Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nitpicky Fans: Why?

"Captain Nemo"

The Columbia Journalism Review has a cute post on newspapers who have had to run retractions on their Star Trek movie articles as the result of (their words) "hard core fans" who sent in corrections.

To be fair, the examples cited in CJR and excerpted on the Regret The Error blog aren't that nitpicky. I think things like the basic title of the movie and the alien race of the Big Bad aren't the result of basement-dwelling mouth-breathers having an Aspergers attack. I mean, the Los Angeles Times called Eric Bana's character "Captain Nemo."

But post any inaccuracy on comic book and sci-fi topics, and watch the corrections fly in. Or get stuff wrong when putting out a comic. At DC the level of editorial stressing over getting every minutia of continuity right was intense. And when the inevitable minutia got through the cracks, there was the fan backlash.

Now, I can understand the need to keep continuity and all that; to make the fantasy universe in question as rich, textured, and comprehensive as possible. When that gets into grayer matters like characterization, it can get kind of stupid, because there are often several versions and takes on the same superhero.

But why do comic book & sci-fi fans get so nitpicky? Does this happen with sports fans as well? Or with any sorta fan? Is it just in the fan DNA?

Meanwhile, Roger Ebert baits Trekkies. He's a brave one.


  1. But why do comic book & sci-fi fans get so nitpicky? Does this happen with sports fans as well? Or with any sorta fan? Is it just in the fan DNA?Don't ask me, I've just got out alive from a six month shitstorm on a Jane Austen list over that picky nit: "Fanny Price -- moral paragon or sancimonious, sycophantic prig?" :)

  2. OH, and while CJR can snark their arses off, when I was a reporter spelling names correctly and getting fairly basic matters of fact right wasn't "nitpicky" but doing your job. Even in reviews.

  3. I think it's a couple of things combined; a defensiveness of the fan community as a whole being leery of 'newcomers', a need to validate and be reassured by superior knowledge of the source of their fixation, and just a general need for anyone to illustrate how much more knowledgable they are than someone else.

    Some people don't just view the source of their entertainment as merely a product or work of art to be apprised by the masses, but as an extension of their own lives. People have grown up with Star Trek (or Star Wars, or comics, what have you) and they feel a familial, proprietary bond to those properties. Those aren't just characters in a script or on a screen, they're a part of their childhood, a part of their life. To that extent when someone comes along with insight or criticism that threatens that initial, powerful bond formed in their (who am I kidding) our formative years, it can be seen as a challenge. That's part of the reason I think some fans have a knee-jerk defensiveness toward any critique of their passions. To them it's not merely a legitimate line of inquiry, it's a personal attack. And as nerds we're only too sensitive to the faintest hint of a confrontation(the lingering remembrance of bad times methinks).

    Of course, it could just be nitpicking taken to the Nth level, but somehow I doubt it. I've never seen sports fans go out of their way to correct ESPN, though I could be wrong. Everyone has something, it's only that Science Fiction fandom is so visible that we're often the first to be treated so prominently in the mainstream media. I'm sure there's just as much debate in the knitting community in terms of wool types or the best pattern for afghans.


  4. I guess one motivation for fans/geeks to send in corrections on matters such as this is: "Who will send in a correction if I don't?" If a sports reporter gets some item of sports trivia wrong, you probably can expect him or her to be corrected and mocked by their colleagues (as well as a sufficient number of fans - with sports fans a smaller percentage would presumably result in at least the same absolute numbers). While e.g. with movie reviewers you'd probably suspect that they're all equally ignorant about comics and Trek trivia.

  5. Perhaps this is more of an expertise thing -- the desire to demonstrate "superior" knowledge -- than something specific to fandom. I've certainly observed a great deal of nitpicking from viewers of period dramas when it comes to historical inaccuracies, even over small details such as symbols on pre-WWII airplanes and military insignia. (In fact, history buffs can't leave anything alone -- witness the Factual inaccuracies section of a WP article on an anti-war song.)

  6. Every fan niche seems to think it's unique in this regard, but (in my experience) they're not — and the fault lies on both sides of the fence. The fact of the matter is that content producers don't often have the luxury to review, consider, and vet material as well as they should. We want to know everything, and we want to know it now, because there's an expiration date on opinions. (Ever find yourself commeting on a blog post that's two or three days old and wondering why you even bother?) On the other end, fans are fans, no matter what they've chosen to love. I work in aviation journalism, which often winces under comparison to comics journalism, but they're quite similar. Whenever we typo an aircraft's model number, we get inundated with e-mail from readers who are shocked that we couldn't tell the difference between the two models — and no amount of explaining seems to convince them that we know the difference as well as they do, but we transposed two letters on the keyboard.

  7. Erm... I've spent the last week wondering why they named Bana's character after that cute lil Disney fish.

    They were mumbling or I'm going deaf.

  8. Anonymous5:21 AM

    Something I've just learned: most hardcore fans are ASHAMED to be hardcore fans. It's so weird.

    Oh, that and they are basically goths and emos.

  9. Okay... part of it is being marginalized or patronized, sometimes by reporters who do not realize that they make themselves look amateurish. I still get angry when I see "POW! BANG!" or "Holy [blank] Batman!" in a headline.

    Part of it recalls the disdain and persecution collectors felt when younger. "You still read comics? Get a life!"

    Media which commits errors can be viewed as media which is not concerned about a specific topic, which can be insulting to those with an interest in said topic.

  10. First, I am not sure how he was baiting trekkies in the link you posted.

    Second, I read Ebert's blogs and have been a fan for along time. However, he is not the most scientifically knowledgeable. He appears to know what exactly what he has read without a lot of contemplation. He has often asked questions or pointed out technology or actions that appear silly to him, but demonstrate a lack of understanding or thought on his part.

    Also he seems to accept Penrose's BS regarding artificial intelligence. Of course that is just personal opinion.

    Granted, my undergraduate degree was in physics and I am interested in science, generally, so maybe Roger simply reflects the thoughts of the average intellectual non-scientifically oriented movie-goer. I don't know.

  11. If a sports writer gets a statistic wrong I will bet a shitload he is inundated withe emails correcting his error.

  12. Hey Val,

    Interesting post, and a good question. While I do think that such passion is universal to being a fan, I think that society and main stream media marginalize those that they consider fringe elements. Therefore the way that sports fans are treated tend to be different from the way that comic book fans are treated.

    For my take on the issue, and suggestions of what Geeks should really be upset about check out the latest post on my blog The One About...Take care.

  13. Anonymous8:26 AM

    to all the nit picky fans... collect your No Prize from Stan Lee and shut the F*ck up

  14. Anonymous5:41 PM

    "If a sports writer gets a statistic wrong I will bet a shitload he is inundated withe emails correcting his error."

    But that statistic would of been based in REALITY.

  15. i think anyone who is active and passionate about a hobby would openly correct someone who made some sort of mistake like that.

    if i was cooking, and was about to add the wrong ingredient, and a pro chef was watching me, i bet they'd correct me. if i was playing a song, and a great guitarist saw me making a mistake, they'd comment and help out.

    i really don't think it's unique to sci-fi fans. it's the same with any hobby.

  16. Brian,

    If you care that much about a sports statistic, you are a geek, just like the Star Trek guys. It doesn't fucking matter.

    Also, pointing out scientific inaccuracies or misconceptions, or misinterpretation of what was in the movie is also reality-based.