The day I realized that Christianity is a super-intense fandom with extra strings attached, a lot of keys turned in a lot of mental locks for me. Ever since that magic moment, I haven’t been able to view exhortations to Christians about reigniting their Jesus-passion the same. I just can’t escape the mental images that have been coming to me ever since I saw the links we’ll be talking about soon. So today, we’ll put this whole Christianity thing into what might be a whole new perspective.
(From the introduction: The USPS logo in the 1980s. Practicing mindfulness. Elfquest’s “the Now of wolf-thought;” also see p. 31-32 of this issue. I’m just now realizing that these links look bizarre grouped together, but trust me.)
(This post first appeared on Patreon on 5/4/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there as well, and should be available by the time you see this note.)
Babby’s First Fandom
When I was in my early teens, I became a big fan of the TV show Remington Steele. It was a detective show that ran from 1982-1987. I became aware of it in, I think, 1983 in Mobile. 7th Grade. The premise was convoluted but delicious, and all too believable for its time: Private eye Laura Holt opens her own detective agency, but she soon discovers that customers don’t take her seriously—or hire her—because she’s a woman. So she invents a fake superior, Remington Steele, and pretends she works for him. Business booms—but it grows increasingly difficult for her to maintain the fiction of this nonexistent boss of hers.
By sheer accident, a handsome con man fleeing his enemies overhears Holt’s fakery. Inspired, he steps into the empty role of Remington Steele. She resists the idea at first, but eventually he proves his value to the detective agency. And oh yes, they fall in love along the way. Over the years, the series offered viewers a lot of will-they/won’t-they maneuvering, much like Moonlighting was doing around the same time.
To girls my age, the stars of Remington Steele were so cool and so interesting: Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt, a feminine, brassy, film noir dame—but in the 1980s. Pierce Brosnan as the titular Mr. Steele, a sharp, quick-witted thief and heartthrob with an unexpected soft spot for classic cinema.
Most of the girls in my school in Mobile agreed with me on all counts. For once, I was completely in step with the popular media! However, our obsession displeased the boys. They were almost all at that singularly awkward phase, which meant they offered no competition at all to slick, cultured, effortlessly charming, dapper, and most of all handsome Remington Steele. For all their complaints, though, they might as well have been yelling at clouds.
(BTW: As he aged, Brosnan began looking more and more like my dad. Every year, the resemblance gets a little more uncanny. Yes, it’s incredibly weird. I’m sure a competent psychoanalyst would have a field day with that revelation.)
Back then, I acquired and read everything I could get my hands on about the show and everyone involved in creating it and bringing it to life. It didn’t even matter if the episode on that night was a rerun, because I’d watch it with joy regardless. My friends did the same. The result, of course, is that we’ve likely forgotten far more stuff about Remington Steele than most people around back then have ever learned about it.
We didn’t know the word for it back then, but we were in a fandom. We were a loosely-connected bunch of similar people who loved the same fictional media or creation. In the age of social media, the idea of the fandom would assume huge importance. Back then, though, we were amateurs compared to what people nowadays do to celebrate their fandom.
A fandom can be both a blessing and a curse to its object
It’s rare for media creators and stars to be in charge of their own fandom. Almost always, the fandom begins at a grassroots consumer level and remains there. If the media is very popular, many different fandoms might arise around it—each with their own culture, community rules, and set of approved/disapproved expressions of adoration.
That famously happened with Harry Potter’s fanfiction universe. Years ago, I learned that one distinct fandom allows underage sexual fanfiction, while another famously doesn’t. I’ve also heard of fanfiction sites that allow only stories pairing Harry and Hermione as One True Pairings (OTPs), while others only allow Harry to get with Ginny. Others still allow any pairings at all.
(I’m sure that there’s a whole world of exploration to be had around Dobby the House Elf and Dumbledore. I don’t wanna know. Learning that some K-pop fans self-harm as a sign of devotion was bad enough.)
I was surprised to see that the Remington Steele universe had accrued 273 whole entire fanfic stories at one popular site, AO3 (Archive of Our Own). Compared with the 410k entries of Harry Potter fanfiction there, though, that certainly isn’t much! Or the 194k entries about BTS, an immensely popular Korean boy band.
When a fandom gets that many people involved, it can quickly devolve into endless drama and fighting.
If fans aren’t happy squabbling amongst themselves, carefully defining what delineates a casual fan from a hardcore fandom member, then they’ll gladly fight with other fandoms entirely. Four years ago, someone even asked Quora why two Korean boy band frontrunners (from BTS and a rival, EXO) weren’t taking any action in response to their respective fandoms’ current feud. One of my favorite answers simply said, “There’s nothing they can do.”
And there really isn’t.
The fans just don’t have any central authority figure they respect except for the media creators themselves. And those creators don’t tend to take sides in those fights. After all, all of those fans are customers of theirs. Nobody sensible alienates paying customers.
Does all of this sound familiar?
But one fandom dares not speak its name
I know it annoys Christians for me to talk about their evangelism as recruitment and sales pitches, or their denominations and major schools of theology as flavors. Yes, and particularly when I talk about their theological arguments in terms of comic-book fans debating which Batman is the best one. That last one frosts Calvinists in particular, for some reason.
I’m sorry in advance about today’s topic being irritating to them. It can’t be helped in this particular instance. But I am, indeed, aware.
It’s still a whole lot like a fandom. Here’s how one scholarly writeup discusses fandoms:
Fan cultures are examples of participatory cultures. Participatory cultures involve fans acting not only as consumers but also as producers and creators of some form of creative media.
Media scholar Henry Jenkins contrasts participatory culture with consumer culture, suggesting that fans “poach” from popular media, appropriating ideas from the text and rereading them in creative ways for their own uses.
