Writer/director/professional asshole Kevin Smith has been in the news lately. Partially, this is because he has a new film out, but mostly it’s because he used the power of social media and his million and a half Twitter followers to throw a hissy about being deemed too fat to physically fit a single airline seat. There are some things about his account that don’t quite make sense to me, but the one thing about which I’m fairly certain is that the seat is not at fault.
Thinking about Kevin Smith (something I care to avoid whenever feasible) has had me thinking about a peculiar subset of geekdom: the fan-turned-pro. These are the relatively few fanboys and girls who have achieved a measure of creative success in movies and/or TV, and who have themselves inspired devoted followers who declare them the wittiest, most wonderful things ever to exist in the universe of stuff.
In the case of Kevin Smith, my theory is that his entire rise to fame is built upon the scene from his debut film Clerks in which the main characters debate the ethics of blowing up the many independent contractors laboring aboard the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. I suspect that a great many people who would never otherwise have been interested in a cheap indie flick about misogynistic, jerkwad store employees saw it solely because they’d heard about that scene. I know that I did.*
Now, I’m not in a position to review his body of work. The only other Smith film I’ve seen was Chasing Amy, which I thought was okay. Nothing I’ve heard about his later flicks encouraged me to check them out. From my perspective, his chief contribution to culture has been giving other fanboys license to wear black trenchcoats during situations in which trenchcoats are neither necessary nor a good idea.
I believe that, to a large extent, Smith’s following is built upon a foundation of self justification. “If a tubby, repulsive geek like him can make it, then how can I be worthless?”
He’s not the only one to benefit from that flavor of adoration. (Though he is the one least likely to fly on Southwest Airlines.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon certainly qualifies.
Now, please understand that–unlike the anal pustule that is Kevin Smith–I myself have a great deal of fondness for Joss Whedon. My DVD library includes seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel and no seasons of Dollhouse. (But the fact that I watched every last damned episode of the latter suggests that I am willing to follow him into places most others wouldn’t.) All in all, I think he’s a talented writer who happens to work with the sort of subject matter I enjoy.
I have argued with friends and associates who find Whedonites a particularly noxious fandom. I don’t think that they’re any worse than any other group of myopic idolizers. I’ve hung out on enough sci-fi message boards to remember the ferocity of Babylon 5 fans who saw its creator J. Michael Straczynski as the most remarkable TV producer ever. Joss’ fans may be all too willing to blame his failures on others,** but I don’t think that’s unusual.***
I do, however, believe that Whedonites (and I admit to having Whedonite tendencies myself) extend their intense devotion to any actor touched by the Joss. Certainly, I initially tuned into How I Met Your Mother mostly because of Alyson Hannigan.
How else to explain the extreme interest in minor Internet celeb Felicia Day? She played a potential Slayer in the final season of Buffy, and–more significantly–the love interest in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She’s moderately cute, and can kinda sing. She produces and stars in a web series called The Guild, based on her experiences as an online gamer. Basically, she’s Kitty Pryde of the X-Men–a non-threatening, mildly geeky imaginary girlfriend–with the added advantage of being a real person one could actually touch but never will. But, because of the Whedon connection,**** she’s the most beautiful talent triple-threat, and woe to the persons who can’t see it for themselves.
Sometimes, this unnatural attention runs its natural course. These days, one rarely hears about Babylon 5 outside of sentences like, “Hey, remember when Babylon 5 was a thing?” J. Michael Straczynski mostly writes comics these days. Even so, I’m sure that someone out there is breathlessly declaring JMS the bestest thing to hit comics since Stan Lee.
Thankfully, I do not hang out on that message board.
*For my own part, as far back as 1977 I had wondered much the same thing about the original Star Wars. Even at 13, I’d begun to wonder about things like whether everyone aboard the first Death Star deserved to be vaporized. Surely, I thought, there were at least some imprisoned Rebels aboard?
**Dollhouse was ruined by pinheads at Fox, not because it was an unworkable series premise populated by characters who were literally blank slates and fronted by an actress with the chameleon-like ability to play a single personality.
***Can’t wait to read the justifications for Cop Out.
****The gamer thing also helps.