Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fan Behavior That Embarrasses Everybody

OK, here's the situation: I'm at this special free screening of the first Doctor Who episode of the new season in NYC. Afterward, there's a Q&A with the stars of the show, Matt Smith & Karen Gillan. Everything is going fine until the last question of the evening, when this middle-aged guy comes up to the mike and asks Gillan if she's a "chubby chaser." He proceeds to invite her to the sushi bar next door if she is.

This cringe-worthy moment was greeted with universal groans and gasps by the rest of the audience. The people I was sitting with looked like they were hit in the face. Gillan just sort of shrunk in her seat and appeared *horrified*. I found out later that an almost identical situation happened to her the day before at another Doctor Who Q&A at the Apple Store.

Really, what's the point in making that remark to Gillan? What is hoped to be accomplished? It feels almost like an aggressive act. He had three (count em three) questions/comments at his turn on the microphone: one regarding how Matt Smith was a great doctor, one to Steven Moffat about writing, and the "chubby chaser" remark directed at Gillan. It's like that's all he got out of her performance: she was a piece of ass.

If there was anything encouraging about that situation, it was the across-the-board disapproval of this guy's actions by the rest of the fans. I might not have expected that 15 or even 10 years ago. It used to be normal that the pretty females in these TV shows and movies were understood to be "eye candy" at conventions and whatnot. But that didn't fly with this crowd at NYC, a group of about 350 fans that spanned gender, race, and age.

Now, was the progressiveness of the crowdevidence of the growing maturity/inclusiveness of fandom in general? Or is it a trait specific of Doctor Who fans?


  1. I think (hope) this dude was more Random Fandom Guy and not representative of Whovians in general.

    At the show's SDCC '09 panel, there was an instance of a woman yelling at David Tennant to take his shirt off, but that seemed more in fun. And the final question of the panel provoked a much different reaction than this dude's.

  2. A good question would be, why does a woman telling David Tennant to take his shirt off seem sort of harmless, while this guy at the show yesterday seemed gross and sinister?

  3. My personal view on it, by the way, is that it isn't cool to tell any celebrity to take their clothes off, male or female. It just seems to be a matter of being polite. Yeah, some guy may see it totally as a compliment. But I've read accounts of male celebrities who have been horrified and weirded-out by the same types of questions.

  4. My stories aren't nearly as bad as that.

    One guy asked Summer Glau at the Sydney Supanova if she could re-enact one of her favourite scenes, like, right now, which she promptly shot down with incredulous glee, and...

    At a Fan Expo sketch duel, one guy kept getting up and asking (eventually) questions of John Romita Sr, one of which was about something he drew (can't remember what specifically), but wondering if, when he did it, was he thinking about what a pedophile might make of his, I guess, young girl art.

    I can't believe they let the guy ask still more questions after that one.

  5. i think the disapproval is because they are the fans of an international blockbuster TV show and and therefore are drawn from a much more diverse range of people. the harassing questioner comes across as the stereotypical "comic book guy". cons are big corporate mass-media events, not just hardcore comic/sci fi events anymore. stuff people used to get away with won't fly anymore.

  6. Regarding the Tennant instance, I think that got a laugh, in part, because the person sounded like she was on the younger side and it was a random thing the crowd heard during a pause in the conversation. So he wasn't confronted with it directly, at least.

    Interesting to note most of the Twitter traffic dealing with the DW NYC stuff - at least, on my friend-feed - dealt with Matt Smith's looks.

  7. Wow. I just can't seem to wrap my head around those lack of social skills. Considering the Apple Store incident, is it possible this was just some shmuck from a radio program trying to shock its listeners? Stranger (and ruder) things have happened.

  8. Gods, what an ass.

  9. I don't know anything about doctor who, but my guess would be that geeky fans in general are tired of this shit.

    I agree that a girl having some kind of sexually charged "question" would be just as annoying. It's just lame.

    I used to sell art at comic book collections when I was younger and stopped going after some girl bit me on the shoulder after "glomping" me.

    Some fans just don't understand that just because you're at some kind of geekfest, normal rules of conversation and interaction don't get totally thrown out the window.

