Members Only, Population Everyone: What We Can Learn from the Tony Harris Fake Geek Girls RantA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Christopher M. Jones
This past Tuesday, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on the Comics Internet due to Tony Harris taking time out of his busy illustration schedule to scream at female cosplayers and the horrible world that allows them to live via his Facebook. He spent the bulk of his post asserting that as a "rule" women who cosplay are attention-seeking harlots who couldn't give two shakes of a Sonic Screwdriver about the geek culture (he assumes) they claim to represent. It's a pretty hilarious read in one sense, in that it's stupid and badly written, and pretty upsetting in another, in that this fellow is a respected member of the comics industry who doesn't seem to understand that women who go to comic conventions are apt to like comics. What makes the whole thing even more embarrassing is that it comes from a place that's sort of understandable.
As someone who reads comics, watches art film and listens to metal, I'm in a unique position to be driven totally insane by neophytes dipping their toes into the things I'm into and having the nerve-the gall!-to call themselves "fans." I spend a significant amount of time researching the things I'm into and going on excavation digs to find hidden gems in the various forms of art that I love, and so when someone says they're a huge Batman fan after only having seen the Nolan movies, or when someone says they're really into "indie" movies when the only non-blockbusters they've ever seen are a smattering of Wes Anderson films and Juno, or when somebody tries to claim membership to the Metal Club by holding up a Disturbed album as identification, my gut reaction is to get a little irritated, maybe even to retort with a catty putdown. After all, I'm the one who's spent hours, years, of my life plunging the depths of the things I've loved. I've earned the right to call myself a "fan"-how dare you exercise the same privilege after such nominal involvement in that which you purport to love?
And then, once that initial wash of indignation has subsided, I climb down off my high horse. I keep in mind that there are people out there who can name every title that the Buscema brothers have ever worked on, down to the issue numbers; I remember that there are film buffs out there that would laugh in my face if I told them that I had never seen a film by Bela Tarr; I consider all the black metal kids with their fathomless collections of demo tapes culled from all over the world and reflect that I will never in my life match their dedication. Fandom is a curious thing: You can't seem to claim membership if you don't try to kick someone else off the docket, and a lot of the time, if you're to believe your peers, your credentials don't seem to be as sound as you think they are, especially if you're a woman or a teenager. Everyone is going to have to take part in a Beta-Male Headbutting Championship over the things they love at some point, but for those two groups it can practically be a given before entering a conversation.
So how do you check the I.D. of someone trying to claim membership into your little club? Well, don't, first of all, but if you must, first be sure to actually engage with the person. This would seem to go without saying but it seems that many are in need of a refresher. Don't try to quiz them about the minutiae of their chosen fandom; ask what they like about it and then talk about what you like about it and try to start a dialogue. That's called "having a conversation" and it's a great way to get to know someone. The moment you start to look at the interaction as a competition, go to the bathroom and splash some cold water on your face, then come back and try again.
Secondly, talk about the field of interest the other person is gravitating towards in broad terms, but don't be a dick about how much you may know or how much they may not know and don't push your preferences on them aggressively. Again, one would think that this wouldn't have to be addressed, but it seems to come up so often that it seems a guide is once again necessary. To use a non-comics example, let's talk about Animal Collective for a second (first person in the comments section to call me a hipster wins a no-prize). If someone calls themselves an Animal Collective fan and says that Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of their favorite albums, ask what they think of Sung Tongs (or whatever your favorite Animal Collective album happens to be). If they haven't heard of it, tell them why it's your favorite Animal Collective album and if they're interested in listening to it, they'll probably check it out at some point. If they don't seem psyched, just…drop it. Just move on.
Did you catch that part? Just move on. It's fine. It's actually completely fine if someone likes something you like without knowing as much about it as you do. If you happen to like Supergirl a lot and have misgivings about how much that girl dressing up as Supergirl really knows about the character, just…I don't know, man, just worry about something else in your life. Think about the fact that it's cool that anyone knows who Supergirl is to begin with and then occupy yourself with something, anything, else. But I know that that's hard because it's, somehow, extremely hard not to care about stupid, trivial bullshit with a borderline psychotic intensity. That's part of being a fan, and it's one of the more fun defects that comes with liking something a lot.
What's not part of being a fan, or at least what shouldn't be part of being a fan, is bullying someone out of their interest because you have a personal issue with the way they comport themselves about their affections. That is, always, 100% of the time, your problem and not theirs. It is none of your business whatsoever what someone likes, the degree to which someone likes something or their awareness about the details of the things they like. This is literally never your problem. It's fine to want to broaden someone's horizons or talk about the things you're into with someone who you think is as knowledgeable as you. But if you're thinking about condescending to someone who you think might not know as much about what you love as you do, I positively, absolutely guarantee you that it will never be a bad idea for you to keep it to your fucking self.
Again, a certain part of me feels like a hypocrite for bringing all this up, because whenever you know a lot about something there's always a temptation to lord it over someone who doesn't, even if it's only a slight one. But it's a toxic thing, this unearned sense of superiority, and if anything good has come from Harris' outburst it's to show that we can all at least be a hell of a lot better than that.
Chris Jones is some snotty little twerp from the East Bay who is currently busy gentrifying Brooklyn while enjoying the hell out of being 21. He likes comics, film, mixtapes, Milan Kundera and milling around the Lower East Side. He writes a webcomic called Boys and Girls in America and also writes for the sporadically-updated music blog Styrofoam Boots.