On Not Creeping: Fan Edition


I'm at CapClave this weekend (about which more later; I'm having a great time), which has helped me distill some of my thoughts on Fan Creeping. As a relatively-young woman with a relatively-large personal and social space bubble, I don't worry much about accidentally sexually harassing people. But fan creeping? The fine art of making the smile freeze on the face of a famous or influential person? Yeah. Pretty sure I've done that. And it's a little mortifying when I realize I've done it.

John Scalzi is here as CapClave's author guest of honor (and I know that by typing his name, I'm invoking the Law of Scalzi*, so hi Scalzi!).

Yesterday, my spouse and I spotted him in the hotel bar, as we were wandering past.

"That's John Scalzi," said Spouse.

"Yup," I said.

"You should go say hi."

I glanced back over at Scalzi. He was surrounded by a crowd of people I didn't know, and sunk so far down into his armchair that I could barely see the top of his head.

"Nope," I said.

"But he knows you," said Spouse.

My spouse is a sweetheart, but overstates my relationship with John Scalzi. I'm a regular commenter on Whatever, and Scalzi and I have met enough times that he recognizes me when I see him, but he and I are not buddies. He's polite to me in the way famous people are polite to their fans, and I sincerely hope I don't inflict upon him that sense of social dread we all get when we see That Guy Who Thinks We're Friends. In service of not becoming one of Scalzi's Guys Who Think We're Friends, I'm not going to approach him while he's talking to people I've not met, and hang awkwardly around the edge of the circle like a fart everyone's pretending not to smell.

It's harder for me around Quakers. My mother is something of a Name among Quakers, to the extent that I grew up accustomed to random strangers approaching me and telling me they've 'known' me since I was X weeks/months/years old. You'd think this would make me more sensitive to the concept of the one-way relationship that can develop between the public and those in the public eye, but it's actually kind of messed me up. I've gotten so used to people doting on me for my mother's sake that I've lost any sense of social decorum around walking up to other Big Name Quakers and expecting to be treated as part of their circle.

This may have been endearing when I was a child, but now that I'm a grown woman, not so much. This summer, I walked up to two of the biggest Names at a Quaker gathering and asked them if I could join them for lunch. They were very nice about telling me to go the hell away, because they're very nice people. That was a bit of a wake-up call (paging Annalee--your party is waiting for you in the Grown-*** Woman's department). So the next time I was at a Quaker event where there was a Name present, I tried my best to stay the heck away from her outside of my capacity as event staff. She came over to say hi to me at one point; we caught up, then I left her alone some more.

The thing I try to keep in mind when dealing with famous people, for whatever value of 'famous' is relevant to the context, is that they're 'on' when they're talking to people who have a one-way relationship with them. Most of them are good-natured people who are inclined to be kind to fans just for kindness's sake, but in many cases, being kind is usually also an important part of their public brand. A science fiction author can do just fine if they never go to conventions, but if they show up at conventions and don't put on their Author Face for fans, they're likely to get a bad reputation that might affect them professionally. Big Name Quakers don't have public brands in the same way, but in many cases they know they're going to end up having to work with me on committees and things, and probably prefer not to make things awkward even if I really have it coming.

Our side of the bargain is that in exchange for their kindness, we can't ask too much of them. They've only got so much Author Face they can put on, and it's not fair to take more than our share. We also can't expect them to welcome us into the circle of people with whom they share their personal, non-brand face. If we take the kinds of liberties their friends might take (like inviting ourselves to lunch, or asking them to read our work, or just following them around like they must want to spend the whole weekend hanging out with us), then at best, we're going to see that smile freeze. At worst, we're going to creep them out badly enough that they feel the need to shut us down. Even if they're nice about it, that's mortifying for us and probably not much of a picnic for them.

*What's the Law of Scalzi? Simple. Stand in front of a blank blog post and type 'Scalzi' thrice. By the time you get to the third i, HE WILL HAVE SEEN THE POST. His massive robot army apprises him of all things.

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Posted on October 14, 2012 .