So we’re talking with the cashier about The Fault in Our Stars, which I’d seen earlier that day, and my friend chimes in something about how cool it was for me to finally see the movie after having read the books so long ago. The cashier looks at us with a smile and says “yeah, all my friends say that too”. Probably because approximately seven million people have read it. But I digress.
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what bothered me about my friend’s statement. It wasn’t untrue–I had read the books–and it wasn’t something I wasn’t proud of, necessarily. But the statement contained an implication that I was somehow different from those who hadn’t read the book before seeing the movie, and that it mattered [to her, to me, to everyone] that such a difference existed. It misrepresented me.
To be honest, the statement doesn’t matter that much–it just made me think. I’m here more to discuss the overall phenomenon of book and movie snobs, fandoms, and my ideas on individuality.
Before The Fault in Our Stars was a movie, it was a book. And before it was a book, it was an idea in the head of John Green. Now, John’s been writing books since… well I know he published Looking for Alaska in 2005, so before that. And he’s been vlogging on Youtube since 2007. And I’ve been watching him (and his brother Hank) vlog since 2011, which means that while he was writing TFiOS, and getting it published, and reading the first chapter to us Nerdfighters (before I even read the book), and being excited from the set of the TFiOS movie, and walking the blue carpet at the premier, I was silently cheering him on from my computer screen. And that doesn’t make me any more of a fan of the books/movies/author himself than if I hadn’t. It doesn’t matter at all.
People like to feel ownership of the things they love, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when your ownership of a thing that belongs to everyone causes you to compete with others as to how much more you love it, it detracts from your relationship with the thing itself; you shift the focus from the entity in question to those who also share a relationship with this entity. I don’t consider myself any better or cooler than someone who decided to watch the movie at random. Why would I? TFiOS contributed to my life as a piece of literature and a journey with an author, but it doesn’t define me. I don’t want to have to compete with anyone for my life’s definition. I also think there are many more things that represent my character better than my likes and dislikes.
No one wants to follow blindly without thinking for themselves. No one wants to be perceived as a sheep. Unfortunately, the desire to own one’s likes and dislikes tends to lead individuals to making their own opinions a sort of identity, and giving their motivations–and proof of such–center stage. Individuality is prized in Western society, and there exists vast arrays of troll-like opinion on the internet condemning followers and fans of popular entities. Furthermore, the more popular an entity becomes, the more likely it is that an individual will realize members of the “fandom” may not be as agreeable or upstanding as the individual perceives him/herself to be, and a need to “otherize” those members could lead to justifying the sharing of a fandom with differences in how they share it. My point is that I can imagine a strong motivation to want to make it known to others that you are a bigger fan or a more authentic fan in order to equate fanship with identity, and I think this is misguided and overall quite negative.
The ways in which we love what we love only contribute to the many aspects of us that make us individuals. We are defined by such a multitude of things that we should celebrate not how we are different from the next human being but how we are the same. Look at how much we have in common! What part of TFiOS (or any entity of fandom, really) makes it so relatable? How can a single story have moved so many? What does that say about the world that we all live in? Rather than struggling to prove ourselves to no one, why don’t we relish in Mr. Green’s ability to write such a novel that would capture the hearts of young adults (and not-so-young adults) worldwide, and celebrate the success of any author who has composed his/her words to reflect the essence of the human condition? It is our human condition, our common bond that allows us to exist as a society rather than a collective of hermits populating a floating rock. It is a feat of great skill and understanding to unite us in such a way; why would you, an individual granted access to this collective, try to destroy that?
But actually, you have this whole world and a lifetime of experiences and trials and tribulations and thoughts and opinions to shape you as a person and you choose a fandom to define your being? Seriously? (I know not everyone feels this way, obviously, but I just needed to get that out. SERIOUSLY? Okay.)
I urge anyone who has felt betrayed by the amount of press TFiOS has received and insulted by the number of people who now share in (and probably brag about) something close to the heart to think about what defines you. You are the product of everything that has ever happened to you, and you will continue to grow as an individual. TFiOS is a part of you, and now it is a part of millions of people worldwide. It has the power to connect you, and it has the power to enrich your life, change your perspective. Value it for that, and don’t begrudge the world for loving something that you yourself have deemed worth loving. Celebrate it.
Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.