“I am not a stalker”: Erased Identity and Toxic Fandom in THE FANATIC

The Fanatic. 2019. Directed by Fred Durst. Screenplay by Durst & Dave Bekerman.
Starring John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton, Josh Richman, Jessica Uberuaga, Marta González Rodin, Martin Peña, Kenneth Farmer, Elle Matarazzo, & Jeff Chase.

Media Finance Capital / Fig Production Group / Daniel Grodnik Productions

Rated R / 88 minutes
Horror / Thriller


Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead

Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Hollywood SignFather Gore was as sceptical as the next person when Fred Durst’s latest feature was announced. Doubly so when John Travolta was set to star— he’s been in great films over the years, in the past few years the only things he’s done worth mentioning are Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence and playing Robert Shapiro on American Crime Story. A great surprise that The Fanatic turned out to be a decent film full of interesting ideas.

Durst and co-writer Dave Bekerman tell the tale of Moose (Travolta)— an ageing resident of Hollywood whose admiration of the stars and the Boulevard reach unsettling heights. At first, we see Moose is, for the most part, a misunderstood guy. He wants so badly to be close to the movies his entire life revolves around them, from a fully decorated apartment to his job doing a poor impersonation of a British bobby on the street. He has a particular love for horror movie veteran Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). When an encounter with his favourite star at a signing goes awkwardly wrong, Moose takes it upon himself to instil Mr. Dunbar with gratitude for his adoring fans.

Safe to say Durst may have had his own experiences with eager fans, back in the heyday of Limp Bizkit after a cover of George Michael’s “Faith” put them on the map of every living teen during the 1990s. There’s a deep understanding in the screenplay of what it’s like to be a celebrity and have your private live violated by someone who believes you owe them something.
Father Gore, or any of us who aren’t famous, can’t possibly imagine what that’s like. Today— with social media showing us the seedier side of fandom more each year— it’s easy enough to believe, judging by what some celebrities have gone through at the hands of so-called fans online. The Fanatic looks long and hard at fan entitlement, and how a person’s identity can disappear, and even become dangerous, if it’s based on nothing other than fictional characters and stories.
Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Graffiti

“I respect Hollywood!”

Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Moose in the MirrorThere are several indicators Moose has no real personality, other than the identity he’s formed as a fan. Many will assume he has an intellectual disability. It becomes clear— particularly with a flashback to little Moose living in a neglectful home, left with only George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as company— the reason why he is how he is has more to do with the inner world he’s built, populated solely by fictional lives. This is partly why he later crosses the line with Hunter, because his earliest friends in life weren’t real. He’s grown up to believe fans and the object(s) of their affection don’t have a producer-consumer relationship, but one built on actual friendship.

Moose can’t relate to real life without the mediator of film. His fantasy world was built as a kid, escaping into horror movies and other entertainment to get away from a sad reality. His apartment itself is evidence he has no life outside movies with wall-to-wall props and countless pictures of Dunbar from his various horrors. Many fans fill their homes with movie memorabilia, including Father Gore. Moose’s obsessive collection, starting literally at the door and ending by the bed, indicates he has no inner life whatsoever. This comes out further after he kidnaps Hunter.
Moose stages a “Game over” moment like the ending from Saw and laughs when Hunter thinks it’s real. He wears a Jason Voorhees mask, wielding a knife. He also makes a “Mr. Blonde” reference from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs while teasing Hunter using fake gasoline. Moose’s hostage scenario is built upon decades of movie knowledge, from ’80s slashers to ’90s crime cinema to contemporary horror. He can’t even be a psycho with any originality.

Many fans nowadays equate spending money on a product with being entitled to the time / recognition of its creators. Worse, they often feel entitled in spite of their behaviour. Take the Rick and Morty McDonald’s fiasco— when their precious sauce ran out at restaurants, some berated minimum wage employees, launching into childish tirades (one here caught on video), and others protested with signs, like it was an important social issue. Plenty of these scenarios play out since the advent of social media, where creators are closer than ever to their fans, for better or worse. Many showrunners on Twitter are berated weekly by people who don’t like the direction of a series and, instead of writing a review or their own show, their fans all but demand to have input into the creative process.

