Kleefeld’s Fanthropology #28: Who Are You?

Let me share with you three of my favorite series.

My first real fannish interest was the Fantastic Four, particularly the comic book. Despite not liking the first FF story I’d read as a young child, I got an issue for my eleventh birthday and was just absolutely riveted. The characters were so engaging and relatable to me. I loved the dynamic of this sort-of-made-up-family going off and exploring the unknown reaches of another universe. So much so that when one of the lead characters “died” at the end of the twenty-some pages, I just had to find out what happened next! I went on to collect the entire series, going all the way back to the very first issue from 1961, and later put together a Fantastic Four fan site.

I was one of those lucky individuals who saw Firefly when it first aired in 2002. I’ll admit that I didn’t fall in love with it immediately, but I was certainly intrigued enough by the first episode enough to keep watching. I’m not sure if I was completely hooked by the end of the second episode, but by “I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you” (a line from early in the third episode to air, despite actually being sixth in the series) I was a full-fledged Browncoat. The overarching story with sometimes black humor was entertaining, especially when it came from a crew who looked and acted like they had always been together, even after we later saw how they all first met. I was one of the many Browncoats trying to drum up support for the DVD because I had loved the show so much that I wanted more people to share in it.

More recently, I discovered One Piece through the anime. I had heard of it some years earlier, but was frankly turned off by the poorly designed logo. (I know that sounds terribly superficial, but I figured that if you can’t even have a half-way legible logo, how much effort could be put into the story?) Once I did watch it, however, I couldn’t help but find Luffy’s eternal positivity refreshing (he’s smiling on his wanted poster!) and he continually displayed an infallible sense of attracting a fantastic group of extremely devoted friends to join him on his lofty quest. Not to mention all the individual characters had great dreams of their own, and their collective journey is helping all of them achieve their dreams. I wound up going through about ten years of material in a matter of a few months.

Now, my interest in these guys was sparked, in part, by some of what was going on in my life at the time. What I was thinking and feeling. I was still pretty young when I found the Fantastic Four, and that sense of exploration and discovering new things was still palpable on a daily basis. By the time Firefly came out, I’d become older and more cynical; with an inherently corrupt government/corporation as an ongoing adversary, the show spoke more to my worldview at the time. One Piece also has a pretty corrupt government running around in the background, but the show’s attitude is less stoic and resigned; rather, while the protagonists aren’t really trying to defeat the government, they’re just more emotionally empowered to live the lives they want, regardless of what they’re told they are and aren’t allowed to do.

More than likely, I wouldn’t have liked Firefly as a kid. Not that the show isn’t good for kids in general, but I personally didn’t have an adequate mindset or frame of reference to really appreciate it when I was 11. There are certainly many elements about the show I would’ve liked at virtually any age, but to have it speak to me in the way that it did, with the depth that it had… that wouldn’t have happened had it been made much earlier. Mentally, I was in the right place for it when it first came on the air.

But, despite the shows coming at different times from different cultures with different worldviews, have you noticed a striking similarity among them? Each of them feature a fairly diverse cast; they’re not really focused on a single hero. But more significantly, that cast is a group of self-selected friends that have a deep emotional bond that defies the “blood is thicker than water” axiom. These are people who’ve elected to be together in a tightly knit group, each working to encourage and protect one another. Their individual goals might differ, but they overlap more than enough that they all choose to journey on the road of life together. What do you suppose that says about what I look for in personal relationships?

This week, I’m throwing myself down as an example because it’s the one I’m most deeply and psychologically familiar with. (For, hopefully, obvious reasons!) But take a look through your own history in fandoms. What were some of the broad themes that attracted you to each one, and how did that reflect your life at the time? And what are some of the commonalities among all of them that might speak to something more fundamental about your character?

I don’t know what shows I’ll be watching or what books I’ll be reading ten or twenty years from now, but I’m pretty confident that my favorites are going to be the ones with a small group of close-knit friends who are operating in a world that aligns with how I think think things are going at the time. What do you think you’ll be into?

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