Lifecycle of a Fandom: Part One – The Hype

Our new series, Lifecycle of a Fandom, looks at the way fandom evolves and changes throughout the lifecycle of the media it loves. First up, we look at the hype.

So, Wanderers, it’s time for a new series and we’re looking at four key stages of fandom as it relates to the medium we’re being fans of. No doubt there’s potential for a whole other series on levels of insanity and obsession in fandom, but for now let’s focus on the progression of the thing you’re a fan of.

The first stage, and therefore a fairly logical place to start, comes before your show even airs, or your book or film or comic strip is even launched. Let’s talk, Wanderers, about The Hype.

The Hype can begin with a trailer or a poster, or a press release. Judging by the recently-massive “swimming anime” fandom, it can begin with a handful of promotional images and spiral rapidly out of control. Even before anyone’s seen it, an idea can capture the imagination of thousands of people. That’s the point of the promotional stuff, after all. But can you really call it a fandom before it’s even been seen?

Well, I’m not going to have a lot to say if I say ‘no’, am I? It’d make this article pretty pointless. But that’s not why I’d suggest that actually, you can have a fandom before a release date… Here’s how I see it.

When that trailer catches your eye, it sets your mind working. Perhaps you’re wondering why there’s a slow-motion shot of a chair being smashed against a wall right in the middle of the clip. Perhaps you’re already wondering if that lingering moment of eye contact between two characters you don’t yet know the names of means anything – and what. Maybe you’re just idly wondering if the costume department ran out of money because in the whole trailer one of the characters never seems to be wearing a shirt.

Similarly, if you stumble upon a teasing press release from your favourite author, giving a few details about their upcoming novel, there’s no way you can avoid a few speculative thoughts. Will it be anything like their last book? Will there be cameos from their most popular characters? Is it going to make you laugh, or cry? There’s no way of knowing, of course, at this point, but that’s not going to stop you thinking about it.

And then there are films. Never mind trailers and press releases – big Hollywood films get a vast amount of attention from the moment they’re greenlit. Remember the screaming and excitement when it was announced that a cult icon was being given the job of directing a popular superhero film? And major-league comics can have the same kind of effect – everyone was talking about DC’s ‘New 52’ before the ink was dry on the last storyboard.

Of course, in recent years, there have been more ways than ever to hear about things that you’re going to become a fan of. In the last year alone I’ve found one fandom through a crowdfunding campaign and another through a film’s Twitter account. Then, of course, there are the old tried-and-tested ways; your friend telling you about something they’ve just heard is going to be coming out next year, for example, or a film crew setting up in your street and your mum making the crew a round of coffees and getting all the gossip.

Is it fandom, before you’ve even seen the first installment of something? Well, I think so (and hopefully the Editor agrees, or I’m going to have to redraft this pretty fast). After all, once that spark of interest has been ignited, you’re likely to ask other people if they’ve heard about whatever it is you’re pre-obsessing over. You talk about it. If it’s got well-known people involved, chances are fans of those people are also going to be talking about it. Quite quickly, a group of people forms who are just waiting for the first episode, or page, or scene, or strip. Is that so different from a group of people who are just waiting for the next episode, page, scene, or strip?

In fact, these little pre-fandoms often share many of the same traits as their fully-fledged brethren. You don’t need to see an episode to create fanart, fanfic, or convoluted theories and headcanons – in fact, arguably, there’s way more creative freedom with something that hasn’t shown its actual canon yet, because the bare bones are there but who’s to argue with whatever you do to them? Once the first episode airs or the first book is read, of course, the chances are you’ll discover you were completely wrong about everything, but you can always slap a ‘pre-pilot’ disclaimer on it and go about your day.

And, of course, the more people get excited about a trailer, or a press release, or a one-panel preview, or a poster, or a radio ad, or [I know word-count padding when I see it – Ed.] whatever it is that heralds your brand new fandom, the more people will be there right at the start to make sure this new idea trying to make its way in a big scary world gets its audience. And the more people like a thing, the more likely it is to be able to continue, so you can have plenty more of it. Of course, you can also get in on a fandom when it’s good and established… but I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s a subject for another issue…

Next issue, the series will continue with a look at transmission… don’t miss it!

Eleanor Musgrove

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