I am not a fan of anything.
Fanaticism, it seems, is not part of my character. Moderate in so many ways, I resist the perceived “imbalance” of being too devoted or dedicated to any particular cultural object or activity. I’ve never owned a t-shirt advertising a musical group. I’ve never tacked up a poster of a Hollywood celebrity (except Alf during my confused adolescence). I’ve never attended a conference (“con”) for devotees of any literary, television, or film series. Even as a teenager my interest in Dungeons & Dragons was on again, off again. If not a fan, then, what am I?
I am a flash-in-the-pan fan.
I’m not admitting to being part of the bandwagon crowd that spoils good things (like Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band), but rather I’m a fan as determined by social context. Perhaps it is more accurate to say:
I’m a crowd-pleaser fan.
I exploit cultural icons for social gains. For example, if at some soiree Tom Hanks—a Hollywood actor I generally respect—comes up in conversation, I draw my respect into admiration, admiration into enthusiasm. For an hour, I am a Tom Hanks fan. I enjoy pleasant conversation, establish positive social connections, and observe the euphoria of enthusiasts in action all while maintaining a safe distance from fan status myself. All of the benefits of fanhood with none of the risks of actual fanaticism. I don’t want to be a part of it, and yet I flirt around the edges because I recognize the cultural and social currency it carries.
Case in point: the first time I met my wife’s parents it was a Monday night. The Vikings were playing. I walked into their home and was greeted by Michele, who later became my mother-in-law, outfitted in a Randy Moss jersey. Hung over the back of a kitchen chair was a Chris Carter jersey. I knew it was for me. I willingly donned it. I knew football was part of the family culture and I wanted in. Now—a man generally disinterested in sports and from Green Bay to boot—I cheer for the Vikings, at least when I’m visiting my in-laws. Otherwise, I tend to forget that it’s football season. However, playing the fan goes a long way to extending the pleasure of my family life.
Having firmly established my status as a non-fan, I can safely divulge a recent “fanatic episode,” as I call it. My first child was born this summer. That naturally brought a great deal of changes to how my wife and I spent our time. Shortly after the baby was born, my mother-in-law (great media fan that she is) loaned us the first season of Alias on DVD. My wife and I had both seen a few episodes of this high drama spy thriller and enjoyed it. The writing, acting, and production were of very high quality, approaching the cinematic standards, in my opinion. Our son ate on a three-hour cycle and, if we didn’t go to bed right after feeding time, it seemed a waste to sleep for an hour only to wake up again. Many nights, therefore, we found ourselves waiting to go to bed, and Alias filled our time.
We started watching just a single episode but soon found ourselves falling victim to the cliffhanger formula. Sitting on the couch with a sleeping or feeding infant, we would look at each other and I would tentatively ask, “Can we watch another?” To my delight, Christa was just as invested as I and we settled in to indulge in another episode—or two. I think at the height of our mania, we watched four consecutive episodes. Pure pleasure.
We finished Season One within a couple of weeks, just before my birthday. My gift from my in-laws was my own copy of the second season on DVD. About this time, my mother came into town to help with the baby. I was concerned that she would regard my addiction to Alias as retrograde, but after watching an episode with us she was similarly hooked. The prevailing image of the first month of my son’s life is his grandmother, mother, and father sitting on the couch—eyes fixed on the television—passing him back and forth as our arms grew tired or he became hungry. We were a vision of virtual experience.
Thoughts of the show—fascination with its many twists and turns as well as genuine concern for its characters—pervaded my thinking. Hot days of summer and long nights of new parenthood passed pleasantly. But when it was all done, knowing that Season Three would be available until September, I was free. The fanatic episode was over. Christa and I resumed more varied ways to fill our time and my mother picked up a novel. I phased out of my fan frenzy by watching some of the bonus material on the DVDs. Our conversation, which had for weeks been dominated by the show and its storyline, became increasingly diverse until Alias faded away altogether. Now it has taken a place in family lore and memory. And when I see the boxed DVD set in the cabinet, I wonder what I’ll ever do with it.
A flash in the fan pan. A short season of celebrity fascination. The story of my pop cultural life.