Competing Fandoms: Or, why I am not a Whovian or Harry Potter fan, and never will be (but that’s ok).

"Allons-y"

“Allons-y”

by Jeremy DeFatta

Initial disclaimer: Everything here  is my own personal opinion and does not reflect on the other bloggers here, who will likely disagree with me and may not even like that I wrote this. I will never claim that the things I do not personally enjoy are worthless or stupid in any way; they simply aren’t for me, and I’d like to understand why. My time as a teacher has taught me that controversial topics often elicit the best responses, so here we go!

How often do we wonder why we enjoy the things we do? In Nerd Culture, we have many, many fandoms devoted to all sorts of things we enjoy in comics, science fiction, fantasy, horror, hybrids of these things, etc. But do we ever really stop to wonder what about a certain something tickles our fancy? Let’s dive into a couple that are sure to rankle.

I do not like Doctor Who or Harry Potter. I never have. They do not appeal to me and I doubt they ever will. I don’t think it’s just because they’re British; I mean, I enjoy Douglas Adams and many, many British comics writers like you would not believe. I say this because I want to understand why Doctor Who and Harry Potter are so popular among people who are just like me and often like a lot of the same things I do.

Doctor Who and a lot of the popular British sci-fi I’ve experienced just seem too silly. There’s a lot of interesting high concept ideas that I feel get buried in a haughty joke or poor execution somewhere. Here I am imagining the holographic deep space exploration ship from Red Dwarf that was more a prop for humor than the truly fascinating hard science fiction thought experiment it could have been. Before you point it out, yes, I realize that Red Dwarf is meant to be comedic foremost, and that might be the problem.

On a side note, I (still almost entirely an outsider) notice that Doctor Who uses many of the same tropes as popular comic books—gimmicky storylines and impermanent character deaths in particular. I find this personally baffling because popular comics are often criticized, even ridiculed, for these practices, but Doctor Who soldiers on untouched. Why do we give these events in this show a pass?

I also have mad respect for J. K. Rowling’s accomplishments, but I don’t think I could ever bear to read her work. First off, magic itself is far from the top of my list of things I find enjoyable in fantasy. That, and a series of updated British boarding school novels that all have pretty similar plot structures just don’t do it for me. Again, I’m far from the most desirable audience for these works of art, but why?

I genuinely wish to invite discussion on these points. Those of you who have seen fit to follow my thoughts so far and disagree with me, why do you feel you enjoy these things? If you agree with me, then why don’t you enjoy them? Once we get this going, I’d even like to discuss my own interests and try to puzzle out exactly what about them appeals to me.

On a final note, I am not trying to spread discontent among varying fandoms. On the contrary, I feel these sorts of discussions, when conducted in a civil manner, might actually make our community stronger and more open minded to each others’ particular peculiarities. If this is successful, I’d like to facilitate similar discussions from time to time in the future.

I hope you all have a good day, wherever you are.

image: “Allons-y” by Lufidelis/Deviant Art

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36 thoughts on “Competing Fandoms: Or, why I am not a Whovian or Harry Potter fan, and never will be (but that’s ok).

  1. I completely understand where you are coming from, as a fan of Harry Potter (novel)/ Dr. Who and various other nerdyesque type things I know what I like about the things I like but recognize that it isn’t for everyone. I’m a fan of Dr. Who for the ridiculousness of it really. Cheap effects, bad props, completely improbable plots the whole mess of it. Those are exactly why someone else would never watch the show.

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  2. I love Dr. Who, but I watched reruns with my mom as a kid; I probably would not enjoy it nearly as much if I didn’t have a soft spot in my heart from childhood.
    Personally, I cannot get into Game of Thrones. I feel a bit left out – I don’t get about half the nerd memes out there right now. I love Skyrim, so other nerds give me these incredulous looks. I love stories about kings and priestesses and dragons; I do not want to read/watch that much incest.. I read quite enough of that in The Witching Hour…

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    • I’m definitely the other way around on this one–love me some Game of Thrones. Maybe it just contains more of the story elements that I find attractive? That, of course, does not include incest. 😛

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  3. One of the things I love about Harry Potter is dissecting what Rowling is doing. As a YA nerd, I enjoy the novelty of a series that spends 7 years growing with its characters and its audience. I like to look at the changing literary references, book lengths, plot structures, and complex syntax. And on a purely fun level, I enjoy the magic.

