On Fandoms and Writing… and other stuff

I come from a Giants family.  From March onwards, you cheer for the Giants; in Fall, you cheer for the Niners; and the rest of the year belongs to the Warriors.  The Warriors are my contribution, as I’m not sure that anyone in the family was all that dedicated to the Warriors as their team until I found basketball.  Basketball was a part of our lives in many ways; however, for many years before that, we were a baseball family.  At least three generations of my family have cheered for San Francisco baseball, whether it was the Seals up until the 1950s, the DiMaggio brothers in the 1940s, or the Giants since 1958.  Giants baseball cards occupied a space alongside the photos I kept in my desk, and a Giants pennant had occupied a prominent space on my wall for many years.  Kruk and Kuip were always on TV from April until October, unless we were listening to Jon Miller and Ted Robinson.

When I was a teenager, one of the first Giants games that I attended in person in years was a game against the Chicago Cubs.  Some of my dad’s work connections had scored us tickets, and we were up in The City for a game.  We, unfortunately, had found a section that was occupied by Cubs fans.  These fans are like many fans in the sense that they identify the other team as the enemy.  Thus, of all of the places we could be in the ballpark, we were in the section that booed when Bonds and Kent got to the plate and cheered whenever the Cubs did anything positive.  For a Bay Area native, nothing could boil the blood in quite the same way.  From that point forward, the Cubs had been the subject of my scorn, and have been baseball annoyances that are only eclipsed by the Dodgers as the baseball enemy.  It wasn’t that I’d disliked anybody specific on the Cubs (aside from Sosa, but that was completely different), but rather that I couldn’t stand Cubs fans.

Imagine my vitriol when the Giants faced the Cubs in the 2016 Divisional Series.  The Cubs fans were again in the stands at AT&T, proving they either come from everywhere or travel well, while many of us were watching the games on TV or listening on the radio.  With all of the posturing and youthful gamesmanship that came out of Chicago, the sting of watching that Giants-Cubs game in the thick of the Cubs fans once again felt fresh, and the Giants’ loss to the Cubs felt just as bad as if the Giants had just lost to their hated rivals on a Yasiel Puig walk-off.  It felt just as bad as having Madison Baumgarner pitch eight innings of shutout and watching the Giants lose it in the ninth.  It felt just as bad as watching Kobe Bryant get 60 points on 50 shots (and 10 free throws) and hearing people proclaim it a masterpiece.

Fandoms: Golden State vs. Cleveland Tirade

Let’s stay out of politics here, but 2016 was a difficult year for every cause I cheered for and every team with whom I’ve felt allegiance.  Aside from the Giants losing to the Cubs and the Niners flat-out losing their minds, the Warriors lost last year’s finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.  Many people that I knew in real life (primarily via Facebook, as I hardly see anyone interested in team sports on a day-today basis) and via the Internet (message boards, comments, and the like) were actively cheering against the Warriors because the Warriors had a super-team, and won more games in the regular season than the ’97 Bulls, breaking the NBA record for regular season win total.  Not all was bad for the Warriors; after all, they did pick up Kevin Durant in the offseason, but that was met with even more scorn than I knew how to handle.

One thing that irks me is that those same people who were actively cheering against the Warriors before the Durant deal because of the ‘superteam’ characteristic of the Warriors were cheering for the Cavs.  Last year’s Warriors squad had four starters that were drafted by the Warriors.  The fifth was Andrew Bogut, a first overall pick, but a player who has trouble staying healthy for an entire season.  Yes, they acquired Andre Iguodala, but Iggy is not the same player he was when he was 24.  He’s 32, and playing a position where 32 is only a few years from the expiration date.  He might be able to be a perennial sixth-man of the year candidate for another four years, but he isn’t a top tier starter anymore.  The Warriors also acquired Shawn Livingston prior to their 2015 title run; this same player was almost out of basketball entirely due to an absolutely horrific knee injury in 2007; YouTube that sucker if you don’t believe me (but do so on an empty stomach).  He’s 31 now.

The Cavs, meanwhile, have been lauded, and are what some people view as the only hope to stop the Warriors.  However, I wonder just how much people realize that Cleveland is very much a superteam that was built via less scrupulous means than what has happened to the Warriors, the Spurs, and other teams that have had three or more All-Stars in recent years.  Here’s how:

1) In just a few years prior to their rise, the Cavs had LeBron James return without giving up any players in return.  They already had Kyrie Irving  — and the only reason they had Irving, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett in recent years was because LeBron “took his talents to South Beach” to win his first two titles.

2) They acquired Kevin Love for (get this) an unproven rookie in Andrew Wiggins, an infamous lottery bust in Anthony Bennett (I still have hope for him), and a 2015 first round draft pick (which became Tyus Jones).  Over the first two-plus years, Cleveland has clearly won that trade, but Minnesota may have the long-term advantage here.

