Deer in the spotlights

So the other day I decided to recklessly shell out some Audible.com credits on John Ritter and Arte Johnson reading Dave Barry’s columns. Quite good value, really; if only for the nostalgia factor. At that it’s funny how the one defect in Ritter’s reading is that he hurries a little, as if anxious to get it over. You’d think Barry’s Everyman-to-the-comic-extreme schtick would fit him as comfortably as if, well, they were sharing a beer.

At any rate, the collection also turns out to contain Johnson’s reading of the lengthy piece Barry wrote on the 10th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. It’s not about The Pelvis, per se, but his fandom – the hardcores, the Graceland ‘gate people’, the ones who made up the eager audience when he rented a local theatre for exclusive showings of (for instance) The Nutty Professor, night after long night.

The thrust – excuse it, please – of Barry’s essay is that, contrary to the popular notion, the really hardcore fans idealized, not the image, but the man himself. That they rode the downhill slope more faithfully with each stop, all the way to the sick, sad, trailer-park joke he was at the end – circling the wagons as you would for a family member, Barry points out. “I still don’t understand it,” he concludes, “but I’m not laughing anymore.”

I was standing in the checkout line @ Wal-Mart pondering this, and the thought occurred that – well, to be entirely honest, that I finally had a way of working Britney Spears into my journal [waves happily at theoretical oodles of new Google traffic] without feeling like a total sellout.

Because I have never, ever understood this whole fandom gig either. Not so much the part where you like someone’s artistic output and knowing more about them enhances the experience, that I’m cool with. It’s the hardcores. The people that react to Joe Star as though they are mutually dependent not financially but emotionally, spiritually.

Now, I don’t at all mean to come off as holier-than-Hollaback, here – lord knows I have been a fool for lesser things all my life, and will probably always be – but this particular mindset has always struck me as enormously foolish, because wholly delusional. Even when right in the middle of it by choice, I’ve never been able to detach myself from reality to the extent required.

See, you do not, I hope it’s not necessary to explain in detail, have a real personal relationship with Britney, nor she with you. You gain nothing tangible from the belief, save perhaps a rude awakening when the object of it fails to behave accordingly; they can draw no meaningful affection or comfort or whatever else from people who can have no concept at all of their true needs.

The standard defense of this argument is that it’s entirely harmless, on both sides. Yeah, up to a point – the point where it is perceived that yon slave of the Muses may not, strictly speaking, be able to stand on his own merits. In other words, when it’s time to circle the wagons.

It’s easier than one might realise to get out into the deep water, as I discovered when reading the iTunes comments page re: Gimme More. The basic fan reaction can be summarized as: “So what if she had one lame performance at the VMAs? All you hataz better know Britney’s back, bitch!”

Mm-hm. Forgive me if I’m missing some glitter-spackled insight for the ages, here…but what I’m getting from her loyal, caring fans, the only ones who really understand, is that:
It’s totally OK if Brit-Brit can’t, to all sane appearances, live up to the promotional effort required to back the music! Who cares if she completely trashes herself in the pursuit of fifteen minutes more, perhaps taking two innocent young lives with her – she’s the darling of the club scene once again! Yay!

I ran into this same phenom on a smaller scale during my foray into the heart of Kalan Porter fandom. The laddie’s troubles during his year off from the spotlight are fairly well documented elsewhere, so I won’t get into details. Suffice it to say that at one point, breaking a long and tense silence, Team Porter provided pictures! Actual shots of Kalan actually reading actual fanmail, right there in his actual living room! Yay!

Uh, yeah. Again, not to disparage the general relief at hearing well of a fellow critter…I, couldn’t for the life of me, share in any of it. I took one look at those photos and literally flinched. To me they simply looked like a random fragile kid being forced to –

Once, when grooming my cat, I cut her rather badly on the foreleg. She instantly ran and hid herself away back in the closet, licking and purring in bewilderment, as injured animals do. Looking at those pictures of Kalan, then, felt rather as if I’d charged into the closet and unceremoniously dragged Dolly out of her hiding place.

So, not so much with the whoops of glee on my part. As I say, though, what really freaked me out wasn’t that others were whooping; it was the reaction of some, the most self-proclaimed caring and understanding of all, when I dared to post my own misgivings. Basically: Shut up and quit spoiling the party. Kalan’s back, bitch.

As the sociologists are fond of pointing out: Since fandom’s based on fantasy, there are no real moral or ethical boundaries. The further out into the deep water you get, the less contact you have with the solid bottom. So that the more convinced you are that you’re being altrustic, the more you’re actually doing it for yourself.
It’s possible – indeed, under the circs entirely probable – that you’ll convince yourself just about anything is in the best interests of the adored one. Who is an actual fellow human being that frankly did not sign up to provide free therapy for the kind of people to whom they are everything. That’s the part that scares the hell out of me.

Mind you, I’m not saying that my methods of handling this issue are any better. There’s no use pleading complete cynical detachment, that you’re only interested insofar as the adored one makes good music (movies, whatever) and makes the effort to keep you entertained between-times. That way lies the cold, barren arena of the tabloid, of headlines like the one I saw at Wal-Mart: “Why Britney Doesn’t Wear Panties! Her Friends Tell All!”

I suppose the only truly fair and logical thing to do would be to abolish celebrity altogether, install some sort of creative Communism. Even then, though; people deserve to be recognized and appreciated for their good work, Art needs to be publicly pursued if the race is to be instructed and uplifted. Meanwhile, the race keeps insisting that it’s already as uplifted as humanly possible by supporting Paris Hilton through a jail sentence.

Maybe laughter is the correct reaction, after all.

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