Currently we live in an age where communication with one another is easier than ever, so long as you have the right equipment any one person on the planet can, theoretically, contact any other near instantaneously. This has assisted many facets of society, not least of all shared interest groups, or what I’m going to continue to refer to as “Fandoms.” Now fandoms existed before the coming of the Internet certainly, but far in less expansive and interconnected ways. What the internet gave these groups was a way to grow and interact in a much more fluid manner than before. As soon as they became connected, groups that had existed in isolation developed discussion forums, fan sites, constant growth and so on to the point many stopped being niche and gained almost, but not quite, main stream appeal. Many certainly became more well known than they would have done previously. The march of technology brought people with similar interests together the face of shared interests were changed forever.
As a fellow denizen of the internet, I’d wager that you have either come into contact with, or are even a part of, any one of the myriad fandoms that jostle for attention out on the series of tubes. Be it a media fandom based around a single creative work, a more general interest fandom that’s into a specific area of work or a specific medium, or fandoms based around a single hobby. They are literally everywhere, pick any general discussion platform out there and you are almost guaranteed to find threads dedicated to a specific subset of that website’s community that belong to a shared interest group (often within a website of another shared interest group, with something of a Russian doll thing going on). This presumably means most of the people reading this have a passing familiarity with the concept, if not in depth experience, which will help as this piece progresses.
Personally, I have had experiences with several, at least two of which I’d say I interact with regularly in recent years, and many more I’ve skirted the fringes of. Some of the things I’ve experienced, witnessed and had relayed to me have formed a very specific opinion of any kind of massed interest groups, some of which I intend to relay to you here. Hopefully in a manner that’s coherent. Unless otherwise noted, I’m going to try and not go too deep into specifics about some of these observations, mainly to try and avoid any kind of misinterpretations. I’ll also not mention individuals beyond myself for the same reason (which sounds far more self absorbed than it did in my head). Now that that’s out of the way, on with the specific observations.
Fandoms can, in many respects, be terrible things. Perhaps the foremost example of this is the frankly bizarre inter-fandom rivalries that seem to crop up. You see it everywhere, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, Marvel vs. DC, everyone vs. Furries/Bronies (delete as applicable to current trends and tides) and even the internal strive with Video Gamers sectioning themselves off into which system or even which game they enjoy. Rational individuals would just look at this, shrug and declare “[Rival fandom] isn’t to my taste, I’ll just get on with my life” yet often it becomes an absurd war. The sheer amount of bile I’ve witnessed being heaped upon members of one fandom by another simply for liking something different is insane, and indeed seen as totally normal and rational in some circumstances. This alone astounds me. Maybe it’s just my mad brain, but I’ve always accepted that taste is subjective and not really cared about the personal likes of others (so long as they’re not harming anyone anyway), and I’ve never really comprehended the mindset that not only runs counter to that but then sees abuse as a reasonable response. This creation of factions doesn’t just cause friction between them, but also reflects badly on a public level. I have met people who like the idea of a specific fandom’s area of interest but have steered clear of any community around it due to the fans actions towards anyone else.
Which leads neatly on to my next point, many fandoms have a very vocal minority of idiots who seem to forget that if their actions gain public notice, it effects the public’s opinion of the group as a whole. This, for example, is why the stereotype of video gamers being sweary, asocial teenagers yelling obscenities over Xbox Live exist. Whats worse, many fandoms exhibit enough collective intelligence to identify these negative stereotypes yet few seem to be willing to do anything about it. In some cases this apathy appears to outsiders (and some insiders) as almost a reinforcement of the stereotypes which further harms the public image. Any attempt at changing this status quo is often met with further indifference, “who cares, it’s always been like that,” or even hostility from those who embody the stereotype and those they’ve convinced that that way is correct.
A final point that seems to be endemic to a majority of fandoms is the concept of “degrees of fandom.” Often you see the idea that some people are more “worthy” of the title of fan than others due to their level of involvement, such as the concept in the furry fandom that “you aren’t a furry if you don’t suit/art,” the casual vs. hardcore gamer debate or whether someone who’s only watched a few episodes of a series is as worthy as someone who’s seen it all, bought the t-shirt and writes fan fiction. Again, this seems absurd to me again due to the nature of taste. A personal example, I’d consider my self a fan of the Star Wars franchise, yet beyond the six main films my involvement with the overall body of work is minimal, yet I’d still call myself a fan (to a point). He who eats, sleeps and breathes something has just as much right to consider themselves part of a fandom as those who only dabble in it occasionally, and creating a divide to the contrary again only serves to drive people away and harm your appearance.
And now, just to totally change the direction of this piece and catch out anyone who hasn’t read to the end, I offer a counter argument: Fandoms can, in many respects, be wonderful things. No, really. On a deeply personal level, being part of certain fandoms has helped me amazingly. Despite appearances I am something of an introvert (albeit one who can hide it well) and being part of various fandoms, many of which overlap, has given me an outlet for my creativity, and allowed me to make some very dear friends. And I know I am not the only one here, I’ve read several similar stories encompassing several different fandoms. Human nature makes us seek out those with similar interests as our own, and when it works the way we want the end result is brilliant, and when the communities that fandoms strive to create actually work as intended it’s truly heartwarming.
The communities built by fandoms can also be a tremendous force for good when motivated to be. Charity events are often common in some groups, look at the Humble Bundles and Childs Play charity of Gaming, and the various charity auctions routinely held by Furry and Brony conventions. The amounts of money generated for good causes varies depending on the size of the group, yet the intent is clear, and when even small groups get motivated along those lines the end results are fantastic. Often the nature of the charity even will tie in to the fandom it’s held by. For instance, I’ve been at a convention where a table cloth with art on it was sold for thousands of pounds, all for a single charity. Another brilliant example is the yearly Desert Bus marathon where the guys from LoadingReadyRun play one of the most esoteric, bizarre games ever made constantly for days until the amount of money raised drops below a certain point. The passion involved in making these kind of events work is often the same as that which causes the inter-fandom rival, but directed in a more positive way.
Most fandoms also foster an incredibly amount of creativity. Be it fiction, art, videos or even model making and mods for games, almost every fandom has a degree of creative involvement fuelled almost exclusively by it’s members. Things like fan-art and fan-fiction, which might be the most common as far as I’m aware, often have a bit of a reputation but still represent something positive. Even with the reputation if you delve into things there are often some absolute gems to be found, amazing artists and writers often flock to fan groupings. It also provides a good starting point for something more. A number of professional games designers have dabbled in mod making at some point, and many professional illustrators and writers started with something small like that. Creativity often needs a muse, for lack of a better word, and that can easily be found in shared interest groups.
After giving these examples, it’s clear that fandoms reflect people perfectly. Sometimes they’re a royal pain, sometimes they’re brilliant, but generally they just continue doing their thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. What is clear, though, is often, at least publicly, the negatives outweigh the positives, with the latter often going unnoticed or unpublicised. Like many things, the signal-to-noise ratio is appallingly weighted to one side, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the good exists. Perhaps fandoms need to work on their public face a bit, but that doesn’t mean they should be written off as a whole, since, once again, it is human nature to seek out those similar to ourselves, and that’s one part of human nature I don’t have an issue with as a whole, only when it goes horribly wrong.
Until next week, folks!
–Fandom of One