Moose embodies toxic fandom. The most telling moments are when he gets angry with Hunter, telling him: “I go to every one of your movies, even the crappy ones.” Or when he whines “Stop being so mean to me,” the irony lost on him that he’s holding Hunter hostage, tied to a bed, and scared for his life. Moose is the 21st century version of Annie Wilkes, willing to strap his idol to a bed and force him to see his perspective, when he could fight back in a capitalist world by simply not spending every cent of his hard-earned money to support someone he perceives as unworthy of his fan love.
This is one of the scariest aspects of modern fandom— these maniacs would rather ruin an entertainer’s life because they don’t like a product than stop buying the product. It’s an extension of capitalism’s nefarious effects, when fans stop seeing the objects of their obsession as people and start seeing them as exactly that: objects. To Moose, Hunter is another prop, a signed photo, a jacket to hang in his apartment, not a human being with a life outside his celebrity image and problems of his own.
Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Horror Movie Hero, Hunter Dunbar

“I go to every one of your movies—
even the crappy ones.”

Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Peeping MooseAlong with treating celebrities like objects, or products in and of themselves, The Fanatic briefly explores the ethics of privacy. StarMap is referenced. It’s what helps Moose get to Dunbar’s home. His friend Leah (Ana Golja) uses the app as a paparazzi and tries to warn he shouldn’t use it to stalk. An ironic distinction for her to make, being a professional stalker herself. This parallels the real case of Gawker editor Emily’s Gould blog. A feature called Gawker Stalker allowed people to update others on the location of celebrities in New York City. For those unaware, Jimmy Kimmel openly criticised Gould, for good reason, suggesting this could lead to actual cases of stalking.
Durst presents the very hypothetical Kimmel worried about in his criticism of Gould. Again, the film’s screenplay, as well as the real Gawker Stalker situation, returns to the idea that many fans come to treat the people who create the art they love as objects, believing themselves entitled to attention to an unsettling degree, erasing a celebrity’s privacy and, to an extent, their identity, too.

Disclaimer #2:
This next paragraph includes a
MAJOR SPOILER re: the finale

Perhaps the most unsettling part of the film is the ending. After Moose has accidentally killed a housekeeper and taken Hunter hostage, he walks free. Although he’s been brutally injured, he gets away with stalking, kidnapping, and manslaughter. Hunter takes the fall for the murder— a harsh metaphor for the price creatives pay for the behaviour of their fans. Moose is symbolic of fans who get passed off as harmless or overenthusiastic when they’re actually abusive and entitled. He takes on victim status in the end, assumed to have been attacked by criminal elements on the Boulevard who don’t “respect Hollywood” like he claims to, just like those who claim victimhood when a celebrity / creator calls them out. Hunter’s ultimate persecution is a parallel to the way famous people are villainised when they fight back against unfair expectations / treatment by fans, and their fans walk away, like Moose, without repercussion to perpetuate their toxic behaviour against the next unlucky creator they ‘admire.’
Father Son Holy Gore - The Fanatic - Moose as Jason VoorheesCelebrities do not belong to us— this is, essentially, the crux of The Fanatic. In the 21st century, public and private are not such separate concepts due to the internet and technology. Fanaticism isn’t only religious. Not in an age of celebrity when actors, athletes, and musicians are elevated to the status of modern gods— an age in which the famous can do no wrong, relatively untouched by the law because of their fake celebrity image. Our society turns people who don’t really do anything into idols, from the Kardashians to YouTubers. No surprise famous people gain followings akin to a cult.

We also have to reconcile this cult of personality in pop culture with the fact people who worship these personalities occasionally do questionable, if not dangerous things. And the closer fans get to the celebrities they admire, via social media / media in general (interviews, etc), the more potential there is for the line to blur between what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to fans abusing that relationship.
We can’t treat famous figures as objects. Neither can we treat them like our personal friends. Celebrity exists in an odd space, somewhere between being an acquaintance and being a stranger. It’s not only on them to navigate that social territory, it’s also on us as an audience— as fans— to recognise famous entertainers are not products for us to consume. If we resign ourselves to a harmful capitalist idea of celebrity, we have to accept it isn’t technology, or movies, or music, or any of the other scapegoats people reach for that’s deteriorating our society— it’s all us.

One thought on ““I am not a stalker”: Erased Identity and Toxic Fandom in THE FANATIC

  1. Pingback: Reviews: The Fanatic (2019) | Online Film Critics Society

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