McGinnis: Why fans need to back off on the autograph huntWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Wil Wheaton is a nice guy. I have never met the man, though I did interview him once in 2009, where he was thoroughly kind and generous with his time — especially to a rookie writer who had only been on the job a few months. In recent years, the former child star has thoroughly reinvented himself through his incredibly popular blog, a series of very well-received books, exposure on shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and more.
Through it all, he has garnered a significant following of fans who like him not just for his work, but for the person he seems to be outside of it. The Wil Wheaton that fans meet through his online writing is a witty and passionate man, a caring father, an enthusiastic geek, and generally the kind of guy you’d love to have a beer with someday.
Wil is famous. Not as famous as he once was, perhaps, but certainly more well known than a lot of folks. With fame, of course, comes both benefits and drawbacks. One of the latter reared its head at Wil while he attended the San Diego Comic Con.
On his blog, Wheaton discussed being descended on by a pack of autograph hounds, who accosted him outside an event. They apparently had been lying in wait for a long time, cut him off from his friends and family, and insisted he sign items. When he resisted and retreated, these boorish fans chased after him, yelling things about how it was their right to get his signature, and how they’d post on the web what a jerk he was if he didn’t. Entitlement and emotional blackmail, all in one — how lovely.
Wheaton took to his blog and wrote an entry describing the incident, and included a bit of advice: “If you camp out in front of my hotel while I am on location or visiting a city, if you camp out in front of a party I’m attending … basically, if you camp out anywhere so you can shove a stack of 8x10s into my face when I’m trying to enter or leave a location, I’m not going to sign them, and I’m not going to be nice about it,” he wrote.
“I refuse to reward or validate that kind of behavior, and I’m done being polite about it.”
To which I say: Bravo.
Now, I have no experience with the phenomenon Wil described. I have never been asked for an autograph. (If I ever was, I would double check to make sure the individual requesting it wasn’t serving me a summons.) I have no idea what it’s like to be famous enough to warrant that kind of attention.
But I am a fan of many things. I have been on the opposite side of that moment, where I have met or spoken with someone I admired. My tendency is to get mumble-mouthed and awkward, which is not far from how I am in real life, anyway. I have even asked for autographs in the past — but not for a good, long time.
At some point, I came to think of autograph hunting as a childish pursuit. What am I asking for, really? A name, scribbled on a piece of paper, so I can show all my friends and maybe sell on eBay when I tire of it? No. As Wheaton himself pointed out, what we really want is time — a moment of the star’s attention. The autograph is just the physical byproduct of that.
But why waste that moment with the pitiable (and in the case of the aforementioned incident, downright asinine) pursuit of a signature? In the few moments where I have met someone I admire, my policy is simple: I say hello and I thank them for their work. More often than not, they thank me in return and engage me in a moment of conversation. I value those moments far more than the superficial reward any autograph would have garnered me.
The mob that ambushed Wheaton at Comic Con was not seeking that kind of moment. They were grasping for any crumb that celebrity could shower on them — whether for personal or financial gain. That is not just childish, that is pitiful.
I’m not talking about signings at a card show or convention or something — an event where a person is specifically being paid to sit and sign. That’s a different animal altogether, though one I still would never want to feed myself. Those who attend such events to garner signatures, I have no quarrel with.
But when it comes to autograph seeking in the “real world,” can we please show a little more decorum in the future? Whether a star or not, we’re all still just people. There is a cost to being a celebrity, certainly. But I would hate to think that means the standards of decency are changed, too. I wouldn’t want someone to treat me like a pariah, just because I dared to value my privacy.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.