Dave challenged us to debate which fandoms contribute the most, and least, to our spiritual well-being, as individuals and as a culture. His two examples were Star Wars and Star Trek, but I have to admit, despite being raised by a Trekkie, neither of those fandoms resonated with me the way the shows of Joss Whedon did, growing up. But did Whedon’s shows nurture my spiritual and intellectual growth? Or were they my form of “pop culture polytheism,” as Dave calls it, a form of escapism and adoration bordering on idolatry?
My adoration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly definitely gets intense. But I’d argue, Dave, that there are two ways to participate in the fandom of franchises like Star Wars and Firefly – the idolatrous, and the perceptive. A lot of fandom definitely turns into a form of worship; but alongside that tendency is another way to fangirl shows and movies, which combines admiration and enthusiasm with a dose of skepticism and spiritual seeking.
Worshipful fandom is the sort we’re used to talking about. But perceptive fandom is a good description of the behavior of fans who may (or may not!) participate in the worshipful aspects of fandom, but who also see their favorite TV shows and movies as texts that can be studied like literature. That includes a healthy dose of skepticism toward the creators of those texts, too. Some fandoms are better set up for perceptive fandom than others. Star Wars practically exists to be worshipped — its larger than life figures and the hyperbolic distinctions between the bad guys and the good guys sets us up easily to adore one, and revile the other, almost unquestioningly. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Whedon creations are different because their good guys, and bad guys, are flawed and relatable without sliding the shows into moral relativism.