Fangirl Thursday: Favorite Fan Experiences

Today at NGN, I’m kicking off what I hope will turn into a fun weekly feature: Fangirl Thursdays! This was inspired by some of my lovely commenters/Twitter followers (you know who you are), who always seem to find Thursdays a particularly good day for being enthusiastic about our fandoms (especially when Thursdays meant Once Upon a Time sneak peeks). It was also inspired by how much fun I’ve been having discussing the happiest of fandom topics over at TVexamined during Heather’s “Month of Love.”

Every Thursday, I want to celebrate the enthusiasm that comes with being a fangirl (or fanboy—don’t think you’re excluded from the fun, guys). I’ll start with a story about something that gets me excited about fandom—whether it’s about TV, movies, books, or the general experiences that come with being a passionate fan. But what I really want these posts to be is a place for you to share your stories. We have some great discussions here at NGN, so let’s carve out some time every Thursday to have even more of them!

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

Those words from F. Scott Fitzgerald speak to the essence of being a fan. Being a part of a fandom is like finding a little place in the world where you feel accepted; it’s like finding a community of people who understand you on a fundamental level because they understand what it’s like to love something that you also love. No matter the fandom—whether it’s for a book series, TV show, video game, or sports team—what makes these communities so special is the sense of belonging they instill in their members. When you’re around fellow fans, you don’t feel judged for caring the way you do about the things that you love; you feel welcomed and encouraged to be as passionate as you want to be.

When members of a fandom come together, it’s a truly special thing. There’s a sense of unity and enthusiasm that can’t be matched. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in more shared fandom experiences than I can count—from midnight releases for movies to playoff sports games—and they all share one common trait: excitement.

Communal fan experiences are moments when joy is shared, and that’s something I think should always be celebrated. My life as a fangirl is filled with happy memories of moments shared with other fans. I waited in line for hours before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 had its midnight screening, and I enjoyed every second I spent talking to Weasley twin cosplayers, singing songs from A Very Potter Musical with fellow fans, and reacting to the end of a era with people who cared about this series as much as I still do. I consider the first Buffalo Sabres NHL playoff game I attended (an overtime win against the NY Rangers in Game 5 of the 2007 playoffs for those who want to know) to be one of the Top 10 moments of my entire life. And I love those moments in any fandom when a game-changing spoiler or sneak peek is released, prompting fans to go into beautiful hysterics all at once as I try to keep up with the reactions on Tumblr and Twitter.

My favorite fan experience, though, is a relatively new one for me, but it’s been my first real taste of being part of a huge group of people who care about something that has shaped my life since childhood. It’s Star Wars Weekends in Walt Disney World, and it’s a fan event I can’t recommend highly enough for Star Wars fans like myself.

I talked about a lot of the events that take place during these weekends in a post I made last year, but here’s a quick summary: For a handful of weekends every May and June, Disney’s Hollywood Studios becomes heaven for Star Wars fans. There are parades, panels, and meet-and-greets with celebrities (like the fabulous Ashley Eckstein, who I had the pleasure of meeting this year). Everything is Star Wars themed—from the (absolutely delicious) cupcakes to the (stunning) fireworks. It’s paradise for a girl like me who grew up dreaming of being Princess Leia.

It's not every day you (and your sister) get to meet your childhood hero.

It’s not every day you (and your sister) get to meet your childhood hero.

The coolest thing about this event isn’t the panels or even the Darth Vader Cupcake, though. It’s the sense of communal understanding and enthusiasm that’s shown in so many ways throughout the park. It’s shown in the way everyone in your ride vehicle cheers when you go on Star Tours for the first time that day. It’s shown in the way people compliment each other’s impressive cosplay ensembles. And it’s shown in the way the mass of people gathered at the park’s entrance all react with applause when the familiar title theme begins playing to welcome you to the festivities.

