Thursday, December 15, 2016

When Horror Fans (and Others) Aren’t Helpful to their Own Fandom

By Jerry Chandler

I love a lot of various genres that are enjoyed by fandom, but I tend to lean the heaviest towards horror. Hey, I am a horror guy after all. In horror, much to the surprise of some who don’t know me, I’m a vampire guy. Yeah, I end up in way more zombie discussions these days, but I have always been first and foremost a vampire guy.

But as a vampire fan I have to admit that there’s a downside to being a vampire fan and/or a horror fan that’s been growing in fandom rather noticeability over the last twenty or so years. While this issue was around before then, it started growing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, and it ballooned when Twilight stormed into theaters and opened the TV floodgates for things like the Vampire Dairies. If you think I’m talking about the “wussification” of vampires in pop culture, you’d be wrong. I’m actually talking about a noticeable chunk of horror fandom itself reacting to such things and the fans they bring in in the worst possible way.
 Let me say this upfront- I can’t stand the Twilight films. I’ve seen the first film thanks to be held prisoner on other people’s couches as well as bits and pieces of the other films in the franchise here and there. It’s not my thing by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t get into some of the concepts in it, I don’t find the lead characters particularly appealing, and I tend to roll my eyes a bit when my friends who love Twilight are trying to convince me how “badass” some of the characters or fight scenes in the films are. I can also occasionally be found mercilessly ribbing my Twilight loving friends over the fact that they love Twilight, but it’s friendly ribbing no different than how we rib each other over anything else.

But, yeah, I can’t stand Twilight. Where I and others who can’t stand things like Twilight part ways with a segment of vampire fandom is I don’t actually hate the fact that it exists. I certainly don’t begrudge people embracing Twilight as their vampire/horror thing. Moreover, I actually dig the fact that things like Twilight exist because they can be a gateway drug to the wider, bigger world of horror fandom.

Look at Twilight fandom as a whole. It’s huge. In that fandom are people who will likely never care about getting deeper into horror than they are now, and will have even less interest in getting deeper into anything with the more hardcore horror tropes. They’re not into Twilight for the horror. They’re there for the romance and the lighter dark fantasy elements. It’s “safe horror” for them. However, there’s a segment of that audience who, while also there for the romance and the lighter dark fantasy elements, end up finding the horror aspects of the thing kind of appealing. In some cases these are even people that have never really ventured into the horror pool before- hence the “gateway drug” description I used earlier.

But here’s where we run into the problem children in fandom that occasionally do more harm than good. Again, they’re in more than just vampire fandom or even just the larger horror fandom. They’re everywhere and they’re in every fandom. Whether they’re simply accidently clueless jerks or deliberately trolling jerks is a debate I’ll not be diving into here though. I don’t need to address the difference between the two right now because the end result is the same. These people- either in the short term or the long term –drive potential fans away from the horror genre. Plus, really, the deliberate jerks won’t change what they’re doing just because it’s pointed out to them.

I’ve seen it over and over again, and, again, not just in horror. Someone becomes interested in something because of the big, pop culture embrace of the moment of the subject matter. They start looking to the people they know around them who can show them more of what they’re starting to have an interest in. They ask what else they might find interesting. That’s where it occasionally goes wrong either by accidental absence of thought or by deliberate acts of being a jerk. There are two common ways it goes wrong.

Way #1- The Noob factor.

I have yet to figure out why so many people can’t seem to remember that they too were once just discovering something for the first time. There was even a time when they couldn’t tell you the entire history of something from memory. I also can’t figure out why some people who can’t remember that can’t seem to just not be dicks about it. We’ve all been the guy or gal with less than 15 weeks exposure to something, and we didn’t know anything close to what someone with 15 years exposure knew. But we became the 15 year (or more) person eventually. Funny that some of us forget we weren’t always what we are now.

For most people reading this, the easy (but not horror) example is the 35-year Doctor Who fan talking down to people who just started watching a few years ago with Matt Smith. A horror example would be a guy I actually know. He’s a zombie movie fan and always has been. But what he hasn’t always been is a Romero Zombie snob. That came later.

This is the type of guy you’ve probably seen in a forum at one point or another. He lectures the people who like the “new” zombies or the films that are the modern, low budget, cheap thrill zombie movies. They’re ruining the genre by popularizing “that crap” and not always supporting the stuff that measures up to the symbolism, analogies, message, etc. of the Romero films. The thing is, and he hates when I end up in a forum or group conversation he’s in because of this, I’ve known him for over thirty years and he wasn’t always a Romero snob.

When we were both teens in the 1980s, he’d hit the local Erol’s video store and grab some of the cheapest, most visceral thrill zombie stuff possible and binge them on Saturday nights. The stuff he got ninety percent of the time was cheap thrill stuff with no message, no symbolism, no critique on the nature of man. It was just pure, silly, gory fun with lots of blood, boobs, and guts. He even used to find things like Day of the Dead and most of Dawn of the Dead too boring to watch. It was too much talking and not enough chasing, killing, and munching. Somewhere along the way his evolution as a fan of the genre went to the other extreme of slagging on anything that wasn’t Romero or (in his view or the view of his friends) Romero approved. But he acts now as if he has always had these standards. It’s all the “noobs” watching the “low quality” stuff (that he watched for years) that are ruining the genre.

He overlooks the fact that when you’re young, just as he and the rest of us once were, you typically gravitate towards the visceral thrill stuff when you’re starting out. Most people actually tend to start out that way and eventually progress to the deeper stuff as we start wanting more out of our genre of choice. A lot of us never leave the visceral thrill stuff entirely though, and some never leave it at all. Why should we? If it’s fun, it’s fun. But you always seem to find groups in every fandom that forget that they too started out somewhere, and the result is they’re obnoxious as hell towards the people who are now just like they once were.

Still, beats the hell out of the other guys…

Way #2- I’m going to show them what real fans like!

You’ve got someone who is just dipping their toes into horror. Maybe they’re being introduced to it through something like a Twilight. They’re interested. They’re looking for more. They ask for help/suggestions. Don’t go full on extreme on them.

Way too many people in fandom seem to think it’s their job to weed out or freak out “fake fans” they come across; especially when it’s guys looking at girls they think are the fake fans. Except they’re not fake fans. They’re people just starting out. They’re people who are just finding out what they like and might not be up to Frontier(s) or Martyrs level extreme horror just yet. Sometimes genres like horror can be a crawl, walk, jog, run type of thing with some people. They need to work their way up. Jumping from entry level to OMG on them helps no one.

The thing that gets lost in the thought process when people are trying to weed out what they view as “fake fans” is that these are fandom’s future. Fandom doesn’t need self-proclaimed protectors to defend it from what the self-proclaimed protectors see as fake fans. Fandom doesn’t need lecturers making newbies feel stupid for not knowing the same amount of stuff a thirty-year fan knows. Instead of trying to freak them out or push them away, everyone should be embracing them. Not all of them will stay, but those that do add to the fandom as a whole. They’ll maybe even eventually be one day for all intents and purposes you.

The majority of the people who came into horror on things like Twilight will leave when the fad of the moment leaves. Some will stay. Some will even become hardcore horror hounds. Be nice to them. They’re not fake fans because they like something that’s horror-lite or because they’re just getting their feet wet in the horror pool. They’re fans- full stop. Let them be fans, and if you can’t help them grow into the fandom of their choice then just leave them alone.

Don’t waste the time hating on things like Twilight either. As I said above, those can be the gateway drugs. Whatever helps fandom grow, we should all welcome it. Any bad fads the things like Twilight bring will eventually go away, so don’t sweat it.

Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the ESO Pro: The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.

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