I dreamed that I was at San Diego Comic-Con.* I spotted Simon Pegg (with the same hairdo as he wore in Paul) weaving his way through the crowds. I immediately told him how brilliant he was and how I adored him. I told him I had been a fan since I saw him on Youtube in a skit with Bill Bailey where they played spies or assassins or something who jumped around on a hotel bed pretending they were at a rave or a disco or some other place that would be awesome because Bill Bailey and Simon Pegg were there. I just knew we could be great friends.
*Also known as the North American Fanboy Love Association.
And how did he respond to my outpouring of genuine gosh-you’re-swell? He was a total ass! Dream-Simon, let’s call him, waved his arms madly saying, “Can’t you bloody geeks give me a moment’s peace?” He told me that if there were ever a sequel to Run, Fatboy, Run he wouldn’t put me in as an extra because it was obvious I wasn’t about to run anywhere. I was shocked, to say the least. I mean, here was Tim from Spaced, spewing serious venom at me. And it got worse: later, Dream-Simon tweeted insults about my children and my religion. I vowed that if ever I saw that if I ever saw the bastard, there’d be some serious red on him by the time I was done.
And then I woke up.
Back to reality. Simon Pegg and I had never met. He had not called my kids rude names online. Simon Pegg was still, by all accounts, a good person and very pro-geek. Dream-Simon was an utter cock-ring, yes. But, you see, he never actually existed. As I started my day, sleepily shifting the facts into place, I couldn’t help but think of the Chinese fable in which a man dreams of a long and difficult life as a butterfly and then awakes to find he is still a human being. Taoists and Buddhists use the story to illustrate the nature of delusion and truth, as both the dream and the realization of dreaming arise from the same mind.
Dreaming of animosity with Simon Pegg led me to ponder the nature of the fan/celebrity relationship, which is in so many ways as seemingly real but ultimately false as the butterfly dream. Fame’s a funny sort of thingamabob, eh? The flow of information is so heavily one-sided. We know all about them, or think we do, and they cannot really know us. And even that information—all the details of a celebrity’s life—can be unreliable, full of conjecture and massaged facts and marketing. And still we think we know them so well. They make us laugh and cry. They feel like good friends. This feeling, this invented intimacy, ranges from fondness to dangerous stalker obsessions but by no degree in-between is at all real or reciprocal unless we actually, truly, in real life, know them. And chances of that are very slim for most of us.
I believe that social media can compound this illusion. Do I care that Simon Pegg has more than 980,000 other followers on Twitter? Nope. I still buy into the delusion that he’s talking to me, even though I know full well he isn’t. Sometimes there will be conversations between people I follow—say, Tobias Buckell, Paolo Bacigalupi, Wil Wheaton, and John Scalzi**—and it’s fun to observe the interactions of talented and clever people I admire. On another hand it’s kind of sad, like being at a party and watching all the cool kids have a big ol’ time while you awkwardly eat all the Fritos, one at a time, because no one is talking to you.
** All of whom I think I could be fabulous friends with in real life, of course.
I know all this to be true. I can separate the real from the imagined and be a generally rational guy about it all. Never the less, on the rare occasions that, in social media, some celeb notices me, replying or retweeting or what-have-you, I get inordinately happy about it. The feeling reminds me of the scene in The Incredibles when Tony Rydinger looks in the direction of Violet, who is invisible, and she says, “He looked at me!”
Science fiction and fantasy conventions—regular ones, not so much the meganormous commercial cons—present an interesting middle ground for the fan and the objet du fanatisme.*** Authors and illustrators of the science fiction world enjoy far less public scrutiny than big name actors or musicians. It’s easier for authors and illustrators to mix with their readership, and for them to express themselves as fans as well. For example, I met Tim Powers—a writer I admire very much—at a convention and talked about Philip K. Dick with him a good while, unhurried. I’ve gone to parties with bestselling authors and had drinks with Hugo winners. Not because I’m especially well connected, just because I’m a fan at a con. It’s a cool feeling.
*** I have no idea why I wrote that in French.
With the more famous celebrities, that sort of relaxed interaction is rare (and, I assume, not always safe for them). I presume that, should I ever meet Simon Pegg in real life, he’d be reasonably friendly. At the very least, I have no reason to believe that he’d act the way he did in my dream. And in real life, I wouldn’t expect to be his instant best pal, either.
But if he, or any of the other celebrities I follow on Twitter, feel like tweeting about this article, that would make me do the Snoopy dance. Hey, I never said I’m not a hypocrite.
Jason Henninger lives in Los Angeles. He would love it if any of you had a link to that skit he mentioned in the first paragraph.