There’s a reason “what happens on Tumblr stays on Tumblr.” When actors are confronted with fan art, it’s uncomfortable for everyone.
One of the best parts of watching late-night TV is seeing how genuinely interested the hosts are (or appear to be) in the projects their guests are there to promote.
Whether it’s Jimmy Kimmel letting his inner Lost fanboy out to play, Stephen Colbert displaying his encyclopedic Lord of the Rings knowledge, or Conan O’Brien geeking out about pretty much anything, we enjoy feeling included in the conversations.
We like knowing that these talents, whose stars are polished with our support and loyalty, are decent people. We like seeing them respond to fans, and treat them with respect, as we would hope to be treated.
After all, everyone’s a fan of something. If it’s not TV or movies, it’s books, or music, or sports, or tech, or clothes. Everyone’s a geek under the right circumstances.
And what better way to be a geek than to use your passion to fuel your own creativity? There are plenty of people who just consume, and that’s fine, but there are also loads of talented individuals — at varying levels of technical prowess and acclaim — who use fandom as a springboard to develop their own artistic styles.
Sometimes, their artistry remains a hobby, a way to express themselves. And sometimes, these fanboys or girls turn their passion into a living. See: J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson, Joss Whedon, Cassandra Clare, George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.
As we all know, fandom has garnered a certain reputation, spurred on by the slash fiction movement and emerging fan creators like E.L. James. It’s sexualized. Fetishized. Shamed.
For this reason, not all interviewers can resist the temptation to poke fun of this subsection of the fandom, perhaps in a misguided attempt to elevate themselves ‘above’ the fans, or to form a connection to the stars they’re talking to.
British talk show host Graham Norton constantly confronts his guests with fan art. One time, Jimmy Kimmel had the entire cast of Avengers on his show and chose to show them a selection of Tony/Bruce drawings (that were, let’s be clear, very well done). Caitlin Moran had the Sherlock actors read out fanfiction.
And now, James Corden has unfortunately fallen into the trap of easy mockery, confronting Ted Danson and Krysten Ritter with fan art on The Late Late Show:
The segment started out fine, with Corden showing off brilliant, iconic pieces of artwork. But then… well. They start mocking fan art from artists who might have had less practice, or are younger. And Corden, especially, finds it all hilarious.
And, sure. It’s amusing. Until you realize that there are people out there who drew them — and that these works are reproduced without consent or warning. The context of these pieces is stripped back; the smug hosts reduce them to a mockery, the butt of a joke. And these creators could be watching this show, without expectation, only to be accosted by unwarranted abuse.
Rytter and Danson are gracious, like most actors are; usually, we’ll see stars confronted with fan art admitting that perhaps the more sexualized imagery makes them a bit uncomfortable, but they are ultimately flattered.
After all, what else are they gonna say? Actors need fan support. They all get those “mom” or “dad” tweets; they know exactly what we get up to behind the safety of our monitors. They probably also know that fandom is an important outlet to explore your humanity, your morality, and your sexuality — just like all art.
And, hopefully, these actors also understand that imitation and appropriation is how talent is born.
We all begin somewhere
After all, when you’re an emerging actor, standing on a stage, trying to prove to the world that you have what it takes, you are at your most vulnerable. You try to emulate your idols; you imagine yourself as Audrey Hepburn or Clark Gable, you practice your anger, your seduction, your fear. You copy, and then (in time, with practice, after many failures and missteps) you get good.
And when you’re an emerging writer, director, artist, designer, doctor, architect, teacher, archaeologist or — dare we say it — talk show host, you do exactly the same. You learn from the greats, you study your craft, and you copy. And then you get good.
Would you ever, to any of those people working in a creative field (on whatever level), call out their attempts to create on national television? Would you show it to the people they admire most, and encourage them to laugh and mock this work in progress?
Imagine what happens if you’re an emerging artist, using fandom as your playground, sharing your work with fellow fans for validation or critique. Imagine seeing your idols laugh at and mock your art. Imagine ever putting pencil to paper again, after such public humiliation. One callous and disparaging remark could snuff out a creative soul from learning, improving, sharing what they make with the world.
Here’s what fanfic author mildredandbobbin had to say about her Sherlock story being mocked on television (quoted by Teleread):
Thank you for spoiling something I found joy in. Thank you for humiliating me, taking my writing out of context without permission, belittling it and using it to embarrass actors who I deeply admire. Thank you for tainting the one thing sometimes that gets me through the day when I have two screaming kids, someone’s drawn on the walls in their own poo, and I have to drive through peak hour traffic yet again because my husband’s forgotten his glasses for work. Thanks for that support, Caitlin.
It might seem harmless, but mocking fans is not okay. It’s bullying, and entertainers of all people should know that mockery is the cheapest form of comedy. It’s having an easy laugh at the expense of the people who raised you up, who are happy to raise you up, and who only demand artistic freedom in return.
Anything that inspires creativity in others, born out of a genuine love of something, should be celebrated. Encouraged. Those are our future creators. Our future artists, musicians, writers, and directors.
Please stop disparaging fans, or trying to make yourself superior. You’re better than this, James Corden. You used to be one of us.
Additional reporting by Donya Abramo.