First and foremost, I wanted to once again thank the lovely and talented Heather for steering the good ship NGN while I was away. The posts she wrote while I was gone were fantastic, and if you haven’t read them yet, I suggest you do so ASAP.
About a week ago, I returned home from another fabulous trip to Walt Disney World. I’ve said many times that I see WDW as my personal “happy place”—the place where I am the best, brightest, and happiest version of myself. Every time I visit WDW, I feel encouraged to be unashamedly enthusiastic about the things I love, and if that’s not balm for a fangirl’s soul, then what is?
I’ve written about Star Wars Weekends at WDW before (and I’m sure I’ll do so again at some point this summer), so I’ll try to keep this brief, but I think there’s no better representation of the way WDW fosters a true sense of community and joy among nerds of all kinds than this annual celebration of all things Star Wars. From the impassioned cheers when the movies’ theme begins playing before the park opens to the thunderous applause after the fireworks end at the conclusion of the day’s festivities, my Star Wars Weekends experience this year was once again filled with a sense of shared excitement and fun unlike anything else I’ve ever felt as a fangirl.
This year more than any other, though, I was reminded that all of WDW—not just Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends—is a place where people come together to experience what I feel is the very essence of fandom: celebrating what makes you happy and sharing that happiness with those around you.
And so much of the shared happiness I was a part of this year centered on a purse.
When I bought a Once Upon a Time bag online before my Disney trip, I was hoping maybe a few people would recognize it. Little did I know that it would serve as a major conversation piece pretty much everywhere I went. And when I paired it with my Captain Hook tank top one day, my ensemble was the source of plenty of smiles and even a very fun shout-out from the barista at the EPCOT Starbucks.
I’ve never been a part of so many positive encounters with fellows fans (at least in-person) as I was during this trip while carrying that Once Upon a Time bag. Teenage girls stopped me to tell me how much they love the show. Young women my age let themselves give in to their nerdy sides and gush about it. Mothers and fathers talked about how much their kids enjoy it. One cast members stopped me to talk about their love for Hook; another showed me some fan art they drew of Regina teaching Emma magic. Nearly every day (and honestly more times than I can remember on the day I went to Star Wars Weekends—the most nerdy day of them all), at least one person stopped me to tell me not just how much they loved my bag, but also how much they loved the show it was referencing.
Every single one of these encounters was a shining example of what fandom should be—and what it can be when we choose to focus on what we love instead of wasting energy bashing what we feel negatively about. Before leaving for WDW, I was feeling pretty down about fandom and its increasing levels of vitriol. It seemed to me that many fandoms I engaged with were getting torn apart by “ship wars,” arguments about liking one actor or character over another, and fights about the future of their respective shows. It made me sad to see what should be a source of happiness for people turned in to an environment of harsh negativity. In short, I needed a break. And as it turned out, my break turned out to be exactly what I needed to feel better about the state of fandom and my place in it.
I’m sure every fan I interacted with during my trip—Oncers, Star Wars fans, Disnerds, etc.—all had different favorite characters, different favorite relationships, and different reasons why they love what they love. And that’s a good thing. But at the end of the day, what mattered wasn’t whether someone likes Sith more than Jedi or ships Swan Queen rather than Captain Swan; what mattered was our shared love for pieces of media and the characters in them that move us, inspire us, and bring us joy. Focusing on what we share as fellow fans is much more fulfilling than focusing on what “side” of a particular fandom debate we’re on.
I think that’s easier to do in person, when you’re face-to-face with a real human being who’s sharing their enthusiasm with you. On the Internet, sometimes it can be harder to remember that there are real people behind their usernames and avatars. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always try to remember that above all other things when it comes to interacting with fellow fans online. It costs nothing to be kind to another person, and it can truly make someone’s day to reach out to them in a positive way about the things they’re passionate about.
After my WDW adventures, I’ve returned with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. And I believe the most important thing I can do through NGN (and the book I’m hoping all of you are writing your letters for!) is to continue to give my fellow fans a place to be enthusiastic and unashamedly passionate about what they love.
I’m always looking for ways to keep feeding my Disney Side long after I return home, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than encouraging people to find the fun and embrace the joy in the world of fandom.