    I’m still getting into Dr. Who. I hadn’t previously, and I’m still working out whether it’s my cuppa.

    I don’t particularly enjoy most video games, and I’m not an RPG person. I’ve always wondered what draws people to those things.

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    • So funny – I like to look for lit references and plot structures in video games, and movies sometimes drive me crazy because I am ready to take over the action!
      One of these days I am going to have to read past the first HP book…

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      • haha…Yeah, if you get through the first one, it’s hard to see how people really enjoyed them, but the series gets much more abstract and complex. It’s an interesting way to write a series.

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    • I don’t know… applying lit crit ideas to things I actually enjoys always makes me feel like I’m betraying them on some level. 😉 That isn’t to say I don’t believe in analyzing our sacred cows, of course.

      On the subject of video games, especially RPGs, this is a classic example of the point of this piece–to each his or her own. I would make the argument that role-playing games are a fine investment of time and critical imagination because they allow you to take part in shaping a story (usually fantasy) in ways that other media and forms of entertainment do not.

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      • Funny thing is-I was thinking of that kind of thing before I knew much about lit crit. As a young college student reading the books that were out, waiting on the next ones, I recognized that these books were doing something new. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it then. While there are some downsides to applying lit crit to everything, one of the things it’s managed to do for me is to sharpen my observations. 🙂

        And on the video game/RPG topic…I think you’re right that they’re worthwhile. I’d never suggest that they weren’t, even though they’re not really my cuppa. The story-shaping is a very important part of what they do, and video games are actually proving to be quite good at things like improving hand-eye coordination and decision making skills. Of course everything has its limits, but these are reasons that I allow Little Jedi time on the X-Box and Nook without freaking about him being 4 and being so tech savvy. That said, RPGs were just something I always felt silly playing, out of place so to speak, and I’m just not all that great at video games. It’s a taste judgement, not a value judgement-because I do think they have value.

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  4. There’s a great deal of conversation about “geek cred” out there these days. Most of it is in good fun, but there’s always a few elitists that ruin it for the rest of us. Blah.

    That said, I can only say why I like certain things.

    Harry Potter was a surprise for me. I usually cringe a bit at anything that becomes too commercially popular. Not because the subject matter is bad, or because I’m too good for it, but rather because someone always seems to take it too far and make it obnoxious. Somehow, that hasn’t happened for me with HP.

    I didn’t read the books for a very long time after they came out. Then, I was sitting at work and an older lady known for her religious conservative views was reading one to see what the fuss was about. HP had gotten the same “Stanist” reputation that Dungeons and Dragons had been strapped with in the late 70s and early 80s.

    I didn’t read the books to rebel against her conservative views though. I read them because this “children’s book” was HUGE. She had the hardcover, and was waving it around while she spoke about how it was targeted towards 10 to 13 year old kids and was polluting their souls. It seemed awesome to me that a book written for a group who usually doesn’t read much over 200 pages was so thick. So, I picked up my wife’s (then girlfriend) copy of the first book, and started reading. Here’s what I liked about it:

    1 – It’s not Twilight. (tongue in cheek here…sort of…ok. Not at all, but just go with it.)
    2 – It’s just really a well thought out story.
    3 – HP is very easy for me to relate to. While I never lived in a cupboard under the stairs, I often felt like I did as a kid. So, his journey was sort of a cathartic thing to watch as I read the novels.
    4 – It was a twist for the supporting characters to get together rather than have the main character get the girl.
    5 – Dobby. The movies simply don’t do him or the other house elves justice at all. Rowling really put a great deal of characterization into them. I wish they’d been shown in the movies more.
    6 – Symbolism is EVERYWHERE. There isn’t enough space to talk about it in a comment here, but if you Google it, you’ll find tons of examples.
    7 – Magic. The magic was done simply but elegantly. No spell components like a D&D wizard. No crazy chants like you see cliched cults performing on TV for cheesey shows. It didn’t take itself too seriously and added to the theme and fun of the books.
    8 – The books matured with the target audience. But that isn’t to say that an adult couldn’t enjoy the first novel. They’re all good.
    9 – The HP books give new writers hope. They were Rowling’s first work and were incredibly successful. We need to be able to see that so that we can have hope of our own success, even if we do add a grain of salt and realize they’re not going to make us billionaires.
    10 – The adaptation from books to movies was actually done really well and kept the “feel” of the books.

