Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Obsessions



So I read this story in the local paper today. In the event the link doesn't work, let me summarize: Keith, this 35 year-old guy, loves Star Wars. Strike that; I, among many others, love Star Wars. This guy Keith, however, is obsessed with it. He admits the obsession. He dresses up in stormtrooper armor. He makes appearances at benefits and functions and conventions in the costume. He is a member of the "501st Legion"; his trooper ID is TK1210. He has appeared in a Star Wars fan film.

His ex-wife, a "Trekkie," absconded with his life-sized Yoda doll and sold it on E-Bay.

The writer, Peter Humes, presents the guy's story in rather a tongue-in-cheek fashion, even if it's a front page/above-the-fold story. (And it is; it's part of a series of Star Wars articles the T-D is running this week in anticipation of Revenge of the Sith.) And, by the end of the article, we learn that Keith has realized that most people would consider him crazy; perhaps that's why he's toned it down a bit by now. For instance, he's not dressing up when he sees ROTS.

Yeah, the guy has an apparent history of extreme obsession, but I wonder: does that make him crazy? (I don't mean clinically crazy; I guess I mean "commonly crazy.") Phrased another way, is his obsession that bizarre? Does it deserve ridicule---or inevitable strawman attacks, like "Go back to playing Dungeons & Dragons in your parents' basement, you acne-scarred weirdo!"?

Sure, it's strange, but is it the subject of the obsession or its manifestations that makes it so strange? Does the distinction matter?

Some years back, I knew a person who spent many of his weekends as a Civil War reenactor. He'd travel the backroads of the Mid-Atlantic region (i.e., "Peter Angelos Country") and fake a fatal gunshot wound or an amputation or scurvy, or whatever the hell those guys do. He loved it; he was obsessed with it. People considered it sort of strange, but nothing like this guy Keith's situation---which is strange in itself, considering both obsessions involve "suiting up" (and both suits are battle costumes).

Similarly, I knew a guy who would dress up as Thomas Jefferson and deliver some of Jefferson's more famous lines at various engagements.

I've never been to a SABR convention, but I've heard that it's fairly routine for people to attend wearing old timey replica uniforms and such.

Are those people weird, too?

"Yeah," one could argue, "but at least their obsession relates to historical interests. At least they're dressing up as real people, or composites of real people, as opposed to bit characters tangentially related to a hokey space opera."

Sure. But then we get to my ex-girlfriend's best friend, who became so obsessed with the musical (rock opera?) Rent that she attended 83 or 112 or some exponential number of times; eh, the number's so big, what does it matter? And whatever figure I do recall is from about 1998 or '99---I just stopped asking after that, or else she lost count. She traveled with the production, doing back-stage managing or providing the former Doogie Howser, MD with a fresh water bottle. Or something.

That's not strange? It wasn't considered as such, at least as far as I recall. I don't know if the people I knew were just being curteous, but the most common response I heard was "Cool." Yet, her obsession was with a fictional storyline, too.

And what about actors? I was friends in college with Kerry Washington. She's a pretty big actress now. Is she considered a weirdo for getting paid to be "in-character"? Hardly. To take it one step further, the biggest weirdos of the profession---the method actors---are revered.

The bottom line is---tell me if I'm missing something here or making too large a leap---in order to live fulfilling, creative lives, we all have our obsessions. In fact, most of us likely have more than one.

You know what got me thinking about this (other than the article about the stormtrooper freak)? Blogging is sort of like an obsession or an addiction, too. I didn't get around to doing an entry yesterday; the one I did the day before was rather insubstantial, even. (And, yes, today's first one is equally so.) And, I realized this morning over breakfast, I missed blogging. One day away, and I miss it? As Alan Arkin's character, Dr. Oatman, observed in Grosse Point Blank, "Yeah, that's a bit . . . obsessive."

Viewed objectively, the obsession must be silly and pointless. None of us gets paid for doing this, for one. If I miss a day, life goes on for everyone else. Nevertheless, it's a part of my life precisely because of these factors. Simply put, I update this blog (among other reasons, but this one's sufficient) because I find a measure of enjoyment in doing so. It's a factor---one factor out of many, many factors; a factor nevertheless, though---that rounds out my life, that shapes me as an individual.

It's little different than a guy who pretends to bite on a bullet; or a man who wears a powdered wig while reading from the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; or a chick who really, really likes a musical so much that she'll plan her life around it; or a lady who gets paid good money to represent some other guy's interpretation of how Ray Charles' wife would act.

Or, I might add, it's little different from a guy who wears stormtrooper armor.


Comments:
They casted an African-American as Alicia Masters? Bold choice. Not as bold as a Black Kingpin, but it can be argued that the history of Alicia Masters is at least as rich as that of Wilson Fisk. Of course, half of her appearences probably technically belong to Lyja the Skrull impersonator, but should we hold that against the blind sculptress? I don't think so.

Wait, what did you say about obsessions?
 
Interesting post.

I've often thought of my little blog hobby/obsession as being something to make fun of, something kind of geeky, and I kept it kind of quiet. Not a secret, I just didn't advertise it. Anyway, lately, it's come out at parties and things and I always brace myself for the jokes and jabs, but usually, people are quite interested.

Whereas I'm guessing when people find out a person moonlight's as a storm trooper, I'm guessing the reaction isn't the same.
 
I've had the same experience, Tom!
 
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This is Keith, I just ran across your blog about my Star Wars Fandom. I just thought I'd elaborate a little on the story. If you believe the dressing up is "weird" thing, then you're right. It is odd. It's no different than fans of Star Trek dressing up as Klingons or football fans dressing up at games. It's an obsessive trait of supporting what you enjoy. That said, I thought it was cool being a trooper. Because not only do you get the satisfaction of hiding your face and people not knowing who that geek underneath is, but you also get to help out charities and the like because of it. That's actually why I got involved in the first place. I knew it was an expensive hobby and the only way I could justify it was to give up my time for charities, especially children charities because when a child sees you in costume, their eyes light right up. So in the end, it's not so much about Star Wars as it is about feeling needed, feeling loved and feeling a special sense that you've helped make a child's life a little better. Because I have no children this is my way of enjoying what I do not have.

But yes, I do love Star Wars. Probably more than most, but like a football fan watches a game every weekend, I might entertain myself in the SW realm somehow. But I'm as much of an athelete these days as I am SW fan. I have a lot of interests, but I will agree that I do have some obsessive tendancies. But I try very hard not to let those thing reak havoc on my life.
 
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