Don’t you love when this happens? A person you had heretofore known merely as an acquaintance, possibly-maybe a friend but it’s too soon to tell is suddenly revealed to you as a fan of your show/movie/book. And you are revealed to them. In that instant you are no longer strangers but in some strange and entirely impactful way you achieve an instantaneous, intimate understanding of each other. You may still not know much about each other in a lot of ways; you don’t know where she lives or if she has children, when her birthday is, her favourite foods, and on and on. But you know something very important.
Case in point: I have been easing (read: plunging head first) into the institutional culture of my new teaching gig. Not surprisingly, I am sharing an office. The woman with whom I am sharing seems quite nice, and quite well-installed in her space, having attempted to make it more homey by bringing in candles and posters and other personal items. I like this approach – so far, so good. We have been in the space together a few times this week,tentatively feeling around each other, not yet sure if we will be friends or just colleagues. We’ve spent virtually no time talking about our personal details other than to establish What You Teach and What I Teach and Where We Went to School. Today we were chatting and discovered that we both long to paint the office red, hate beige and consider pastels to be failed colours. Thus a tentative bridge of understanding was formed.
Then she saw that my computer desktop image is the cover from this year’s winner of the Fan Favourite TV Guide poll, the one featuring Sam and Dean from Supernatural. “You watch Supernatural?” said she, and this was all it took for us to catapult past all our mutual reserve. Within five minutes we had established that we were both Deangirls (important information within SPN fandom) and I had invited her to my apartment to marathon seasons five and six.
There is intimacy here, is there not? Is it not real intimacy but of a very special kind? In some ways we remain entirely strangers to each other. But we have discovered that we each have this secret, intense love, a love that is with us virtually every moment yet we know better than to speak about. Work and life have to be gotten on with, after all. Unexpectedly, we have had this chance to reveal a huge piece of our inner world, and that is not to be taken lightly.
Critics of fandom question the substance of the relationships formed through fandom, especially the relationships maintained through web-based social networking technologies. It is only a tv show, they would say. It isn’t real. They would say that, like my unexpected connection to my office-mate, my relationship to my show is not a thing of any substance. And okay – fair enough. Speaking as an academic, I understand why we need to question the social, economic and emotional nature of our investments but, speaking as a fan, it seems like those relationships are the most real, the most important.
And here’s a question: If a relationship feels real, doesn’t that, by default, make it a relationship?
I’m not psychotic, by the way. I’m not talking about the imaginary relationships that some infamous characters have had with celebrities like Jodie Foster or Monica Seles. That is something entirely different in kind than what I’m talking about. I am quite aware that I have not met either Dean Winchester or Jensen Ackles in the flesh. I’m also quite aware of the difference between fantasy and reality. But I do have relationships with them, of a sort.
(Jensen, if you should happen to stumble across this, don’t be alarmed. I’m not coming after you and I don’t believe we’re secretly married).
My point is, maybe the criteria for a “real” relationship have a lot to do with the meaning derived from that relationship. In the case of fans, the quality of meaning we find in our shows, our stars, our interactions with our fellow fans, is very high. What more do we need to prove that these relationships are real?
All of which is to say, I think the new job is going to work out just fine.