Hello, fans. Not fans of me, of course – fans of things. It’s sometimes hard to believe that there are people out there who aren’t Fans of Things, isn’t it? Or at least, people who aren’t part of any fandom. I can’t imagine not being part of my fandoms now – but why is that? What does fandom actually do for us?
I must admit, when I sat down to write this article, I didn’t know where to start. Fandom takes up such a huge part of my life these days – especially now I write for this publication – that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. So I put out a call on Tumblr for a few people to tell me what fandom’s done for them.
The immediate response was unanimous: fandom gives a sense of community. When you’re overthinking a plot point or sobbing over a series finale, fandom reaches out and says, in the words of Doctor Who’s Face of Boe, “You are not alone”. More than just a group of people to trade show-related in-jokes, a fandom is a group of people who’ll share the highs and lows of the journey with you – even when it’s not directly related to your fandom. The friends I’ve met through fandom have become some of the closest I’ve ever had, and I’m not alone in that. Indeed, the Young Dracula fandom have even skipped over the obvious ‘fangdom’ label and declared themselves ‘fangmily’. In small fandoms especially, fans look out for each other. Those people you share pictures or fanfic with? They don’t just care about the same things you do. They care about you.
Fandom also pulls together when necessary – recently, a leading fanfiction site started pulling down stories fitting a certain criteria, without warning or explanation. Not only were authors of at-risk stories warned by other members of their fandoms that it might be time to make sure they had a backup before they lost their hard work, but I’ve heard of at least one author who found their story deleted before they could save it and who was sent several copies by fellow fandom members who’d taken the precaution of backing it up on their behalf. Fandom is like the study group you wish you’d had at high school – they’ve got your back.
Another thing someone brought up was the way fandom encourages you to try new things. For example, a few years ago I thought the closest I’d ever get to the premiere of anything was a midnight launch of the latest Harry Potter book at my local bookshop – and yes, that was a fandom event too, actually, and I really enjoyed it. Then I got into the Merlin fandom and suddenly the internet was buzzing with news of a series two premiere at the BFI. A friend and I snagged tickets and found ourselves in the front row, chatting to an online roleplayer and in the same room as the cast. It was unforgettable, and it gave us the jolt we needed to realise we could do anything. Since then, there have been conventions and signings and meetups and cosplays and you name it. It’s a whole new social life and I, for one, love it.
Then there’s the opportunities fandom can bring. None – or very few – of us are full-time fans; we all have jobs and hobbies and other interests, and fandom means you can network with all those people. Sometimes that can lead not just to fantastic friendships, but to career opportunities or the chance to learn something new (I had a roleplaying friend who started teaching me Latin, at one point). Besides which, some fans have turned their fandom into jobs – making fandom tea blends, for example, or writing the official companion books to TV shows. Increasingly, the media forms we all love are turning to fandoms to write further instalments of popular franchises – many Doctor Who writers were fans of the original series, and Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss have both said they were huge fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes long before they wrote Sherlock.
Fandom does a huge amount for everyone in it – no matter which fandom(s) you’re in – and while it can have its disadvantages (late nights and last-minute coursework, anyone?) it’s certainly not the waste of time a lot of people write it off as. So the next time you spend 40 straight hours on Tumblr, or get so into reading a fanfic you forget to eat, or find yourself answering the question “How was your day?” with “I think I’ve made a Reichenbach breakthrough, I’ll tell you about it when I’ve stopped sobbing”, hold your head high and be proud! You’re part of something awesome.
Eleanor Musgrove (who would love to hear any Reichenbach theories, because she’s stumped)