Revolutionary Girl Utena is, in part, about a young girl’s complete misinterpretation of everything in her past, and the choices she makes trying to attain an ideal that is based upon a profound misunderstanding.
Today I thought we’d talk a little bit about what I call “Fan Delusion.”
“Fandom” is a very amorphous word. “Fan,” like most other labels is self-chosen and self-applied. Only I get to decide if I am really a “fan” of a series or not. Your opinion doesn’t count. ;-)
Here’s how I look at it. “fans” (we’ll use the small ‘f’ to denote this level) are people who become engaged in a series. They identify with it, they think about it meta-textually, beyond the confines of the media itself. As a friend of my wife’s said to me once as I was talking about Marimite, “You talk about these characters as if they are friends.” Umberto Eco defines literature as any text that moves beyond the confines of its media. When people start to talk about the characters as if they are friends, the book is no longer just a book – it has become literature. And the people who discuss it this way are “fans.”
By my personal definition, “Fandom” is made up of those fans who take the next step into engagement with a series – they want to become a part of it. These are the folks who cosplay, do fan art, fanfic, music videos, or simply rant endlessly on forums about the series, pick individual characters and scenes apart endlessly (often tediously.)
Because “Fandom” becomes *so* engaged in the series, they often personally identify with it. Sometimes positively, often not so much. A “Fan” (with a capital ‘F’) often reinterprets things in the series, or in the character, to better fit the story to their own worldview. This could mean writing an Alternative Universe story, where the character doesn’t die, is actually gay, goes to school in their small town and meets their cousin who happens to have the same name as the author.
More insidiously, Fans become so attached to the way they believe a thing should be, that they begin to think it is the way that things are. They start to feel as if the creator of a series actually *owes* them for being so engaged in the series – even if they have never once financially supported the series in any way. “My love,” this kind of Fan says, “is worth something. You *owe* me for my loyalty.” This leads to what I call “Fan Delusion.”
Take a look at the picture above. This is what my wife and I call a “Fandelusion Pony.” (It’s a horse pun, if you don’t get it, don’t go crazy.)
Now re-read that first sentence. Utena was laboring under a delusion of who and what her “Prince” was and what “Princes” in general should be. Fans often labor under the delusion that the series they are reading or watching would be good, if only it were something else completely different. (Which is why the horse having Utena’s rose seal on it’s ass is, to me, a perfect symbol of this syndrome.)
Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone about Maka-Maka. The other person strongly felt that it lacked soul, that it *would have been so much better if only* Jun and Nene left their clearly miserable boyfriends and took up with each other. I replied that that decision would have made the entire series completely irrelevant because – despite what Fans here want it to be – the series was incontrovertibly created as lesbian porn for straight men. Jun and Nene will never leave their boyfriends. They aren’t going to live in a happy lesbian relationship, because, they aren’t. As a piece of porn for straight guys, Maka-Maka is quite good. Without delusion, we are far less likely to be disappointed with a series than we are when we look for something that is not there – and was never intended to be there. (See this earlier essay, about managing expectations.)
Fan Delusion takes a darker turn when a fan takes a series or characters so seriously that any disagreement with their worldview becomes a crisis that can only be assuaged by crossing the Intertubes badmouthing the person who had the nerve to have a different opinion. I’ve been vilified by a lot of people for this – in order to hate me properly, I am told that I am stupid, of course, and ugly. A veritable monster who real humans should slay instantly upon sight. Like a zombie. Or Hun. Or /fillintheblankevilthing/.
When Fan Delusion gets really ugly, authors themselves become the targets of this kind of thing. They receive hate mail over killed characters, or married characters or characters with alcohol or drug problems or whatever was the cause of the crack in the delusion. This is a lot more common than you’d think. Delusion is a powerful thing.
And lastly, whole genres suffer from Fan Delusion. The person who says on a forum that they won’t buy any books of a series unless they are all published, is suffering from a Delusion. The person who says that they love a series, but won’t buy it because a name was spelled differently, is suffering from a Delusion. A person who doesn’t “support” a company because, 5 years ago, they censored one panel, is suffering from a Delusion.
Manga and anime are, above all things, business. Anyone who thinks that their engagement means that they are owed anything by the people who draw, write, animate, produce, direct, edit, etc, is suffering from a Delusion. The only thing going on here, really, is that XYZ company makes entertainment and you may or may not buy it. That’s it.
What fans *really* want is their favorite author to read their forum posts and reply, “Gee, that is a good idea! I’ll bring so-and-so back from the dead, pair him up with the guy he never spoke to in the series and have them start a cucumber farm for maximum service.” But you know – there’s no way that’s going to happen.
Fans *really* want the newly remastered series, magically translated into perfect English to be released at the same time as the Japanese version, with all the extras, uncensored, for 1/10th of the Japanese price. This will never happen, either.
Fans *really* want all 43 volumes of an ongoing manga series to be on the shelves in their local bookstores in their small suburban town where manga doesn’t really sell, because they might want to buy Volume 15 and 13…if it’s on sale, like it is at a con.
Many Fans cannot *wait* for a series that’s just come out in Japan to be scanned or subbed, because despite their engagement in the series and their dedication to it, they really have no intention of ever buying it. This way they can complain about how we never get anything good over here and justify why they keep reading or watching illegal versions of licensed material.
Alternatively, as soon as a series is announced in Japan, there are Fans with delusions of it being licensed right away and sold here. Despite the shrinking economy and the patently obvious fact that some genres sell well and many genres really, just don’t, because audience size does not translate to market size.
So therefore, from now on, whenever I get mail or comments that express these particular kind of Delusions, you’ll be eligible for your very own Fandelusion pony. :-) Enjoy.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to be a big-‘F’ Fan. Or that your engagement in the series is delusional. I’m just saying that no one, not the artist or writer, or the publisher owes you anything but a book or disk in return for your money.
If you don’t buy it because you don’t want it, well then, that’s perfectly sensible. But that’s not the author’s or publisher’s issue. It’s yours. Anything else, is merely Delusion.
For an awesome example of Fantitlement, please read this post at The Manga Critic. Kate nails the issue.