(I’ve been hammering away at this post for twelve years hence the lack of reference to Facebook)
I feel like I am taking a test.”
He was both baffled and concerned. We’d gotten to be good Internet friends, but he was convinced of a hidden agenda while answering my questions. He was writing an article on the role-playing game illustrators of the Eighties and had become intrigued with “the guy who’s work was all over the place but not as well-known as the Larry Elmores and Keith Parkinsons”. We’ve gone on to continue our friendship, but in the beginning he was put off by the times I was less than forthcoming. The sad thing is that he was right. I was testing him to screen out BLS – otherwise known as the “Buzz Lightyear Syndrome”.
Americans are schizophrenic when it comes to celebrities. We made a point of writing the concept of royalty/nobility out the constitution, but we are more obsessed with entertainers, sports stars, and British nobility than any other group on the earth .At the same time, our collective schadenfreude meter pegs out when a celebrity has any kind of trouble and proves to be just as fallible as anyone else. There’s also a fairly short life-span to our interest1. It happens with actors, (when’s the last time you heard about Brendan Fraser in the news?) athletes, (ditto Brian Bosworth) and, sadly enough in my case, artists.
Ego was never part of the reason I got into this business, and both my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I have always been kind and accommodating when approached by fans. Evidently that is an anomaly, as I’ve been told horror stories involving professionals responding quite cruelly to their admirers, and early on we decided to go against the grain and be approachable to any and everyone. For the most part it has worked out well, and we’ve enjoyed meeting, working with, and teaching countless good people, but as time went on we noticed a common cycle of behavior among a small percentage of those approachees.
- Lengthy fan mail expressing admiration for my work.
- Efforts to establish as many common interests as possible.
- Stepped-up attention-bombing via frequent letters, calls, or messages.
- Personal visits and a monopoly on time together at conventions.
- Separate Contact with family and other friends
….and this is usually the point where unless I was careful, I’d get sucked in. By nature I am a social animal, and working alone in a studio has always been a challenge, so it’s nice to gain a friend with similar interests. Unfortunately, this is also when the relationship hits a tipping point and the new friend starts to:
- Become overly familiar, often using family nicknames.
- Introducing me as his “famous artist friend Dave Deitrick”.
- Drop my name in social or business situations.
- Make expensive/extensive demands including (but not limited to) free artwork.
- Use my name to usurp relationships with clients or gain special privileges at conventions.
- …and eventually the relationship is turned upside-down with the fan becoming dismissive or contemptuous.
That’s when the BLS comes into full function and the person in question disappears off the face of the earth. Oh, I might hear from them eventually2, but in the same way Woody was replaced by Buzz Lightyear as Andy’s favorite toy, I become a nonentity. That sudden change isn’t as painful as losing an old friend from decades in the past, but there’s an emotional toll on myself, my family, and often deep gaps in my personal collection of original art.
It doesn’t happen very often, especially now when we no longer attend conventions and I am retired, but I’ve dealt with the phenomenon enough times to spot a BLS event in the making… and while it’s not as devastating as losing an old friend or relative, it’s unpleasant enough for me to find way to avoid it in the first place, hence the checklist of red flags to watch for during initial meetings. I pay particular attention to how they address me – “Dave” is limited to family members or friends from high school, and the “Joe Cool” use of just my last name will get you the door unless we’ve made at least one night/equipment jump together or spent at least one afternoon door-contacting in New England.
If any of the aforementioned warning signs appear when meeting for the first time I will politely answer any immediate questions then ignore further contact. I hate the fact that I have to do this as it feels like I’m using the velvet rope hung by trendy nightclubs to limit entrance to the “beautiful people”. I also hate to miss out interacting with new people – Some of my best/longest friendships3 started with a fan contacting me, but I am easily distracted and I have to protect myself, and more important my family, from that narcissistic 1% that replaces their
toys (er) friends every year.
- The two or three year gap between Bananarama, Expose, Spice Girls and En Vogue was enough time for memories to dim to the point that each act was able to bill themselves as “the first all-female superstar vocal group”.
- One guy surfaced after twelve years to demand that I remove his name from my website. Another one surfaces every ten years to complain because I wouldn’t sign over all rights to a favorite piece of art.
- Not every short-lived friendship involves the BLE. Friendships develop under many different circumstances, but change is the very essence of life and all too often a transfer, promotion, graduation, or major development in my health puts an end to a relationship.
*Creative Curmudgeon Commentary