The Fine Line Between Viewer and Fan

We’re going to be talking a lot about fandom; we are Fandom Wanderers, after all. So we thought it might be a good time to stop and think about what we mean when we call ourselves – and others – fans. What distinguishes us from the thousands of other people who read a book, or who watch a show or a film? What is the difference between readers or viewers (let’s just call them all viewers, for the sake of my poor typing fingers) and fans?

A viewer is rather like an observer of the media; they will watch or read it and absorb the information that the creator of the work wants them to absorb. Some would say that this is how mass media was always intended to be enjoyed. Others might suggest that experiencing a piece of work at this relatively superficial level means missing out on deeper meanings and hidden depths, but in the end, entertainment is entertainment, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about being entertained.

A fan, meanwhile, is an enthusiastic analyst – fans see what they’re shown and then go further, poking around in the corners of a work with a torch, opening doors that have remained closed and generally making a nuisance of themselves. This can manifest in the form of lists of continuity errors, or lively debates about character motivation and development, as well as through transformative works such as fanart and fanfiction (we’ll talk more about what we mean by that in a later issue). Fans are the people who seek out the deeper and hidden messages of a piece, attempt to place it into context, and decide which ideas have enough merit to be applied to their own work and lives.

Fans tend to be more emotionally invested in a piece of media – that’s not to say that a regular viewer won’t get a little teary-eyed at the end of Les Miserables, but a fan is more likely to sob their heart out, write a series of angsty fanfics, then rewatch and sob again. Moreover, a fan might equally find themselves welling up at the sound of the old Cackle’s Academy song from The Worst Witch, or when they see the familiar towers of Hogwarts appear on the screen during Harry Potter. Especially once fans become involved in collective fandom, with others who share their interests, the settings and characters of a piece may become more like homes and friends than mere pieces of scenery or costumes and lines.

It’s worth cultivating fandom, as the creator of a show, film or book, if only because fans are ardent publicists. Sometimes their enthusiasm can backfire – there’s usually a backlash against anything that comes with too much ‘hype’, and sometimes it just can’t live up to it – but the sort of genuine love for a piece of work that prompts people to talk about it, to encourage others to check it out, and to want to share it with everyone they know? That can’t be bought, and it can’t really be faked. Sincere appreciation may be one of the most effective marketing tools out there, and here in the age of the internet it’s easier than ever for people to share what they love.

There is one final point of difference between a reader and a fan, which I’ll illustrate using the Harry Potter fandom again. Anyone who’s read the books or seen the films is aware that there’s a four-House system in place at Hogwarts, and could probably tell you the basic outline of what each House looks for in a student. A fan, meanwhile, has probably used the Sorting Hat as a lens through which to examine themselves, and may have decided on a House (or Houses) that best suit them. I know a great many Harry Potter fans who will answer any request to describe themselves in one word with the name of a Hogwarts House, and who moreover know exactly what others mean when they do so – even completely outside of its proper context.

If you’re on a site such as Twitter or Tumblr, or anything with an ‘About Me’ section on the user profile page, really – take a look around and see how many of those little bios start with ‘Sherlock fan’ or simply ‘Doctor Who, Once Upon A Time, Power Rangers, Glee’. A viewer considers a book, show or film to be a part of what they’ve seen. A fan considers it to be a part of who they are.

Eleanor Musgrove (Slytherin).

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