Why Fandom is Worth It

After reading that last essay, one might get the mistaken impression that Fandom is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe some fandoms are, but think of what a boring place the world would be if it didn’t have any Fans! How many friends and acquaintances would be able to count as your own if they weren’t Fellow Fans of some music group, some sports team, some video game, some knitting circle, some book club, some hobby horse or other that you didn’t have in common? Fandom is one of the best ways to connect with other people and form lasting communities.

In the era of the Internet, fans have more chances to connect than ever before, albeit on a more superficial level than face-to-face gatherings. One of the things which separates the true Fans from their fair-weather online counterparts is their willingness to meet “in person.” More often than not, internet fans are so scattered around the globe that face-to-face encounters aren’t really a feasible option. This is where the ever-popular Fan-Convention can lure people together under one roof who would normally never encounter each other outside of cyberspace. But more about that later (I promise)…

My Soap Opera Fandom

My dalliance with Soap Opera fandom isn’t something I’m particularly proud of (or even willing to admit publicly). But I do have my excuses:

When I was a sophomore in college, I only had about half an hour between lunch and my first afternoon class. Naturally, I usually spent that half hour sitting in the TV Lounge of the local Student Union building. As it happened, this TV Lounge was always swamped with women watching “Days of Our Lives.” I had no say in the matter, it was just a way to pass the time until my next class. Honest!

But a funny thing happened – much to my own dismay, I got hooked on Days of Our Lives! It all started with a formulaic “murder mystery” plot wherein Jack and Jennifer began to close in on the evidence that would eventually lead them to the “real” killer. There was also a love triangle between Lawrence, Bo, and Carly which struck my fancy, mostly because Lawrence was an intriguing and sympathetically portrayed villain while Carly’s heart really did seem torn between her two suitors (without coming across as ditzy).

But most of the plot lines for the show were beyond dumb! There was a whole season where everything revolved around obtaining some authentic Aztec Codices from an ancient ruin in Central America, but once the villain got his hands on the precious Codices, the whole plot thread fizzled and never cropped up again. Then there was the plot line where Carly was “buried alive” and Vivian spent a whole week taunting her via two-way radio while Carly lay underground, waiting for her prince charming to come for her. And don’t even get me started on the ludicrous evil-twin-back-from-the-dead “Two Romans” plot line! Such piffle would easily have sunk any self respecting Sci-Fi show!

On top of that there were the notoriously low production values, the annoyingly unimaginative lighting schemes and paltry sound effects. A particular highlight was watching Roman (I forget which one) as he handled a metal flashlight in the middle of a snowstorm without any gloves on. But I kept on watching. For TWO WHOLE YEARS I watched, and even went so far as to tape the show during my summer breaks just to keep up to speed.

Why? Why did I torture myself that way? Well, I’m happy to report that managed to learn a couple of things while watching Days of Our Lives: 

First, I gained a newfound respect for the people who had to write that sort of tripe, constantly wracking their brains to come up with new twists and turns the audience wouldn’t expect. Half the battle of serialized story telling is to keep the audience guessing what will happen NEXT. As long as you can keep the audience guessing, they’ll keep tuning in, if only to satisfy their curiosity. But you have to deliver on your promises! If you imply that something BIG is about to happen, you had better have something BIG already simmering on the back burner, just waiting to be brought to a boil. Because if you fail to deliver on BIG, you will lose the audience’s trust, and it’s always very difficult to win that trust back once it’s been lost. The writers of “24” understand this. The writers of “Earth: Final Conflict” did not.

Second, I discovered over time that while high production values, plausible story lines, and credible actors are all nice things to have, all you really need to keep people tuning in to your show are a few well rounded CHARACTERS which the audience is willing root for. The main reason I cared about what would happen NEXT on Days of Our Lives is because I was deeply curious as to what impact the next BIG thing would have on the characters I CARED about. Eventually the murder mystery was solved and the actor who played Jack left the show, hence I lost interest in Jack and Jennifer's story line. Carly and Lawrence eventually left the show as well (Carly finally made up her mind!), hence I was FINALLY able to lay my Soap Opera Fandom to rest! Once the characters I CARED about most left the show, I was able to “let go” and move on with my life. 

Why do audiences latch onto some characters and not others? Well, you can only please some of the people some of the time, so the more diverse your cast is, the more individual characters your audience has a chance to root for, the better your chances of keeping said audience tuning in week after week. I used to think that PLOT was everything, mostly because I tend to judge a story based whether or not the plot is satisfactorily resolved. But Soap Operas taught me that Character Development matters MORE. If your audience doesn’t care about the characters, all the riveting plot twists and Special FX in the world are going to be completely WORTHLESS! 

