Fan versus fandom.
Are you a fan? Or are you in the fandom? And is there really a difference?
This began as an argument, not so much on which was better or whose fan activity had more value, but the fact that there is a difference between the two. I absolutely believe there is a difference and in my non-scientific research and polling, I think that was confirmed. I’m going to use the generic word “things” to mean the thing: the movie, the book, television series, podcast, pop culture item or icon, music, band, historical figure, motor vehicle, era, sport/hobby or whatever was named by the fans of the thing.
And yes, there was a motor vehicle named (Jeep), three eras (Arthurian, Medieval, Victorian), two historical figures (King Arthur and Charles Dickens) and one sport/hobby (dance).
The age range of those polled was between 8 and 48 with a median age of 29.5. Fourteen responded, although I know many, many more who could have contributed. In this group, two were men, seven married, five parents of kids under the age of 18.
Their economics ranged from unemployed to career track. Some were students still in all levels of school and college, active duty military, military reserves, teachers, stay at home moms, from four countries speaking four languages with three bilingual in Spanish, Hebrew and Hungarian.
Thirty separate “things” people considered themselves fans of as opposed to thirty-five separate “things” the people considered themselves in the fandom of.
There is quite a bit of overlap between the two lists. “Things” appeared on both lists and people listed both their fan and fandom “things” separately.
There is nothing wrong with being a casual fan, but two recent events solidified what I was trying to express about fandom:
- Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 had this to say in the DVD commentary from 2003:
“…what fandom provides is a sense of community.”
Fandom is community. More on that to come.
The second catalyst was discovering that the series 8 of Doctor Who has for their opening sequence a fan made video. When I saw it for the first time, during the premiere I commented on how much I really liked it and was glad it was changed. Prior to the second episode there was a special and Steven Moffat talked about the fan origination of the opening.
These are the two fundamental sides to the fandom coin: community and original content (creation or consumption) and most casual fans just don’t get it: the investment in fandom. Casual fans enjoy what they enjoy and that’s all they need. By the same token, many of the casual fans for one or two things were also in the fandoms for other things so many understand to some degree, although would not confess to being in a fandom.
It must be acknowledged that social media has played a vast role in promoting fandoms as more mainstream than they ever were. I think that more than any other social media outlet, Tumblr is most responsible for this with its very visual platform. On any given day on my Tumblr dash, I can see a dozen fandoms all in a row.
Despite that we are still often referred to as bleary eyed orange-fingered Cheeto eaters crawling out from the darkness of mom’s basement despite the amount of money spent on fandom things and bat caves and collections in suburbia.
Fan is the DVD release. Fandom is the Deluxe Director’s Cut/Commentary Blu-ray with the mini collector figure.
Conventions are showcased on news and entertainment programs. They are not for the select few who followed the television show or book. We used to think the sci-fi conventions we attended twenty-five years ago were packed to the gills, but they were tiny compared to today’s conventions. One example of a quarter of a century’s difference is that I have never paid for an autograph or a photo of a celebrity. Now, paying for those things is expected; it’s not questioned anymore, not even by us old timers.
Sometimes trying to explain fandom to a fan who’s not in fandom can be slightly daunting. It’s one of those I’ll know it when I see it. Kind of like looking for Easter eggs on a DVD. Or how no one leaves a Marvel movie until all the credits roll; we all know there’s something coming at the end. We all look for Stan Lee’s cameo.
These things are the more mainstream that all fans enjoy.
Not surprisingly, the list of fandom activity was quite lengthy, much longer than the activity that fans admitted to.
To begin with, the people in fandoms are first and foremost fans. They just have a bit more of an investment in the thing.
For the fan, the main relationship is between you and the thing. Fans talk about the thing over the water cooler with co-workers. It is more relaxed. Fans dress up for Halloween and if a fan misses something, they’re not left reeling from it. Fans chat with other fans who enjoy other things. It’s recognizing characters and looking forward to the next installment; buying the soundtrack.