  10. I missed the tickets yesterday, so I didn't see the Q&A, but I got to meet Smith and Gillan as they left. Because I just kind of wandered into the event, I had nothing to sign. I shook Matt Smith's hand, but when I Karen Gillan finally looked toward me after 12 minutes of her signing a flurry of posters, I took a step back and told her I thought she'd been amazing in the show so far.

    I'm not patting myself on the back or anything, here. I'm just saying that in that moment, I felt very uncomfortable with the kind of attention this woman was facing, a different and more aggressive attention than was being directed at her costar, who had since made his way to the car.

    She looked overwhelmed and a little exasperated but kept wading into the crashing waves of posters and shouts with a smile on her face. (It's basically why I like Amy Pond and why I feel like she's the real protagonist of Doctor Who right now.)

  11. That guy was offensive and awful!

    To answer your question: why does a woman telling David Tennant to take his shirt off seem sort of harmless, while this guy at the show yesterday seemed gross and sinister?

    Asking a male celeb to take of his shirt, while classless, also means the interaction ends at looking. It's passive, and the asker stays some distance away.

    The guy who asked Karen Gillan if she was a chubby chaser seemed very keen on actually talking to her privately, dating, and to use a Rimmer-ism "interfering with her sexually."

    It makes, "Wooo! David! Take off your shirt!" much less uncomfortable in comparison.

  12. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Can only infer by your post the tone in which the comment was made, but the biggest problem with comments like the one made to Karen Gillan I believe is it seems in a way they are designed to make the recipitent uncomfortable in a way, I could be wrong though.

  13. The Q&A at the Apple store the day earlier involved a man asking for Karen Gillan's phone number to which Moffat replied "I'd say 'nice try' but it really wasn't at all, was it?" Meanwhile, poor Karen shrank into a ball of uncomfortableness and said she had no idea how to respond. Who could blame her, really?

    The phrase "and this is why we can't have nice things" springs to mind. I felt like I needed a shower after that brazen misogyny and it wasn't even done to me.

    I don't think this kind of behavior is any more indicative to Doctor Who fandom than it is in any other. Honestly, put together a large enough group of people for any kind of event and you'll inevitably attract at least one person who thinks saying inappropriate things to famous people is hilarious.

  14. Somebody made a reference to "chubby chasers" at a Doctor Who panel and nobody makes a retort about Slitheen!?

    A lot these cases demonstrate the need for a good/firm moderator on panels. A good moderator would have wiped the floor with a questioner like that.

  15. This reminds me of the idiots at the Jonah Hex panel at Comic Con. A majority of the questions were all about Megan Fox & if she would make a porno video.

    Someone should have been askiing why Michael Fleisher hadn't been contacted regarding the film, but we get that crap questions instead

  16. It's just sad and pathetic. And there seems to be one of these clods invariably at every panel that is similar makeup to this.

    Unfortunately, I really don't know what one can do about it, given the method of panels.

  17. I've been unfortunate enough to have witnessed more than a few fans, male and female, make similar spectacles of themselves at Doctor Who events over the years. Of course they've all been booed/rushed off by convention staff or other fans, but it happens. Sometimes they just think they're being funny/cool when they're not, and other times they're just being asses.

    I honestly don't know where such behavior comes from. I've several ideas, but none of them really seem to cover it all. Maybe it's lots of different reasons.

    I just wonder what celebrities think when they catch wind of 'slash' fiction written about them/with them in mind. I know lots of fans, mostly female, who absolutely *love* that stuff, both reading it and writing it.

  18. "A good question would be, why does a woman telling David Tennant to take his shirt off seem sort of harmless, while this guy at the show yesterday seemed gross and sinister?"

    I think that's because of something in the way males and females are hard-wired. A female animal is receptive to a penetrative sexual advance from a male. A male animal is not receptive to such an advance. (Yes, there are scads of exceptions and conditions, but sexual reproduction as we know it is hard-wired enough into us as organisms that even virtually brainless examples can be found where this behavior is carried out successfully.)

    There *is* sex-linked behavior. There just is. A male who proposes sexual intentions towards a female is threatening because of the likelihood that he'll carry it out. It's a valid threat, at least to our hindbrains. A female who makes a similar proposition to a male is not threatening, precisely because she's female. Our hindbrains, our hard-wiring, does not recognize that as a valid threat, anymore than we respond with the same level of fear to a death threat from a toddler or an adult male.