3) They traded malcontent Dion Waiters, energy guy Lou Amundsen, and Alex Kirk for Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and a first round pick (which is lottery protected until 2018).  Cleveland has clearly won this trade as well, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be anywhere close.

4) They acquired center Timofey Mosgov for two first round picks that were owed to them from previous trades, and Channing Frye for former-NBAer Jared Cunningham and a future second round pick.  Neither of these trades were big risks for Cleveland, but those future picks may eventually turn out to be something – stranger things have happened; in the mean time, Mosgov and Frye have been solid contributors in this league since those trades.  Cleveland also acquired former All-Stars Maurice Williams and Richard Jefferson via free agency.

5) They recently traded Williams and Mike Dunleavy, a former top three pick, for Kyle Korver – that’s probably going to favor the Cavs in the short term.  To the non-basketball fan, these might not seem like a lot.

To put it into perspective, this would be like trading in your old bike with training wheels, some old clothes, some old helmets that you don’t use and maybe that Walkman that you had when you were fifteen and getting a $4,000 bike, a nice bike kit, and your groceries for a week.  The loss is sentimental, sure, but you’re getting far more things that you can use now, and more than the cash value of your goods on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Even now, I see these people bashing the Warriors online and cheering for the Cavaliers, and it makes me mad.  I’m not mad at the fact that they’re cheering for the Cavaliers; as a long-suffering Warriors fan, I know what a championship means to a fan base, and the Cavs fans deserved a championship for their long wait. However, the fact that some of these fans, Cavs fans or otherwise, were only cheering for the Cavs as a way of cheering against the Warriors.  Some famous commentators are even in on this, even as others are unapologetic Warriors fans.  If you ever see Jeff Van Gundy and (particularly) Mark Jackson, broadcast a game for ESPN, it becomes clear that something is amiss.  Two similar plays will receive the comment “Stephen Curry clearly traveled there/he clearly pushed off to make space” versus “Kyrie Irving has amazing footwork, and he does a great job of creating space.”  Meanwhile, there are only subtle, nuanced differences between the two plays and the letter of the law remains the same.

Every fan thinks that their team gets the short end of the stick, and sometimes they have good reason.  Recently, the NBA has publicized its reports about plays occurring in the last two minutes of each game, and this transparency has worked against them, while some are saying it doesn’t go far enough.  A lot of Warriors fans would have liked to have some transparency surrounding the game four incident between Draymond Green and LeBron James. Did Draymond attempt to nail LeBron in the groin (which merited his suspension)?  Yes.  Did he deserve a suspension for that act? Yes, probably. However, the important question to ask is this: why was he doing it?  Hmm… I wonder.  Did LeBron receive any punishment for his role in that play, prior to stepping over Draymond?  If so, it wasn’t publicized.  And if you count a foul… well, a foul is not the same as a retroactive suspension.

Regardless, Cleveland fans (and fans all over the NBA) have their right to dislike the Warriors, just as how I have my right to dislike the teams and players that I dislike.  The point, I suppose, is that those that feel the Warriors have wronged the league, and that Draymond Green or Zaza Pachulia or Steph Curry are detestable, have a short memory.  It was just five years ago that the Warriors had made the playoffs just once in eighteen seasons; it was just two years ago that the Warriors won their first NBA championship since 1975; and NBA players have been trying to form alliances with other superstars since at least the late 1990s (Barkley joining Hakeem and Clyde Drexler).  Oh, and LeBron did it first. 😉

Political Rant

This leads me to the one section of this where I will get into politics.  I promise this will be short.

This has been a long, long election cycle, seemingly gearing up right after the start of the second Obama administration.  Through it all there’s been mud-slinging.  Oh my god, has there been mudslinging. It got to the point where I don’t think many people, Democrat, Republican, Green, etc., were even paying attention to what any of the candidates said about their policies.  With Clinton, it was slogans about her email, or whispers that she was complicit in acts of rape or murder; with Trump, it was slogans about his similarity to a certain 20th Century German leader; with Johnson, it was jokes of his absolute naiveté about many things that had nothing to do with the election.  Whoever shouted their slogan the loudest seemed like they were going to win.  This activity reminded me of the cheers that we’d come up with in college, throwing shade at others, and what Kobe apologists would term as “haterade.”  To some degree, this needed to happen, as people cannot be blind to how it appears to the other side and people need to understand the many facets that go into any public official’s character.  At the same time, this shouldn’t happen, as this means that the only people that will want to enter political office are the people who are more unscrupulous in exposing their opponent’s flaws and have the thickest hides when it comes to having their own flaws exposed.  There’s probably many candidates of outstanding moral character, who are accepting, compassionate human beings, but wouldn’t dare run for the presidency due to the scrutiny that such an office holds.  That leaves us with characters that one side can tolerate, but the other cannot.