Throughout the course of the day, my sister drank blue milk (aka Bantha milk) and talked to Zam Wessell and Aurra Sing; I hugged Luke Skywalker; and we both traded with Jawas and shopped at “Darth’s Mall.” Those moments in and of themselves were so cool, but what made them even cooler was knowing that our excitement over them wasn’t going to be met with weird looks from the people around us. They were our fellow fans; they cared just as much (or even more) than we do.

My sister and I show off the results of our Jawa trades.

My sister and I show off the results of our Jawa trades.

That’s what I love most about fandom gatherings and events like Star Wars Weekends (or my ultimate nerdy bucket list event, Comic-Con). Enthusiasm is encouraged, and you never feel alone in your passion or excitement. You belong.

What has been your favorite experience as a member of a fandom? What movie screening, TV event, book release, concert, or any of the thousands of other experiences we share as fans filled you with a sense of belonging?

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18 thoughts on “Fangirl Thursday: Favorite Fan Experiences

  1. Oh yay, Katie! I love this. I feel like I’m just starting to experience fandom at its full potential, and that’s mostly thanks to Doctor Who. The 50th anniversary last year was a whirlwind of trivia nights and group flails, but going to Gally in LA this year DEFINITELY took the ticket. It was such a love fest. It’s so freeing to be surrounded by people who catch your references, want to talk about why your favorite characters are so important, and generally encourage and share your passion. That weekend was huge for me in terms of learning how to own what I love and wear it proudly. I’m bummed that I didn’t learn how to do that sooner, but I’m glad to know it now.
    And we’ve talked about this before, but I think a life of Disney prepared me pretty well for a life of unashamed enthusiasm. I love that they dedicate whole weekends to a fandom. PERFECT.

  2. I’m so excited for this! It will make my Thursdays much happier 😀

    I’ve been in fandom for 13 years so I feel like I should have more things to choose from, but I’m extremely lacking in group fandom experiences.

    My favorite in-person experience is from the NKOTBSB concert I went to in 2011. BSB was my first fandom of any sort, my first concert, and a fairly defining portion of my early teenage years. It was the first time I had seen them live in 10 years and I was not at all disappointed. Near the end of the concert, they sang I Want It That Way and the entire crowd of ~18,000 people sang along. It didn’t matter which band they were here for, they knew the song and were gonna sing along. The majority of the crowd was our age, give or take a few years, and to be surrounded by so many other fans of two groups who had grown up with these bands was amazing.

    My favorite online experience is also based on a concert. It was sitting through a truly awful livestream of the final s8 American Idol concert during the summer of 09 and talking to all the other people sitting through it too. I think I actually delurked for it for one of the first times that summer (because I am perpetually behind on everything) and it was a silly and fun thing to do with others. It was the first fandom space I really felt like I belonged and it was just magical.

    • First of all, I LOVE your NKOTBSB concert story, and it makes me so jealous that I missed out on tickets to that tour when it came to Buffalo. We’ve talked about this many times before, but, like you, BSB was such an important part of my early adolescence. I would probably consider their 2001 concert that I went to a defining group fandom experience for me.

      And I just need to tell you how much I loved that you included the final AI8 concert livestream on that list because I was almost going to include it in my original post. The nights we all spent watching horrible “cellcasts” that sounded like they were being filmed underwater are honestly the happiest memories I have from the summer of 2009. Talking to the other people in those livestream posts was such a bonding experience for me and helped me see the power of community not just in person but also through the Internet.

  3. I think I had the most beautiful fandom experience the night of Lost series finale. I watched it online on streaming at 3am with my Lost “internet” friends. We were all in our own home and far away from each other but at the same time we were so close. I remember the text messaging on the phone during the commercial breaks that went like:”Oh my God!What’s happening?” or better:”Are you crying? ’cause I’m crying and I think i will till the end of time!”
    When the sun came up outside my window at 5 am I know we had experienced something unforgettable and special, something that would have joined us in a special way.

