One of the many good things about being an unabashed geek-slash-fangirl is that people know what kind of person they’re dealing with and immediately are able to tell when they encounter a kindred spirit.
I recently bought a fandom T-shirt from Teepublic that features a double sided inside joke for fans of both The Walking Dead and Talking Dead. People who lay eyes on it tend to react in the same way: they look mildly amused at first, until they get to the last line, at which point they laugh hysterically at what is, at its heart, a cynical and morbid joke only true fans of the show will get.
That’s fun! When you wear shirts like this, you get to feel like you and everybody else who understands the gag all have one over on people who have seen the show(s), but don’t get the reference.
But even more fun than that is when my fandom clothing and geek accessories allow me to evangelize my fandom—efangelize, if you will—and get other people excited about my favorite shows! That’s happened to me quite a bit lately and has given me some interesting conversations with children. More excitingly, it has given me fascinating conversations with adults who want my opinion on the kind of programming they would want their children to watch.
The first time it happened unexpectedly; I thought it was a fluke rather than the beginning of a pattern. I was wearing my Rarity Pop Art t-shirt from We Love Fine. I stepped into the elevator on my way to my rather mundane day job when a polite voice asked, “Excuse me, is that My Little Pony?” Nonplussed, I smiled politely and answered “Yes it is,” in my most chipper voice. To my surprise, the gentleman in the elevator asked me what I thought of the show, because his daughter “watches too much Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network crap.” Not that I have children, but I could surely relate to the sentiment nonetheless.
So, for the next few minutes in the elevator and down the hall to his cube, I gave him as quick a summary of my Throwing Popcorn breakdown of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic as I could. He listened, eyes bright and attentive, nodding. As I described that Lauren Faust laid the foundation and built the show around the premise that there is no wrong way to be a girl and that being different isn’t a reason to not be friends, he said, “Wow. That’s principled.”
As I described Rarity the fashionista and Twilight the bookworm—as well as Applejack the hard worker, Rainbow Dash the athlete, Pinkie Pie the party girl, and Fluttershy the caretaker—he furrowed his brow thoughtfully. When I described that although the girls are friends, they have flaws and aren’t perfect, but have room for growth, his eyes widened.
When I went on to discuss some of the lessons the show teaches and that it even touches on learning disabilities and represents a wide variety of “people,” he was sold. He thanked me and said he’d look at a few episodes and see if he could get his daughter to watch it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to continue our conversation; duty called. I am watching for him again though—I haven’t yet had the opportunity to extol to him the brilliant values of Steven Universe!
Correction: make that “hadn’t.” I didn’t get the chance with my coworker, but about a week later, I was wearing my other We Love Fine My Little Pony shirt, in which the Mane Six interact with an imaginary pocket on the shirt.
“I like your shirt,” a little voice said in front of me as I tried to remember where the bread aisle was in my recently reconfigured local Target.
“Thank you,” I replied to the small cute black girl of five who was smiling shyly at me from behind her baby brother’s stroller. Her parents looked on with surprise that an adult didn’t seem to mind interacting with a kid as I asked her, “Who’s your favorite?” And smiled when their daughter lit right up and said “All of them!” I said, “Yeah, it’s hard to pick just one pony to like best.” I actually can’t make up my mind whether I like Rarity or Twilight best, so it wasn’t even a platitude a child would’ve seen through.
The parents asked me what about the ponies I liked. I did the same description for them as I had for my coworker the week before. But they, seeing I was passionate about the subject, and that I obviously loved what I was talking about as much as their daughter did, asked me if I’d seen any Monster High. I had not written any reviews of it yet. Because the youngest child—the baby boy smiling at me from his stroller—was completely taken by it and loved it. I confessed I had not, but that I could heartily recommend Steven Universe.
“OH! MY! GOD! STEVEN UNIVERSE!” came another voice.
This would be the family’s third and oldest child, a young man of ten years, who asked me to mention his name: I want to say Darren and will have to correct myself if I’ve remembered wrong; I’ve been watching for them since this conversation, but have yet to run into them again! His enthusiasm lit up the whole store around me. He said he hadn’t seen any episodes since “Full Disclosure” and was so excited to hear what he had missed. I told him I didn’t want to spoil the show for him, but I could assure him that many more new and exciting things were coming up with the more recent episodes. This was during the last hiatus before the last Steven bomb, so he had quite a bit of catching up to do; knowing that made him practically vibrate with excitement!
The parents were pleased to see their son so excited and asked me what I’d recommend about Steven Universe. I told them that the show teaches that while love is the vital component of any relationship, communication is equally important and that families can come in all different shapes and sizes. I described the Pizza family, which got a few thoughtful nods. I told them that Steven’s best friend is a girl of color who reads voraciously and is studying to be a sword-fighter. The mention of Connie and her quest to protect her less martial best friend got an approving nod from the mom. Describing Steven as a gentle boy who wears pink, doesn’t mind it, and has a shield and healing powers got both parents exchanging looks and encouraging me to tell them more.
Their young son was impressed at my deep knowledge of the Crystal Gems and Steven and proudly told me he knew all the words to “Stronger Than You.” I told him lots of people know the words to that one; it’s one of the most popular songs in the show! I also told his parents that the show in general has a lot of beautiful, whimsically composed music, and that the show had been created by a woman, the first to do so at Cartoon Network.
The eldest son’s excitement bubbled over, and he began, right in the middle of Target, to sing “Stronger Than You” to show me he was not exaggerating about having memorized the song.
This is Garnet
And I’m never goin’ down
At the hands of the likes of you
Because I’m so much better
And every part of me is saying “Go get ‘er.”
