A month ago I made the argument that Comrade Trump doesn’t have many actual supporters; instead, he has fans. I wrote:
Trump fans aren’t supporters of Trump’s beliefs (if he has any) or his political or religious ideology (if he has any) or his policies (if he has any); they’re fans of Trump his ownself. They want Trump to win, of course, but the thing about fan loyalty is that it doesn’t require winning.
It’s just a coincidence that I recently stumbled upon a 2009 article by Roger Ebert, the late and much-missed film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert had written a scathing review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which apparently upset Transformer fans (or maybe Transformer movie fans or fans of somebody in the movie–I don’t know and can’t bring myself to care enough to check). The thing about fans, of course, is that they will immediately go to war with anybody who questions their fandom. And they went to war with Ebert.
The thing about Ebert, on the other hand, is he was always rational, analytical, and really fucking smart. He starting rationally analyzing fandom. He wrote this:
A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It’s all about them. They have mastered the ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. Anyone who would camp out in a tent on the sidewalk in order to be the first in line for a movie is more into camping on the sidewalk than movies.
Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. If you are Luke Skywalker and she is Princess Leia, you already know what to say to each other, which is so much safer than having to ad-lib it. Your fannish obsession is your beard. If you know absolutely all the triviea about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it save you from having to know anything about anything else. That’s why it’s excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They’re always asking you questions they know the answer to.
And yeah, that’s spot on. It applies perfectly to Trump fans (who, come to think of it, aren’t that different from Transformer fans — they’re both devoted to something fundamentally ridiculous and tacky). Trump’s fans tend to be not just socially inept, but aggressively and proudly so. Believing in Trump saves them from having to know anything about anything, or from having to retain internally consistent views. If Trump, on a Monday, says Candidate A is a genius but on Wednesday describes him as an idiot, then Candidate A is a genius until, through the power of Trump, he becomes an idiot. It’s that simple.
The difference, of course, between Transformer fans and Trump fans is Trump fans are more willing — even eager, at times — to turn violent against critics of their fandom. I’m talking about violence ranging in scale from a recent incident in which a Trump fan hurled a can of beer at a comedian because she voted for Biden to a few thousand people violently assaulting the Capitol Building in an effort to overturn a legit election.
The risk posed by Transformer fans is that they increase the odds that more shitty movies will get made and inflicted on the public. The risk posed by Trump fans is sporadic irrational large scale violence, the occasional attack on FBI buildings, possible assassination of Trump ‘enemies’, and the potential destruction of representative democracy.
Ebert described Transformers as “a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine.” The four years of the Trump administration could be described in much the same way, only with Trump humping the leg of Vlad Putin.