Fandom, Friendship, and The Next Generation
(I know this is meant to be a blog about writing but if you follow my twitter, @adamariasoto, you’ll know the reason for the extended brain fade. This is the first attempt at putting fingers to keyboard in months and will probably be a little rambley and disjointed.)
I was not popular in school, and I’m not just talking high school, I was a social reject in kindergarten. I had the triple hit of too smart for my own good, coming from an obviously lower socioeconomic strata than my classmates, and my mother worked at my school. Social death. I wasn’t the least popular kid in school. That award went to a kid call Chris that even the teachers had a hard time being nice to. But I was the queen of the losers. However being unable to afford the cool clothes and being a general social reject had its advantages. I didn’t have to like the crap the cool kids liked. I could publicly denounce New Kids On The Block and not get less popular.
Oh, one other thing I had going against me was that I was a PBS baby. Commercial TV was not allowed (unless it was something my parents really liked). If you are a PBS baby you know the pain. You started kindergarten knowing the fibonacci sequence thanks to Square One Television but you couldn’t name a single character from Jem or G.I. Joe.
Our local PBS station at the time was KTEH San Jose and the scheduling staff was full of nerds and anglophiles. Decades before BBCAmerica they were showing Doctor Who, using Are You Being Served as evening filler, and were the first American station to air things like Neon Genesis Evangelion. And on Sundays they had Sunday Science Fiction Night where they showed Blake’s 7, The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan, and Red Dwarf. *
I loved Red Dwarf. I also loved The Prisoner but it was a different kind of love. Red Dwarf spoke to me on some odd level. I could run around school calling people smeghead and not get in trouble for cussing, or even insults because no one really knew what it meant. I would watch it every Sunday when it was on and when they marathoned it for pledge drives I would watch it again. Even if that meant putting up with them begging for money between episodes. One year they even got Robert Llewellyn in the studio somehow, that was a big treat. I knew all the words to the theme song, could name all the episodes, quote tones of dialog, knew all about the actors long before the internet was available to the common person, and get behind the scenes footage on VHS tape, before I was ten. I was a fan. Red Dwarf was my fandom. It was my first real fandom. I don’t count Star Trek because my mother was a trekkie. I inherited that one. Red Dwarf was all mine.
Back to school. Fourth grade we get a new classmate. This was a rare occurrence as it was a smallish school, and some of us had been in classes together since we were three. A new classmate, a girl, especially one in jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes meant someone further down the social ladder than me. And I will fully admit I was no better than any other child and that meant I had a mean streak in me. But the new girl beat me to the punch and insulted my new haircut.** I told her something horrific about the school lunches, and I quickly had someone new of the list of people I didn’t like who also didn’t like me.
After a few months there was a standard class fieldtrip. Our school couldn’t afford busses (that’s another story there) so PTA mothers were asked to drive, and having no one who wanted to be my fieldtrip buddy I got stuck in a back seat with the new girl. The drive to Año Nuevo to watch sea elephants mate was almost certainly filled with snarking and insults. For the drive back we were told to find something we actually liked to talk about so I bring out the obscure, no one has ever heard of it, British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.
What I did not know was new girl’s dad was from England, and there is nothing more English than an Englishman not living in England. New girl knew Red Dwarf and I suddenly had a new best friend. And that is not even a remote exaggeration. Within seconds we were singing the theme song, talking about favorite episodes, and doing lines. She did a good Cat and my Holly wasn’t half bad. Her dad was from Liverpool so her Lister was excellent, and I managed a pretty good Rimmer. She agreed that Martina, Simone, and Kelsey were smegheads, and we were soon sitting together at lunch every day.***
I had made a friend. What’s more I had made my first fandom friend. Now fandom friends are wonderful and important and I’ve made many over the years, but it’s easy to find someone who is into Star Trek or Doctor Who. Being in the fourth grade and being made to sit next to someone, who just moved from rural Washington State, who just happens to know and love the same show obscure British show, which only had a couple of dozen episodes, and had only ever aired a handful of place, that was fate, destiny , kismet. The odds on that are simply stupidly long.
Over the years we created more common ground for each other even as our lives took very different paths. She got tattoos and piercings, went to Germany, learned to fire juggle, and smoked some pot. I got depressed and wore too much mismatched black, went to Alaska, took SSRIs, and smoked pot once. We mostly communicate by facebook now, and every so often an update via our mothers, but never once have I thought of her as anything but one of my best friends.