The World witnessed the inauguration of a US president yesterday.  At that same time, hundreds were arrested, protesting his policies, his words, and his attitudes.  It was well within their right, but people did vote for him, which is something the protesters needed to (and probably did) consider.  It could have been worse.  How worse, you might ask?  Check out news of the recent presidential inauguration in the Gambia, and realize that their democratically elected president couldn’t even enter his own country for fear of retaliation from the previous administration.  That’s a scary proposition, and it puts our own political unrest into perspective.  As bad as it has been for some, and as bad as it will get for others, I don’t think either side of the US political spectrum is capable of what we’re seeing on the other side of the world in 2017.

What Fandoms Mean to Writing

Let’s forget that nasty business about politics now.  Please do.  It’s like watching eighteen wheelers play chicken all day.  It may be entertaining to some, but it’s obnoxious and wasteful. Let’s talk about fiction.  Fandom and fiction go hand-in-hand.  Sonic vs. Mario?  X-Men vs. Justice League?  Twilight vs. Odd Thomas?  We make many assumptions about people based on their tastes.  I’m not sure what assumptions Mario fans made of Sonic fans back when the SNES and Genesis were the two biggest platforms on the market, but people clearly had affinities for one over the other.

I haven’t read or watched Twilight or any of its successors.  Nor have I read or watched 50 Shades of Grey.  With any luck, I won’t.  I know enough about the story to know that it doesn’t suit me.  I might deride Twilight because of its treatment of vampires, and how it is so far divorced from the legends, the Bram Stoker novel, or even the Bela Lugosi-Christopher Lee archetype of vampires as the archetype for how those bloodsuckers look and act.  Of course, it is clear that I am no more the target audience for Twilight than a teenaged girl is the target audience for Blade.  I could never understand the “Twi-hard” fandom, but the important thing is that Stephenie Meyer does.  To translate this over to my readers, and other writers: an understanding of your target audience is critical to success in writing, but even readers who fall outside of the target audience will be aware of your book, may pick up your book, and could actually read your book.

As any reader familiar with my blog or with me will know, if I have the choice between reading something from Stephen King or some other guy, I will choose Stephen King more than 90% of the time.  I don’t care if the other writer earned a Stoker award or a Hugo award or the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, there’s something about the way King characterizes the players in his novels, the way that he world-builds, and the references that he makes, that makes Stephen King appeal to me as a reader.

I’d never really heard any Stephen King opponents, except for people that used broad strokes, “I don’t read horror,” “doesn’t he talk about devil worship,” and “that’s just too creepy for me.”  These comments may have been based on some former experience, but they didn’t resonate with me, because I always felt that this line of commentary came from people that really didn’t know Stephen King’s writing. However, I recently read some commentary about Stephen King that was very critical, and provided criticism that had most likely come from someone who was familiar with King’s work.  Among their comments, the writer, posting in a forum, stated that the everyman quality of King’s characters didn’t speak to her and bored her, and that his characters were clearly “self-insert” protagonists.  Thus, while King speaks to me because of the variety of characters that all have some glimmer of familiarity, other readers turn away from him for it.  I consider myself to be a member of his “constant reader” fanbase.

In recent years, I’ve read a lot of free ebooks from Amazon.  One writer that I can enjoy with a critical eye is named Jason Halstead.  Halstead is probably writing with a target audience that is similar to him in mind: white, male, 30s, likes action/adventure.  He likes strong female characters, but his female characters tend to be physically strong with emotional flaws that cripple them in the long run, and one prime motivator for many of his female characters is sex.  Again, with a male action-adventure intended audience, this may be par for the course, or even progressive in the sense that the women are either kicking a** or grabbing it.  I’ve also seen the critiques of his work, and can understand where they’re coming from; a focus on the female as a sexual hunter does have the literary equivalent of the male gaze, and may come off as being male fantasy.  Such flaws don’t bother me as much as they should, because I am probably in his target demographic and I don’t “turn off” from a writer emotionally if I read such depictions; however, I can see where other readers would easily turn off, and would deride Halstead’s work.  It’s a shame; Halstead has spun many entertaining tales, and his sense of pacing is often spot on.  I hope that he does get a loyal fandom, but know that his fans will be pegged as men of certain (perhaps uncouth) tastes.

When writing with your audience (or fans) in mind, it doesn’t hurt to take into account what other readers might think about the characters that you hold dear.  Is a character too much of an archetype?  Are they a stereotype of someone who is African (or African-American, Afro-Canadian, etc.), LGBTQ, Muslim, disabled, female, etc.?  Are their motivations too transparent or too single-minded?  Readers, much like sports fans or voters, are complex individuals.  Including the right details may hook some readers, but can cause other readers to grow emotionally detached from your work.  As your base of your most loyal readers grows, and fandoms emerge from your invented worlds, so too will your base of readers who are just testing the waters.

If you learned anything from Polonius in junior year English, it’s this: “to thine own self be true.”  Be true to yourself in your fandoms and your writing, but be aware that there’s an other side.

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