Memoir of a Life in Fandom Part 4: Life is a Marketing Research Company, Old Chum


“Dormwarming” card from Antonella, fall 2003





I have mostly fond memories of my Freshman year of college; the dream Antonella (whom by this point we had dubbed ‘Nella) and I had set two years prior was now reality. My old buddy from the catacombs of the now-defunct forums and I were now… roommates.

I lived in New York Fucking City. I was one of maybe a dozen people in my graduating high school class to escape the backwards hellpit of Appalachia. I was at one of the largest, most prestigious (and most expensive) liberal arts colleges in the country. I was the envy of many who would never have this opportunity.

Why, God, why did I spend so much of it holed up in my room reading comic books?

“But I do that, too!” Well, that’s fine. But here’s the thing about college, especially private liberal arts colleges in one of the most biggest cities in the world; it’s expensive. Too expensive. Immorally expensive. The cost of education in this country has eclipsed income growth by a rate that is unquestionably immoral.

Did I understand this? Hell no. I was eighteen. Only job I ever had brought me chump change with which I bought comic books. But more than that, at the end of my four years in college my mother expressed only disappointment with NYU, and it’s only now that I understand why, but it wasn’t NYU’s fault; it was mine. Mom felt that I wasn’t challenged, that I didn’t work hard, that I wasn’t putting forth maximum effort. She was right, but that was only because I didn’t have to. I had gone into the liberal arts; all I had to do was read and write essays. I had one math class the whole four years! One! All I had to do was required reading, language studies and essays? I could do that in an hour!

I mean, fuck if I knew what I was going to major in freshman year, but like I said, I did the barest minimum, and NYU was pretty easy. I rarely pulled all-nighters because I didn’t need to. I could usually bang out 6,000-word papers in a couple of evenings. The NYU curriculum was structured so as to rarely have tests or homework; it was mostly essay writing, and I quickly learned to be a fast writer.

So, shock of shocks, instead of devoting myself to my studies as I should have, I spent most of my time (when I wasn’t reading X-men comics) here:

Yes, there was a time when everyone had a Livejournal. A time before spambots, a time before the Russian takeover.

The other place I spent a great deal of my time (and money)? Studio 54.

Yes, that Studio 54. Where the Broadway revival of Cabaret was running.

I really loved Cabaret.

I really loved Cabaret.

By this point all of us, aside of course from that snob Lisa who was still in college downtown at Pace, had moved well on from Phantom. Angie had moved onto Sondheim, coming into town from Delaware on the occasion that one of his shows got revived. I saw many, many Broadway shows through the wonder of student rush, but my crack was Cabaret. Hell, to this day, Cabaret is still my favorite musical. Not the movie! Not the original musical, either! I’m talking the 1998 revival that starred Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson.

Me as Sally Bowles, Halloween 2003

Oh, how we adored Cabaret. Even before I got my accordion a couple years later, the halls would ring out with our rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” Nella was worried that our suitemates would think we were Neo-Nazis. I thought that was ridiculous at the time (though I found out years later that that’s apparently a Thing).

It was through a combination of LiveJournal and Cabaret fandom that I met a new fandom friend, we’ll call her Penny, a Brooklyn native and major aficionado of all things retro. She was also a huge fan of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, who had one big hit in the late 90’s but were still going strong at the time. By day, Penny was an editor at a marketing research firm called Intermedia Advertising Group, or IAG.

Me and Sherry in LA, 2007

It was on LiveJournal communities devoted to the likes of Cabaret and Alan Cumming that I met Penny, through whom I met Sherry. We’d met in person on election night 2004, at that point having only interacted through LiveJournal; she was a playwriting student and avid sex-positive fandom participant who was finishing up her degree at Sarah Lawrence College up in Westchester. We drank our woes away that night, knowing long before the results were announced that we were likely to be consigned to another four years of the Bush administration. She too was a fan of Cabaret and New York theater, among many other things (at the time her drug of choice was the remake of Peter Pan that starred Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook).

When Sherry graduated from Sarah Lawrence, Penny got her a night job at IAG. By this point, despite still being well underage, alcohol was a big part of my social life and was only getting bigger. Although I did have a fake ID, I rarely needed it. New York bars just weren’t big on carding, especially if you were a young lady. I needed capital to fuel my booze, Broadway and comic book habits. A monthly comic haul was bad enough, but Broadway shows, even at rush prices? Very expensive habits, my friends. But I hated the idea of work study with the college. So instead, Sherry got me an interview at IAG.

