The first rule of fandom is you don’t talk about fandom. The second rule of fandom is you don’t talk about fandom.
Now that we’ve established the first two rules, we’re gonna break them, just for you. We are your new guest writers–Fangirl A and Fangirl B. And we’re borrowing some site space for a moment to introduce you to your inscrutable and sometimes obnoxious internet neighbours, fandom. You may have seen us at Comic-Con, lining up at movie theatres on opening night, or posting on message boards online but never really understood us or why we act this way. Now it’s time to get to know us.
So what is “fandom”?
When it comes to defining fandom, the general idea is simple: In theory, fandom is a group of fans that share a similar interest. In practice, fandom is harder to pin down, but the overall feeling you’ll come away with is that it’s very much not unlike a community cult, or a cultish community. And to make things more complicated, there isn’t just the one over-arching fandom; there are many. From blockbusters to beloved cult films, serious sci-fi dramas to musical teen soap operas, where there are Fans there are fandoms.
We can’t give you a definitive check list of characteristics or tell-tale signs you’ve encountered a fandom as each has its own idiosyncrasies, jargon, and fan activities. They are all their own niche communities, some hiding in plain sight. But you’ll know if you’re a member of one when you’re a Fan.
“Fan” vs. fan
Anyone can be a fan of something they like. But what makes someone a Fan?
A fan would be excited to hear that their favourite book has been optioned for film. A Fan is online debating speculative casting choices and scrutinizing the director’s past work to see if they’re fit to bring the world of the book to the big screen. A fan looks forward to Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead. A Fan looks forward to the Monday morning after and waits by the water cooler to ambush people with their latest theories. What separates fans from Fans? A fan likes something. A Fan has a passionate interest in what they like, a love of analysis and debate, and an overwhelming need to share their views in a community of like-minded people.
A Fan looks forward to the Monday morning after and waits by the water cooler to ambush people with their latest theories.
Of course, there are no hard line diagnostic tools available to label fans either; we would say that fans exist along a spectrum. They all express themselves in a myriad of different ways, from writing stories about what happens to their favourite on-screen couple after the credits roll to theming their wedding after their favourite movie or fictitious couple.
The thing is, fandom is comprised of Fans. And there are a lot of Fans. We, as a massive collective of people who exist online and off, are legion.
So what’s with Fandom Rules 1 and 2?
Well, Fans and fandoms have found themselves in a bit of a predicament. You would think that with the population of a city descending upon San Diego’s Comic-Con every year that being a Fan or part of a Fandom has become pretty much mainstream, or at least accepted by the general public. But it seems like apart from that Mecca of fan culture, Fans generally try to go day-to-day unnoticed. There still, to some extent, exists a stigma around being a Fan. People are absolutely fine with someone taking an interest in something, but once they express that interest in a way that crosses an arbitrary border of acceptability, that’s when the pointing and laughing happens. Being in fandom stops being a fun way of expressing yourself and instead, at best, is dismissed as something silly and at worst being ridiculed as a juvenile or immature waste of time. You simply have to view an episode of The Big Bang Theory to know what we mean–we’re supposed to laugh at the crazy antics of the four supposed nerds hanging out in their favourite comic book store.
But there’s a turning point: fan culture seems to be not only ubiquitous but profitable–just look at the hype surrounding superhero movie releases or how much coverage fan conventions get. Fanfiction stories are being published by major publishing houses. There’s even a reality TV show that aired last year called The Quest that lets contestants take part in a real-life fantasy story. But, that doesn’t mean it’s accepted. It just means that everyone else is now aware of our existence. The whole world is knocking on our door, partly out of morbid curiosity, but mostly because fan culture generates a ton of revenue. Either way, more of us are coming out of the woodwork.
But we are here, we are fandom, get used to it.
Why you should take our word for it?
So who are we anyways? We have a collective experience of over two decades with fandom.
I’m Fangirl A. You can say I’m a fan just toeing the border of fandom. I enjoy a lot of TV shows and books, but I’ve never really interacted with them or other fans to a large extent. I’ve lurked on message boards and have read a few fanfics, but that’s the extent of my fandom experience. However, I’ve been fascinated by fandom and Fans for a very long time and even wrote my final university paper on fanfiction in regard to copyright legislation and ideas of originality. Now that Television Without Pity has closed down (a TV Fan’s paradise), you can often find me in the lunchroom at work discussing TV shows and movies with Fangirl B.
I’m Fangirl B, and I enjoy arguing on the internet and will talk endlessly about how everything is basically a fanfic. I’ve also lurked on message boards, prompt memes, and some shadier parts of the interwebs. I may or may not have had an online cult for one of my pseuds and I may or may not have a closet full of my cosplay accessories.
So, why join a Fandom?
Because Fandoms are a relatively safe place to indulge in your obsessions and to connect with like-minded people. Did you watch last night’s episode of Outlander and go to work on Monday to find that you have no one to discuss it with? There’s a Fandom waiting to discuss all the juicy (and disturbing) details with you. Fandoms are communities where fans can get together to celebrate and complain about the ups and downs of their favourite show, movie, books, or musicians. They provide sympathy and grieve together during the bad times (Grey’s Anatomy fans know all about this) and try to work out convoluted plot lines (as the legions of Lost fans are all too familiar with). Fandom members may bicker with one another, usually based on ships, or character relationships that may or may not be canon. But, luckily fans don’t have awkward Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners to sit through.
Whether you’re just curious about fandom or you’re wondering if you want to be part of one, there’s a community out there waiting for you. Now that you have a primer, jump right in!