Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fan as arbitrator, and n00b killer

I know we are now technically moving past this in class, but I wanted to post this because:

1. I am slow.
2. I will get fired if I blog from work.
3. I didn't want to wax poetic about Bret's Shawshank Redemption metaphor in Wrestling with Shadows, and I made the same underlying points a few weeks back.
4. Josh haunts my dreams. Dr. Nausbaum says it's becoming unhealthy.

But really, I was trying to get my hands around a type of fandom that revolves around maintaining or grooming the culture. This kind of interaction usually happens after or the presentation of the media. I really first noticed this as part of an anime fandom backlash against Pokemon. As this too fell into part of a class, I started trying to see why they hated this particular show. Most chided its animation or how repetitive and "stupid" it was. Well, it was geared to kids and there were a lot of series that had the same flaws and got a pass from most fans. The real reason, I gleaned, was that Pokemon had become very mainstream and essentially brought in a whole swath of new fans that were very removed from the rest of the fan base. A lot of web sites lamented how people had to wade through idiots, kids, and parents looking for Pokemon cards while they tried to get Ruroni Kenshin episodes. When I presented this theory to fellow classmates who were much more fans than I, they disagreed, but their points came back to how Pokemon "bastardized" Anime to Americans, making people think it was something that was not. So I said I was right, their subculture had been tread upon and
they were trying to rectify it.

I've seen this also happen recently for a website called ytmnd.com (short for You're the Man Now Dog, Sean Connery's quote from Finding Forrester). At its heart, it is a place where one can splice together a picture/movie, sound, and large font text to make some interesting result (usually humor). Other people could then rate how good your ytmnd was. Rules developed very quickly about what was a good ytmnd or a bad ytmnd. A more famous early ytmnd called "remember your fundamentals" by a well-known member of the site. The ytmnd stated "Picture. Sound. Text. A singular focus, not a faggy short film," fighting against a backlash of sites that would try to splice in long movie clips for the visual part of their site - something viewed as not in the original spirit of the site. The quote became somewhat of a fad among members. Later, a lot of very good ytmnds did have a motion picture aspect, and the rule was generally dropped. Still, lot of rules still apply as to what kind of humor is meant for the site. Clips from radio shows or bits from sits like college humor are looked down upon. A certain level of abstractness needs to be there. Members have made the term NARV - short for New Age Retard Voter - to describe newbies who are unfamiliar with the history and culture of the site. They've even gone so far as to make a certain types of sites (the Poland fad - where GW Bush's quote of "you forgot poland" is tied in with painful flashing lights and square waves) that are meant to drive away these new members. Again, there are a number of members of this fan culture that are acting to protect it.

So that brings us to wrestling. And I think that there is a healthy part of this protectionism in the wrestling fan culture as well. You will have a some fans saying that attempts to take a highly analytical bent on wrestling is against the spirit of the culture. You'll also find others (a few years ago) who say that fans who came in just for The Rock or just for Stone Cold don't really understand wrestling either and are not real fans. As the culture eventually did change, these cries are a bit less frequent. But fandom essentially has meant something specific to a core group of people, and they want to be sure that this is not lost.

It's important to mention that I think this is different than fan-as-critic that Sam describes in his piece. Critics are responding to the media presentation itself, and are trying to groom that. These arbitrators as I've called them are responding to fans or fan reaction, and are trying to groom that. They can converge (as I now tie in Bret Hart - note his reaction to fans wanting anti-heroes as babyfaces) or be entirely separate (old school ECW fans bashing Vince McMahon's version). And it also plays into the fan-as-community member as well, they're just now playing "town council" to that community.

I have to believe there are scores of other examples in other cultures that some others can bring up. Or maybe I'm off my rocker like Doc Nausbaum always says. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

These arbitrator fans are evident in almost every fan culture, those that stand out to me at the moment are music or rock fans, say of a particular group. They may have a loyal core fan base when they are up-and-coming stars, but then when they hit it big, they get legions more fans due to the increased exposure, some who may be casual listeners or into the band because the lead singer is hot or they think their sound fits the sort of group or personality they want to fit. Then the original fans, from before the band 'sold out' or what have you, often revile and reject the newer fans, labelling them 'posers', fakes, etc, when there are plenty of newer fans that do appreciate the band purely for their music, but just happened to join the fan-dom later on.

The same may have been true for wrestling in earlier times, but it seems to have eased up as of late. But I definitely think the theme of 'You only like $NAME because of $BAR, you're just a little poser nOOb' still goes on, in wrestling and many other forms of fandom. We're protecting our communities from being diulted and polluted by those silly, ignorant poser kids. :)

Sam Ford said...

I think you have a really good point, Brian, and I think it is very much a part of wrestling culture. From the ECW hardcore fan base to the scores of friends who hated anyone coming into wrestling who weren't fans back when "wrestling was cool," I have experienced this time and time again. It's the pressure to go mainstream enough to stay in business versus staying true to the cult roots of your fan base, and wrestling has to deal with that very closely, primarily through the relationship between the WWE and its "Internet fans." WWE has always had a particularly fascinating relationship with this fan base, while ECW was solely powered by this base, to the point that it had trouble expanding because they created an environment where the fans did not want them to expand and become too mainstream.

You are right that these behaviors don't clearly fit into the categories I created, and part of that is because of the shows I went to and the lack of this happening in the live arena setting, at least at these shows. I think this builds in some to the aspect I identify as "fans as community," as the hardcores form a community that they then protect closely by NOT allowing people to join. During the shows I visited, the only aspect of this I saw explicitly were the Insane Clown Posse fans at the TNA show and their relationship with the hardcore wrestling fans in the arena. There was definitely a disdain for the ICP fans among some of the wrestling fans who felt that the ICP fans were compromising their enjoyment of the show because they weren't really there for the wrestling.