I worked at IAG for two and a half years.

For $14 an hour I watched primetime television and marked down incidents of product placement. When I told people my job, the response was usually, “Wow, that’s awesome! You get paid to watch TV!” Eh. I rarely got to watch the decent shows, and bear in mind the vast majority of television is fucking awful. I can’t count the number of times I had to watch “Flip This House” or “Flip That House,” and double damned if I can’t remember what the difference was between the two of them. I also got my only firsthand experience watching Lifetime movies, old sitcoms and more reality shows than I care to report. Still, it was through IAG that I was first introduced to “CSI: Miami,” a gift to humanity for which I cannot be grateful enough.

After I noted down every instance of product placement, I would then write down quiz questions about what had happened during the plot of the show. If the viewer got an answer right, they would get a question about product placement: Did they notice what brand of soda Kevin James was holding while he argued with Patton Oswalt about Average Man Thing? Did you notice what brand of cereal was sitting behind Jerry while he talked to Elaine about Modern New York Issue? Did you notice what brand of vehicle Horatio Caine drove to the scene of the murder? (The answer to that one was “Hummer.” Horatio always drove a Hummer.)

Every night for two and a half years.

The way I described my job at the time was, “I am the tiniest mote of grease in the giant cogs of the corporate machine.” I suppose that was how we all felt, working a job that required the barest minimum of effort or thought so giant corporations coud utilize product placement more effectively. You didn’t have to be personable or professional, you just had to do your nightly quota and then go home.

Two and a half years.

I cannot say that I was bettered by this experience. I cannot say I learned good office etiquette, because when I was not writing insipid quiz questions about “The King of Queens” or “Flip That House,” I was probably frittering about on LiveJournal. I learned no real world skills, unless potential employers might be impressed by “well-versed in TiVo.” I didn’t even learn to be personable or how to network. Hell, the only lasting effects are the fact that I always go into a minor rage at signs of product placement and that I get the “Yeeeeaaaaaaahhh!” meme inspired by CSI: Miami.

Brian the Abusive Husband screaming “Whooooooore!”

Really, the only lasting effect were the people I met, and even then I still keep in contact with very few. I met my friend Ramel at IAG, who to this day is pretty much my only film industry friend in New York. I also met Brian, better known by “Nostalgia Chick” watchers as Brian the Sexual Predator. He would later proudly go on to beat the hell out of Nella over Alan Jackson’s “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas.” Through Brian I would later meet Marla, both of whom I’m still good friends with to this day. So hey, IAG wasn’t a total loss.

And all this through a combined obsession with Cabaret and LiveJournal.

As I said, my memories of college are mostly positive, my only regret being that I didn’t interact with the people in my college and my major more. I suppose the same applies to fandom; throughout college my dealings with fandom waxed and waned depending on my interests and what was going on in my real life. But so far, all of my experiences I have connected with fandom were neutral to positive.

As I found out early my junior year, this would not always be the case.

  • Lauren Kanegawa

    I really liked reading about your experiences. Definitely helps me understand more about the way you are, especially how you came to be the great producer that you are. Hope you continue with this memoir!

  • broadwaylover

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences with the fandoms. Please continue with the memoir!

  • Rela Similä

    This has really been a pleasure to read through, ms. Ellis. I really hope you’ll find the time and energy to finish the memoir!

  • WhistlingBlackbird

    You are my favorite internet reviewer, hands down. I love your insight and learning about your experiences, especially since I connect very strongly to them. However, I’m incredibly bad at putting my thoughts on paper, so forgive me if this sounds silly. I. Love. Your. Writing. So much. I relate to your writing more than any other writer’s, fictional or non.
    In fact, I only have one issue, and it’s not your fault: I am unable to see ANY pictures on this post or any post before it. I can see pictures on the newest posts, but I can’t see any of them here. I tried changing my security settings and I opened the site up in multiple browsers (Firefox, Explorer, Chrome). I was still unable to see pictures or apostrophes.
    On a not-this-post subject, I also can’t see anything under the “Media Work” or “Writing Projects” pages.
    Besides that problem, I love your articles. They make me think and evaluate myself. You, Rantasmo, Dan Olson, and, to a lesser extent, Todd in the Shadows and Nostalgia Critic, have made me open my eyes to different points of view. You make me think about myself and the world in different ways. Even if I don’t always agree with you, I always want to hear more. Thank you so much.

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