    • Thank you for sharing such a great story and such a powerful example of the way fandoms allow us to make genuine connections with people based on shared experiences. There’s something special about staying up until sunrise to talk about something with your fandom friends; like you said, it’s unforgettable. And texts like the ones you got are my favorites to send and receive. 🙂

  4. I am so excited that everyone gets to share in our fangirl Thursdays now! I also love that while “Fangirl Fridays” has the catchier name, you said the hell with it and picked fangirl thrusdays for tradition’s sake J

    I have been fangirling for as long as I can remember, mostly related to television, but I am actually going to go a different way here for my top moment. I love that your brought up your football playoff experience, because my pick is sports related as well!

    I think I might be one of the few women my age that actually watch and enjoy PGA golf on TV (I actually have to fight my bf for TV watching privileges in this arena). I played varsity golf for my high school, and grew up watching golf with my dad in the garage, and its something I have continued to watch as an adult. Also, since I live in San Diego, home to the world famous Torrey Pines golf course, I have had the privilege of volunteering at 3 PGA tour events, which includes my pick of the 2008 US Open.

    After a long Sunday (the last day of the tournament) of being a bouncer to a corporate hospitality tent, I was relieved of my duty just in time to watch the last 3 groups finish up the 18th hole. Tiger Woods had come back from behind, and it had all come down to the last put of the day. Tiger needed to sink his 12 foot putt in order to tie and force a playoff. The media were all crouched around the green waiting. Everything and everyone on the course is dead silent. I had an awesome standing spot just off of the green, with nothing standing between me and Tiger and my view of his putt. The suspense at that moment was so unbearable I was almost shaking, but at the same time, I couldn’t move, or blink, or even breathe. Golf is one of the rare sports that demands quite and calm while the players are performing, so its a unique experience that you kind of need to experience to understand. I have never been in a group of thousands of people that were so still and dead silent before. It was quite surreal, and we were all sharing in that one combined intense moment. Tiger putts, it drops, and everybody goes crazy. The applause is deafening, and the shared joy and excitement of that moment was one I will never forget.

    I had always admired Tiger for what he has accomplished in his career, but after that moment I was in awe of the man. To be there in person, and feel the tension and pressure he was under at that moment, and to realize it had to be 100 times more intense for him, I just cant believe he could make a putt in that situation. And professional golfers do this ALL THE TIME. That tournament was actually the last time Tiger has won a major. Its sad to see that he hasn’t been able to come back after the surgery he had after that tournament, but I will always be grateful for being able to share that moment with him and the rest of the people in attendance.

    • I was way too excited for you to find out that I was getting ready to share our Fangirl Thursday tradition with the world. 😉 And as much as I love alliteration, I can’t break tradition (and when the Parks and Rec season starts, those reviews will be my Friday posts, so Thursday is open for fingerling!).

      I adore your choice for your favorite fan experience. I’ve grown up watching golf, and I love a Sunday spent in front of my TV watching a compelling final round at a Major. Your story about getting to see Tiger is incredible, and I am genuinely jealous that you got to see greatness up close like that.

  5. I love this so truly madly deeply. Much like I could set a watch to yours and Shauna’s OUAT geek out every Thursday for a guaranteed smile. Star Wars weekend as you know is next up on the bucket list for me and my wee one. I never tire of reading about your experiences at that fantastic weekend.

