Being a geek at the turn of the 21st century has yielded a very interesting perspective on the evolution of the culture in the age of the Internet. This isn’t to say that fanboys didn’t exist before the Internet, but I think it’s safe to say that what the Internet did do was give them a greater voice than they ever had before. In the past, the term was usually used in a derogatory fashion by other fans to describe some more pitiful examples of geek brethren. Nowadays, geeks and non-geeks alike, up to and including executives of major film studios even use the word, so I think it’s fair to say that fanboys have infiltrated mainstream media beyond their formerly sheltered way of existing in the back rooms of comic book stores and Magic tournaments.
Now, the question that I pose to myself and to the readers of this piece follows: Is being called a “fanboy” a bad thing? Is fanboy simply interchangeable with labels like “geek” or “nerd” as a way of describing someone who’s simply very enthusiastic about the things that they love? To that end, it would probably help to try and find some sort of definition for the word, which is odd since the label itself is not a real word. Everybody’s favorite reference source, Wikipedia, does not have an article devoted specifically to the fanboy, but has a subsection dedicated to the topic on their Fan (person) article.
The definition for fanboy according to the editors of Wikipedia reads that it is, “a term used to describe a male who is highly devoted and biased in opinion towards a single subject or hobby within a given field. Fanboy-ism is often prevalent in a field of products, brands or universe of characters where very few competitors (or enemies in fiction, such as comics) exist.”
Everyone’s other favorite online reference for non-words, Urban Dictionary, defines fanboy in a surprisingly more concise way in its most praised definition of the word as “an extreme fan or follower of a particular medium or concept, whether it be sports, television, film directors, video games (the most common usage), etc. Known for a complete lack of objectivity in relation to their preferred focus. Usually argue with circular logic that they refuse to acknowledge. Arguments or debates with such are usually futile. Every flaw is spun into semi-virtues and everything else, blown to comedic, complimentary proportions.”
It seems like this definition personifies the most applicable media example of a fanboy, the infamous “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons. He often seems to be the personification of all that is negative about genre fans, and may be one of the first examples of a fanboy according to this definition.
Now we’re getting into a pattern. To bring the point home, I turned to two of my fellow “Gentlemen” roundtablers on the Modern Myth Media podcast. On the show, we discuss a multitude of topics that generally have a high level of interest to fanboys, and as fellow members of the geek community in regards to comics and superheroes, I felt that their perspectives on the topic would be enlightening. And they are.
Gentleman Josh Costella felt that the term was largely derogatory, saying that fanboys are “committed but closed-minded fans of whatever character, book or movie they love. They tend not to be open to change and take whatever happens in source material as gospel without being at all open to interpretation.” Josh felt that the changing nature of the comics industry is to blame for the proliferation of the fanboy in recent years, since comics have largely attempted to embrace the film business as its model due to the success of the many comics adaptations turning in big bucks at the box office.
Gentleman Sean Gerber, the founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Myth Media, is also a fellow contributor at Batman-on-Film.com and continues to contribute there in addition to running his own site. Before Modern Myth Media launched in early 2011, Sean wrote an op-ed for BOF dealing with this very topic entitled “A Letter For Fanboy.” The spirit of the letter piece was that the fanboys are a small minority of the larger fan community that tend to drag the rest of geekdom down. Sean begins his letter to “Fanboy” by setting up his history, when movie studios began to pay attention to his rantings about why comic book films in particular were still relevant into adulthood, and helped the studios realize they can use those opinions to turn stories about these properties into films that can appeal to everyone.
It goes horribly wrong, though, when fanboy begins to misuse the power placed in him by the executives and began making unreasonable requests that do more disservice to his cause than service. So, recently, I asked Sean to briefly return to that topic by asking him if he felt that the word of choice for today is derogatory or not.
“I don’t think it was, I used to think it was an affectionate moniker between fellow fans, but to me it now represents an overzealous, misguided and myopic viewpoint that’s rooted too much in backward thinking focused on what they think they want, and not necessarily what will actually make them happy,” he said. Sean also divulged what he feels to be the tragedy of the fanboys existence. He said, “The worst part about all of this is that it’s counterproductive. Fanboys will complain about seeing the same things over and over again all the time, but when they actually do get something different, they'll complain that it's not what they've seen so many times before. I love steak as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean I want it for dinner every night.”
I find a lot of merit in the points of my colleagues, and I think that I largely agree with them. I don’t often find myself agreeing with any point made by President Richard Nixon, but when applied to the different levels of society, including fandom, it does seem to ring true that the ones that will scream the loudest will always be the fringe. In fandom, the so-called “fanboys” are no exception. Most geeks and fans of franchise media are reasonable, without making any ill-informed or unreasonable demands or statements related to the characters, shows or movies that they love.
However, the ones that we hear about most often are the fringe, the ones who will yell over everything you say in order to prove their point more valid by sheer volume alone. That doesn’t make them an actual majority; all it does is make them the most visible, with the “silent majority” fading into obscurity when compared to the loudest among them.
But, that’s just one guy’s opinion.
This concludes this week’s Geek Beat, but hopefully it’s just the beginning of the conversation. What’s your take on the fanboy label? Can so-called “fangirls” be classified the exact same way? I’ve met ladies that are proud of calling themselves by that moniker without exhibiting the same traits as those of the fanboy. Is it derogatory, or is that too simplistic?
Sound off below! Thanks for reading, feel free to chime in, and we’ll get a little more back to basics next week.
Chris Clow is a recent Western Washington University graduate, film history fan, and comic book expert and retailer, contributor, and overall geek to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM. You can find his regular piece The Geek Beat here at Movies.com every Tuesday. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.