I didn’t always realize that about myself, that well written CHARACTERS were what really dominated my viewing habits. So despite the momentary embarrassment of my Soap Opera addiction - no regrets!

My Anime Fandom

My road to Anime Fandom was even rockier and harder than my road to BSG Fandom. When was a college student, I had several well-meaning friends who tried to pique my interest in Anime. They showed me a small barrage of their personal Anime favorites, assuming that mutual enthusiasm and admiration would follow.

They were wrong.

They showed me Akira. They showed me Tenchi Muyo. They showed me Ranma 1/2. Much to my friends’ dismay, I was NOT impressed. Not even a little bit. The "landmark" film, Arkira, definitely had some impressive animation in it, but the story left me cold. The ending, in particular, failed to satisfy. Tenchi Muyo and Ranma 1/2 failed to amuse, and the animation even seemed crude and jerky to my virgin eyes. More to the point, Tenchi Muyo didn’t offer me any characters that I felt comfortable rooting for. They all seemed bratty or obnoxious or clueless. I honestly couldn’t identify with any of the characters or their supposed problems.

So I walked away from my initial Anime experience with a bad taste in my mouth. The worst part of it was, my well meaning friends had assured me that I had sampled the cream of the crop. If that was indeed the case, then I was pretty sure I could do without any more Anime in my life. The proliferation of imported kiddie shows like Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Drangonball Z only made matters worse. These Anime imports seemed little more than brazen attempts to sell cheap Japanese toys and were as insufferable to watch as Smurfs reruns.

But then, a few years later, another well meaning friend got me an unsolicited Christmas gift. It was the first volume of “Macross Plus” on VHS (dubbed). Apparently, my friend had asked the clerk at a local Suncoast Video store for an Anime recommendation (thank you kind sir or madam, whoever you are!) and Macross Plus was what he was advised to purchase.

This time I was IMPRESSED! After I picked my jaw up off the floor, all I could say was, "Wow!" The animation really was innovative and captivating! The characters really were sympathetic and well written! The plot was wasn’t pathetically predictable and the ending wasn’t an incoherent mess! If only my college buddies has shown me Macross Plus instead, they could have added another Anime fan to their ranks. Oh well.

Nowadays I have more Anime DVDs resting on my shelf than I do American theatrical releases! For me, Anime typically combines the best of both worlds: Character driven stories which also happen to be filled to the brim with eye candy! It also helps that most Japanese animators like to pretend that they’re shooting “film” instead of “animation.” Japanese cartoons typically utilize more “camera” angles, employ more sophisticated editing techniques and posses much more ambitious story telling imperatives than their American counterparts. 

If I hadn’t been willing to give Anime a second chance, I would never have discovered great shows like “Vandread” or “Martian Successor Nadesico,” both of which made me laugh much harder than any of the same old American sitcoms I’ve seen in the past few years. Martian Successor Nadesico still holds the record for “Most Innovative and Hilarious Clip Show Ever Made” in my book! Right now I’m collecting “Zoids: Chaotic Century” and “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex.” Stand Alone Complex is probably the highest quality product coming out of Japan right now, and certainly represents a level of quality and sophistication that I find lacking elsewhere. And to think I was willing to forego the entire genre just because some old college buddies showed me a poor sampling!

But again, I had help along the way. Another friend of mine (whom I’ll call Byron, since that’s his name) happens to be a much bigger Anime nut than I am. Thankfully, Byron was more than willing so share his extensive backlog of fan-subbed material on tape. That’s how I got hooked on obscure series like “Gundam X” and a few others which have never been released in the U.S. The point being that you should never be afraid to give new genres a try, because you never know for sure what you might be missing! 

The fact remains that if it hadn’t been for Byron’s strange Saturday morning viewing habits and stubborn refusal to learn how to program his own VCR, I never would have discovered Roughnecks!

My Roughnecks Fandom

“Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles” (also known as Starship Troopers: The Series) was Sony’s belated attempt to do an animated spin-off of Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” movie. And whatever you may think of Verhoven’s decidedly gory teen-models-in-outer-space epic, I think it’s fair to say that his movie was a poor adaptation of Heinlein’s original 1959 novel. Then Roughnecks came along and proved once and for all that a decent adaptation of Heinlein’s work was indeed possible!

Roughnecks had it all: state-of-the-art 3D animation, highly detailed conceptual design, incredible art direction, plus great scripts that not only adapted the novel well but explored the universe Heinlein had created in greater detail. Unfortunately, Roughnecks also had a lousy time slot between five and six in the morning on the BKN Network. The show inspired a small and devoted following online, but simply aired too early in the morning to ever attract a huge ratings audience. 

