Been poking around on TV Tropes again. That thing will eat your brain, I swear. Misha Collins has a Creator page, for obvious reasons -- writers/actors who have a huge online following tend to get them first -- but it unfortunately makes him look rather more bonkers than he actually is. Which is saying something.

The problem with TV Tropes is that, since the thing is done in a bullet-point format that requires parsimony in examples, you lose a lot of context. Sometimes the intro block puts it back; Noel Fielding's page makes it a point to note that, while he's weird as hell and best known for playing a flashy idiot, he personally is quite bright and knows exactly what he's doing. Collins' page doesn't. It appears to be filled in mainly by the tumblr/Twitter crowd, which means that the writer(s) assume you know which parts are snark and which aren't.

The page is generally accurate, plus or minus things that are a matter of opinion, but a lot of them lack clarification. The note about Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness ("He tends to off-handedly use hundred-dollar words in his interviews.") is correct, but listing it under that particular heading gives the impression that he's rummaging around in his internal thesaurus for things and keeps coming up with the collegiate vocabulary because he thinks it sounds right. He's not. It comes up in cases where the fancy wording is literally the only correct way to express what he wants to say. There's no such thing as a simple non-technical synonym for "polyglot" or "quintile". When he does use them, he treats them as common everyday vocabulary, which they probably are, in his house. The first example, f'r instance, comes from him picking on Sebastian Roché at one of the Jus In Belo conventions in Europe. Roché -- who is something like Scottish-French, and has a list of languages about like mine -- was catching questions in Italian or Spanish, in between teaching the audience bits of off-color French, and at one point Collins snarked that his "polyglot thing" wouldn't fly so well in the States.

The note about Doing It For The Art is also technically accurate, but probably better stated as Doing It For The Curiosity. There's an xkcd cartoon about the difference between normal people and scientists which is also broadly applicable to people in the social sciences. There are some different approaches to this; traditional anthropologists tend to hang back and ask discreet questions about The Button and its significance, where the aversion to pressing it comes from, and what the supposed results of pressing it would be. Sociologists will generally ask enough questions to ascertain that pressing The Button will not end the world or get them arrested -- if they're smart, anyway -- and then sidle up to the damn thing and slam a hand down on it, then step back and watch the result.

Collins is very much on the sociologist-y end of that, to the point where I've seen his interactions referred to as "trolling". This bugs me. "Trolling" must have a different definition on Twitter/tumblr than the one I'm used to, because by classical internet standards, few if any of the things he does are even arguably trolly in nature. (Traditionally, "trolling" is posting things on Usenet or a phpBB specifically designed to cause trouble -- "let's you and him fight," basically. The quintessential example is any political statement comparing a modern politician to the Nazis. Trolling is generally taken to be a specifically mean-spirited activity; posting something that's harmlessly ridiculous to see if people will engage with you is not, per se, denigrated on the internet.) It's generally closer to what I'd call "culture jamming", although that phrase in itself suggests a lot more direction to the activity than I think he has.

Collins can be disruptive on occasion, mainly in the sense that if you made some sort of plans that presumed he'd react like a normal person you are going to have to rethink those plans in a hurry, but in general, he seems to enjoy being startling and silly, rather than being malicious. There are a few things he pointedly disrupts on purpose, mainly censorship. Con personnel apparently like to discourage or outright forbid fans from asking questions about slashy things at panels, and sometimes try to tell the actors to stay away from personal stuff when they tell anecdotes, none of which works on Collins. At all. There is no force on Earth that can make Misha Collins shut up once he's been handed the microphone, if he thinks someone is trying to quash discourse on a topic for a particularly stupid reason. He is well aware of the internet's thoughts on Dean/Castiel, and will bring it up himself if it seems relevant. Occasionally he tangents off into the story of how he and his wife met or how the marriage proposal happened, both of which make him get a bit snuffly, because he was blatantly smitten with this woman when he was seventeen, and as far as I can tell, he still is. He seems to be a better judge of his audience than the con organizers ever are -- it helps that, at this point, anyone who turns up to a panel wanting to interact with Collins has a pretty good idea of what they're going to get -- since in untold hours of YouTube footage, I have yet to see any of this go amiss.

One of the ways his startling-and-silly comes out, in fact, is a charity he runs called Random Acts. They do sponsor some conventional, well-defined, formal charitable activities, but the main directive seems to be, "Go forth and sow chaos by being inexplicably kind." This sounds like exactly the sort of thing you'd come up with after getting to the point in social theory where you realize that, while people will usually be accepting and polite if you're out on the sidewalk giving out snacks attached to an ulterior motive like advertising flyers, they get bewildered and suspicious if you just stand around trying to hand them free cookies, no strings attached. It is literally the nicest possible way to confuse the fuck out of the general public.

Overall, the main problem I have with the TV Tropes page is that it makes Collins look significantly less coherent than he actually is. Sometimes, I get the feeling that people do weird stuff strictly to be weird. Lady Gaga looks like this to me. During certain periods of his life, so does Andy Warhol. I don't perceive a connecting theme, or the stated theme seems to be kind of an afterthought. They seem jaded, or only interested in getting attention for the sake of attention. Collins strikes me as being rather investigative with his weird -- either he's doing it because he wants to have the experience, or because he wants to see how people will react to something that's not a threat, but also not in the normal script. It's driven by curiosity and tempered mainly by a desire to not actually be mean.

He is by far the happiest when people react not as if they've been provoked, but as if they've been prodded to participate. It's sort of a psychosocial version of the party game "Sardines". Sardines is basically hide-and-seek, except whenever someone finds the person who's hidden, instead of outing them, they cram into the hiding place too, until the last person wandering around finally figures out where everyone went, usually by following the giggling noises, and lets them all out of the utilities closet. (Terribly popular in the Twenties and Thirties. Oh, the things people got up to before TV.) Collins' manner is that of someone who has come to find it quite fun to be the strange one, and is inviting other people to share. I'd hazard a guess that he was as weird a kid as he is an adult -- that kind of invitation is something I typically find from people who didn't feel welcomed by the normal folk in the past, and want to give others an alternative to feeling the same way.

Comments

  1. I think there *has* been a shift in how the term trolling is used by the twitter/internet crowd. I think it's starting to lose its more malicious overtones, and is shifting more to a more chaos for chaos sake sense. Dropping the cat among the pigeons to see what the pigeons do, rather than to harm the pigeons necessarily, perhaps.

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