Social hierarchies exist between and within fan cultures, which can lead to judgment. Members of any subgroup tend to have a general consensus regarding which behaviors are acceptable, i.e., which behaviors constitute true fans or desperate overconformers.
Participation in fan culture is often gendered, and a given fan activity’s place in internal hierarchies is often correlated to the gender of the participants.
Go ahead. Tell me that isn’t most flavors of Christianity.
(Why yes, we’re talking about that soon.)
Christianity is a lot of competing fandoms
In fact, this religion is a massive cumulative fandom whose longevity would shame BTS and Harry Potter combined. It boasts millions of fanfic creations written over centuries. Billions of fans have consumed and created countless other media endeavors. At various times and for centuries on end, the Big Name Fans (BNFs) of this fandom have held life-and-death power over entire societies and civilizations.
Of course, we can’t just speak of a singular fandom in relation to Christianity. It’s had thousands and thousands of completely different fandoms. Each has its own rules and expectations for members. The fans themselves fight endlessly with enemy fandoms, but also with each other. Each fandom is positive that their idols’ other fandom organizations are doing everything wrong. And they each support their assertions in the same way.
Christianity’s fans keep insisting that their idol is real, but not a single person has ever verified any communication from him. They likewise insist that their idol has magic powers and can work impossible feats called miracles. Nobody has ever objectively verified a single one of these.
Strangely, the object of their fascination also seems singularly disinterested in correcting any mistakes or errors of judgment that any of his fans might be making. He hasn’t put out any new source material in over a thousand years, so his fans must argue endlessly about the tiny amount he allegedly did create.
But observe what happens when someone begins losing interest in most fandoms
Very few fans can maintain their ardor forever. When Remington Steele finally ended—after an infuriating set of broken promises that probably wrecked Brosnan’s career—I eventually wandered away from my fandom. I see online that the show still has its fans discussing and dissecting episodes and plots. That pleases me. But I’ve lost my zeal for the show. It belongs to my early teens, and that’s likely where it’ll stay.
Nobody told me that if I didn’t become a fan again, Pierce Brosnan was going to set my ghost on fire forever after I died. No one sneered at me for not having been a real fan. Or told me my own flaws had led to my leaving the fandom. No fans tried to cold read my reasons for leaving. Nobody attempted to manipulate me into watching just one more episode. You know, just in case I get zapped by the Steele fandom bug again, or was I just scared to try?
In fact, I’ve never even found a bright-eyed Remington Steele fan at my door dual-wielding VHS and DVD copies of the show’s episodes, eager to get me signed up to the fan club again. I never see Pierce Brosnan’s face smiling at me from fandom postcards jammed into my door. Nor have any neighbors I’ve never even met before invited me to a screening at their fandom’s clubhouse, only to ghost me forever after I graciously declined.
On the other hand, neither the fans of that old TV show nor K-pop fans ever gained a lot of temporal power over others. And I don’t think any non-religious fandoms promise posthumous torture or paradise.
Maintaining passion and zeal is hard, however, in dead fandoms
Imagine being a next-level Star Wars nerd. You meet your OPT at a Star Wars convention and hit it off bigtime. Very quickly, you fall in love. The two of you do everything together. And by everything, I mean Star Wars fandom stuff: conventions, meetups, learning Bocce, even scouring auction sites and yard sales for collectibles.
You thought the two of you would be Star Wars nerds doing Star Wars stuff together forever.
And some couples do exactly that.
You’re just not one of them this time, is all.
Gradually, you realize that your OTP isn’t as enthusiastic as they once were. They don’t want to do fan stuff like they used to. When you suggest driving 400 miles to a Star Wars-ish museum, they suggest a week in Paris instead. One day, you discover they’ve boxed up all their costumes. After pointed questions, they confess that they’ve just lost interest.
Hopefully, you’ve built up enough of a relationship outside of the fandom to survive this rift.
It’s natural to find and lose interests over our lifetimes, especially when we’re young(er). The brighter the fandom candle burns, the faster it seems to burn itself out. If the fandom’s idol(s) aren’t making any new creations, as in the case of Remington Steele, that makes maintaining zeal even harder.
But there’s really only one fandom I know that routinely gets super-upset and angry when their fellow fans lose interest.
A retention strategy: Maintaining zeal in a fandom without any new creations in thousands of years
Over the past week or two, I’ve run across a number of Christian resources claiming to help fans maintain their zeal for the fandom. We’ll be talking about a couple of them next week. Before that, I wanted to set the stage for exactly how ridiculous Christians get about what amounts to a fandom.
It’s a very important fandom to them, and we all get that, sure.
At least, they say that it is. Their behavior doesn’t usually reflect their words, alas.
But it’s still a fandom. You can come or go from it for any reason you want—including for no reason at all.
Even if you were part of it for your whole life up until the moment of leaving, you owe your old fandom nothing. Even if you were a very excited, passionate, zealous member of it, you don’t owe anybody explanations. You don’t need to convince your old fandom that you really, truly, totally and for realsies were a TRUE FAN™ of the show/group/star/whatever. Or that you really do understand it well enough for King Them to grant you their holy permission to leave the fandom forever.
(They won’t ever grant it, though. Try not to fall for that old, dishonest trick.)
If people from your old fandom want you to watch those Remington Steele episodes on VHS tapes again, you can tell them no without a flinch of regret or sadness. If they try to tell you that BTS controls natural disasters, or that Draco Malfoy can heal your disease or cure your addiction or save your ailing marriage, or that Baby Yoda will set your ghost on fire after you die if you don’t worship him, you can laugh at them. Or smile sadly at them. Or do nothing at all.
You’ve got my official permission. There: It is yours.
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