So, yeah. I confess. I am a fangirl. Okay, so I’m not actually a girl. Anyone old enough to have a 21-year-old daughter long ago lost the right to “girlhood;” but fanwoman lacks a certain grace. So, fangirl it is.
I hereby plead guilty to having had a decades-long series of fictional character crushes since early childhood. My sad history of serial crushes has been undeterred by marrying the (very indulgent) love of my life (and still being married to him 26 years later), having had two (talented and brilliant) children and three careers.
But at least I’m consistent. My television, film, and (dare I say) literary crushes have all been loners. Emotionally distant, always brilliant but (at least in my fangirl-ish mind) harboring wounded souls. They are world-weary outsiders looking in (sometimes yearningly, sometimes not) — and all in need of some combination of love and redemption.
I made my entry into fangirl-dom when I was a mere child of nine years old. By then, already beguiled by the Beatles, their long hair and exotic British accents, my pre-pubescent eye caught a glimpse of the blonde mop-topped sidekick to Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo on NBC’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Illya Kuryakin, the mysterious, masterfully intelligent, brooding and accented Russian spy.
The suave, and ever self-assured Napoleon Solo, ladies man and establishment type, did nothing for me. Even at that young age, I knew that overly self-assured, conventionally handsome heroes were definitely NOT my type. Illya, with his collection of American jazz albums, turtleneck sweaters, intense eyes and slightly rebellious take on things — complete with his own moral code — became my personal archetype for the ideal (fictional) man. My Illya-love (including his rather English accent) would frame my fangirlishness for the next 40 years. Of course when the show first aired, there were no such conveniences as AVIs, DVDs, or even VCRs (nope, not even BETA). No opportunity to watch and re-watch every stare, every subtle bit of body language. My parents’ worst punishment would be to deny me my hour of U.N.C.L.E.
A couple years later, Star Trek premiered (also on NBC). James T. Kirk (William Shatner) was the Napoleon Solo of the USS Enterprise. Sophisticated and arrogant, he was the designated Trek heartthrob . Yeah well, not to me. While all of the female guest stars (human and alien alike) fell for the over-the-top Kirk, I was crushing on the distant and outwardly cold science officer Mr. Spock.
Spock spoke softly and carried a big brain. He was the quintessential outsider: half human and half Vulcan, he was never at home anywhere, poor baby. Trained by his Vulcan upbringing to suppress his emotions, we could see him in torment as he held himself distant from Nurse Chapel, who, as everyone knows, had her own crush on Spock. Spock’s interactions with females were reserved for Vulcan mating rituals; a job-related dalliance with a beautiful Romulan commander. (Ah, the regret in his eyes when he betrayed her still makes me sigh.) And then there were the spores. That episode, “This Side of Paradise,” rendered the emotionless Spock scarily euphoric and romancing a female scientist (Jill Ireland). Ironically, Ms. Ireland also played Illya’s love interest in two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (season one).
As I hit my teens, my television habit slightly diminished, replaced by politics, playing my guitar, writing poetry and discovering real-life boys. But it was also during my teens that I discovered the great Victorian romance novels of the Brontes (Emily and Charlotte) and Jane Austen. I completely fell in love (as did Jane Eyre) with the dark and brooding Edward Rochester, rejecting the cruder and more vicious Heathcliff (the anti-hero of Wuthering Heights). To win my undying devotion, my guy had to bury his feelings of rejection and bitterness, not lash out cruelly. Sorry, Heathcliff.
I then hit the mother lode of melancholic antiheros when I discovered the great Russian writers in novel and film. My favorite of that period was the dissipated but ultimately heroic Pierre Bezukhov in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Pierre (good as Fonda always was) paled in comparison to the young Anthony Hopkins’ in the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre production. It was love at first sight. Yuri Zhivago — no matter how stunningly gorgeous Omar Sharif was in the role — held no candle to Bezukhov’s ultimate nobility and redemption.
But War and Peace was an important historical novel — great and epic battles; Zhivago was about the Russian revolution. Wars, you say? There were wars and battles? Generals and bayonettes and killing in those novels? Really? History? Bah! To a teenage girl, those were trifling interferences to the real stories of those hefty volumes and hours-long film events. Those Russians really knew how to write romance!
