A Cloud Hangs Over TIME

In the interest of full disclosure, let me put some of my long history as a sci-fi geek up front. I’ve got my original white D&D box (circa 1976) on my office shelf, and I played role-playing games for most of a decade. I worked for nearly four years in a science-fiction/fantasy book & game shop. I conceived and organized a science-fiction convention in 1983. My wife and I first met at a monthly party organized by sci-fi writer John Varley. So what follows here is not a slam of people who enjoy a fantastic story.

Darth Vader: Mr. Force

Rather, it’s a call for a saner type of fandom, particularly in the case of TIME writer John Cloud, whose fawning cover story on Ann Coulter spawned choking noises from people like myself who don’t think people who advocate terrorism and the targeted killing of journalists should be given airbrushed coverage. Sometimes, it can lead to a bit of criticism, as it does here. And here. And here.

This week, Cloud recounts “How Star Wars Saved My Life” although he doesn’t really explain exactly what it saved his life from. He does mention having “crushes on most of the boys in the neighborhood” — at six; that he has a boyfriend; that he regularly came home when he was twelve with spitballs in his hair. But there’s no explanation as to how Star Wars made any of this more bearable, particularly. All I had during my geeky youth was 2001 and the original Star Trek, but they didn’t exactly save me from getting bullied.

Like a lot of over-eager fans, Cloud approaches his 900-word essay with a true believer’s passion and little perspective. He (or an editor) should have noticed the eighth of the essay — complete with dialog — Cloud devotes to recounting his favorite scene from the original movie that even sounds like you’re talking to the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. And perhaps it’s my athiest heart talking, but I’m fairly certain that by the time I was 12 — even with Cloud’s upbringing — I wouldn’t have been praying “the Lord would send me to live with Han and Chewie.”

This lack of perspective, even in the thirtysomething Cloud’s life, is what I think went wrong with the Coulter interview — apart from even thinking of or approving of it. At one point in my life, I met a lot of sci-fi writers, some of whom were big at the time and others who have become big in the last couple of decades. But even then I knew they were just people, and that’s something a writer for TIME should know about any interviewee, whether they’re someone they like or someone they don’t.

There are always fans whose internal governor of gushiness is switched off, however, and they may not know anything about the person, they’re just thrilled to be talking to them. To have the illusion that they’re being treated as an equal, even when the famous person’s only talking to them to peddle a book, a movie, or a story about Iraqi WMDs. Starstruck reporters can’t be objective about their subjects.