Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Professional Fan? Perception Is Everything!...

I just took part in an interview (link coming soon) where the tables-- or recorder, as it were-- were turned and the questions posed to me for a change. It was an interview for my book, of course, and one of the things that came up was the issue of going from being a fan of someone to interacting with them on a professional level. How did that come about; how did I feel; how do I make it work-- that sort of thing. Admittedly the question took me a bit my surprise at first because so many of those I grew up a simple fan of, or even more deeply idolizing, I have yet to interact with in a truly in-depth way or even in person at all. Yet the idea was not new to me: in fact, it is something I have struggled a bit with ever since I decided I wanted to pursue entertainment writing and reporting on a more full-time, professional level. After all, sure, I only want to write about shows and stars I genuinely enjoy-- because I am much more interested in pumping up rather than tearing down art-- but there is a very, very thin line between promotional praise and outright gushing. And it is a line I have become increasingly aware of crossing.

When I started this blog, I didn't really know what I wanted it to be. In the earliest inception, I just wanted an outlet to share some anecdotes and stories from what was happening in my life at the time (part online journal, in a way) and even script pages or chapters of dialogues for workshopping and objective feedback. It was intended to be a place of personal tales, but as it evolved-- or maybe as I did-- I found that what I loved most was reviewing and interacting with those who made the programs I loved so much, as well as those who also loved the programs as much as I did. I began freelancing for other websites with a reporter's cap on; I developed a more neutral "news" voice; and I wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist when pitching ideas for features to studios, networks, and individual talent representatives'.

But in the age of the Internet, with a blog I had never intended to be anonymous, what was to stop one such representative-- or even one such talent-- from Googling my name to make sure I was a legitimate professional and finding something a little, um, less-- like my gratuitous "Hottie of the Week" column (which was later turned into the "Hottie Awards")? Absolutely nothing. There is no denying ownership or responsibility when you have a byline, and your online footprint is deeper ingrained than you may even consider, especially now that Google searches have incorporated Tweets as well as legitimate news articles. But nor did I want to try to hide those things. I own every thing I do; I'm proud of the writing I put here, sometimes even moreso than the lackluster "breaking news" I get paid to write. I'm proud of the person I've become, shaped by the programs I loved through the years. I'm proud of the fear I have let go of to speak from the heart about that love and the importance it held in my life.

I can't change how people perceive me: I can only be true to myself, my beliefs, and my interests. The only writing that gets a strong response-- positive or otherwise-- is the kind that is as open and honest as possible. I've seen that from first-hand experience, and I relish in it. I love opening myself up and sharing what I love and why and learning that others are like-minded. It offers an oddly satisfying (even if at times a bit belated) kind of validation. I'm not going to change my opinion, or change my spin in an article, because I worry what the response will be-- from anyone. That is not my job; there is no respect to be gained from being fake and kissing ass where it is not warranted, just as there is no respect to be gained from snarky where it is not warranted. I don't care if you like me or like what I have to say, but I would like you to respect that it's my opinion and respect the way I go about expressing it.

The thing is: the whole reason I got into this business-- not just blogging and journalism but entertainment in general, starting with going to film school and working in production-- was to turn a hobby into a career. I wanted to be a part of the world I grew up investing so much of my time in because it was what made me happiest. I started this blog when no one paid me, too, and if I decided to switch careers again tomorrow, I'd still keep this one place up and running. It's not work when you love what you do: it's a cliche for a reason-- because it's overtly true and told too many times. I found something in this medium that made me feel good about myself, and I wanted to use my own talents to turn others onto it as well. In that regard, I can never completely turn off the fan part of me-- because to do so would be to turn my back on a major part of who I am-- but coming from that angle is what gives my writing its uniqueness. In interviews I ask the questions that the fans want to know; I review episodes not with a snobby theorist's eye but from the perspective of any audience member. It's not taboo to embrace your fandom; it's a uniting factor, not a dividing one. Actors may be just people, but so are fans.

When I was in college, I did my senior thesis on fandom, specifically soap opera fans and specifically those of Days of our Lives for a lot of personal reasons. I interviewed everyone from those who had the hourglass logo tattooed on their ankle to those who had named their kids after characters they particularly enjoyed. And I interviewed some of the actors, too. By and large the response I got from the actors' publicists and management teams were: "But you're not making fun of the fandom, right?" I guess this was because I was pitching the project as "Trekkies for the daytime drama world," and let's face it, if you didn't understand the fandom of Star Trek, you could easily watch that movie and think it was making fun of those people. But that was audience's perception-- an audience that couldn't expand their minds enough to try to relate to that world. Every piece of creativity (and yes, journalism can be creative, especially these days when you have to find your own unique voice and hook to get someone to click on your link instead of, or in addition to, the of the dozens of similar stories) is bound to garner that reaction in some capacity. It just comes with the territory. But if the majority get what you're trying to say, or at least are not put-off by your methods, you're doing something right!

I hope I'm doing something right...

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