The years passed by, as they say, and fantasy crushes fell victim to career and sex (not necessarily in that order) sending my fictional romances deep into the background. But the preferences engendered by those fangirl crushes endured, helping to inform my preferences for finding the “real” Mr. Right: blue eyes (must be intense blue eyes); English accent optional (but highly preferred); intelligent; slightly mysterious, and given to brooding, writing poetry and music-making. Strong but vulnerable; wicked sense of humor; but compassionate and self-effacing. A bit of a rebel. Check. Check. Check. And double check. My mother had warned that I was being too picky (“fickle” was her word). “The man you’re looking for only exists in the movies,” she admonished almost daily. Little did she know. Okay, so maybe she was right about the English accent being a bit unrealistic.
For all my love of (the idea of) romance, I had never been much of a soap opera fan. Until I lost my job, and was out of work for six weeks. Bored and depressed (and living in an apartment that I could not really afford) and between (real-life) boyfriends, I tuned into General Hospital on rainy fall afternoon in 1979 while typing job application letters. And then I saw HIM. All bed-head curly hair, lanky and tall, melancholy and tormented: Luke Spencer. As in Luke and Laura. Need I say more?
I had sincerely believed that my fictional crushing days had been long-since outgrown, only to witness my fangirlishness return with a vengeance. Sigh. My new-found love for Luke expanded to include other soap-opera characters on General Hospital, One Life to Live and All My Children. I was now hopelessly addicted, and my obsession seemed to grow by the day, only to finally be broken after marriage, motherhood and a new job (and no VCR) forced me to give up the soaps cold turkey.
Yes, as time marched, Mr. Right did eventually materialize (sans English accent). Pregnant with our daughter, I convinced my husband that we absolutely “must have” a VCR to playback the ultrasound tapes so kindly provided by our OB. With the acquisition of the ridiculously expensive VHS player, a whole new world now lay open to me. Not only could we experience the joy of observing our 20-week-old fetus of a child swimming round in my amniotic fluid, but now I had the ability to record actual television shows. And hit that little “rewind” button over and over to re-watch the salient moments again and again (and again). Life was bliss. But I was between shows. Oh, we watched Barney Miller and Night Court and whatever else was popular in the mid-'80s. But it was a casual relationship with television at best in those days.
Now, I’ve always had a thing for secret agents of the fictional variety. Like Pym in John Lecarre’s A Perfect Spy, they tend to be a pretty dark and tormented bunch of fellows. So here it was 1985, and into my living room television walks the tall and lanky Bruce Boxleitner, who hands a package to suburban housewife, drawing her into mystery, intrigue and eventual romance. And thus did Lee Stetson, the “Scarecrow” in Scarecrow and Mrs. King become my next TV crush.
His bravado and cocky self-confidence could not completely conceal the torment that lay behind those green eyes. I knew better. As did Amanda (Mrs. King) and millions of other women. The VCR had made it now possible to obsess over the intense sexual tension that crackled between the two main characters. Inspecting and dissecting it, hitting “replay” over and over to catch every nuance and furtive, longing gaze. Their careful and slow dance drew out enticingly over four seasons. During season three and early season four, the reticent Scarecrow drew ever closer to the practical and outgoing Mrs. King. Pieces of Scarecrow’s painful past came to light, stripping away his well-preserved macho façade, and exposing a heart-breaking vulnerability. Unfortunately, the sexual tension vanished into a silly storyline of a secret marriage depriving Scarecrow of his angst; his brooding vulnerability giving way to a slightly henpecked domesticity. Well, Scarecrow, nice knowin’ ya, but… Cruel, I know. But, as mom told me, I’m simply capricious to the core.
Fortunately, 1987 brought the brooding back to Bond as Shakespearian actor Timothy Dalton took on the role of MI-5 agent 007 in The Living Daylights (and again in 1989 in License to Kill). Now that was more like it, after years of Roger Moore’s too-lightweight take on Ian Fleming’s dark, self-destructive hero. And I had my new crush. In the meantime, technology blazed ahead at light-years per minute, creating more venues for in which to tend to my addiction.
We now had our first real computer, a blazing IBM XT (complete with a gigantic 10 megabyte hard drive.) I mean no disrespect to our trusty Commodore 64, which got both my husband and I through graduate school with its 64K of memory and cassette tape drive. After all, that computer linked us to the mammoth IBM 370’s at U of I enabling us to play endless hours of the classic text game “Adventure” in between seasons of Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and Night Court. But I digress.
