Some thoughts on Fandom

I am re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now. Just hit Season Two, and am having ALL THE FEELS.

Anyway, Buffy was probably my first ‘true’ fandom – I had been a fan of stuff before, but this was the first of my adolescence, and was also actually good (my previous fandom was Sonic the Hedgehog, which I still love, but does not exactly have the most complicated and subtle storylines in the world).

Re-watching, I am actually quite shocked at how much I remember, and how much I still cared – deeply, passionately – about the characters.

There are a few reasons I loved Buffy then, but looking back on it I am surprised at how progressive it is, far more progressive than most TV shows made today. There are some issues (like a terribly white washed crowd of students, and no non-whites in the central cast) but it’s also pro-athiesm, pro-women, pro-sex, pro-lesbian, pro-paganism/witchcraft, pro-single mothers… and so on.

I’m not really here to talk about Buffy, however. Instead, I want to talk about fandom. On the one hand, it seems a distinctly modern phenomenon. The internet connected up isolated fans and gave them a community, that in turn exploded into fanfiction, fanart, tumblrs dedicated to gifs, joint twitter watchings, and enabled thousands of conventions to spring up that catered to almost every different obsession.

On the other hand, fanfiction has existed at least since Dante wrote his Divine Comedy and wrote a story about himself hanging out with a whole bunch of famous people. (And there now exists fanfiction of the Divine Comedy, which is altogether awesome). Trekkies existed before the internet. I am sure that Shakespeare’s plays were adored by playgoers, many of whom probably went home and made up stories about the characters to tell each other. Humans and stories are inextricably interwoven, stories are our history and our identity and our culture.

And yet mass media and mass consumption has never before been so… well, mass. Millions of people can share a single moment, a beloved characters death, the first kiss of a blossoming true love story, the final come-uppance of an evil villain, the redemption of one that had almost fallen beyond reach. Our reactions are emotional, visceral, real-and-yet-not-real. Little jokes become gigantic sprawling memes: Loki’s army, for example. Any successful story; book, film, video game, quickly spawns hundreds if not thousands of sub-stories. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve invested into fandom, but it’s a lot. I drew fanart, wrote fanfiction, coded fan-sites, moderated fan-forums, participated in fan-role-playing-games, went to fancy dress parties as my favourite characters (cosplay by any other name is just as fun).

There are different types and levels of fandom. Whether you are speculating on soap-operas at work or welding together iron wings for upcoming cosplay you are participating in the culture. We like to scoff at other people’s fandoms (those that adore soap-operas will dismiss people who enjoy more fantasy driven fiction as ‘nerds’ whilst those who enjoy speculative flights of fancy will see the soap-opera watchers as dull beyond words). The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to believe.

I’d love to know: what has fandom done for you? I can credit my fandoms with forging some of my closest and most meaningful friendships, as well as being a big source of my current political outlook. But what about you?

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Fandom”

  1. “On the one hand, it seems a distinctly modern phenomenon. The internet connected up isolated fans…”

    I find it interesting that it’s now almost a de facto assumption that “modern fandom” started with the internet. While it’s made fandom more mainstream, there were whole generations of fandom before that, from comic and SF fandom in the 40s and 50s to the Tolkien and Trek fandom in the 60s and 70s.

    By the early 80s, if not earlier, there were conventions, fanworks, zines, and many ways for fans to connect. I remember those fanzines and series-specific books floating around college dorm living rooms. We had a Klingon dictionary, a guide to Blake’s 7, dog-eared Elfquests, Sandmans, and xerozed collections of Sarek/Amanda and Kirk/Spock slash. Each weekend, we’d gather in the dorm living room to watch the new episodes of TNG as they aired, just as my parents’ generation had gathered to watch TOS live. We had a weekly SF club that would rent and watch movies on the school VCR (few of us had our own tvs or VCRS, and this was pre-web).

    Before college, I collected Doctor Who books like crazy (Key to Time, novelizations of individual episodes, figures and postcards, and since this was pre-VCR, I actually recorded episodes off the TV onto casette tapes). I subscribed to Starlog. I attended a few cons. My best friend and I wrote Trek and Who fic and got together for sleepovers and watched Who marathons on public TV. We shared Elfquests.

    It’s true, it was harder to hook up with lots of fans back then, and pre-college fandom was limited to a few close friends or, if you were unlucky, fairly isolated. My first fanfic was written by flashlight in spiral notebooks after my parents thought I was in bed. (It was awful.) By high school I had had a handful of real life friends who got together to geek.

    Like you, my friendships have gone hand in hand with fandom. So has a lot of my creativity. At forty, fandom still matters, although I absent myself from some of the modes and activities that delighted me when I was younger.

    Fandom is a created culture and common language, a moiety within societies grown too large for us to feel connected to. Canon is a shared mythology. These stories and characters and tropes tap into our emotions and psychology in deep and meaningful ways, so it’s no wonder that they go hand in hand with communication in the sense of “communing” with one’s community of the heart.

    Just as earlier societies might rally around a totem god or local festival, we rally around ships and fictional characters. They’re our totems, providing a sense of identity, individually and between friends.

    1. It is a strange assumption to make. I am more or less of ‘the internet age’ but before I had internet I went to D&D conventions and bought fanzines.

      So glad to hear that fandom is still part of your life at forty. Sometimes it can feel very ‘teenage’, especially the shipping, but I feel increasingly drawn to it the older I get.

      Thank you for a fabulous comment!

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