Let’s start with a visual aid from David Willis’ Shortpacked!:
Last Friday, I covered the PaleyFest American Horror Story: Coven panel for Spinoff Online. The cast and creators were pretty entertaining, but I want to talk about the fan Q&A portion that wrapped up the evening. It was was serious outpouring of affection for Sarah Paulson, who proved to be pretty awesome in the face of at least 2,000 screaming, squeeing fans. One woman asked her to give her a call, a group from Mexico was so excited to see her in person, they could barely get through their story about how she responded to one of them on Twitter. Yet another group of women wanted to give her letters to read later.
I think someone thanked Whedon-vet Tim Minear for being awesome, too.
Then came the Dread Question. Since I’ve only covered one out-of-state comic convention in my life, I don’t know how prevalent the Dread Question is outside of the Hollywood environs. In fact, the Dread Question may actually be more appropriate 600 miles away from the company town, but at the Dolby Theater in the heart of Hollywood, it’s an invitation to be mocked by 2,000 people.
To spare the woman who asked the Dread Question any more embarrassment, I’m redacting the name and one other piece of identifying information. But she did ask the question in a public forum where reporters were furiously typing into their MacBooks and I had my handy recorder to catch any and all shenanigans. I think it’s fair to examine the choices made in asking this most dread of queries.
So, let’s start with her intro: “My name’s [redacted]. My favorite color is red. I have a pet tortoise named [redacted food item]. I have a two-part question.”
Some of the audience were already groaning. She offered a lot of personal details, but it was presented in distinctly measured, non-squeeing way. Then there’s the preface of the “two-part question.” You, gentle reader, have been to conventions or books signings or beer introductions. You know what “two-part question” means.
She continues: “Please hear me out, I’ve been practicing it for months in traffic and on the elliptical machine at the gym.”
With this rather rehearsed appeal to be excused, I think she was fully cognizant of how her question was going to be received. If you’re at a small con in, say, West Virgina, the Dread Question could be an entirely honest wish to understand how to succeed because, dammit, shit’s hard in towns that aren’t Los Angeles and New York and creative endeavors are ridiculed across the globe unless they make money. Amy Williamsburg or Steve Missuloa need some reassurance from a professional they admire that it is worth it to try.
But a young(ish) adult in Los Angeles’s so-called Thirty Mile Zone knows better and should not ask the Dread Question. Here’s how our example phrased it:
“This is aimed and [Creator] Ryan [Murphy] and [producers] Dante [Di Loreto] and Brad [Falchuk]: What does somebody have to do to get an onset production job and/or writing credit?”
And thus, it is exposed for all to see. The Dread Question. I’ve written about it before, but I’ve never seen it so brazenly applied in the fan environment. Usually, the Dread Question is phrased in such a way that the fan/hopeful professional hears the story of how their idol creative got in and amassed enough power to get their own TV show. And while I was pretty militant in my appraisal of the Dread Question in my previous rant, I’m willing to accept that some people honestly want to hear the story as form of instruction or comfort.
But there are people, like today’s example, that are really asking “can you get me a job?” Now, generally, the person being asked the Dread Question has to be polite, because the person asking is, ostensibly, a fan. In this case, Murphy, Di Loreto, and Falchuk (you’ll note she didn’t address Tim Minear) didn’t have to take her on directly because the audience was already starting to boil over, withdrawing air from the room in preparation to shut her down.
Then, she said this: “I have a film degree. I’ve worked on stuff before.”
I’d like to think that in the second decade of the 21st Century, in the era of YouTube and inexpensive prosumer cameras, a film degree has been more or less discredited. In Los Angeles, it’s a snake-oil receipt. Upon hearing her credentials, the crowd erupted into the booing-fest it prepared for. Now, I’ll give our subject some credit. She pressed on. “I will do anything,” she said. “I will carry carry Sarah Paulson on my back through shards of glass with bees flying in my face.”
Knowing she would land in a viper pit by asking the Dread Question, she tried to get cute and charming. Then she went for flattery: “I want to learn from the best and you guys have the best cast, best crew, best writers on television.” This, naturally, got applause because to the assembled fans this part was at least true.
Now, I’ll give her some more credit for straight-up saying she wants a job with them, as opposed to the way the Dread Question is usually phrased. At the same time, she was completely aware she had no business asking it during a fan Q&A. In the midst of the booing, Falchuk tried to be gracious. Unfortunately, the roar was so loud, I couldn’t make out what he attempted to tell her. She then moved onto her second question and it was briefly answered by the same producer. A subsequent fan joked about how “girlfriend was taking up all the time” and made it harder for anyone to ask a question.
I think that’s the correct response in this situation. In Los Angeles, at Comic-Con, and even WonderCon Anaheim at this point; in the place where media savvy spreads out with the reach of pollen and even my grandparents discuss the weekend box office, the Dread Question is spectacularly self-centered. It isn’t praising someone for their talent, effort and tenacity, it’s saying “me too” and asking for a short-cut.
Which, oddly enough, is probably fine to ask in a more private setting outside of a fan gathering. If only she could find that opportunity. At one, the subject begged forgiveness because, “I don’t know when I’ll get to ask again.” If only she understood that this wasn’t the opportunity, either. Just as David Willis pointed out in his Shortpacked! strip, if you can’t get a hold of the creative professionals you want to work with in any other way, you aren’t qualified for the job.
Oh, the second part of her question? “Every character has their own version of a personal hell. I just experienced my own a little bit. What’s everybody else’s?”