Thursday, November 08, 2007

Will The Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?

This really isn't a book review... let's call it a "book reaction". Of course, that doesn't keep me from saying reviewer-ish kinds of things about Will The Vampire People Please Leave The Lobby?: True Adventures in Cult Fandom, but that won't be my focus here.

I personally have a weird relationship with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer - I didn't watch the show while it was being broadcast. I only found it in late 2002, thanks to my buddy (Chris Herndon) loaning me the DVD sets during my 4 month stint as a 3rd shift customer service rep at JC Penney's Nashville call center. (There's another portion of my life that's blog-worthy... if not exactly G-rated. Remind me and someday I'll tell the tales of Panty Man, Lingerie Girl, and the inability of middle management to make up their ever-lovin' minds about darn near anything.)

So, on the nights that I wasn't working 10 pm - 5 am, I stayed up anyway (to keep my internal clock regulated) and watched movies & old TV shows. Thanks to Chris and the Internet, I watched the shows in order - actually watching Buffy/Angel in tandem on the seasons where they overlapped.

I liked the shows - a lot. Yes, I was bothered by the copious amounts of sex & blood, but (as in many other "questionable" shows that I've enjoyed & been moved by) none of their behaviors as characters were consequence-free. Episodic TV is has a huge advantage over film in this - you can take the time to show the fallout of bad and/or sinful decisions in 24 episodes/year.

One last bit of Buffy commentary before I return to the actual topic of the post... sigh. The first three seasons are really, really great (esp. 2 & 3) - and the first part of season 4 has some wonderful moments (including the episode, "Hush", which could be the best episode of the entire series), but when it turns into Frankenstein Meets The X-Files, it really falls apart. There are nice moments & characters for the rest of the run (I actually liked Dawn, if not the story that brought her into play), but seasons 5-7 are, for the most part, watching something wonderful grow less & less enchanting. Angel's first 3 seasons are also very good (again, esp. 2 & 3), but season 4 was a mess. Season 5 came back & reimagined the series in some very funny & interesting ways, but the impending cancellation & the loss of Buffy (the series) made for some pretty dark viewing. Consider yourself warned.

OK, two Joss Whedon notes (wonder if I'm EVER going to get back to the book?!):
  1. Yes, I'm aware of Buffy Season 8 (a comic book series authored by the creator of Buffy) - I just haven't read any of it yet.
  2. Yes, I've seen Firefly - both the series & the film - and it's one of those sad stories of something that was probably too good for television. (Join the club: I'm a fan of Boomtown, Sports Night & Kidnapped as well.)

Alrighty then, back to the point of this now way-too-long post. (Yes, campers, ALL of what proceeded that was geeky introduction. Sheesh.) Allyson Beatrice has written a snarky but enjoyable book about, well, it starts off about Buffy/Angel fandom & actually ends up being an autobiographical trip through Allyson's life.

What really struck a chord with me was not the details of the Buffy online fandom community (I've never even been particularly interested in discussing Buffy online) but the resonance that her experience in that online community had with my experiences in the world of board gaming.

She talks about how she "watched as people got their doctorates, passed the bar exam, got divorced, grappled with the death of a parent, left their homes & countries to start a new life." And then she says something pretty profound:

"Watched" is the wrong verb. I watched Buffy, and I engaged the fandom.

It's that engagement, the stories of how an online message board for the discussion of symbolism in a TV show about vampires & teenagers could turn into a living, breathing community that fascinated me. She talks about conventions & meet-ups, of how virtual connections turned into face-2-face connections...

...and I'm instantly transported back to my days on (anyone else out there remember Usenet?!) and how I hooked up with a gamer across town by the name of Rob Wood. I decided for safety's sake to meet him at the church I worked at, along with my friends Chris & Buster. That was in the spring of 1997... and by the fall of that year, he'd introduced me to Ted Cheatham, another online buddy who came through town on business & was always up for playing games.

Ted was my connection to what was to become Gulf Games, a wonderful twice-a-year invitation only family gaming event - which he started with Greg Schloesser (When they first met after chatting over the Internet, BOTH of their wives were sure they were about to go meet an axe murderer) & Ty Douds.

Over the years, I've conversed with literally hundreds of gamers online - both inside & outside the U.S. Friendships have been formed from the constant communication - as Allyson so beautifully puts it in her book:

It's been three years since the series finale of Buffy aired, and I still have a hard time telling people just how it is that I have a bed in which to sleep in thirty-two states and five countries.

Someday, it'll be socially acceptable to say, "Oh, we can stop in Des Moines for dinner. I know a couple of Vampire People there."

The next chapter is about her relationship with one of the writers of the show - and the odd blend of friendship & hero worship that can happen online. I've seen the same thing play out with some of the game designers in the board gaming world... again, a familiar resonant chord.

And at that point, the book pretty much takes a dive. (Told you I'd get all reviewer-like.) One really nice chapter about bringing an online friend to visit the U.S. (a cooperative effort by the online community) goes on too long, including pages of e-mails that really only have meaning to those who originally wrote them. (Did the editor fall asleep at the switch here?) There's some interesting bits about "Munchausens By Internet" and trying to save Firefly, but the strongest parts of the book are all up front.

Best part of reading the book: being reminded that I need to thank God for the gift of my internet family. Thank you, Jesus, for using something as mundane as an iMac to draw people into my life to love & be loved by...


Scott Rushing said...

Interesting concept for a book...

I've experienced something similar, although not nearly to the same scale, with fantasy sports. I participate in a series of fantasy leagues, in sports such as football, baseball, basketball... In the summer of 2002 all of us met together in Ohio to play golf and tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's an interesting dynamic meeting people face to face with whom you only have virtual friendships.

ironcates said...

I was watching Toy Story with my son and I found out that Joss Whedon was in on the screenplay for that. He's pure genius. I really have to pick up the trades of his x-men stint. I never really liked Buffy maybe I hit the bad seasons. I loved Firefly and Serenity though, such a disappointment that it's gone.

I really enjoyed this post BTW. You and CapAp are my intro into the online boardgame fanboy club, thanks for being there!