    There are a ton of other reasons why I really enjoy HP, but ten will have to do for now.

    I’ve never really been a Whovian. Most of my friends are, and look at me aghast when I say that I like Dr. Who, but haven’t seen most of it. I enjoy the show, for the most part, but it’s not something that overwhelms me like it does them. It’s not bad, but it’s not really special to me in any particular way. Granted, if someone has a spare TARDIS, I’ll certainly take it for a spin……….

    I don’t really need to be a part of the Who fandom though. As long as I can enjoy the show occasionally and not feel left out of a conversation, that’s groovy enough for me.

    We’ll discuss how you think you can even have fantasy without magic some other time. Right now, it’s just sort of blowing my mind. Science Fiction has groovy gadgets that do cool stuff. Fantasy has magic that does cool stuff. Or maybe I’m just being anal retentive (RHETORICAL STATEMENT).

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    • You make very good points, and I agree with your position. Again, I’m simply trying to understand why different geeks/nerds/what-have-you attach themselves to different fandoms. Also, I’m not saying I prefer fantasy without magic or hate magic in fantasy, I merely enjoy other aspects of fantasy more. I’ve also developed a taste for fantasy that downplays magic or treats it differently from the norm, such as Game of Thrones and the Black Company books.

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      • Of course I make good points. It’s kind of my thing. 🙂

        Make sure to put a smirking tone on most of my responses and such. I get that people are finicky in a variety of ways about a variety of things. I just think that it can be very rewarding to put our finicky natures aside from time to time to at least give something that we wouldn’t ordinarily go for a try.

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  5. My personal take(s).

    Harry Potter: I enjoyed the books. They were easy/quick reads (mostly because of the age group the target) that kept me entertained. However they hit on several of my writing pet peeves. The first big one is character depth/development. And the second is how the first 50-200 pages (based on the book size) of books 2-7 seem to be relatively the same. Sure it’s a different story line but it felt to me like they were cramming in reminders of the previous plots. My main issue with the HP franchise though is it’s conversion to movie format. I’m sure it’s difficult to fit all of the book’s content into a two hour movie however changing or removing what I think are big plot points is pretty bad and changes the tone of the interactions/characters/movies. So overall, I don’t really understand the fandom (especially if you aren’t a teenager) but I laugh at the memes.

    Doctor Who: I love me some Doctor Who. I see where you are coming from. I don’t know if you are talking about the classic episodes or the new ones but, from the little of the classic ones I’ve seen, there is a big difference. The classic episodes seem to be more of a campy humor with sketchy special effects. It seems that the new episodes cut through most of the campy humor and expected punchlines that are cringe-worthy. Plus the special effects have improved (still some you just have to shake your head over). Yes a lot of the actual plots/story lines are far-fetched but it’s the character interactions and personalities that really grabbed my attention and have me hooked. The situations are very different than anything any of us have run into (I hope) but the feelings involved are very relatable. I could go into it deeper but that’s why I’m a fan. The feelings, the personalities. And (not so) secretly I would love to be able to run away into all of space and time.

    I, like purlgammer, am unable to get into Game of Thrones. I forced my way through the first book and saw a few episodes but it did nothing to me.

    Out of curiousity, what are your fandoms?

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    • I definitely appreciate your position, and again, to each his or her own.

      My fandoms are many and varied. I like quite a few comic books and enjoy the big two (Marvel and DC), I’m a Trekkie (classic, not new films, though my favorite series is DS9, which makes me an oddity), I lean towards Star Wars, I love Firefly/Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, I watch Arrow and Supernatural, I enjoy lots of science fiction, fantasy (including Game of Thrones), and horror broadly… So, many and varied. And I could explain the reasons why each thing on that list (and many others) speaks to me, but it may (in the end) only make sense to me. That may be the lesson I’m trying to convey to myself in all of this.

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  6. Awesome comments here. I tried the first HP book and thought it was okay, but it just didn’t grab me enough to make me read the rest of them. I’m a fan of the new Doctor Who. I watched a few years’ worth of the old series when Tom Baker (the one with the long scarf) was the Doctor, and loved them, but I haven’t seen much more of the series than that. I don’t mind the silliness, and sometimes it is a VERY serious show.

    I like the Doctor because he tries so hard to resolve conflicts without violence, even though he doesn’t always succeed at it, and the TARDIS is just too cool to not be fascinating.

