Fandom as a Source of Confusion to Others

Oh, wanderers. We who walk the path of fandom (I swear I’m not starting a cult, just feeling poetic) are often considered ‘weird’ by those who have not yet seen the light. You know this in your heart to be true. A lot of people just don’t get fandom, and that’s mostly because they’ve never experienced it themselves and therefore can’t quite understand what it is. Sometimes, though, the reason they think we’re weird is because… well, we can be pretty weird.

Even ignoring all the random eccentricities that just become a ‘thing’ in fandoms with no apparent logic behind them (Red Pants Monday, anyone? I’m sure that has an origin story, but I must have blinked and missed it) we can be very contradictory within ourselves. The fandom for any given TV show, for example, is likely to contain people who will call themselves its biggest fans while still making a huge deal of every single flaw, mistake, and dubious writing decision therein. Which, of course, is just a by-product of how much attention we pay to our favourite shows, but to an outsider it must seem a bit… well, weird. Especially since if someone who didn’t like the show pointed out those same flaws, we’d probably leap to its defence like specially-trained kangaroo bodyguards.

Then there’s the way we react to films being made out of our favourite books, comics or TV shows, or books being made to accompany our favourite films. Some of us welcome this deluge of new stuff linked to things we love with open arms. Some of us argue over whether the new information in these extra formats really constitutes canon – usually when our fanfics are in danger of being booted into AU territory, I’ll admit. And some of us fume about how the films were done wrong, or the books were better, or we didn’t want a book version of Amadeus anyway. More often, though, the whole fandom, en masse, decides that while it’s a really stupid idea to try to make a radio play out of Dollhouse and any new stuff introduced therein will never be proper canon, said radio play must be listened to the moment it’s available, via the internet at 3am if that’s how the timezones work out.  Again, to fans, this is pretty standard; you can dislike the idea of something and still need to own it due to its association with something you love. Apparently ‘normal’ people don’t work like that. How do they live? I don’t know. But that’s how it is.

We tend to take a similar contradictory approach to sequels. If – and I must stress that there is absolutely no indication that this will ever happen – J.K. Rowling  ever announced her intention to write an eighth Harry Potter book, I have no doubt whatsoever that the entire fandom would spontaneously combust from mere excitement. For hours, we would leap around gesticulating wildly, wearing our Hogwarts ties and robes, and referring to emails as ‘Owl Post’. And then suddenly we’d all slam the brakes on and have a bit of a panic, because what if it turned out to be like Pocahontas II? What if it was terrible, and ruined our memories of the books we’d loved? Again, we’d still probably be at the midnight launch in full costume, but frankly the things we’re a fan of stir up loads of feelings and they don’t always agree with each other.

Nothing, however, stirs up this contradictory emotions like the promise of an adaptation of a classic. Whether it’s an updated version of The Tempest, Oliver Twist with zombies thrown in, Treasure Island in space, Alice in Wonderland set inside a video game… anything you can think of, you can almost guarantee that, well… firstly, it’s pretty likely someone’s already written a brilliant fanfic about it. And we’ve probably loved it. So we’re all for the idea, in theory – it’s an AU, and we generally speaking like AUs – but when someone official-sounding starts talking about it reactions polarise very quickly.

For example, our very own Z sent me a link to a webseries called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries a while back. I sighed a little to myself – not another Americanised Austen novel – and clicked the link out of obligation more than anything, because I love Pride and Prejudice as it is and I thought nothing else could ever take the same story and tell it well enough to be worth watching… Wanderers, I loved it. This isn’t the place for reviewing, but seriously, my expectations were so wrong.

I’ve been raving about it to my friends, though, and many Austen fans seem to have the same reaction, which is to pull a face the moment I add ‘through video blogs’ to my explanation that it’s Pride and Prejudice. Some have similar reactions to the mention of the 2005 film, preferring the 1995 BBC miniseries, which is itself an adaptation. Others, meanwhile, embrace the idea wholeheartedly – ‘I love that book, I’ll check it out!’ – yet neither of these reactions makes you a better or worse fan than someone who responds in the opposite manner. It’s worth remembering, of course, that loving one adaptation (or the original) doesn’t mean anything that comes afterwards is going to ruin it. Trust in your own loyally-fannish heart; a bad adaptation won’t put you off something you really love.

So, to conclude; fans are weird and contradictory. Let’s just embrace it. We can love an author and still poke our fingers through the plot holes, or write ‘clean me’ in the grime on a dusty cliché. We can enjoy a series and still admit that episode four was something of a let-down. We can embrace sequels, and adaptations, and still be initially distrustful of them. Because we’re fans, and we do what we want.

So let’s stop being indignant when people don’t understand our fandom, when people tell us that we’re crazy, or that they just can’t keep up with us, or we’re being two-faced about something we like. Let’s stop being indignant and just drag them right into the weirdness. Because only feeling one thing at a time would get boring eventually.

Eleanor Musgrove (is just a big ol’ bundle of crazy deep down)

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