    I’ve talked here often about the many fandoms I have partaken in over the years from sports to theater to TV and movies. I have to say though this past Spring brought me home to one of my first loves, hockey. I had the good fortune to be in NYC during the NY Rangers unlikely run during the playoffs this year and was in a position to buy tickets for the Eastern Conference Finals. I am a lifelong fan. But what made this particularly special was the fact that I have lived outside of NY for a decade now. To be in the city, you could feel the excitement about the playoffs reverberate from Madison Square Garden to the edges of Manhattan. It was one of those great moments when being a New Yorker gels as a unified understanding. All day, my friends and I ran into fellow Rangers fans (we were wearing jersey’s around the city). NYC police officers asked if we were in route to the game. As we walked down 8th Avenue towards the Garden we were surrounded by fans and passed by a party bus wrapped in NY Rangers images with the top of the double decker chanting Lets Go Rangers. It was a magical moment that permeated every aspect of that day. Then to land inside Madison Square Garden where strangers become a united front for our team was just a wave of emotion. The marketing guys got it right this season when they tagged the fans “United in Blue”. It was a nailbiter of an OT game in which the Rangers were victorious. When that overtime goal was scored me along with 18,000 of my newest friends screamed, jumped, hi-fived, and hugged with elated joy. It was the most euphoric feeling and one that I will treasure forever.

    However, that isn’t the only thing that made me joyous about this particular fan experience. After 35 years of loving the NY Rangers, the moment at MSG was everything I dreamed. But what was really incredibly surprising and wonderful about this Spring was finding fan connections within other fandoms. I loved that a twitter ritual emerged with one of the writers from Castle and another native New Yorker with whom I not only share a deep love of Castle, but theater and baseball (and truthfully all things NY). It was a terrific reminder that communities surrounded by adoration and enthusiasm breed such great joy. For me, that is what made the months of May and June so deeply fun and fantastic.

    • This comment gave me goosebumps. First of all, I am so excited to hear all about your Star Wars Weekends adventures when the time comes, and I will happily answer any questions you have about it—because, as I’m sure everyone can tell, I will never tire of talking about it. I have been going to Disney World since before I can remember, and those two days I spent with my fellow Star Wars fans were my favorite days I’ve ever spent in a WDW park.

      And now to our shared love of hockey. Everything you said about your playoff game experience struck a chord with me. I know the feeling of unity that hits a city during NHL playoff time so well, and it’s such a special feeling. And there’s nothing quite like sharing an OT playoff win with 18,000 of your new best friends. My own playoff memories (especially my first playoff memory) have stayed with me and sustained me through more than a few rough years of hockey fandom lately. Being a hockey fan during a playoff run is incredible. Hugging strangers, screaming so loud you don’t have a voice for days, and feeling so connected to the city you love is something that doesn’t happen every day. I’m so happy you have an experience like that because my similar experiences are some of the happiest memories I have.

      Hockey fans are a special breed, and I love that this kind of fandom is just one of the many we have in common. (And now I’m so ready for hockey season to start—even though my Sabres are going to be awful again.)

  6. I actually can’t think of many fan experiences that I’ve shared with other people. I don’t go to concerts or conventions and most of my fandom life is pretty solitary.
    The two events that come to mind are actually both sports-victory related, even though I’m not much into sports. The first was NZ finally winning the America’s Cup sailing race way back in 1995 after several attempts. It was a David and Goliath battle and people were really proud that we won without the benefit of the massive financial resources of the American team, proud of our nation’s ingenuity and determination. (We have a little bit of a complex about that!) The victory parade was massive and very emotional, as I recall. The other was the Seahawks winning the Superbowl this year – another against the odds victory, the little guy winning against the master. I tried to go to the massive parade but there were too many thousand people trying to get on too few ferries, so I pretended that the line for the boats was the actual parade and had all my fun there. I think I would have been very emotional if I’d made it to the parade – so many people united in excitement and pride.
    I don’t know if I’m satisfied with my low key online fandom life or if I should seek out some social fan experiences.

    • I’ve always said fan experiences don’t even have to be ones where you’re physically connected to other fans. Some of my favorite fan experiences may seem solitary, but they’re ones I’ve shared with many other fans online—freaking out over a sneak peek or spoiler, reacting to a great episode, or even commiserating over an emotionally draining plot twist.

      I love that so many of these stories—yours included—are about sports. Our sports teams bring us together like little else. I got swept up in the Seahawks’ story this year, and I can only imagine the amount of emotion in Seattle the day of that parade. Someday I hope we get to experience that same level of joy in Buffalo.

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