Over the past few months, we have talked about how being part of a fandom can inspire you, motivate you to try something new or help you to achieve a specific goal. All of this discussion has got me thinking about what else we may gain from being involved in fandom and in particular what we gain as individuals.
As I sat down at my laptop, sipped my cup of tea and began to sift through my thoughts, I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with a fellow Wanderer. They were relatively new to one of the fan communities that I am part of (I speak as if I am a veteran, I assure you Wanderers I am learning as much as you are with each zine – hopefully!) Anyway, I digress, my friend and I were just chatting in general about what we liked most about our fandom and the people within it. They told me it was fantastic to get to know like-minded people and how they felt freer in a way to be themselves in the fandom than they did at their place of work. I have to admit that really struck a chord with me and I’ve found myself thinking of fandom as being a rather liberating experience.
Okay, okay, I can see the looks you are giving the computer screen now – cynicism, disbelief, possible envy over the cup of tea… but stick with me Wanderers, I promise I have three excellent points coming up.
The first point goes to the very heart of what it is to be a fan – someone who is enthusiastic in their appreciation whether it’s directed at a person, a form of entertainment or an entire genre. A lot of the time, I get the distinct impression that it’s simply not cool to be passionate about something, to admit that you seriously adore Henry Cavill and you’ve been waiting forever for the latest Superman film. Or, to confess that you have read and re-read Jane Austen’s books over and over again since you were fourteen. In ‘real’ life, it seems that we are expected to be blasé and only vaguely interested in things like books or films because really it’s all rather immature and we should be focusing on important things like… well, whatever important, grown-up things are.
This is precisely why being part of a fandom is so liberating! You don’t have to pretend, you can be as enthusiastic and as excited as you want and other fans aren’t going to judge you because they feel the same way. One of my favourite television shows of all time is a supernatural drama aimed at the teenage audience – now I’m not telling you my age, that is classified information but I can assure you I am no fourteen year old. With fellow fans (many of which have turned out to be in my age-range), I don’t need to explain or justify why I prefer this show over similar offerings which are aimed specifically at the adult audience- they just get it! This means we have considerably more time to discuss pressing matters such as supernatural mythology and the fabulous job that the costume department are doing.
Another way in which fandom can be liberating is that it gives us a chance to explore and indulge in talents that we have otherwise forgotten or cast aside. Realistically, not every aspiring artist is destined to be the next Picasso and sadly very few creative writers will ever manage to make a living from their work but it seems a terrible waste for all that energy and potential to simply disappear. Fandom, whether it is through creating gifs, writing fanfiction or producing fan-videos just to name a few, offers plenty of opportunities for people to create and share their work with others. It can provide you with a creative outlet and a new means of self-expression, I reckon that’s got to be pretty liberating.
Finally, and on a slightly different note, fandom can provide you with a certain level of anonymity which can in turn give you more freedom to be yourself. Now, here at Fandom Wanderers, we have previously discussed both the benefits and pitfalls of anonymity. Anonymity can sometimes make people feel like they can say or act however they like without regard to other people’s feelings. That is definitely not the sort of liberation I’m talking about. I’m referring to how anonymity can make it easier for you to express enthusiasm for and get involved in fandom. When you are anonymous, no-one can have any preconceived ideas about who you are and what you should like. For example, if your work colleagues perceive you to be quite a serious and reserved person, they may find it difficult to believe that you have a genuine appreciation of a cartoon series like SpongeBob SquarePants.
Anonymity can also be quite liberating for those fans who want to use fandom to explore serious and controversial issues. Topics such as mental illness and abusive relationships can be very difficult to discuss in day to day conversations but as an anonymous producer of fanfiction or fan-art you are perfectly free to explore whatever you want without having to answer well-meaning but awkward questions from family and friends. Anonymity may even be a significant factor in giving you the confidence to try and tackle emotive and complex issues in the first place.
Overall, I think sometimes when we become involved in fandom, we tend to focus on the costs- it takes up time and energy, it requires a certain amount of effort and commitment to produce good quality work to share with your peers and sometimes things like shipping wars can bring you down. However, perhaps now and again, we should take a step back and consider how fandom can both open up a whole new world of opportunities and give us the liberty to explore them.
Red Hamilton (seriously just wants the Superman film to be out already)