Our new super PC fully loaded with (trial) subscriptions to Compuserve and one or two other long defunct proto-Internet services connected me to other fans through Usenet and other such Internet antiquities. The new and readily accessible information superhighway was this kid’s candy store. By logging onto premium information services, I could discover simply everything there was to be found on the darkly handsome Dalton. Not that I was stalking him. I just wanted to know everything about him.
I chit-chatted via the old cumbersome Usenet with other fans, but, alas, there were few other females around the ‘net, and therefore had to couch my Timothy-love in terms of his greatness as a classical actor and his general Bond-ness. I haunted comic book shops to discuss the relative merits of the various Bond incarnations. I flipped through (very expensive) British Bond magazines seeking validation for my fangirlishness as I read others describe Timothy’s perfection as THE Bond for the 1990s, and secretly dreamt of a day when hopelessly hung up women could gather in some technologically fantastical place and openly extol the virtues of their crushes in anonymous abandon.
More years passed and Dalton, after another outing as 007 was banished to the world of Bond has-beens (and making some really bad movies). DOS gave way to Windows (giving non-Mac users a reasonable facsimile of a user-friendly Graphical User Interface) and the techie world of Compuserve and GE Genie gave rise to the more populist America Online. And life was good. My second child was born, and crushing on fictional characters was replaced the realities of marriage, work and raising two kids while trying to complete a seriously-past-deadline book.
The X-Files debuted in 1993, introducing a now fully WWW-equipped fandom to the questing, brooding, and sardonic Fox Mulder. I was in love again, and much to my delight, I was in the company of thousands of other intelligent and Internet-savvy sisters, like the folk of the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade and X-Files University.
Instant messaging, chat rooms, message boards and fanficition were all there for the partaking. A royal feast of fandom. And all a mere mouse click away. I had found it. The fangirl’s Garden of Eden. I quickly learned the necessary technical jargon of this dream-like world. Terms like UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension—as in the mutual but unacted-upon attraction between protagonists Mulder and Scully,) RST (resolved sexual tension, which usually kills a television show for fangirls, even though we long for it endlessly on the internet), fanfiction (and its diminutive “fanfic) ” and its subgenre “slash.”
For the first five and a half seasons of X-Files, I was a bona fide addict. Mulder was tormented over his sister’s disappearance when she was a child. He tried to suppress his inner turmoil through a sardonic sense of humor that could only partially hide his angst. But the X-Files fell victim to “stuff,” and Mulder was relegated to a supporting role, fundamentally and fatally altering the show. So it goes.
The 21st century rang in and now slightly overwhelmed with multiple fandoms, forums, blogs and websites, video clips and internatonal newspapers at my fingertips, I meandered from crush to crush. I swept through a series of brief but intense flings with Maxiumus (with the double bonus that Russell Crowe, who played the character in Gladiator was also a terrific musician and songwriter) and Ralph Fiennes (who first made me weep for poor, tragic Oscar in Oscar and Lucinda).
Jeremy Northam had barely registered when I first saw Altman’s Gosford Park, but then got to me playing opposite Gwynyth Paltrow in Emma, causing me to re-read every single Jane Austen on the shelf at the local Barnes and Noble. There was Alan (Rickman, in Truly, Madly, Deeply and again in Sense and Sensibility). And of course the other Jeremy (Irons, whose velvet voice caressed rather than simply spoke). I had DVDs that could play in my private little laptop computer, removing the embarrassment of having to explain to my husband and children why I was watching THAT movie for the 50th time. And I had the Internet. And hence, validation that I wasn’t really so alone in my obsession(s).
Which brings us to the present and my current TV sweetheart Dr. Gregory House, and his alter-ego Hugh Laurie. (And my “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process” feature on Blogcritics.) I’ve been loyal to Hugh and Gregory House now for three years. No longer alone with my obsession, and knowing I’ve a cadre of millions of other similarly middle-aged fangirls to call “sister,” I can hold my head up proud, withstanding the (always gentle) teasing of my (very) indulgent husband and my two (less indulgent) children.Powered by Sidelines