Now jump forward almost twenty five years from the backseat of that sensible family sedan. She’s living in the San Francisco Bay Area running a punk accordion shop with her wife.**** I’m living in New Zealand with my partner of seven years (eight in a few days), and working in the grubby end of the technology department of a TV station, and I’m pregnant.
The length, breadth, and depth of the baby names lists was epic and my partner and I could agree on nothing. Every name was completely unsuitable to one of us.***** We went down top 100 list and top 500 lists. We pulled up weird names, and painfully common names. Before we knew the gender the kid was code named Wednesday or Pugsley and we were having such a hard time picking names there was a risk of Wednesday or Pugsley ending up on the birth certificate. When we were asked if we wanted to know the gender we said yes just because it would knock half the names off our lists (and I don’t like surprises).
Finally, finely we hit the name of my old dear friend and was it acceptable to both of us. We grabbed onto it with both hands and prayed it was a girl because the only boy’s name I liked was Tristan and my partner said no to that one.
I won’t go into the details of the birth but let’s just say there is no shame in an epidural, and at the end of it they laid a lovely little girl on my chest who looked like she fitted the pre-chosen name.
Five days later I get out of the hospital we get to take our baby home. We put her in the crib in the living room (we have a one bedroom apartment), wait until she’s asleep, then with the kind of brain dead exhaustion that only new parents truly understand we flip on the TV. My partner, having no idea of how I met his daughter’s namesake, flipped on Red Dwarf. This isn’t regular watching for us and I have no idea what prompted him to pick it but we got through series IV before we managed to pry ourselves up and boil some eggs for dinner.
Now there is a theory that human brains can retain everything they are exposed to. Even things happening around them while they sleep. If this holds true then my child’s first media exposure in her home involved a bread obsessed talking toaster, a blob with a crush on an android, a wax droid Caligula threatening someone with a bucket of soapy frogs, and the knowledge that larger is the only thing that can kill a vindaloo. And I have no guilt for this, at all. There are far worse things that could be filtering into her young mind, like The Wiggles, or just about any reality TV. And if the theories of total recall hold then she also already knows that:
Wesley Crusher has about as much game as Arnold Rimmer, but that Wheaton’s Law isn’t a bad one to live your life by.
Abed is a shaman, and soup is better.
Don Draper is not a good role model (my partner’s fault).
French rugby sucks this season (my fault).
The women of her family have vastly differing opinions on Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor.
Bilbo is fussy but very brave (and Thorin is a bit of a dick).
Frodo is scared but willing to do what needs to be done (and casting Sean Bean in anything is an instant spoiler).
She will be a pitcher for the Oakland A’s (or shortstop, her choice).
‘As you wish’ means ‘I love you’ (and there’s nothing better than a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich).
Ronald D. Moore was Star Trek’s best writer since D. C. Fontana.
Christopher Tietjens is a sad sorry bastard who just refuses to get out of the way on the oncoming train of change.
Galaxy Quest is one of the better Star Trek movies out there.
Joss Whedon will kill everything you love if you let him.
I know there is a chance that my daughter could end up a queen bee popular girl who wants to wear the coolest clothes, listen to top 20 music, and quite possibly just hate my guts. Despite that risk I don’t think a solid grounding in a bit of fandom is a bad thing for her. Especially the ones that make you look up and think grander thoughts than most. And considering the overall geek level of her parents I’m sure she’ll inherit some fandoms, and find her own. Hopefully she’ll make fandom friends that she’ll get to go white water rafting with, or stay up too late and cry in front of, and fight with, and make up with, because fandom friends are the best, and no matter how distant and separate your lives become you’ll always have that one thing in common.
*The first autograph I ever got (or rather begged my mom to go get for me) was from the Scott Apel who did the pre and post episode analysis for The Prisoner every Sunday. I spotted him at my first Star Trek convention. I don’t know what surprised him more, that someone recognized him, that someone wanted his autograph, or that my mother let her eight year old watch The Prisoner.
**We are talking late 80’s at this point and my mother had the idea that I should have bangs despite having very curly hair and a round face. It was a haircut worthy of insult but still…
***Yes I am so petty I can remember the name of the popular girls in fourth grade.
****And you could now probably track her down with a google search.
*****No names of people we know. No names from Jane Austen novels. No names from Lost. A name I can remember how to spell even while tired…