The Fanboys of Summer

“Out on the road today, I saw a Hal Jordan sticker on a Cadillac”
— Don Henley

The word echoes throughout the halls of geekdom. Sometimes in hushed whispers, sometimes in shouted accusations. It’s always aimed at someone else, unless it’s employed in hip, ironic, self-depreciation. The word, of course, is “fanboy”.

But what is a fanboy? What does it mean to call someone (or, more often, a group of people) “fanboys”? I’ve noticed that it usually is used to denigrate a group of fans as being far more geeky than you are. For example, although you buy the new Gigaman Ultra comic book and post about it on a weblog, only the fanboys are concerned that there are some continuity problems in it. It often seems to come into play when trying to show how the kettle is actually slightly blacker than you, the pot, are.

But that’s not completely true. It’s certainly not all of the story. Obviously it’s an insult, or at least used as one, but that doesn’t really say what it means. People use the word “fan” all the time in a non-ironic manner. A fan is simply someone who appreciates someone or something, simple as that. Obviously it’s the “boy” part that provides the twist. A “fanboy,” given this context then, obviously is someone who’s crossed some line. Someone who’s left the world of the mere “fan” and become something darker. But what?

There’s nothing new about geek-on-geek violence. Long before I was chided for being a Magic player by someone holding two armloads of Warhammer miniatures, “Trekkers” were desperately trying to distance themselves from “Trekkies,” a distinction nobody except them seemed to be able to make. Which underscores the irony of it: as far as most people are concerned, you’re both a couple of freaks. Fighting over who’s freakier is like trying to decide which of these two pygmies is taller.

But I’m not here to condone or condemn use of the word. I don’t much care, to be honest. I’ve used it in both senses (the accusatory and self-depreciating mood), seen it used by others, had it used against me. I’m just curious as to what it means.

Obviously it must mean different things to different people. It has to. If person A calls person B a fanboy because B crosses that line, and B calls C a fanboy, then is there some transitive property of geekdom that means A automatically finds C to be a fanboy? Or is there some rock-paper-scissors subtlety at work that might result in the opposite being true? Since there are different flavors of geek, could I be wearing a long scarf and an “Eldrad Must Live” t-shirt and still make fun of you for buying a comic book “swimsuit special”?

I’m curious just because of how often I see the term bandied about. Obviously it’s an insult. Obviously its users assume that their targets understand it’s an insult. But having given and received it, I find myself unsure of exactly what it means. Wikipedia has this definition of the term:

Fanboy is a derogatory term used to describe someone who is utterly devoted to a hobby or a subject, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Fanboys are often experts on minor details regarding their hobbies, and they take these details extremely seriously. The stereotypical image often associated with Star Trek fans (or Trekkies) can be used to describe a fanboy: a person (usually white) with little or no social life outside the circle of fans he or she associates with.

Okay, but that’s still a relative term. What’s an ‘obsession’ by your standards isn’t necessarily the same by mine. And again, we both might be considered ‘obsessed’ by a third party.

So, if you have used the term “fanboy” or seen it used, please let me know what it means to you. What in your mind is the line that it denotes a person having crossed?

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