    I’ve gotten out of video gaming over the past few years, but I am a fan of turn-based strategy games like Civ and I love RPGs (the Fallout series and Morrowind are my favorites). I love tabletop RPGs, and would love to get back into some Dungeons and Dragons if I could find the right group to play with.

    Tolkien is probably my most hard core fandom (I write about it so often, I have a bibliography on a permanent page so I can link to it).

    I’ve read the Game of Thrones books and enjoy the HBO series. (I’d love to read about some of Jeremy’s fandoms myself).

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  7. @Jeremy – I’ve been thinking about what you say about the gimmicky storylines, etc., and Doctor Who getting a pass while comics get criticized for it. I thought that was an interesting point to make – that those things bug you about the show? Do they also bug you about comics, or are they such an integral part of the comics milieu that they’re just part of the background? I don’t thing everyone gives the Doctor a pass on these things, I just think Who fans do. I’m curious now whether people who are really into Doctor Who also tend, as a group, to give comics the pass.

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    • I would say comics fans (largely) give these things a pass among themselves, though I can’t really speak for Whovians. I’ve spent lots of brain power sitting and thinking through storylines others thought were stupid in order to force them to make logical sense to me. I’m not sure if other people do that. I’m usually successful, being as I am dealing only with myself. I’m merciful with the things I love. 😉

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      • I have different standards of logical sense for different genres, I think. I’m glad you were able to get back and chatter a little on this thread. This is a great discussion.

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        • Major Whovian here (although I have many friends who disagree) — I wouldn’t say those things get a pass at all. Many new/casual fans might not notice or care about gimmicky storylines, etc., but many people including myself have been complaining for ages. We just keep watching anyway and hope it gets better, much the way I keep reading comics and hope the female characters get better or that deaths start to mean something. Just saying. 🙂

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  8. I enjoy both.

    I only want to say a little about Harry Potter, as I grew up with it and it’s difficult to be objective about things we’ve had and held since childhood. But I think Harry P. stands up well, because Rowling wrote another, subtler story underneath the escapist fantasy. That under-story is about growing up and coping with the decisions you’ve made, and it’s main character is Albus Dumbledore. The series has become about an adult trying to guide a child to make the right decisions to grow up as a better person than they did, while still allowing enough freedom to develop into a unique person.

    /spoilers:
    compare the death of Albus’s sister to Sirius’s death. Albus is responsible for his sister, Harry for his godfather, but Harry, unlike Albus, had someone to tell him it wasn’t his fault.
    /endspoilers

    Doctor Who didn’t appeal to me at all to begin with. I liked Eccleston’s run on it, but put off watching Tennant for a long time, for purely subjective reasons. Tennant is a great Doctor, and his story has more depth and emotion than Eccleston’s (not least of all because it’s longer) but I was emotionally attached to Nine, Eccleston’s Doctor.

    Which is why I disagree with your argument that the deaths in Doctor Who have no meaning. There are few outright deaths, but plenty of fates worse than death, and many bittersweet endings (see “Journey’s End”).

    There is, however, much goofiness and serious things treated for laughs (the Weeping Angels being the main transgressors, but let’s not forget the Doctor’s “I’m magic as hell!” defeat of the Master). The important thing, which separates it from outright silliness or the pseudo-deaths in comics, however, is that these moments are never forgotten.

    James Bond switches actors and every time he does it feels like a new continuity. The character is the same, but there’s little or no connection to the previous. Similarly, as a Spiderfan of Spiderman, I took “One More Day” as a sign that it was time to quit reading. I loved the series up to that point, thought Civil War brought up interesting things and was headed for new stories – and then we got a new Spidey. One I didn’t care about.

    Doctor Who might seem the same, but each Doctor carries the weight of the previous character, and it rarely feels like a new continuity where all the old baggage can be jettisoned in favor of hijinks. Ten (Tennant) carried the burden of Nine’s violence throughout his life, and it affected the story. I’m starting Matt Smith’s seasons, but slowly. I still feel the connection to Tennant, and Smith’s Doctor killed him, as Tennant killed Eccleston’s. Not literally, but the audience still has to deal with this… interloper (said with a dramatic hiss) rather than start with a clean slate.

    There’s a lot more I could say about D. Who, a lot more I want to say, but this post is long enough. While I think taste is purely subjective, I think the work can be objectively judged. Do you dislike them only by the former, or do you think they are objectively bad? I’m interested either way in what you have to say. Thanks for taking on such a subject (as I know the Internet does not forgive those that cross its fandoms lightly)!

