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?