So I’ve been hanging out with a baby recently; my nephew Xavier. Firstly, it’s kind of soothing to spend out with a content baby. Xa (pronounced “Za”; it’s French) is, obviously, still percolating into a human proper, and it’s fascinating to see him quietly just process the unfamiliar world around him. Soon—all too soon, in fact—Xa will be walking, talking, and, of most interest to me, the only fan and geek in the family, consuming media. As Salon.com is hosting Trust Me On This, a series of posts where fathers discuss what they want to pass down to their sometimes resistant children, I thought Father’s Day was a perfect opportunity to talk about passing this particular torch.
In the beginning of Ringers, a middling documentary about The Lord of the Rings fandom, the narrator opens by parodying the prologue in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. When he mentions generational fans, I tear up a little. I know people who were read The Lord of the Rings by their parents or watched Star Trek: The Original Series with them. I have always envied them, because I don’t have anything like that. My parents aren’t fans or fannishly inclined, and my brother is essentially a decade older than I am—even though he did introduce me to The Legend of Zelda (which I believe is part of my bone marrow at this point), we never really bonded over it. It’s nobody’s fault, of course, just circumstance. (I didn’t even know television shows came on weekly until Heroes. Yes, really.) In fact, I think it’s a contributing factor to why I love spending time with fans older than I am; there’s something comforting about the fact that, while my parents were at college, fans were feverishly printing ‘zines and arguing in letter columns. I do try not to talk about this particular aspect of my upbringing, because I think it can come off as whiny, but it’s pertinent here, because I want Xa to have the greatest gift of media consumption: critical thinking.
Henry Jenkins Jr.’s essay “Monsters Next Door” (as collected in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers), about he and his son’s experience watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer together, opens thusly:
It is assumed that nothing good can come from popular culture, so the advice is always to minimize exposure. But this was very different from the way the media was consumed within my own family. My wife and I were both fans, and we had encouraged our son to play with pop culture; we often had discussions as a family about the media we consumed, and we had through this process taught our son to become a sharp critic of popular culture. (226)
Xa may never be a fan. He might think of The Lord of the Rings as some fantasy novel his aunt read to him when he was little (and made him dress up as her height-accurate Merry to complement a costume; hey, you work with what you have, okay?) and absolutely nothing else. And that is okay. He’s my nephew, I’ll love him no matter what. I don’t want to hand the texts that I love to him in the hopes that he will love them too—although that’s a pretty big part of it—but because I want to teach him how to play with pop culture, just as Jenkins Jr. taught Jenkins the Third. I want to teach him that there is a way to love problematic things that doesn’t start with “I think you’re taking this too seriously”. I want to teach him the power of narrative, balanced with the power of the reader to subvert and correct and riot in the subtext. I want to teach him that consuming media doesn’t mean being passive; in fact, it can mean quite the opposite. Critical thinking, especially with the sheer joy fandom brings to it, is the legacy I want to give him, more than anything else.
This week was my first week at my publishing internship! Slush, slush, slush. I’m really enjoying himself. I went to go see Rock of Ages on Friday, which I mostly liked, and I saw Prometheus on Tuesday, which I wanted to like. I also read Bliss and The Long Earth.
The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!
What stories did your family share with you, if any? Oh, and Happy Father’s Day!
- Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers. New York: NYU Press, 2006. Print.