On Fanboys

It can’t have escaped the attention of people that use the series of tubes composing the internet that there exists a certain type of individual out there who is so dedicated to a certain interest to an almost fanatical degree, much to the detriment of all other things. This is the Fanboy or Fangirl. They exist in pretty much shared interest group and will be the type who will doggedly defend it, or even their little corner of it, for good or ill against pretty much everyone. Their influence has become a matter of note in many areas, and more often than not to a negative degree. Since I wrote about the highs and lows of Fandoms a couple of weeks back, I thought it a rather appropriate continuation of theme to talk about their most enthusiastic, shall we say, members.

My personal definition of a fanboy is someone who is incredibly passionate about a hobby or shared interest but directs that passion in a way that can come across negatively. A good example from fiction would the scene from seminal British sitcom Spaced where Bilbo Bagshot (played by Bill Bailey) describes a time he “defended the fantasy genre with terminal integrity” and punched a man for disliking Hawk the Slayer. All you have to do is swap the film titles for anything else ever and you can apply that to most modern fanboys. While there is nothing wrong with being passionate about something, indeed the passionate members of a hobby community are usually the ones that drive it, however how you aim that passion affects things drastically. The kind of “terminal integrity” apparent with many fanboys is often the root cause of the issues with fandoms I talked about previously, such as the inter-fandom rivalries.

Perhaps the most distinct feature of fanboys is they often eat sleep and breath nothing but the hobby they have dedicated themselves to. This may form part of the reason they direct their passion in the way they do, since they have no other major outlets to apply themselves to. It also leads to the interesting situation where when confronted by someone who either does not share their level of interaction or is similarly invested with another fandom the response is often one of anger. I’ve been called all manner of things for not knowing the minutiae of a certain media franchise, for instance, as anger at minor things (relatively speaking) is another hallmark of fanboyism, usually directed out of their fandom, as per the Spaced example above.

Another common feature I’ve observed from those fanboys I’ve had the misfortune to interact with is a total lack of a sense of self-awareness or irony. A number of times I’ve seen people bemoan one set of fanboys before launching into their own fanboyish rant in the next breath. More often than not fanboys appear to be unaware of how their own actions reflect upon themselves even when they can identify the same behaviour in others. This has been particularly evident within fandoms that have many smaller factions, such as video gaming and the science fiction community, taking the form of “These guys make us look bad, but…” statements. As before these can become quite heated. I’ve observed individuals describe rival fanboys as a “cancer” (which always struck me as distastefully extreme) mere seconds before doing the self same things, and even when called out upon this the lack of self awareness continues to take effect and they fail to see the issue. Like many arguments with fanboys, it’s often a futile effort to try and make that mindset see the situation rationally.

By far the worst aspect of the rise of fanboyism is the way it creates a negative force upon their chosen hobby. By virtue of being very loud and noticeable, no matter how small a percentage of a group they form, they will always be the most vocal and that tends to be the thing the general public will take notice of first. Far too many groups have been tarred by this, just take a look at any one fandom or hobby and pick out the stereotype attached to them, I can guarantee that in many cases while the majority don’t- and have never- acted like that, it will have come about due to the equivalent of fanboys (though occasionally it can be just ignorance on the part of the outside part). The lack of self awareness touched on above means this they are generally unaware of this negative effect and, in my experience, become confused and even more defensive when it gets brought up by others.

I’ve often wondered what turns a rational individual into a raging fanboy. While I have had interactions with people I would consider fanboys, I have never seen someone become one, as it were. I’ve always been one to consider the subjectivity of taste (now there’s a blog for another time!) when conducting myself about the place, so it has never really been clear to me how someone could become so convinced their interests should be held above all others without argument. It’s essentially the hobby equivalent of blind faith, yet another topic I could write reams upon. Going through life not being able to question a certain aspect of yourself, even just a little, is a dangerous place to be, and is detrimental to you and those around you, even when said thing is only a minor part of your life like a hobby.

As I said a few paragraphs ago, passion for a hobby is no bad thing. In fact, I thoroughly encourage it. But like most things, care must be taken to not allow it to become all your about. Balance and calm rationality is the best approach to life, and so long as you keep that in mind you can avoid the horrific fate of becoming a fanboy, and nobody wants to see that.

I get the feeling I’ve been very negative these last few weeks on here, next week I think I’ll have a look at some recent technology and my take on what it’s useful for and where it’s heading.

Until next time, folks,
–A fan’s a fan and all that.

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