Which is a shame, because Roughnecks was easily one of the most ambitious animation projects ever produced for American television. Each planetary campaign introduced a new environment for the troopers to explore (water worlds, desert planets, tangled jungles, ice asteroids, not to mention the Bug homeworld and good ol' Earth). And just like their Japanese counterparts in the world of 2-D animation, individual episodes of Roughnecks were "shot" and edited much more like movies than cartoons (multiple camera angles, moody atmospheric lighting effects, rich surface textures, smooth camera pans and zooms, etc.) The directors and animators of the show certainly pushed the envelope of the 3-D animation technology available at the time.

As if that weren't enough, the overall writing quality of the show was also a cut above the average "kid-vid." The writers of this show knew what Anime fans and Soap Opera fans have known all along, which is that episodic storytelling allows for much deeper character interaction than the average stand-alone movie, and that it doesn't even matter whether the characters are cartoons or not. People will keep tuning in to see what happens to the characters they care about, and the writing team for Roughnecks kept giving us plenty of reasons to care. Some characters even got wounded and have to sit out a few episodes. It was never quite clear which troopers would live to tell the tale, and in fact one of the main characters died near the end of the series. Better still, the remaining troopers were given two final episodes to come to terms with the loss of their teammate. Again, not your average kiddie fare. 

Half a decade later, no half-hour animated Saturday morning show has even come close to achieving the quality of animation or depth of story that Roughnecks represents! And yet, much to my own consternation, precious few people even realize that the series exists!

Admittedly, it was a struggle to watch the show as it aired, even for die-hard fans like myself. Episodes were originally shown as they were completed, NOT in any sort of chronological order that made sense. Very few local affiliate stations carried the show at first and so Roughnecks languished in obscurity until the Sci-Fi Channel picked it up in February of 2000. Even then, it only aired early in the morning FOUR DAYS a week, hence every fifth episode was dropped so that we could all bask in the glory of a Rambo cartoon instead (I kid you not!).

Once again, it was the Internet to the rescue! There were only four other Roughnecks sites on the web when I entered the fray, but they were exactly what I needed at the time. There were airing schedules, episode synopsis and (most importantly) online Bulletin Boards where fans could get together and try to make heads or tales of the screwy viewing order. We excitedly discussed each new episode as it aired and hashed out each new plot development. We laughed, we cried, we shared small snippets of our lives. We critiqued each others’ fanfic and encouraged each other to try our hands at fan art (my Roughnecks “Archive” site can still be viewed here: http://misterhook.net/roughnecks/ ).

Life was good! - Until the show was unceremoniously CANCELED! Sony never even finished the last four episodes of the first season (those dirty rotten scoundrels!). But we persevered! We petitioned Sony to release the entire series on DVD - and we got results! We never got our Second Season, be we did end up with some life-long friends to savor the memories with.

The fact remains that if it hadn’t been for online BBoards like the Roughnecks Outpost or RoughnecksChronicles.com, I would never have attempted to meet up with fellow fans at the official Roughnecks panel at ComiCon International (San Diego) in 2002!

Let Fandom Reign

Because of the all fine folks I managed to meet and greet in conjunction with the 2002 Roughnecks panel at ComiCon (you know who you are!), I’ve gone on to do things and go places that I probably never would have if I hadn’t become a bit player in the online arena of Roughnecks Fandom:

1. I never would have started writing my own fan-fiction.

2. I never would have attempted to build and maintain my own fan website.

3. I never would have posted my own critiques of every single Roughnecks episode online.

4. I never would have received a kind email from one of the show’s directors letting me know that he actually read my reviews and passed them around the office.

5. I never would have had the opportunity to meet with several directors and animators from the show “in person” or hang out with them for “brunch.”

6. I never would have gotten Steve Staley’s autograph.

7. I never would have gone to ComiCon in the first place.

8. I never would have gone to the 2004 Roughnecks “East Coast” Reunion.

9. I never would have been to Baltimore.

10. I never would have visited New York City.

11. I never would have walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

12. I never would have visited Ground Zero.

13. I never would have taken in the view from atop the Empire State Building.

14. I never would have seen Rockefeller Center in Times Square.

15. I never would have had a picture of myself taken by a complete stranger as I participated in human pyramid in front of the Fox News Center.

16. I never would have gotten the chance to tour a nuclear powered aircraft carrier (the USS Stennis).

17. I never would have been to Legoland (twice!)

18. I never would have gotten to visit the San Diego Zoo.

19. I never would have been to Oklahoma City or seen the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.

20. I never would have seen “Pirates of the Caribbean” in a movie theater. 

I could go on, but I think you get the point. In retrospect, I think it’s fair to say that Roughnecks Fandom has been one of the best things which has ever happened to me! Viva la Fandom!

P.S. If any members of the writing staff for Days of Our Lives (past or present) are reading this:


Joel "Mr. Hook" Hoekstra a.k.a. Son of Joxer - Aug 23, 2006