    Maybe there's some logic and rationality in there and our brains are just playing the odds as accumulated over millinea of selective survival and breeding. Or maybe not. In any case, we're in much different situations currently, as a species, than those conditions under which these behaviors evolved.

  19. "A good question would be, why does a woman telling David Tennant to take his shirt off seem sort of harmless, while this guy at the show yesterday seemed gross and sinister?"

    My guess is that the former was meant in a cheeky, harmless way (the same way that Trey Parker & Matt Stone, after winning a Peabody, shouted out "We love you, Starbuck!" at Katee Sackhoff on their way offstage), while the guy who asked Gillan if she was a "chubby chaser" actually meant what he said, which made it gross and, at the very least, creepy.

    In other words, context.

  20. I guess this is the difference between a creepy fan and a regular fan - I can note that she's an attractive woman, but I'm more interested in her backstory and how she got where she is in relation to the new Doctor.

    I agree that it seems deliberately aggressive. It's like he WANTS to make everyone uncomfortable, especially the actress.

    I find the fangirls creepy, too. These are REAL people, not your fantasy objects. Save the lustful comments for the message boards.

  21. I attended conventions 20 years ago where such an outburst would have been just laughed at and accepted. I remember talking to a well-known B horror actress back then at a con. She said it was nice to talk to somebody at the con who didn't make a sexual comment or advance at her. Meanwhile, there were guys in line with a dozen roses to give her, all this stuff. It was sooooooo uncomfortable. I didn't know how she could stand it.

  22. I've read many many comments from Doctor Who fans that rate the female characters based on how they look rather than how they are written. They are like Bond Girls in that way.

  23. Several thoughts:

    (1) I wonder if the geek-in-question was being sociopathic or delusional. I mean, did he just not care how she might feel, or was he convinced that there was a CHANCE she would respond positively? The former would piss me off, while the latter would make me a little sad.

    (2) I'm betting that how this guy looked had a lot to do with the reaction. Instinctively, we can all see a situation like that and think, "Dude, even on your luckiest of days, she's out of your league." The fact that he didn't seem aware of that pretty much makes him creepy by default. Somewhere in the Mean Girl part of our brains, we're thinking, "A 2 hitting on a semi-famous 8 is pretty much an insult." Someone trying to jump Attractiveness Caste is always suspect. (Makes me kinda bummed to write that.)

    (3) The situation with the "show us your pecs" girl is a related issue. In our society, there are WAY more men in the lower Attractiveness Castes than there are women... we may make life miserable for average-looking women by pushing them to be above average, but the extra attention to grooming that results from that pressure means that all but the most indifferent or unfortunate women are usually at least presentable in the hive mind's estimation. So chances are, if a woman makes a pass at a better looking guy, it's more likely to be perceived as a cute goof, rather than an affront to our socio-sexual sensibilities.

    All of which is, I guess, my way of saying that part of what made the "chubby chaser" scene unpleasant was that the guy was an asshole... and part is that we are predisposed to see him as an asshole even if he weren't.

    I think.

  24. Anonymous2:33 PM

    With regards to the comparison with the Tennant comment (also tasteless) I do think it is a different kind of power relationship on display there. Making vaguely sexual overtones to the male star of a show is somehow amusing because he is an authority figure and reducing him in such a way seems ludicrous. On the other hand making a similar kind of comment to the female lead is seen as reducing and insulting (I hope) because female co-stars in Doctor who have traditionally been at the bottom end of the power hierarchy. Or I could just be over analyzing. It's been known to happen.

  25. "I wonder if the geek-in-question was being sociopathic or delusional. I mean, did he just not care how she might feel, or was he convinced that there was a CHANCE she would respond positively?"

    I dunno. I think he knew there wasn't a serious chance with her. Again: I think there is something belittling, almost aggressive about it. He knows he couldn't have her. He resents it.

    His question is almost a way of saying: "that's all I really see you as. I told Smith he's a great actor and asked Moffat about writing, but the only thing I really see you are good for is a potential lay. Just so you know, and get off your high horse. Nobody cares about your acting. You're just a piece of ass for me to look at and fantasize over."

    He could never normally date or get near her, but for that one bright shiny moment he got to make her squirm.

