Friday, 1 February 2013

Becoming Youtube and becoming a person

There is a fascinating series on YouTube at the moment called Becoming Youtube, which allows relative newbies (such as myself) to get a brief catchup on the history of Youtube (and I mean very brief, it focuses on very specific areas, mostly due to who is available to intelligent and informative host and creator, Benjamin Cook) while also treating this influential website as an important cultural tool. By no means is it a cheerleader for the site though. Quite the contrary, it engages and challenges how its influence has grown and surpassed its original origins due to the huge growth in its audience. I'm going to be concerned with the latest episode, but every one so far has been fascinating, so here's a link to the first episode. They are fairly long but fascinating nevertheless.

The latest episode looked at fandom, with Nerdfighteria as the case study. I won't repeat the perfectly good summary in the episode (about 2.57) so just check that out and then we can continue.

You watched all of it didn't you? Don't blame you, after all I asked you to, although it was a long and lonely wait. So now we know what being a nerdfighter means we can move on.


That last sentence is wrong pretty much entirely. If you aren't a nerdfighter, surely you don't know what it is? Even if you think you do, if you were a part of it surely that definition would change. What you thought previously will be proved to be incorrect as you become more involved in the community. This is the problem that fandom has but is by no means unique - any group that encourages its participants to label themselves (fandoms are one example, as are political groups, religions, critical theorists and so on) automatically excludes themselves from those that aren't part of the group. I suppose that is the point of these groups, to find others who share your views and that aren't like everybody else. Until people who claim to be part of your group do things that act against everything that you thought the group stands for. You then have to justify your allegiance to the group to those who criticise it because of one individuals actions. Which can be quite difficult.

"Hi, I'm Kevin. I'm a big fan of the Batman films." Really? How big?
"Bit obsessive to be honest. Haha." Ha. What, like dressing up and stuff?
"Yeah, sometimes. But only when I'm out with my mates who love it as much as I do." So you're like that murderer in Colorado? Wasn't he dressed as the Joker or something?
"Oh, he's not like us." But he said he loves the films as well. He was just as big a fan as you.
"Well, not to me." So you're the representative of your group?
"Well no, there are others like me but they obviously have different views." Like the guy who killed all those people?
"Um..." Um....

Everyone is wrong aren't they? The critic is wrong to generalise a group because of an individual but the participant is similarly wrong to assume everyone in the group shares their view. Examples are evident in the documentary I mentioned above* as indeed there is in real life. And that's my problem with all these groups that encourage their fans to label themselves. They put them within a conflict that nobody wants to get involved in, but as I tried to demonstrate is automatic whenever being a fan of something appears. I'm sure many of us have experienced at some point. And probably from both sides.

Personally, I'm fond of many things and would consider myself a fan of a handful of them- Doctor Who (despite the recent increase of disappointment recently, the concept opens so many possible routes I can't abandon it), theatre and literature are the ones that dominate my life most. Both are capable of disappointing me or not doing things I like, but to me there is something about them that makes abandonment impossible. This doesn't mean you can't stop being a fan. Indeed, in some ways I would encourage it as it will generally cause less arguments. I used to be very passionate about football, but due to a gradual lack of interest and a feeling that if I said I supported Man. United I would be hated by many automatically. Similarly, I have no specific taste in music beyond being fond of certain bands (last night I went to a Two Door Cinema Club concert, who have yet to make a bad song and are incredible live. Check them out if you don't know them). The reason I like to be impartial in most of these areas is mostly because everyone is very proud and (obviously) committed to their opinions. As such, they will defend them to the bitter end, and as such can cause friendships, arguments and some parties to come to a similarly bitter end.

Obviously, being part of a group has many, many benefits which make these negative aspects somewhat bearable. I'm part of a drama society here at university, of which I'm proud of even if I don't know everyone. We all share a passion for performing and watching great shows, which triumphs over any tempestuous personal relations which arises naturally within large groups. What annoys me is those people who choose to use their group membership to be unnecessarily cruel to those who aren't part of their group and, unfortunately, other groups. Disagreement will always occur, but we can at least be respectful about it.

I have friends who like things I don't and vice versa, but crucially they are friends. If you're so committed to your group that friendships are unnecessary, then a reality check is in order. The feeling of fandom can come and go, at least in my experience. Building relationships with people outside that environment is more likely to be more rewarding and beneficial in your life - there are a significant minority of examples where that isn't the case. Even if you get successful through obsession of YouTube or Doctor Who or whatever, it won't be solely because of that. Involvement with the real world is the only way for you to actually do something, rather than just admire people who aren't just fans but able to actually do something (say running a political party or writing a script for a new TV show) that can potentially generate fandoms and group worship in the first place.

As ever, there are others out there who can summarise my posts into a one-liner and the trend continues today. In the latest episode of Becoming YouTube, Jack Howard says, "If people are Nerdfighters, then fine. Just don't be a prick about it."
Just because you are part of a group doesn't mean you are automatically a good or a bad person - you're just a person who likes something more than most people do. It's not an excuse or a justification for anything that is in and of itself morally repugnant and evil.

*I find I have to defend myself for referring to Becoming Youtube as a documentary. as it's on YouTube, associated with people falling over and funny animals, but the documentary is worthy of being shown on TV** but by being on YouTube, it feels more relevant / focused.

**which people think is somehow a better media than the Internet despite also showing people falling over and funny animals, clips of which are then put on YouTube - it's a vicious cycle the media.