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Late to the Party: The Many Levels of Nerdy Fans

I giggled at the Weyland logo on David’s finger in Prometheus. I cheered when the xenomorph showed up at the end. I laughed extra-hard both times Stan Lee showed up on my screen this summer. I’m super excited for the new Star Trek movie.

I am a big fat phony.

Before the Abrams movie, I knew there was a guy named Kirk, a guy named Spock, and they were trekking. I only knew Stan Lee form his cameo in Mallrats. I hadn’t seen a frame of the Alien series until two weeks before Prometheus premiered (except the chest-burster scene, but who hadn’t?).

Pop culture is so heavily referenced now that it’s almost possible to get by without actually consuming the media. I’ve said “Game over, man. Game over” plenty of times with no clue as to its origin. The ratio of the number of people who have said “I’ll be back” in a ridiculous Austrian accent to the number of people who’ve actually seen Terminator is at least 2:1. How many people caught that Tale of Two Cities reference in The Dark Knight Rises without having read the book?

A couple years ago, comedian Patton Oswalt wrote a piece for Wired complaining (among other things) that media is too easy to come by these days. With all these comics, shows, and movies placed online, nothing is obscure anymore. Anyone can become a nerd.

It is possible to go from zero to self-proclaimed super-fan in about a week. Maybe less, depending on the amount of free time you have and the strength of your internet connection. Read a few wiki articles, lurk a couple message boards, stream a few fan vids, and follow the right tumblrs and in no time you can be squeeing with the rest of ‘em. But never ever doubt that you are a newcomer. I thought I had a good handle on the Sherlock fandom: I’d watched all the episodes at least twice, I’d started reading the novels, I’ve known who Rupert Graves was for a while. Girl please, I had nothing. When the episode themes were teased by the show creators a few weeks ago I was left completely in the dust by all the fan theories.

It seems like the rule of the internet (and probably life in general) is there is always someone who knows more about what you’re talking about than you do. Follow-up rule: they will be more than happy to correct you. I had friends who were horrified to realize I had only read Fellowship of the Ring before I saw the movie (Boromir’s death was extremely confusing to me). I was dealing with people whose parents had read Tolkien to them for bedtime stories. Clearly, I am an inferior fan.

So, how do we rate fans? What is the hierarchy?

There are Con attendees, cosplayers, fanfic writers, and fanart creators at all levels. That’s the thing: you love what you love, no matter when you start or how deep you dive down the rabbit hole. Art and culture can have a profound affect on us at any age. I wrote those distinctions with a light heart, fans are fans.

I recently joined an Arthur Conan Doyle reading group because I’m a Sherlock N00b, but I’m looking to improve. The group leader has an annotated copy of the complete works in a beautiful binding that I covet. Why? I don’t have any right to want that, I haven’t even read everything. It doesn’t matter, I love what I’ve read so far, and I love the show. The idea that I have to put in a specific number of hours before I can call myself a real fan is an antiquated one. I don’t have to pay dues because I fell in love with something. Yeah, I’m late to the party but I brought an extra case of beer to liven up the place before everyone goes home to watch the news.

Sure consuming media is easier than it used to be, but it’s still work. I may have downloaded the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle to my Kindle in seconds, but I still have to read them. It’s a pleasure, of course, but it is a time commitment. Lord of the Rings is mainstream now but the percentage of true enthusiasts is about the same as it ever would have been. Just because someone has seen LotR doesn’t mean they’re going to glut the market with their fandom. It doesn’t even mean they’re going to read the books. Some people can just watch a movie and walk away. That’s fine too, their emotional love is doubtless spent elsewhere. That leaves more serious fans to indulge in their fics and theories.

We N00bs have one advantage over the Old Hats, though. While they are counting the seconds between sequels or seasons, we’ve got tons and tons of other books or shows to catch up on.

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