Saturday, February 5, 2011

Justin Bieber, Talk to Me.


I wake up one morning and some kid's got Bieber-mania on TV and has (rightfully) wandered away. (Bieber seems sweet. But, what?)

The people in the audience are pretty much all female. Some are Bieber's age or younger. But some are my age, and when asked to put their hands up in that heart-shape thingy, there's one Dad who's taking it way too seriously.

The women -- even the ones in their 20s, 30s, and 40s -- know when to scream and for how long and at what pitch. They're fans -- and I don't think they're just fans of Bieber. They're fan personalities. This has to come from some kind of genetic predisposition toward fan-ishness. I'm guessing that, if you walked into their homes, you'd see small signs of one small cult-like obsession after another -- Simpsons, Ferbies, and a very particular kind of dog that has a wide fan-base -- the chihuahua? They're wearing jeggings.

Now it might sound like I'm anti-fan. I'm not. I think uber-smart people who have fan-genetics have a super-power element to their intellect -- because they lock onto a subject and go deep.

I'm a terrible fan. I can't keep my bands straight -- even those I love. There's something about seeing a movie (even on I love) a second time that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. (There are few exceptions to this. Weirdly, one of them seems to be 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' a movie I wouldn't even recommend to others.) I couldn't muster anything for Sean Cassidy or those 90210 guys or their sideburns ... I've never screamed because I've seen someone who's a stranger to me, personally. (I'm not a big screamer, in general.) I think this actually works against me.

As a kid, my sister worked in NY as an actress/director/producer. I shook hands with Al Pacino. John Heard and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) showed up in our kitchen. No big reaction. I only got extremely nervous once when meeting someone famous. Oddly enough, it was Wendy Wasserstein -- who gets nervous about meeting a playwright? She was a god in my house growing up.

I don't like terrible fans. They read a book by an author, dig it, and don't read more books by that author.

This fan-ishness seems to link up -- again with some kind of genetic disposition? -- to certain kinds of books. Kid books build fans. Are kids better fans in general? It could be a strong phase of normal development. It would make sense that as a kid you'd be programmed to want to go deep in one area -- to create some sense of self and the world by reading books by someone disentangling things in your brain until the books' bindings come unglued. It could be that people who harness this fan-ish disposition and work in a field that allows going deep to be a strength, not a distraction, then it could be hugely helpful or if it is your field that constitutes your obsession. (Theo Epstein.)

Now, readers of contemporary adult fiction are they author-oriented, fan-ish? My guess is that aside from a few exceptions, they seem to be more title focused. They read what's being read. For example, an Oprah book club selection sells that author's book madly, but hasn't necessarily built a huge fan base for that author's subsequent books. I say "hasn't necessarily" because there are exceptions and because this is only something I read and not something I've tracked myself. The fans in the ranks of those readers might be Oprah fans but that doesn't necessarily translate to being a lifelong fan of the author.

Sometimes literary novel fans, the deep readers, stick with an author until they turn on them -- like music fans who discover a band early and then dismiss them once everyone else loves them. "I was into them when they were a garage band, but now ..."

Could fan-ish behavior be linked to addictive behavior? Isn't it a kind of addiction? We've all heard the phrase "an addictively good read".

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a sociologist/psychologist so that I could research things like this. But instead I'm a writer who makes stuff up. I write a lot. I write, some might say, addictively. It's not that I'm a fan of self. I get bored of myself which is why I write about other people's lives.

For me writing is about exhaling. Being a fan is about inhaling. Some writers need to inhale a lot to feel the need to exhale. Other writers need to inhale a little of the world around them then feel overwhelmed and must process it, exhale.

Maybe fans do the same -- they inhale to buoy and sustain themselves during the slow exhale of their lives.

I just can't breathe Bieber.