On being a fangirl — in celebration of my tenth bloggiversary yesterday
I just read this lovely article about Michael Palin. It reminded me of two things: first, that I really need to watch more of his travel programmes, because the ones I’ve seen I’ve liked. There are occasional moments when I feel uncomfortable, but it’s because of Palin’s willingness to show himself as an ignorant stranger. What I do like is that there is relatively little of the “ooh! look at the odd things these people do!” that often characterizes such shows. In the episodes I’ve seen, I’ve not seen Palin exhibit cringeworthy unacknowledged privilege. On reading this, I wasn’t surprised that he studied history — something I’d known, but not really thought about except in terms of ‘see? training in history can lead to all sorts of things!’ I’m certainly not saying that historians are immune from unchecked privilege — far from it. It’s just that the things Palin says about his interest in people and in being the interviewer, as well as the things the writer says about Palin, are very much the sorts of things that drew me to history and to teaching. Once I learned that history could be about more than ‘stuff that happened,’ that history was about people, and how they lived, and what they thought, I found I was rather good at it. (Back then, it was easy to measure ‘rather good’ — I got As) Obviously, I’m not trying to say I’m anything like Michael Palin. But I do think I’d like him, and honestly, I can’t imagine being starstruck if I met him.
This leads me to my second thing — I wanted to talk a bit about my year of fangirl-dom. Actually, it’s gone on a bit longer than that, and it’s kind of funny in a odd ways that I’m still sorting out. Heh — and I just realized that over the years people have met ADM and might have been acting a bit like fanboys and fangirls. This makes me smile. I expect that they now say to themselves, “She‘s ADM? she’s nothing all that special!” And that would be fine. Still, over the last couple of years, I’ve been in the position of meeting people and trying very hard not to jump up and down (except on the inside) shouting, “OMG! OMG! So-and-so talked to me/friended me!!!” And I’ve realized that some of the people I consider just normal people and friends/friendly colleagues are actually people who have their own fanboys and fangirls. Fame is really such a funny thing, isn’t it? If you meet people before you know they are famous (for values of famous, obviously), it’s hard to reconcile that with the person you know. For example, it never occurred to me that my professors at Beachy U were anything special — although at the time that probably had a lot to do with the fact that no one in my family or friends were in positions to consider any academic as being all that important to the greater scheme of things. They were just the man who read fantasy, was in the SCA, and wrote and performed historical filks in class, and the seemingly ascetic man who was scary-smart and wrote a lot about the devil. Similarly, I have a hard time suppressing a smile when someone mentions LDW or Extremely Cool Colleague in a fanboy/fangirl way because, well… it’s hard to feel that way about someone with whom you’ve shared a bathroom.
What does this have to do with Michael Palin? Well, Palin to Terry Jones…
I’ve seen Terry Jones at Kalamazoo a couple of times. This year, I wandered into a room where there’s usually wine, and realized it was a book signing, and that I was standing a couple of feet from him, and wandered back out to find wine. Because, yeah, it’s Terry Jones, but it’s also Kalamazoo, and I don’t know his work as an historian so much as I’m a fan of his work as a comedian. It just seems weird to celebrate that at the zoo. BUT… flash back to Leeds for the last couple of years.
In 2010, I tried to talk to Historian on the Edge, and felt sort of blown off. But I was still reeling from the highs of not only surviving a panel with one of the scariest grandes dames of Early Medieval — someone who I think deserves to be a Dame as much as one of the others — and from being praised by Big Names and being asked to socialize with them. This was especially true since a couple of Big Names I’ve known on this side of the pond for several years seem to have blown me off since I became more single than not. I hadn’t realized that my inclusion in things was probably due to who I was with at the time. A year later, and I was still kind of fan-girling over HotE, and some of the other EM people our age (well, his age… I’m a bit older), and totally squeed* over the fact that OMG they came to my paper!!! This year, I think HotE and I actually kind of became friends at the zoo. But then and now, even though I know him better, there’s a part of me that still squees about it. (I feel this way about several of my blogger friends, too, by the way — I’m all like, “OMG, I can’t believe [insert famous blogger] and I know each other IRL and are Fb friends!!!). Also at this zoo, I re-met Geoff Koziol, and am still totally fangirling getting to know him a bit more at conferences — and still owe him a post, because he convinced me I’d done him a disservice in the past on this very blog. And I’ve met or hung out with a lot of people like that at conferences this past couple of years, and am trying to figure out what it means.
It’s a really weird thing, this fangirl thing. I expect part of it is the desire many of us have to fit in, and to know the cool kids. But cool isn’t the same as famous, and fame isn’t a real draw for me. Or rather, I’m not sure I recognize or react to fame if it’s someone I haven’t heard of or don’t respect. After all, I’m hardly likely to fangirl over David Starkey or Niall Ferguson, and I’ve not let the reputations and clout of some pretty well-known scholars keep me from taking them on on listservs. If you flag your unrecognized privilege in my face, I have no qualms about calling you on it. This is probably not a good career move, but I have to be true to my values, thanks very much. Not to mention that I seem to have a compulsion to point at elephants. Still, I’ve also realized that my history fandom is different to my other sort of fandom. There is always a part of me that realizes that the historians are also colleagues, and that my squeeing says a lot about how I see myself — it’s the feeling that people whose work I really respect seem to think well of me, and the feeling that people I like might like me back. It’s something that is accentuated by my work situation, where for various reasons what I want to do, and try to do, as a scholar is simply not recognized, and where I have no conversations at all about scholarship in my field or any other, except with maybe one or two other people once every six weeks or so. I certainly never am party to conversations about what my nearest colleagues are working on, nor do they ask about what I am doing. I do have the feeling when I’m included in certain social occasions, but at this point, not as much, because I’ve been here long enough to have settled in. At any rate, my history fangirl seems to be all about being accepted. Yes, I apparently need external validation.
One of the things that reading this Palin article, and thinking about Terry Jones at Kalamazoo brought back to me was that the history fangirl is really sort of different to the ordinary fangirl. The ordinary fangirl came out this summer when I went to a party in London and met a well-known artist I’d admired for a long time (although again, I think part of that was because the friends who gave the party had spoken of her as a really cool person, and she was so nice!), and a nice man who I realized was Geoff Ryman. We went from having a pleasant conversation to me visibly squeeing because I really, really, loved Air. It’s a fantastic novel, and I’m still struck by how adept Ryman seems at writing female characters that feel like women I could know or be. One of the things we talked about was the problem of female superheroes often being honorary men, and I think his recognition of this may be why his own female characters work.
I somehow lost my train of thought, but I think what I’m trying to say here is that I’m not sure I understand fandom in the more normal sense, where there is a fan and his or her object of fandom, and a distance between them that will never be traversed. Or perhaps it’s that I can be a fan of an object (or person as object, I suppose), but I am only a fangirl when faced with someone I admire and whose respect I wish to have. In which case, I would like to remind those of you who are reading, especially those of you I’ve now known since we met at Invisible Adjunct, and those of you who have been reading for ages, and have commented for ages, that you have a fangirl. Thanks!
*definition of squee, for those unfamiliar with the term