Alternate Title: Really Fucking Glad The Internet Wasn’t Around When I Was Certain I’d Marry Dylan McKay
I only recently joined Tumblr to
find download links find out more about one of my favorite new shows, Downton Abbey, and I’ve since found it to be a wonderful but slightly weird place for “fandoms.” From what I can tell, it’s populated largely by talented 15-year-old GIF makers. I got in on the fun for a while, creating my own Downton Abbey/Gone With The Wind mashups and enjoyed the download links the excitement of experiencing a show with lots of other fans in real time.
However, the recent uproar over two of the stars of the show merely mentioning Tumblr via their Twitter feeds (more on that later) caused me to step back and think about how I experienced television fandom and consumed related media when I was around the same age that I suspect many Tumblr/Twitter using Downton fans are.
I’ll use my first big television obsession - Beverly Hills, 90210 - as an example. While not a critical darling, it was a huge soapy sensation when it first debuted, enjoying massive viewership and international success much like Downton Abbey. To speak in “fangirl” language, Brenda and Dylan were, like, totally my “OTP” and don’t even get me started on “sinking ships” - it took Donna and David TEN damn seasons to get married! However, unlike today, we had to view each episode during the time slot it originally aired (because who could actually program a VCR?), scrounge together allowance money for TV Guide and Tiger Beat to find additional pictures and episode spoilers, and send off money to join “official fan clubs” and wait patiently for quarterly newsletters if we wanted to indulge in fandom beyond Friday lunch table discussions with our school friends. We had to work to fuel our fandom!
Nowadays (wow, I really do sound like an insufferable old person, don’t I?) fans of particular shows and movies have the enjoyment of easily interacting with other fans and even the stars of their favorite programs in real time. It’s all very fun and exciting to share reactions to the latest episode, or squeal with delight when a celebrity Tweets you back, but I think we must occasionally remind ourselves to remember the humans at the other end of the keyboard.
This technology is a lot of fun to use, but I also think it’s given fans an unprecedented and confusing sense of entitlement. Out of curiosity, I looked at some Twitter replies to Downton cast member Allen Leech. I noticed a distinct theme: “Allen, I’ve had a terrible day! Tweet me and cheer me up!” “Allen, I’m bored in history class. Follow me!” ”Allen, you haven’t Tweeted in days… say something funny!” “Allen, TELL ME RIGHT THIS SECOND WHY YOU’RE NOT IN THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL!!!!”
Mr. Leech has an entertaining feed, shares funny personal pictures (I’ve even blogged a few) and is very gracious about interacting with fans and replying to Tweets. However, he’s not your organ grinder monkey, dear fans! You can’t throw a coin into his Twitter hat and expect him to reply to your every marriage proposal and personal issue with the show’s script. When he and Dan Stevens wondered aloud what the heck a Tumblr was (as I assume many age 30+ geriatrics like myself do) Tumblr’s Downton fans collectively lost their shit. “Will he start his own blog and BECOME ONE OF US?” “Will he follow me?” “Will he find my extensive collection of shirtless Allen GIFs and spend the next three hours combing through my archives??”
Because Mr. Leech is not a bored youth stuck in history class, I am guessing no. Please don’t mistake this as some kind of “leave Britney alone” moment, because it’s not, but in our fervor, I think we sometimes forget that the stars of our favorite shows are real people, with real lives outside of work. Twitter and Tumblr are fun distractions, but I sincerely hope they’re spending their free time socializing with friends in bars, going on dates, spending time with family, filming other projects and doing whatever else it is they do. It might be easy to mistake a Twitter reply for friendship or some kind of connection, but it’s ultimately just a faster response to a 140-character fan letter.
And believe me, my teenage fan letters to Luke Perry belong squarely in a box tucked away in the dark, secret recesses of my parents’ attic and not on the internet for all of eternity. It’s fun to squeal and “flail” and “fangirl” or whatever you crazy kids are calling it these days, but I promise you, it’s going to be even more fun to nostalgically look back on how you threatened suicide over your favorite characters not ending up together and say, “Wow. That shit was embarrassing.”
What do you think? Was being part of a fandom better or worse during the days before the internet?