    I know that sounds harsh, but that's really what I think is going on subconsciously in cases like that.

  26. Anonymous3:44 PM

    I honestly am going to make a heiarchy(sp?) of fanbase craziness.

    My favorite instance of this was at a Joss Whedon panel at WonderCon the year Serenity went up. Some ass asked some ass question about one of the female cast members (I mean, REALLY ass question), and Joss responded with: "please do not talk that way to my cast"

  27. I personally would love to hang out with the writers of Dr. Who...I doubt I'd have much to say to Gillian, although she's funny on that comedy show from Scotland.

  28. Some men get angry at women they find attractive when they know they are out of there league.
    You will always find a asshole like this but I am much more interested in the crowds reaction to that question and the fans reaction to the crowd if any.

  29. I think it comes down to:
    - Male sexual aggression is scary.
    - Female sexual aggression is laughable.

    This is a direct reflection of the power dynamics. The person with the power is frightening. The person without it is amusing.

    Think of how the scene would have played out if the actress in question had laughed out loud at him (a dominant, powerful reaction) rather than squirm and look embarrassed (a submissive, subordinate reaction).

  30. Anonymous5:55 PM

    Laughing out loud would of diffused the situation, that's a good point.

  31. Anonymous1:48 AM

    I dunno. The comment wasn't funny so laughing at it would have been disingenuous on Karen's part and it also gives such behavior a strange kind of legitimacy. Like she has to react in a 'boys will be boys' kind of way. Screw that. The guy was being an ass.

  32. "I think it comes down to:
    - Male sexual aggression is scary.
    - Female sexual aggression is laughable."

    Well said... but don't forget Female sexual aggression is also unwanted, slutty, sometimes even straight out denied as possible or at the very least men exploitation women.

  33. Actually, in and of itself, I wouldn't have been horrified by his answer, but if there had been anyone who wanted to ask a question/make a comment and that guy was last, I would have been so pissed. Dude, be pathetic on your own time, I want to ask or hear someone ask something more substantial.

  34. "Female sexual aggression is also unwanted..." by who?

  35. Story on a similar topic (tho no celebs involved):

    Today my girlfriend told me about a married friend of hers, who first met her 6' 7" husband at a party, pulling him with the following chat up line:

    "So, is the rest of you in proportion, if you know what I mean?"

    To which he replied "Heavens no - I'm not 9 feet tall after all." which sealed the deal as far as their budding relationship was concerned.

    I expressed the opinion that her friend was clearly very lucky her future husand found her attractive, as that conversation could've gone very badly indeed. My girlfriend couldn't see what the hell I was taking about, so I flipped it as best I could:

    "Say a guy goes up to a girl with brightly dyed hair, and his opening line is: "So tell me, do the cuffs match the collar, if you know what I mean? Wouldn't you say that guy diserved to get a stiletto heel to the head?"

    She agreed with me (eventually) but still couldn't see what was wrong with her friends opening gambit (which, to my mind, was exactly the same thing).

    I guess maybe it's simply more socially acceptable for women to make sexually lewd comments to strangers of the opposite sex. And maybe Gamebird's interesting thoughts on why this might be so are correct.

  36. Thank you for this. I'm now no longer AS sad that I didn't get into that event. Wow. PS. "Butterfly" was AWESOME.

  37. I was at a Doctor Who convention about 25 years ago where Jon Pertwee (the 3rd Doctor - the one in the frilly shirt) had a stalker who a) kissed him in the autograph line, b) asked in the Q&A where he lived because she was planning to move to England to live with him (Pertwee did a facepalm and muttered `Security`) and c) crashed the banquet to ask the same question and declare her undying love for him. Security explained as she was moving to England, she`d see plenty of Jon then and could she leave the room now.

    These `King of Comedy` moments are terrifying in real life.

  38. "I guess maybe it's simply more socially acceptable for women to make sexually lewd comments to strangers of the opposite sex."

    Women = Weak and virtuous victims. Men = Barely human evil predators.

  39. It's clear that the man was a fan of the show. His relationship to fandom is less clear.

    For all we know, he was one of those marginal types who by preference hang around at the edges of conventions, never getting to know the community or making any friends. They're not unlike drive-by trolls. I know that some of them harass newbies, especially young women. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that this guy you saw was one of those.