Johnny the Creeper: a Reflection on Fan Shame

Lately, I’ve been noticing the conflicting nature of fandom. In my experience at least, being among other fans does not prevent one from feeling uncomfortable with the fan status. It is not fan activities that prompt this feeling of unease, but the shadow of the “crazy fan”. He looms in the darkness of our bedrooms as we read fanfiction late at night; he lurks among the crowd at movie premieres. We spend as much time warding him off as we spend time relishing our fan moments. So for example, a friend of mine once deplored another fan’s habit of dressing up in character-inspired clothes, as a way of distancing herself from the image of the fan living in fantasy. Surprisingly, only moments later, she was sporting a popstar-inspired outfit to re-enact a music video. Another one of my friends implicitly mocked the loss of objectivity of other fans by declaring she, at least, was aware that her favourite star hated her fans. Ironically, she had just spent an entire afternoon queuing to catch a glimpse of said star. As for me, I may be a fan, but I am not as crazy as Havenites/snoggers/some other fans I know by name. Noooo.

It is time to put Johnny The Creeper at rest (along with his girlfriend, Jane The Screamer). He is nothing more than a stereotype. First of all, he is not real. He only serves as yardstick, as reassurance that one has not crossed “the line”. If anyone knows where the damn line is, please let me know; for now, I don’t see any level of fandom officially labelled “crazy”. The crazy fan only exists in judgements, and for every finger you point at another fan, there’s one pointed at you. Of course there are lunatics among the ranks of fandom, but it is not fandom that makes one a lunatic. If an ice-skater turns out to be a stalker, no one will blame the skating for the person’s psychotic issues; why blame fandom when a fan is revealed to be insane? Secondly, Johnny merely embodies societal fears. Everything we dread about media effects we project onto its most devoted consumers. Lastly, just like any other stereotype, the crazy fan haunts the group it is associated with, insinuating itself into every consciousness so as to elicit shame. It seems like decades of pathologisation have managed to convince the fans themselves that they are completely loopy. Doing away with the stereotype becomes more than a crusade against injustice; it becomes a matter of self-acceptance.

Of course, this argument only holds if there is such a thing as a fan nature. Most people would argue, directly or indirectly, that fandom is a condition, and that solving whatever psychological problem causes your obsessions would cure you of being a fan. I beg to differ, however. Even if you believe all fans to be lonely, socially inadequate and insecure, not all insecure, socially inadequate or lonely people are fans. I’m not saying there’s a fan gene (although that’d be a dream come true for many geeks), I’m saying some psyches, or whatever you want to call them, are more prone to fandom than others. Even if fandom was not consistently present throughout my life, I always come back to it. It’s not always the same object, and not always the same intensity, but the fandom itself always returns. For fandom is not an addiction you can turn away from, it’s a disposition of the mind. If I can shift my fan attention, and, in extreme cases, take back my fan love for a specific person (this has only happened once in my life, and I still have a certain affection for the guy), I could never stop myself from being a fan altogether. Fannish attachment is part of who I am. Whenever I denigrate another fan on the terms of their fandom, I perform a self-deprecating act.

I realize I irritate people with my reflections on fandom. I also realize each word I say comes across as a justification. But I was recently entreated by a very wise lady never to turn away from what compromises happiness, and the fan stereotype does prevent me from being happy. If I were comfortable with my fan nature, I would stop babbling about it, but everything around me encourages me to be ashamed of myself instead. I have so many examples I don’t know where to start. Back in 2002, the organizer of the convention A Pretender in Paris had welcomed us with a warning that she would cancel the event at the first personal question addressed at the two lead actors. I had an unpleasant flashback when reading the FAQ for the upcoming LA event with David and Gillian:

Q. Does the question have to be about The X-Files?

A. No. All work-related questions are welcome.  Please refrain from asking personal questions, asking to give them something, asking for a hug, etc.  Inappropriate questions will result in a question forfeit, and you will be asked to sit down.  

Q. Are there any restrictions on what I can have signed either in the Meet & Greet or VIP signing?

A. Yes. Please do not bring manipulated photos, or nude photos/screencaps of the actors. Please be aware that the actor has the right to refuse to sign any inappropriate item.

I have nothing against the IBG girls, in charge of the event, whom I actually find very gracious. Their qualities only contribute to the point I am trying to make: they are fans, and yet assume fans are capable of outrageous behaviour. The stereotype has to be right; Johnny, Jane and their buddies will of course be in attendance. Johnny will stand up in front of the eager crowd and ask Gillian to give him a pair of her dirty underwear. As for Jane, she will offer in a sobbing voice to carry David’s babies. And both crazy fans will walk away unscathed, while David and Gillian flee in horror and eventually comfort each other in the handicapped bathroom… Of course, I have never organized fan conventions myself, and it could be that the above guidelines are the consequence of bad experiences. I am also aware that the actors themselves, or their agents, might have issued these warnings. However, until I see a fan submitting a nasty manip to be autographed, I refuse to believe anyone could be this inappropriate. Or rather, I refuse to believe anyone’s fandom could cause such behaviour. If you insult someone, whether it’s your next-door neighbour or David Duchovny, it’s because you’re rude, not because you’re a fan. Fandom doesn’t come with a set of defects; human nature does. Actors, as public figures, are just more likely to encounter the deviances of the public. As far as I can tell, none of the stories of fan misconduct that circulate within the Phile community are accurate. According to the people present, even the reports of the infamous night from two summers ago, when fans were accused of disrespecting Gillian after the play, turned out to be blown out of proportion. These stories are urban legends. They only aim at maintaining the crazy fan category, so that fans may differentiate themselves from it. But instead of distancing ourselves from the stereotype, shouldn’t we debunk the stereotype?

There are enough traits for which a human being can be made to feel ashamed; let’s not allow fandom to be one of them. Being a fan is about love, after all.

And you were born this way, baby.

Incidentally, it was this picture that prompted this entry. I was immediately fascinated by it, but found myself incapable of expressing my interest in non-fannish terms, upon which I concluded once again that I had “crossed the line”.

2 thoughts on “Johnny the Creeper: a Reflection on Fan Shame

  1. well i was looking for this pic of Ms. gillian and i landed on this page.
    one thing in common, i specifically browse for this pic…
    I’m fascinated by Ms. Anderson Gillian and this is my fav pic!


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