed. Here is my question and my jumping off point: Why is it culturally acceptable to be a fanatic of sports, but it is deemed immature or some form of arrested development to be a fanatic of a movie, video game, or book? Why do we celebrate sport fanaticism with TV networks (ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN NEWS, ESPN U, ESPN 360, ESPN ESPANOL, ETC…) and a myriad of other outlets and we call that taking pride in your school or team, or being a sports enthusiast, yet when we see some guy wearing a Darth Vader costume at a Star Wars convention we roll our eyes and call him a dork, nerd, geek, and loser? (To be fair, I will readily admit that the culture is shifting in its view of fanaticism and the gap is closing. But we are not there yet, and I wonder why that is?) I’ve seen grown men wear women’s clothing and pig snouts to football games and they are revered as hard core fans. Yet, the poor sap that plays Dungeons and Dragons with his friends a couple nights a week is a complete loser and deserves all the scorn and derision that can be thrown his way. Let’s overlook the fact that fantasy sports are basically Dungeons and Dragons for jocks and jock wannabes. (Think about it: You have to use strategy. You meticulously plan your team against your opponent. You obsess about it hours a day. You might as well move in to the basement of your parent’s house and get it over with!) I’m not knocking either one. I’m just saying that they are humorously similar but one is socially acceptable and the other is socially derided.
Does it simply come down to our view of masculinity? Is it not manly for a man to be interested in things like lightsabers, dragons, rabbits named Big Wig, or…dare I say it…elves? Are those things out of the sphere of acceptability for men? Are sports approved because they value things like power, strength, and athletic skill? Why are those things more acceptable than honor, courage, loyalty, and awesome sword skills?
Personally, I think there is much to be cherished and celebrated in both areas. Both can be and usually are enjoyed communally. That is the biggest draw in my opinion. People want to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. They want to feel like their opinions and interests are validated and shared by others. Both endorse noble qualities. Sports value team work, competition, and a drive for excellence. All good things. Those and many more things are valued in the other form of fanaticism.
I guess my frustration with this comes from the fact that I have one foot in each world. I am a sports fanatic. I love my Tennessee Titans. I love my Vanderbilt teams. I love the St. Louis Cardinals. But I also love The Lord of the Rings so much that I watched The Fellowship of the Ring 13 times in the theater. I spent the years before that film came out hunting down every scrap of information I could find about the film. I spend much of my online time following anticipated films or reading about new books coming out in some of my favorite series’. The new Wheel of Time book for one. Yes, I am a fan and I have read that series all the way through more than once and I am currently reading through it again. Does that make me a loser? Am I using these things as an escape? I don’t think so. I think these things have given me and are giving me a greater appreciation for what I have right in front of me. (I might elaborate on that idea some other time, but right now is not that time.) But, there aren’t many people that live on both sides of the fence. It’s usually an either/or situation. That means I can converse with both sides, but I never truly feel at home on either side. My sports side gets frustrated when the fanboys take shots at football, and my fanboy side gets frustrated when my sports buddies take shots at Star Wars. I realize that the dividing line is not clean and straight for everyone. Many people cross over a little, but most feel like they truly belong on one side or the other. Not I and I don’t think I ever will.
I don’t have any real answers other than the few that I gave, and I don’t really know if this can be answered definitively. I just wanted to get this out there and see what other people think. Am I over thinking things? Am I missing something? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section – I will respond.