Not to be outdone by a baby geek, I joined him, and we sang line for line most of the way through the song, much to his elation, his sister’s amazement, and his parents’ delight. We even got a little applause from them when we stopped.
I, of course, shared with them our website, so hopefully they’ll visit and see I kept my word about blogging our conversation and mentioning their enthusiastic oldest. I’m hoping I can run into them again soon and catch up with them over the episodes the kids hadn’t seen yet. I was careful not to spoil anything; I wanted the family to embrace all the old episodes and new surprises together. I imagine they’ll have a fight on their hands if they try to forbid their oldest from watching it. He was a pure devotee without any encouragement from me! I’m hoping my efangelism inspired the whole family to embrace the show.
I’m thrilled to see that my fandom t-shirts give me an approachability that means parents and kids alike feel safe asking me to talk about something I must love if I’m wearing it emblazoned across my ample chest. I’ve never been shy about letting my inner child out, so it’s nice to receive opportunities from perfect strangers. Sadly, due to the fan reaction to the Jem movie, my We Love Fine Jem and the Holograms t-shirt does not get the same reaction. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
But t-shirts alone aren’t the only way to efangelize. Since I was able to wear all my geeky shirts all summer long at work, coworkers have continued asking me about my geeky pursuits. I have a coworker who has a three-year-old granddaughter. She’s constantly trying to find new things to entertain her. I pointed to Steven and the Ponies again, because bright colors, beautiful music, and good lessons for children without all the gross-out humor of so many other kids’ shows. She hasn’t had a chance to watch, but she proudly IMed me recently to remind me she’d been paying attention, telling me that she wanted to see me cosplay as Steven Universe’s mom, Rose Crystal. Not bad for someone who hasn’t even seen a single episode of the show yet! I have hope she and the grandkid will be fans before much longer.
Even at a geek-saturated environment like DragonCon 2015, I was able to start multiple conversations. I met a woman in the skybridge who had never been in downtown Atlanta for the con, but was a fan. She asked me what DragonCon was about, and because the streets, the hotels, and the skybridge were thick with cosplayers of every shape, size, fandom, and denomination, I had plenty to point out to her and describe. She would occasionally interject to let me know she enjoyed this show or that show, but when I mentioned Star Wars, she lit right up because she and her young son are both fans. I advised her to swing into town at least long enough on Saturday to see the parade.
Multiple conversations were started—once again about Steven Universe—because I carry an Android phone covered in a Garnet hardcase from Cartoon Network (a gift from my boyfriend). Literally, every time I stopped to snap a photo, I got the same reaction. “I love your phone case!” And it led every time to a discussion about how awesome Garnet is, which inevitably led to amazement at my devotion to the show.
Oh, and no essay about accessorizing and efangelizing would be complete without me mentioning my car. It’s a new-to-me 2011 Kia. When I got to see it in person for the first time, I realized the paint job was silver, which of course led to naming this car, as all my others had been named. My 2000 Saturn had been Big O. My 1995 Jeep, Big Mac (after the pony, not the sandwich), and the silver Kia? Well, what else do you name something silver and sleek, but Norrin Radd, a.k.a. The Silver Surfer? Norrin hasn’t sparked any conversations yet, but the reason he has a decal with his namesake is because a few years ago, I saw a car with a magnet for the late, lamented Cartoon Network show (now airing on Boomerang), The Secret Saturdays. I had to know where he got it, so that driver’s accessorizing—or rather, his girlfriend’s, since she’d put the magnet on the car—started another geeky conversation. At least until the light turned green.
The most recent example of efangelism came from Twitter; in this instance, though, a social media accessory allowed me to share my enthusiasm for the things I love! Tweeter @oh_JodieBaby mentioned that her child had recently given her a heartbreaking moment by saying “brown girls can’t be superheroes.” Her mom was obviously a fan, but her daughter had still gotten that message from the lack of media representation. I took that personally, and promised if she’d provide me with a photo, I’d provide her child with a drawing of her as a superhero. She in turn told her daughter to put on what she’d wear if she was one of The Avengers and tweeted me the photo.
The drawing I sent in return includes not only Little Miss Laser Fists, but brown girl superheroes Ms. Marvel, Storm, and Misty Knight, two of whom our young fangirl immediately recognized with great excitement—and who, in a bonding experience with her mom—will be starting to read Ms. Marvel to get to know the delightful Kamala Khan!
By the way, if your fandom is not merchandised, represented, or doesn’t take your body type into consideration? If you find the t-shirts too expensive? Don’t let that stop you! Pushing Daisies had no t-shirts, so I made my own. The first iteration of Heroes didn’t have anything in my size. My homemade “Pie Hole” and “Forget the cheerleader, save the waitress!” shirts, respectively, sparked off a good many conversations, starting with complimenting me on my ingenuity and my devotion to showing my love for those shows. Be crafty! It’s the another great way to find other fans.
So, if you’re wondering how to get people interested in things you love without being overbearing—go out in public with your colors flying proudly! There are parents, kids, and random adults just waiting for the opportunity to ask questions or get into a discussion with an enthusiastic fan, as long as you don’t fall into any of the stereotypical Hollywood trope traps that people expect of geeks, anyway.
Shop where your fandom leads you. Wear your gear with genuine enthusiasm. Gear up and they will come! Watch the hashtag #efangelism on Twitter if you want to follow my further adventures of starting geek conversations through my accessories.
Next up for me: I’ve got my eye on that Silk open front cardigan and leggings from the Spider Women collection at We Love Fine, which they didn’t have yet when I shopped at DragonCon.