The term ‘fandom’ can be defined either simply, or with complexity.
The simple version is this:
“The fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc., regarded collectively as a community or subculture.”
The more complex and controversial definition, however, is difficult to put in to words. A fandom can be related to almost anything; a musical act, a TV show, a movie…people, places, things. In general, when people love and admire something as a collective, they could be considered a subculture or fandom.
And pretty much every person on earth is part of one fandom or another. Some of you may cringe when you read that line, for the exact reason I am writing this article, but hear me out…
Comic-Con, one of the biggest fandom collaboratives in the world brings together people from all over to celebrate a multitude of fandoms in one spectacular venue. Star Wars, cosplay, Batman, writers, actors, voice actors…it doesn’t matter what it is, if you love it, you are part of that fandom. And Comic-Con is living, tangible proof that fandom lives and thrives.
And yet, when you say you’re in a fandom, people sometimes look at you with a curious expression. Sometimes of uncertainty, other times of judgment.
Why? What is it about the word ‘fandom’ that seems to have been tainted, and how did that come about?
I feel the need to point out that this feature is merely my own musings and observations in recent months with regard to the trends in fandoms, especially the ones I cover…those on the ‘outside’ seem to have very strong opinions of those within these subgroups, based on the title of fandom, and I wanted to investigate why.
In terms of my own observations, I have to admit, the term fandom is sometimes merged with certain groups. Held captive, as it were, by the actions of a few that make an entire group of fans seem guilty by association. For example, the recent acts within the One Direction fandom such as taking photos of Niall Horan while sleeping (after he expressly requested NOT to be photographed) then swarming him at LAX to the point of him actually saying he has never felt so claustrophobic (Horan does suffer from claustrophobia, and to anyone in the 1D ‘fandom’ this is common knowledge). The fans camped outside Harry Styles movie set, to the extremists who have threatened Louis Tomlinsons baby. These acts by the few, have besmirched the name of the collective.
Could this be the culprit? Has the term fandom somehow been taken over and now associated merely with young people and their obsessions? Or, are these isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the way fandom is seen?
I asked a few ‘fandom’ residents for their opinions. This is what some had to say:
“I own every fandom I’m in unapologetically. I know that some people judge others for what they like. I’m trying to show young people through my example 1. Not to do that to others 2. Not to allow others’ attempts to shame them to work and 3. That there is no shame in liking bands or books or shows or whatever it is you like. Be yourself, unapologetically.” – Anne
This, it would seem, is how the majority feel about fandom. Anne likes what she likes, and thinks nothing negative about others who may feel differently. However, as it has been seen on Twitter time and time again, feuds break out over everything from pitting bands against each other, to who wrote your favorite fan fiction. And the cruelty behind some of it is truly alarming. ‘Keyboard warriors’ who sometimes forget that there are real people on the other end of the invisible line that now connects us all other the world. Conflict within fandom is inevitable, but how did it get so volatile?
Anne also made this observation:
“I think some of the negative connotations come down to sexism at their base. What teenage girls like is dismissed as bad or insignificant. Add age to the mix. The older the audience, the more valid it is to be a member of its fandom.”
Another excellent point…what is it that causes the shift in validity with fandom? Age? Sex? Source? It is hard to pin point, since there are so many varying opinions. But it would seem that in general, if a teenage girl likes it, it is a fleeting fad. But, middle aged men who have loved the Rolling Stones for years, while still a fandom, is considered more genuine and credible.
Moving on to the author side, I broached the topic with members of the Wattpad Block Party. Now, some use their fandoms of preference as inspiration for their love of writing. This can work in their favor, as with Anna Todd and the explosive popularity of the After series, or negatively if seen merely as a fad with no true substance.
Soon-to-be-published author AVG used not only fandom, but the topic of negative perceptions for her popular story on Wattpad.
“I have a lot of thoughts about this topic!! I basically wrote [my story] as my own reaction to being in a music fandom. I definitely kept it secret from people in my real life, and so does the fangirl character in my story. I could write you a whole essay about this… but yes, fandom has very negative connotations in some circles, and some types of fandom more negative than others. On the one hand, I think it’s relatable to a lot of readers. On the other hand, the YA writing community and “bookish” blogger community are … dismissive of fanfic writers (and especially music fanfic). I feel like I’m walking a tightrope sometimes!”
But it would seem others in this group found very little negative about the term ‘fandom’.
“In the words of the all amazing [Daniel Radcliffe], there are worse things one could be addicted to. I believe being addicted to tv, movies or books is way better than alcohol, smoking or drug addiction! And, it’s not necessarily addiction, it’s just a bunch of people who appreciate the beauty of finer things in life and those who’re stupid enough to not understand it construe it in negative way.” – Prag
But could it be the source of the obsession that brings the negative? DC considers this:
“I have zero experience with the term fandom being used negatively. Maybe it depends on which fandom you belong to and how it’s viewed by others? I relate fandoms strictly to works of fiction: TV, movies, books. I don’t apply the term to things like bands because to me a fandom implies something fantastical, a universe surrounding whatever it is you’re fanning over. I’m a member of the Supernatural, Boardwalk Empire, The Lost Boys, and Labyrinth fandoms, to name a few. I stay away from “fandoms” attached to real people because it just weirds me out.”
Whatever the source or reason, it seems fandom is just as split on its meaning and connotation as the general public is. Some view it with a negative microscope, taking the acts of the few (stalking, swarming) to label the collective. But this same collective does good, with charity drives and supports in the name of their beloved band/show/film.
And consider this:
Dressing up at conventions, role play and the like to submerge yourself in the world you love, is really, just making dreams come true, is it not? Tell me what middle aged man wouldn’t love to tour with the Rolling Stones? To act that all out would be the ultimate dream. So why, then, do some look down on those you take part in cosplay, or conventions?
To some, yes, fandom is a negative. But it seems it depends on who you ask about which fandom. However, with the premise of ‘be true to yourself’ how can some look down on others for what they enjoy, be it music, TV of film?
Despite looking into the matter, and the amazing points made by those who responded for this article, there seems to be no clear cut line on how fandom is truly perceived, other than it depends on a multitude of factors.
But in the end, in my opinion, fandom is just the love of something that you share with others. Being a part of my particular fandoms have brought me some of the most incredible friends I could ever ask for, and taken me on amazing adventures because of it. It is important to keep reality and fandom separate, and remember where the line between appropriate appreciation and harmful disrespect is drawn.
No matter your fandom, own it! Don’t let others tell you that you are wrong for loving something, because in the end, they don’t live your life. But remember, if your fandom involves real people, be respectful. It is okay to appreciate them, and want them to know it. But at no point do those people owe you anything. They do not owe you a photo, or autograph. They do not owe you their time after a long workday. Yes, they are a celebrity, and it comes with the territory to lose a piece of yourself to the world. But don’t ‘take’ that piece by force.
That, is not fandom.
We would love to know your thoughts! Share them in the comments on what you think about ‘fandom’ and if it is viewed as a negative, or a positive and why!