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March 10, 2009

Fanboys Fracas

Over a month ago, Roger Ebert wrote a relatively nasty (1 1/2 star) pan of the film Fanboys, which, according to the great film critic, glorifies the lifestyle of freakishly avid Star Wars (and general sci-fi) fanatics-- a lifestyle dismissed by Ebert as "idiotic." Now, the review is provoking quite a heated exchange between some of Ebert's readers.

First, there's this angry retort:

You panned Kyle Newman's "Fanboys" last Friday and I felt compelled to write. I'm the Chicago-based co-host of the "The Force-Cast," the most downloaded Star Wars podcast on the net. I appreciate and understand most of your review and I accept your appraisal. Your pan is not what bothers me. What bothers me is this quote from your review of "Fanboys": "Its primary flaw is that it's not critical. It is a celebration of an idiotic lifestyle, and I don't think it knows it"

Now… when I read the words "Idiotic Lifestyle," my heart sunk. I actually felt personally offended. I've never felt such emotion before while reading a review. I felt like you were calling out my lifestyle as Idiotic. Why the hate??? Where does THAT come from. It was an ignorant and close-minded put-down that needs to be addressed. Remember when Chuck Woolery said the 501st (Star Wars costuming group) were guys who need to get a life at the Rose Bowl parade??? He realized afterwards that it was a ridiculous remark and he apologized. I think this situation is just as bad times 10!


So, Please take time to reconsider the terrible way you depicted the broad base of Star Wars fandom. What's wrong with an individual expressing his love and passion for a film franchise that influenced so many? Call us geeks or nerds, whatever you want. Because at the end of the day, we are all just people. And lets face it, at the end of the day, you are nothing more than simply a glorified movie nerd yourself. Eat that, Roger you Fanboy!!!


An idiotic lifestyle??? How dare you Roger Ebert. How dare you.

And then there's this reply, on Ebert's behalf:

In calling Roger Ebert a "glorified movie nerd," you seem to imply that knowledge of film and knowledge about The Force belong on even pedestals. Comparing Ebert's knowledge to your knowledge of Star Wars minutiae only reveals to me that you're about a few midi-chlorians short of an annoying Gungan -- or a few roofies short of being able to say you've gotten laid, take your pick. Knowing "Citizen Kane "frame by frame and being able to talk about each scene in depth as an example of great formalism in cinema is just a little less fanatical than being able to quote 6 two-hour films by heart, plus the spin-offs, the animated series, and the entire timeline as it pertains to the extended Star Wars universe - -which by now probably fills more comics, books, websites, zines, and non-canonical fan fiction than has ever been written about our own actual universe. Stephen Hawking would feel ashamed by the sheer volume of work dedicated to the Star Wars universe in comparison to his own achievements.


Life really is too short, the world too full of wonder, for any one person to go out of his way to possess such inconsequential knowledge. You miss out on so much in life and, in the end, will it have been a life well spent?

Why do I bring this up? Well, mostly because I think it's an interesting study in how people perceive the fine line between being passionate and being obsessive-- a line I have to make an effort to be mindful of when it comes to, say, U2 or Flannery O'Connor or Arrested Development. Also: Because it's kind of a funny exchange.

Related Tags: Fanboys


After five years of art school, I'm all too familiar with the dividing line between low art and high art, and the double-standard attached to the appreciation of either. The film critic industry is pretty strange in this regard, seeing as how an adoration for the Marx Brothers or Chaplin is a noble sign of good taste and film education, but the same feelings towards Star Wars become a negative quality in a person. I love those comedians I just mentioned; they are important, brilliant, hilarious, and certainly 'classic'. But let's face it, Harpo assaulting a hapless lemonade vendor in "Duck Soup" can't be called 'high art' unless the critical industry as a whole is willing to overhaul its definition of such. I mean, that scene climaxes with Harpo hopping onto the edge of the lemonade vat and paddling his feet in it - which reduced me to tears of laughter, but is still decidedly lowbrow.

Either way, I find it odd that Star Wars is still considered low art in spite of how much it revolutionized the business. And in spite of how much good clean fun that original trilogy is, emphasis on 'good' - it really is well made. It's especially odd when you compare Star Wars fandom to Lord of the Rings fandom, which is just as rampant, determined, and, in some quarters, obsessive...but you'll never catch anyone listening to anyone who calls Tolkien lowbrow. It intrigues me how two very different works, with equal types of fan bases, are perceived so very differently. Perhaps it's because LOTR fans don't tend to stray beyond their own company and gatherings, the way Star Wars fans do - even after the movies, you still won't catch a legion of hobbits parading the Rose Bowl.

As I write this, it's Saturday morning, and my DVD shelf houses such luminaries as "Chinatown", "The Great Escape", "Blade Runner", and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". However, being Saturday morning, what's made it on to the TV is "Masters of the Universe". I'm all for low and high art coexisting. As excited as I get watching "Chinatown", you know that happy thrill you get from watching an incredible movie, I still need to giggle. So thank you, Dolph Lundgren.