Thursday, September 12, 2013

(Not) The TARDIS at Montmajour

Omigosh! Up in the left corner: it's... it's... a castle! Castles are cool."
This is another one of those posts where I'm going to come across as a bit of a geeky curmudgeon. . . or a curmudgeonly geek - whichever you please.
So, I'm really thrilled that a "new" Vincent Van Gogh painting has been discovered. Vincent was a fairly prolific painter, so it's not terribly rare to find a painting of his that no one knew about before, but most of those are from his early years as a painter. This one, Sunset at Montmajour, is from his "mature" period. You can read (and watch) more about this here. Now, not everyone is that impressed with it artistically, and, sure, it's not as striking as his sunflowers, but, I still like it.
Here's the thing: less than 24 hours after the unveiling, somebody noticed that there is an object in the upper left corner that kind of almost looks like the TARDIS, the time-traveling machine from Doctor Who - if you look at it just right and sort of ignore everything around it that makes it not look like a blue police box. Somebody posted this - probably on Reddit or Tumblr or Twitter - and when it reached my eyes, I went: "Ha! Yeah, it kind of does. Funny." The first time. And the second. And the third. After a little while, though, I was starting to get a bit annoyed.

"Hey, can we maybe try to just focus on how cool it is that there's another Van Gogh painting?" I thought. "It only sort of looks like the TARDIS, and probably only to some of us because of selective attention."
(Selective attention is what happens when your crush drives a red Tercel, and, suddenly: there are red Tercels everywhere. Only, there aren't actually more red Tercels than before you met this person, you're just noticing them now.)
And folks: I am a huge fan of Doctor Who. I've been watching it for as long as I was allowed to turn on the TV and watch by myself. My parents would turn off Star Trek re-runs because they were "too scary," but I got away with watching Doctor Who because it played on PBS, the same channel as Sesame Street and The Electric Company. The first couple of years, I watched it without always understanding what was going on or why the Doctor looked very different sometimes. It was particularly confusing when they would run a current Tom Baker episode in color followed by an old Patrick Troughton episode in black and white. In fact, I can remember being excited that I read the word "Police" on the TARDIS one time, and I started reading when I was four. That's how early I got into Doctor Who. But I loved it. I still do. I watched it whenever I could (my PBS affiliate moved it around quite a bit) until it went off the air in my freshman year of high school. I've watched every single episode of the new series, and, yes, I saw the 1996 TV movie - on TV, no less. I have more Doctor Who t-shirts than I could possibly need. I am a Doctor Who geek. A Whovian. No doubt about it.
E is for "Exterminate."

So, if I'm annoyed by the eclipsing of the new Van Gogh painting by this "phantom" TARDIS, imagine how annoyed the art lovers on Tumblr who aren't into Doctor Who must be. Yep, pretty darn annoyed. Even on sci-fi websites there are commenters saying, "Enough with these Whovians and the Van Gogh painting already!" Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed.
Yes, being a geek is loosely defined as being someone who is very much into a particular thing to the point of being mildly obsessed. There are movie geeks. (I'm one.) Theatre geeks. (Also one.) Art geeks. (I'm a novice one.) Sci-fi geeks. Zombie geeks. Vampire geeks. Video game geeks. The list goes on.
Here's the thing, though: it's gotten pretty intense. People are trying to "outgeek" one another to the point of being ridiculous. Some of this is the fact that the internet raises the bar so much. Everyone wants to go viral. There is also the rabid fame culture. Everybody wants to be a star, to be noticed. I'm not exempt. I write a blog that's read by a handful of people. Why? Is it therapeutic? A little, sure, but I really would like people to say, "Hey, I like the way you think. You're funny, smart, and deceptively handsome." I get it. I do.
However, the voracious nature of fandom does worry me sometimes, and, as my art-geek world and my Doctor Who-geek worlds collided yesterday, this became one of those times.
"Good news, Mrs. Patitis: little Hep Jr. has gone viral!"

