Our ongoing series, Lifecycle of a Fandom, looks at the way fandom evolves and changes throughout the lifecycle of the media it loves. This issue, it’s time for Transmission…
Alright, Wanderers, last issue we were thinking about how fandom can take off before the first episode is ever broadcast or the first book hits the shelves. This time, though, it’s time to look at what happens when your show is airing or during the publication of your favourite series of books. We’re looking at the immediate time during which there is new material – the few weeks surrounding the release of The Avengers, for example, the run of the latest series of Supernatural, or the time period during which everyone was still reading the latest Harry Potter for the first time. For the sake of not using up my entire word count on explaining this every time – which the Editor says I’m not allowed to do – we’re going to refer to this as transmission, and assume it applies equally to every category of canon. So, with no further ado, let’s get on with it.
Well, the most obvious change in a fandom when that first bit of canon is transmitted is that there’s suddenly a lot more to work with. Whether it’s words, or pictures, or video clips, the fandom no longer has to work with snatches of trailers or theories pulled from press releases largely through a combination of guesswork and dark magic (I’m kidding about the dark magic, of course). Now there are whole episodes to screencap and rewatch and edit into new fanvids. The characters have names, and there’s probably some vague indication of a plot at the very least. There are theories to be cooked up about the rest of the series, and analyses to be written of what’s already been seen or read. There’s probably something you can’t quite work out – was that a continuity error or a clue? – and there’s solid evidence in both directions which you simply have to have a long discussion about after the internet and no, mum, it can’t wait ’til morning…
Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing. When you were all caught up in the hype, time didn’t matter so very much. Yes, you were probably given a release date at some point, but you may have had months to obsess over a tiny thirty second teaser-clip or a bookseller’s blurb. Now the series is in the transmission stage, you’ve got a lot more to explore – and potentially, especially when you’re a fan of a TV show, a lot less time to work out exactly what it all means before more evidence and answers are given with the next instalment. For some readers, this can translate to trying to work out the answer to a riddle before the main character does; for others, it means trying to guess what will happen in the next book before it comes out. For film viewers, it can involve intense focus on the last ten seconds of the film, the bit they tried to hide after the credits, ensuring that nobody left the cinema until the cleaner started pointedly hoovering regardless of whether people’s feet were in the way or not.
And there’s more to analyse than just what’s going to happen next? There’s also the pressing issue of working out exactly what has happened, and why, and what might have caused it. There’s figuring out the landscape – geographical, political and even spiritual landscapes – of a world that may be very similar to reality, or may be completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. If you were in at the Hype stage, you may be trying to recalculate your former theories, relabelling your fanfic as AU (alternate universe) and tweaking a few bits so that it still works. If you weren’t there beforehand and only leapt into the fandom when the first installment was already finished, you may be scrambling to catch up. Other people will be scrambling to help you catch up, although no doubt there will also be people trying to confuse you or claiming that a ‘true fan’ would already know everything (ignore those people).
Basically, while something’s coming out, fandom goes a little crazy and can become a full-time occupation. This is the stage most people think of when they picture a fandom; a bunch of people drawing and writing about their favourite characters while eagerly anticipating the new instalment just around the corner, discussing last night’s update with other like-minded individuals, and getting altogether too many feels about how Regina from Once Upon a Time just doesn’t deserve to be treated that badly – or indeed how she does. This can also be a major phase of interaction with the creators, especially in recent years with the rise of social networking and forums.
The key thing to notice about this description, however, is that the next episode, book or film is coming soon, and the previous one was recent. Some forms of media – like webcomics – can exist in this state almost forever, never leaving a gap between updates longer than it takes for the artist to drive to a convention and back. Soon is, of course, a relative concept, and what seems an age for a TV fandom can be a short wait for a feature film sequel.
However, a lot of media will eventually encounter the next stage of fandom… the hiatus. And that’s where we’re picking up next issue.
Our next issue will indeed look at the hiatus stage of fandom, so do check back for that!