Party of One: Experiencing Pop Culture on your Own
The camera pans across a sign for a fake casino and hotel while the opening chords of Beat Crusader’s “Hit in the USA” plays. I’m watching Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (known simply as Beck in Japan), again. Since October 2016, I’ve been in a bizarre relationship with Beck. Known as a series that only existed in the vacuum of weird looking early 2000s anime, when I mention the series is my all time favorite anime, people always say they forgot that it existed. At this point, I feel like I’m the last person standing in the fan base.
Fandom is a very social thing, and for a lot of people, it’s hard to hold an interest in a series if one has nobody to interact with when experiencing it. Part of living in my Beck-centric hell is constantly attempting to get people to watch the twenty-six episode anime so I have one more person to talk to about it. In the past, I’ve been successful with two or three people, but for the most part, I’ve been walking a lonely road.
When you experience a series alone, you begin to view it in a different light. Frequently, as a series updates and grows, fans write analysis, meta-critique, theories, fan fiction, and create fan art. All of this, especially with social media platforms that allow you to tag posts, has made it easier to find other fans. In my time of enjoying Beck, I’ve been the sole proprietor of keeping this dead fandom alive (I’m probably wrong, but it sure feels that way). The tag “#beck” is filled with mostly posts dedicated to the band Beck and guitarist Jeff Beck. Once in a blue moon, I’ll get a message anonymously on Tumblr saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I really like Beck, I’m happy somebody else likes it too.” After excitingly encouraging them to talk to me off anonymous, they never come back. In my state of desperation to find fan content, I’ve even gone as far as to read fan fiction eleven years old. Five months later, the original poster of said fan fiction replied to my comment saying they were happy to see somebody read such an old work, but also that they haven’t thought about the series in years. So, I was back to square one, wading through Tumblr posts and reading relics disguised as fan fiction.
As an isolated fan, I gained an appreciation for the characters; unclouded by fandom drama and rhetoric, I was able to form my own opinions and actively love the series without other people telling me why some aspect of it is so terrible, which is a nice change. There’s a certain intimacy one feels with characters after reading and watching a series. With Beck I couldn’t help but attach myself to the lead singer of the band. He’s loud and obnoxious, and usually, when a series has a character like that, the fan base ignores them. If my favorite character in a series doesn’t get any attention, I’m usually pretty upset. With the lack of overall fan content, I’m more bummed about everybody missing out on how great all the characters are, instead of advocating for my favorite. It’s a blessing in disguise, focusing on all instead of one, but once again, the lack of attention is what makes me the most upset.
Another pain in the ass about being the last living fan alive is that it is next to impossible to actively find merchandise for this series. With Beck, not only do I have to deal with Jeff Beck merchandise, but I have to sift through the band “Beck”. On anime sales groups, once in a while somebody will sell something from an anime ten years ago, but this is a series with a small and old following. I’ve never actively stumbled upon Beck merchandise among Facebook groups. At conventions, the most I’ll get from somebody is, “isn’t that the anime with a Frankenstein looking dog? I haven’t seen stuff for that in ages.” Though I’m thankful that the seller knows what it is, it’s frustrating at best. Series like Vampire Knight and Lucky Star are long gone, and yet I’ll still find bulky rubber straps and lanyards dedicated to the series in bargain bins in the Dealers’ Room. Beck was never afforded that luxury, and now, more than ten years later, I’m paying the price for it, or lack thereof because I never find anything.
Frankly, it’s a miracle that I’ve found anything at all. When I did, it brought me to tears in the middle of Book Off on West 45th in New York City. Though it was a small scale promotional t-shirt that I have no use for, I bought it immediately and now it’s currently hanging up proudly off of a ceramic unicorn horn on my bookshelf. Scraping by between hours of sifting through Jauce, a few lucky finds at music booths at cons, as well as one drunk thirty dollar t-shirt purchase off of Etsy, I have accumulated a small collection of merchandise that I have no use for, but do treasure.
In 2019, Beck’s manga will hit its 20th anniversary, and I’m hoping somebody will hear my prayers and something new and exciting will be released. I’m not particular about what comes out, but whatever it is, I hope it is good. The last time merchandise came out for the series was in 2010, in honor of the live-action film. In the meantime, there’s a lot I can continue to do with Beck. Chances are it will be continuing to cry over merchandise I’m too broke to buy and maybe working on a panel that will secretly highlight the series. But for the most part, I’ll likely be rereading and rewatching the series until then. Of course it’s very possible that the 20th anniversary will be completely ignored. But hey: that’s the life of a one-man-fandom.