Fandom: From Pathological to Personal

Nerdy Girl Contributor Heather gives us an inside look at what it really means to be part of a fandom: 

Historically, academic perspectives on fandom have been limited. Fandom was often portrayed as pathological and dangerous. It was the result of people being brainwashed by the media. Popular culture was eroding our ability to think. Media consumption, particularly television, was a passive activity with little value. These thoughts were not limited to academics, however. Stereotypical images portrayed fans as crazy, costume-wearing, socially-inept individuals who would never be successful in life.

Conceptions of fans have shifted away from notions of us as dangerous individuals, but there is still a stigma against those of us who heavily invest in any form of pop culture. It’s fine to critique a book, movie, or television show on its artistic merits and technical aspects, but once we start talking about how certain characters or stories have impacted us on a personal level, we still become the people dressed in Star Trek costumes at a convention in the minds of many. We become the teenage girls who want to date Edward Cullen. We are still seen as people who care too much about something trivial.

Things are slowly changing again. Fan experiences and fan terminology have become slightly more recognized, with references to fan fiction and ship names found in television shows such as Castle, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Glee. However, even the increased knowledge and acceptance of these references don’t get to the heart of what fandom is for many of those involved in it.

Fandom is about passion. It’s about critically engaging with the media we watch and interacting with it on a deeper level.

Fandom is about understanding the influence popular culture can have on our lives. It’s about allowing popular culture to transport you to another world. It’s about an understanding of characters and recognition of themes that can’t be found through superficial reading and viewing. It’s about wanting a fictional universe to continue and be explored more than it can be though a book series, television show, or movie.

Fandom is active. It’s writing fic, writing meta, making fanvids or fanart, reblogging pictures on Tumblr, reading fic and commenting on it, shipping, making gifs of your favorite scene, making icons, buying DVDs and tie-in merchandise, making and listening to music about your fandom…

Fandom is raising money for charity for your favorite actor or singer’s birthday; it’s being part of campaigns to fight for human rights or send aid to other countries. The Harry Potter Alliance was created by fans who wanted to use their love for Harry Potter to do good in the world. One of the tenets of the Nerdfighters is to “decrease world suck.” Fandom can encourage people to get involved with and have compassion for the world around them. It’s a way to connect with others and show them that they can make a difference.

Fandom is connecting with other people who share your love for pop culture, regardless of geography. It’s trying to figure out time zone conversions so you can watch a show with a friend halfway around the world; planning meet-ups; building relationships with people whom you may never meet. While these relationships may start because of a shared love of fiction, music or reality television, they can become so much more. They can become lasting and meaningful friendships that change your life in ways you could never have imagined.

Fandom isn’t perfect. Fans can be awful to celebrities and their significant others. They can be awful to other fans. Friendships you thought would last forever can drift and fade, just like they do in real life. Fandom is by no means immune to sexism, homophobia, racism, or other forms of prejudice and hatred. People in fandom can be just as petty, selfish, and irritating as everyone else.

Many people will never see some of these aspects of fandom and will never understand our obsessions with certain aspects of pop culture. They may only see the fans standing in line for a movie in full costume and hear about the random pieces of fan fiction that get held up as representative of the genre.

But all of these aspects taken together – the good and the bad, the silly and the serious – make up the fandom that you and I experience every day. We see it all, and at the end of the day, it’s something we cherish and want to be a part of.

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