This is a weird analogy, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: While cruising YouTube, I found a review of the 1989 Disney classic The Little Mermaid that mentions, off-hand, how Ariel is a huge fangirl of human culture: She has big cave of collectibles that could be featured in ROBOT 6’s “Shelf Porn,” her father doesn’t really get what his youngest daughter is “in to” and dramatically objects when her fandom starts to take over her responsibilities. She’s obviously passionate about human life and culture, and while she might not have all the facts right, her enthusiasm is infectious.
(Quick aside: I’m going to replace “fangirl” with “fanatic” instead, as being enthusiastic and a little immature is not limited to a girl’s fancy. From Cheeseheads to Deadheads, everyone can look a little stupid for something they love. You know who’s just as annoying to me as the mobs of women lusting over Robert Pattinson? The dude that screams “I LOVE YOU, SCARLETT!” at every midnight showing of a Marvel film featuring Black Widow. DUDE. SHE CAN’T HEAR YOU. So, yes, let’s just call them fanatics for whatever — and whoever — they love, because everyone gets a little goofy sometimes. Moving on …)
Fanatic Ariel loves human culture and swims about in her cave of collectibles, longing to take her fandom to the next level. Cue song. And while she might not be the best role model in the Disney Princess lineup, her story does have some empowering lessons all fans could learn.
Despite what Internet hyperbole might suggest, there are levels of interest within a fandom. You can like football enough to watch it with friends at a sports bar, you can paint yourself funny colors and wear a foam block of cheese on your head to support your team, and you can dare to dream to stand on the gridiron yourself. Being an active part of your fandom can have incredible purpose, enriching your life and that of others. There’s a lot of charity work done in the name of superheroes, as people find ways to be heroes themselves. Star Trek became an irreplaceable part of pop culture through fan dedication and created this interesting template for other movements to follow. Many creators of comics, TV and film started out watching their respective mediums and using them as a goal to get them to where they want to be in their careers. James Doohan inspired a lot of young men and women to study engineering because of his portrayal of Montgomery Scott. Fandom can be an incredible force for good.
It can also be used for ill. When people are judged by how active they are in a fandom or how much they measure up to some “fan standard,” that’s the kind of active participation that really diminishes everyone involved. When fans threaten creators because of changes in a fictional universe, that’s destructive, not to mention weird, considering that being a fan is all about loving an idea, activity or thing.
Keep in mind that Ariel made no demands on the object of her fandom. She didn’t get to the surface world and correct people on how to brush their hair with a fork. She was just happy to be a part of that world that she relished in the costly opportunity she was given. She went in under a penalty and with serious danger to herself, but she still enjoyed her time on the surface and in the company of Prince Eric. She wanted to be part of that world, not be queen of it. Mind you, “being the queen” was actually the villain’s motivation, causing horror and destruction to those who stood in her way. Perhaps you see when I’m going with this.
Interpretations of the Hans Christian Andersen tale aside, sometimes Disney-style happy endings come true. I’m actually proof as, after years of being a huge Star Trek fan, I got to be an extra in the 2009 film. A local hero at my local comic store, Chris Rafferty, is now working on the new Flash TV series. He worked hard to make it, and it’s paying off. It’s not immature to want to be a part of a world you feel strongly about. Sometimes being an active participant in fandom is an incredibly rewarding experience, from creating new friends to changing your life for the better.
It’s not easy; nothing really rewarding ever is. Some sea witch can try to take your voice. An authority figure can tell you your time is wasted and destroy all of your action figures. You might get to where you want to be and still have an uphill struggle.
We can’t let the sea witches of the world win. We can highlight them in opinion pieces and call them out on their attempts to control how a fandom works and who gets to be included in the club. However, they shouldn’t be the focus of how we view comics fandom as a whole. Ursula was willing to destroy lives and hurt people to become queen of Atlantis, and all she got in the end was stabbed by a boat. Be part of that world, don’t try to control that world and dictate who gains access. Don’t get stabbed by a boat.
For those who feel out of place and are still longing to be up where they stay all day in the sun? It’s worth it. Despite every setback, every trial, being a fan isn’t easy in the modern era, but it is rewarding. Don’t give up. It’s not worth letting Ursula the Sea Witch get her way.