Who's the most famous person you know on Facebook?
On Saturday, I stumbled upon the Pixar film Wall-E. I had heard it was good, but nothing prepared me for how good it was. Wow.
Because this is the internet age, I looked up Wall E on line. And because this is the Facebook era, the moment I saw the name of the director (Andrew Stanton), I plugged it into my Facebook search bar. But of course I would like to be friends with a guy this brilliant.
There he was on Facebook. Looking way too relaxed (see photo above) to be a prime mover of a motion picture. But no, I can't be Mr. Stanton's friend. My only option: to be his "fan."
I balked at this.
I have no illusions. Andrew Stanton is a very big deal. He is a master of a medium that matters much more than the media I have tried to make myself the master of (books and blogs). He's a big sneeze. I'm a wee sniffle. Still, because this is the age of shifting power relations and a new symmetry of relation between the producers and consumers of culture (see the work of Henry Jenkins work here), I am disinclined to be a "fan."
Now, we can understand Andrew Stanton may not wish to be my friend (or anyone's friend) on Facebook. Many millions of people know about him. Many revere him as a god. And several hundred of these people can be relied upon to use even something as slender as a Facebook connection the opportunity to inundate him with so many messages he will never make a film again.
This is in the nature of fandom. Most fans are respectful of boundaries. But with numbers this large, there's going to be someone who just can't help themselves. (As when someone close to me saw Elvis Costello in a New York restaurant and had to be forcibly restrained from pulling up a chair and joining him for dinner.) They don't mean harm. They just love the celebrity that much.
So I understand why Stanton isn't taking friends on Facebook. But I also understand why I don't want to be merely a "fan." It's a little too asymmetrical for me. It confirms my "distant planet" status. The thing that draws me closer pushes me away. Being a fan makes me feel a little like Wall-E, plunky, likeable, and really just totally out there in the universe.
We need is a third category, one that gives me the illusion of a connection, even it protects Mr. Stanton for my enthusiasm. Something between a friend and a fan. (There are two additional possibilities: that Mr. Stanton broaden his notion of friend or I narrow my notion of fan. Like that's going to happen.) In a still more perfect world, we would have a ziggurat, many circles ranked from quite close to quite far away.
Categories, schmategories. The issue is classificatory haziness. How people are positioned relative to one another, this is the work of culture. Culture decides who I am to you, and who you are to me. Culture gives the ideas by which association is defined and calculated. (Very roughly speaking, it's some version of kinship for hunter-gathers, some notion of hierarchy for pre and early modern cultures, and some notion of accomplishment for modern and post modern cultures. With lots and lots of local variation.)
But because our culture is in a certain turmoil, how we define ourselves relative to one another is now unclear. We have many competing elites. We have many evaluative principles. We have a new discomfort with hierarchical distinction and status asymmetry. And we have new networking technologies that give us the opportunity (and illusion) of access.
We will work it out. After all, Facebook only 5 years. In the meantime, dear reader, I want you to go to Facebook and make me your friend.