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    • Thanks for the comment, Will. I’m glad you spoke on this one. And I agree with you and the spirit of what you say. We’ll always agree on Spider-man. 😉

      I’m definitely not trying to judge these things unfairly; I really just want to engage in thoughtful, civil discussion like you’ve initiated here. I appreciate that, by the way. And I appreciate your reading of Harry Potter, as you lay it out above. That, more than anything else I’ve read about it, makes me willing to give it a shot. I certainly couldn’t force myself to apply lit crit to it. My days of doing that may be far behind me now.

      Your reading of Doctor Who is also fascinating, though I’d argue that many impermanent deaths in comics still carry a lot of weight, at least in their individual stories. Or maybe it really only works for some characters. Do you remember the issue of Wolverine we read where every time he “dies” he has to engage in battle not to be pulled into hell? Or when we were both starting out on Thor when Straczynski wrote him for awhile, how he was coming off a major death earlier in the story and how much of that first arc was about him reclaiming his identity? I’d argue those could carry the same amount of weight as what you lay out. You still feel those deaths and death-related events, even if you know or can predict the eventual outcome(s).

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  9. I am enjoying this thread for a couple of reasons. First, it is rare to get this many long and detailed comments, and second I love that this discussion is about a lot of different tastes and preferences, but has been so congenial so far. Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts on your fandoms.

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  10. I think geeky interests are based in part upon individual personalities, and blended – for better or worse – with social expectations. Pop culture is powerful. Comic books have gained the respect and following of countless people, and it’s because there’s been several decade’s worth of development in terms of writing, characters, artwork, and overall production value. The best characters are those with timeless, relatable stories; people have had enough time to fully appreciate them and pass them on to further generations. The same hasn’t necessarily held true for other geeky venues, like video gaming and anime. They’ve made huge leaps in terms of storytelling and design, yet they’re still associated with childhood. I’m not sure how long it’ll take those mediums to get the same kind of appreciation.

    It’s like with mystery stories, or anything that has a strong rivalry dynamic between the hero and villain. I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes junkie since I was a kid, so of course I’m going to enjoy watching him and Moriarty in the latest movies or BBC productions. Same goes with Les Miserables; Jean Valjean and Javert have the cat-and-mouse thing down to an art form. Amuro Ray and Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam have a similar thing going on, but don’t have the same kind of name recognition. Same goes with L and Light from Death Note, Spike and Vicious from Cowboy Bebop, Snake and Ocelot from Metal Gear Solid…the list goes on and on. There’s plenty of great storytelling out there, but goes unnoticed because people ignore the medium through which they’re told.

    As for the two fandoms mentioned…I never got into Doctor Who. I mean, I *get* why people love it. Creative ideas, cool characters, etc. But it’s just that the show has been going on so long. The amount of lore and archive binging just to bring oneself up to speed must be mind-blowing. And this coming from someone who’s played and memorized nearly 30 years’ worth of several gaming franchises. And someone who loves time travel and universe-altering concepts. I should probably give it a chance…

    I’m much more biased towards Harry Potter, simply because I grew up with it. I wasn’t that much older than the main characters, and JK Rowling made them likeable enough to keep things interesting. I remember wishing that my school was as cool as Hogwarts, and that I could be in Ravenclaw. What I liked about it was that it portrayed magic in a more modern setting, compared to medieval locales typically seen in fantasy novels or RPGs. That’s part of the reason I can’t get into stuff like Game of Thrones; I get the political intrigue and whatnot, but the setting doesn’t do anything for me.

    Anyway, interesting discussion. Keep it up!

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  12. I like Red Dwarf as well. I used to watch Dr. Who when David Tennant was the Doctor, but Matt Smith made me lose all interest. I think for me it has to do with some primal dislike towards Matt Smith’s face. He has a face that I would like to punch repeatedly until perhaps he loses his accent. As for HP, I have read all of the books as a younging, but even then I was like “I could totally be reading Animorphs or Goosebumps.” There is something perhaps too campy about HP? I’ve often tried to put my finger on it. The movies are horrible though, almost unwatchable, but it could be because I’ve read the books and movies never live up to the mind-movies I make up when I read. What do I think about Daniel Radcliffe’s face? Funny you should ask: it’s all right. Not too concerned about punching him. I may watch someone else punch him though IRL. But only maybe.

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