Alright, Wanderers? Good. Now, we’ve spent a fair bit of time talking about fandoms as a whole, in a rather abstract sense. But other people – parents, teachers, spouses, your boss, your hamster – often dismiss it as frivolous. The fools! So we thought we’d address the discrepancy by trying to answer a big, difficult question. Why does fandom, and understanding fandom, matter?
Well, for one thing, we’ve mentioned before that for many people, their fandoms are an integral part of their identities. Complete this sentence: “I am a ____”. I reckon a fair portion of you either said ‘fan’, named a Hogwarts house, or filled in the blank with ‘Whovian’, ‘Gleek’, ‘Sherlockian’… Those of you who didn’t may have said, instead, “I am a Frostiron shipper”, or “I am a fanfiction writer”. OK, some of you probably said “I am a software engineer” or something equally unrelated to fandom, but I’m sure you relate to some of the things I just mentioned anyway. Perhaps you identify with all of them. Being a fan of something is a huge part of who I am, certainly.
By understanding fandom itself – what fans are, what we do and why we do it, we understand ourselves. I know, suddenly it all sounds so profound, doesn’t it? Next time someone asks you why you’re bothering to read a webzine about fandom, as well as being in one or more, ask them why they read magazines about their hobbies. They may well be stumped for an answer, beyond ‘because I like it’. You can trump that now, because you can claim you read this site to better know yourself. Now you sound all philosophical and wise. You’re welcome, Wanderers.
But there’s more. Because if we understand the groups we belong to, we don’t just begin to understand ourselves better. We also better understand each other. After all, all the other people in the Harry Potter fandom are fans too. And so is every member of the Supernatural fandom. The one piece of common ground we all have, definitely, is that we are all passionate about something; we’re all fans. And the more we understand fandom itself, the more we understand this amazing thing we have in common, the more we begin to understand the other people who share it, allowing us to understand their feelings and motivations – for example, Whovians know why the Merlin fandom are collectively curled up in a ball and sobbing at the moment because that was them, not so very long ago.
Then, of course, there are slightly less us-centric reasons to think about what fandom is and what it means. There are a lot of people out there who don’t understand what fandom really is, and that can be pretty isolating for fans themselves, and a bit terrifying for people who stumble across fandom unawares. The more we talk about fandom, and the clearer we make it for people who don’t have first-hand experience of it, the more they’ll know about it – and the less stereotypical their view of us will be. Maybe we won’t completely destroy those preconceptions right out of the box, but we can at least start to erode them. One day, ‘fandom’ will be seen as just another group of people, not as a bunch of losers who spend too much time on the internet and watching TV. After all, people who read a lot of books are pretty much accepted at this point. There’s nothing intimidating about libraries for most people. So why should convention halls be any different?
Of course, for that to work, we’re all going to have to stop being quite so terrified of letting people in. Yes, we like to keep our fandom and our ‘real life’ separate, because most of us are a little worried about the real-life consequences of, say, our bosses reading our explicit Spiderman/Captain America slash fiction. But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be prepared to stand up and say ‘Yes, I like these things’ – even if we’re not up for giving out our usernames. In the end, that comes back to my point above about understanding ourselves – maybe, if we work out why we’re so determined to keep the whole existence of fandom a secret (and sorry, but that horse has bolted already), we can work out how to move past that feeling in a way that’s constructive.
Alright, Wanderers, I’ll admit to being a little pretentious when I started planning this article – my notes for my last point just read ‘understanding is the root of evolution‘. Which was a lovely bit of poetry to show the Editor but seems a bit vague now I come to write it up. But I know what I meant, and if you give me a second I might manage to make it into coherent words. Bear with me.
What I’m saying is that, unfortunately, the world of fandom is not perfect. There are elements of it, just as there are in the rest of life, that are downright disturbing. If we understand them, and understand the context those problems exist in, we can work to change that. We can see fandom for what it is, and make it better for everyone, one fan at a time. Not only that, but in our own individual lives, we can help to improve the bits of fandom that are already pretty great. Understanding where fandom is now might just allow us to take that next step forward, and that’s really important. Because without that understanding, we’re stepping forward blindly and we’ll probably fall in a hole.
So if someone asks you why understanding fandom is important, you can tell them that you’re learning to better know yourself and others, that you’re bringing a misunderstood people out of the shadows, and that you’re working to make the world better. I can’t promise that’ll silence your critics, but it sounds pretty good to us.
Eleanor Musgrove (wanted a swelling orchestral soundtrack for this article but couldn’t work out how to put it in words)