*NOTE: the opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and in no way a reflection of the editors*
Today, I read a piece in The Hollywood Reporter that just stopped shy of accusing actors, and in particular, Stephen Amell, of basically raping fandom by making money from sales of autographs and photo opportunities. As someone who has been in fandom since the early ‘80’s and has both attended, worked and run conventions, I felt this article was unfair and unbalanced. I know from personal experience why we have to pay, and should pay, for celebrity pictures and autographs.
Back before the days of the Internet, most celebrities attended conventions for the price of a plane ticket, accommodations, and a food and drink stipend. They signed autographs for free, took pictures for free. Most of us fans got our program books signed and took photos on our Kodak instamatics. There were no cell phones or selfies. These items were not shared instantaneously with thousands of others. What happened was two-fold:
Those of us who took photos on instamatics have watched as our precious images have slowly started to fade away. The ink on our program books is becoming a dim memory.
More importantly, even then there were people with pro-cameras out there doing this: taking professional pictures of celebrities, getting them signed – then heading out to the next convention to sell those photos to fans not fortunate to meet their idols. Not only was this taking advantage of fans, this was taking advantage of celebrities as well. They were not seeing a single dime from the wholesale market peddling their image and signature. Sounds unfair? You bet it was.
Then the Internet exploded, and piracy of just about any and all media grew exponentially. This went far beyond a mix tape for a loved one or a copy of a photo for a friend. Along comes eBay, and perhaps for the first time, celebrities became truly aware of how much money was being made on their images, their signatures, their performances, and yes, how badly their fans were being ripped off – especially on the Internet, where quality and authenticity weren’t always guaranteed.
So, thus were born the fees. Was I entirely happy? No, because I’m far from rich. Conventions cost way more than they did in the 80’s, but they are also getting bigger, more elaborate and more frequent. Fans have access to their heroes in ways unimaginable to us attending conventions in the early days. Meet and greets, VIP, photo ops…well, I never would have dreamed it possible. And this is happening in a way that is both fair and transparent to fans as well as to celebrities. Don’t you think if someone is selling your image, your signature, that you should be in on that deal? I do. Wouldn’t you want your fans to have the genuine article, one that you signed in front of them, and a posed, professional photograph that’s going to be framed and hung on your wall until forever? I would.
Let’s also be honest about this: a celebrity’s niceness isn’t measured in dollar signs. I’ve been mistreated by only a very few celebrities then and now, and trust me when I tell you, I won’t waste another moment on them, their TV shows, their movies or their music. Ever. I will however, continually pay for an experience with an artist or actor who has demonstrated kindness above and beyond whatever was written in their contract. Stars that could call me on the phone tomorrow (and I wish they would!) to ask for a favor to which I would gladly comply. I’m only going to drop one name here, because anyone who has ever met him knows just what I’m talking about: John Barrowman. This man’s remarkable gentleness, kindness, attentiveness and generosity is real. Really, really real.
I also want to mention this: many celebrities donate a portion of the money they earn from photo ops and autographs to charity. Mentioning John Barrowman again, he was just in my home state of Florida, for a one-day event in Orlando. It was widely advertised that his profits were going to One Orlando, a fund set up for the victims and families of the Pulse nightclub shootings. He is not alone in charity work – Patrick Stewart does it; Adrian Paul, Marina Sirtis, and many others have signs on their booths letting fans know where their money is going.
So before you shake your head or make judgments about someone taking your hard earned dollar, think about the words above. Despite what some would have you believe, it’s a win/win for all of those involved.