Look, follow me on an analogy:
There are a whole lot of people who really love bacon. If bacon is an option on the burger: do it. Someone makes one of those old-timey cartoons with a joke about how awesome bacon is: share on Facebook, like, like, like. A bacon bumper sticker? Sold. A bacon t-shirt? Shut up and take my money!
Then you get the guy who finds a way to relate every conversation to bacon. His Facebook profile pic: him eating bacon. He shares every bacon article, joke, photo, speculation, and recipe that he comes across on Facebook and Twitter. Just clicking "follow" on his Pinterest board causes your cholesterol level to rise. He has a bacon tattoo. He named his dog "Bacon." His daughter is "Pancetta" and his son is named "Barry Acon." ("B. Acon." Get it? Classic.) He also will tell anyone who listens (and many who won't) that if you look long enough and hard enough, every Picasso painting has a slice of bacon in it somewhere. This guy makes people who haven't had bacon before never want to try it, and it makes bacon lovers feel like swearing off pork altogether. Why? Because he's ridiculous and annoying, and he is obsessed with demonstrating how obsessed he is.
"Well, no one's that into bacon." Probably not. Who knows? But take this analogy and carry it over into any other area of geekdom. See? Now, it's more plausible. You know that guy who's obsessed with zombies. You work with that woman who's Team Edward. If you're not into the thing they're into, it can be difficult to be around them. Even if it's a common interest for you, they can still be a bit much to take. Or, maybe you're that person, and you're reading this and thinking, "Whatever, dude."
So, I googled "bacon tattoo," and what I saw made me decide to post a photo of anything else.
This is my cat: Adelaide.

"That's what being a geek is." Okay, maybe it is. Hey, I get worked up about stuff that I like, too, and many's the time that I talked about old movies or Batman or Spaced at a party to the point that it was eventually just me and some very polite person who was trying to figure out how to excuse themselves. What I've learned is that, if I really want to share my interests with another person, less is more, and if your goal in sharing the object of obsession isn't to get someone else interested in it, then what are you doing?
Showing off?
I want more people to enjoy Doctor Who as I enjoy it. It has been a part of my life and my worldview for just about as long as I can remember, and - even with all of the movies and TV shows around us these days - there's really nothing quite like it.
A man in a funny suit steps out of a box and is confronted by a big, scowling, horrid monster. While his companion cowers in fear, he walks up to the behemoth, smiles, and extends his hand.
"Hello. I'm the Doctor. And you are?"
As it was (almost) described on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, they are stories about "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." Couldn't we all use a little more of that in this world?
It troubles me when I've met people who flat will not watch Star Trek because "trekkies are weird," or who won't watch Doctor Who because they stumbled onto a thread by an obsessed David Tennant fan group. (David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor. When he got married, some extremely unkind things were posted about his lovely bride.)
I wonder how many art lovers on Tumblr who just haven't managed to get around to watching any Doctor Who yet have now sworn off of ever watching an episode because a bunch of Whovians went all TARDIS crazy and hijacked their discussion thread on the new Van Gogh painting.
Imagine if we had a time machine and could handle those "first encounters" the way the Doctor would:

Hey, I don't know much about Van Gogh, but there was an episode of my favorite TV show all about him. When was this painted? The episode takes place in 1890.

1888, according to the letter he wrote his brother. What TV show?

Doctor Who. I love it, and the Van Gogh episode is one of my favorites.

My cousin keeps bugging me about how I should watch that show. She's obsessed.

It's pretty addictive. It's funny and exciting and touching all at the same time. What's really funny is that the main character travels around in a time machine that looks like a blue police box, and - up in the left corner of the painting - that castle almost looks like a blue police box.

Oh, maybe it is Doctor Who! I'll have to check it out. Will I be able to follow what's going on if I just watch the Van Gogh episode?

Pretty much. Let me just give you a couple of things you need to know about the madman in the box...

Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism...

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