Fandom is a little more intense; more involved. For those of us in fandom, we are passionate about our thing. The level of commitment is close to that of a student taking an undergraduate course. Fandom consists of consuming and/or producing fanworks: fan fiction, fan art, etc. Fandom is a place to discuss and squee over the thing with other passionate fans. The interaction is totally different from that of the casual fan.
I’ve mentioned being part of a community. The relationship isn’t between you and the thing; the relationship is between you and the other fans centered on the thing. Fandom fans watch the show, read the fan fic, write the fan fic, draw the fan art, go to conventions, wear the t-shirt, argue over the best season, knows episode titles, knows the actors, buys the merchandise, schedules their lives around the season premiere and finale.
In fandom, they pick apart the thing. They critically review performances and write analysis of characters and plot lines. It’s reading and writing fan fiction.
For those that don’t know about fan-fiction, it takes the story places that perhaps the author didn’t think of, or possibly that the author/creator didn’t have time to write in their original work. In my case, I “corrected” something that I felt was an error in the original author’s plot.
Many fan fiction writers also go on to write original fiction or started with original fiction and hone their craft with their fiction.
The investment of fandom fans is not only of money, but time.
There is active engagement through conversations, analysis, creation of content, cosplay and attendance at cons (official and fan-centered). They are on message boards and in chat rooms. They hold office in related clubs.
Even lurkers are in fandom. They consume the goods even though they don’t actively engage with the fans constantly. They are more behind-the-scenes but without them there wouldn’t be any point for the fan-based creators.
Some examples of fandom activities include making a Castiel (Supernatural angel) tree topper out of a toilet paper tube. Or knitting hats for Pop Vinyl figures. Or planning a menu around the nationality of the Twelfth Doctor. Or traveling five hundred miles to join other fans in a LARP before a season premiere. Or 3000 for a convention.
Other outlets in the fandoms can comprise of videos and fiction and meta-analysis, cosplay, and art. It’s a huge arena for fans to dig deeper into their favorite show, broaden their interests and their worlds and foster their creativity in a safe place. The discussions and debates that go on feed the fan while encouraging critical skills like forming opinions and strategic debate. Some fandoms, Supernatural for example have conventions and the fans interact with the cast and crew and they feel more like family with one another. They’re very protective of the actors, the crew; and of each other.
They gather together for the actors’ charities and creative projects, like Misha Collins’ GISHWHES and Random Acts, Jim Beaver’s other acting roles and his play, Jensen’s singing and his nephew’s charity for Down’s Syndrome.
Cosplay is like Halloween every day, well, maybe not every day, but more than once a year.
It’s well known in Doctor Who circles is that Doctor Ten, David Tennant and Doctor Twelve, Peter Capaldi grew up in the Doctor Who fandom, acting out the role, playing Doctor Who the way kids today play Iron Man. David Tennant went so far as to marry the Fifth Doctor’s daughter for a multigenerational, above the call of duty for a fandom. 😛
While the fandoms center on a television series or a series of books, first and foremost the center of the fandom, just like the community, is the people.
You meet one, and then another, and you find out that despite the distance, despite the differences, there is more in common than not.
Some of us have been together since Harry Potter and moved collectively to new fandoms. That was my first ‘modern’ fandom back in 2008 (not including my childhood). Three of the original fans from there joined me earlier this summer on my GISHWHES team, an annual scavenger hunt for charity.
We do more than go to conventions and talk fandoms. In fact, it is probably a small part of our daily communications.
We hash out our problems, talk about our joys. We support one another, sometimes emotionally, sometimes financially. We’ve become roommates. We’ve traveled together. In my six years of fandom, three couples have gotten married, we’ve exchanged clothes for our kids, we’ve had parties and sleepovers, amusement parks, dinners and more things than I can list here and while fandom was the impetus, it was not always the center of our group activities.
The fandom’s intimacies bring a level of closeness and trust that isn’t found as quickly in our daily lives of acquaintanceships.