There’s nothing quite like a box office hit to boost a fandom’s numbers. Or a well publicised reboot of a once familiar television show. Sometimes, being a fan is a lonely and bewildering experience. People just don’t understand what it is about that obscure television show from the 1950s that you love. Or how clever and original your favourite author is. However, sometimes it can be equally difficult when a relatively cosy and settled fandom has to cope with suddenly becoming hot property. Before, only a handful of people – if that – would have got the secret meaning behind the message on your T-shirt or would have known the nicknames of all the ships. Now, you find your favourite characters plastered all over posters, duvet covers, maybe even the odd lunch box! You head out to a social gathering and people are talking about the various storylines and theorising about future plot developments. Whether or not you were expecting this blaze of publicity or interest it can be a slightly confusing situation.
On the one hand, it’s highly exciting. A new rush of fans can lead to lots of wonderful and positive developments. How many talented artists will now be inspired to create new drawings or fanvideos of your favourite ship? Perhaps there is someone out there writing exactly the sort of fanfiction that you want to read. Or you might be able to look forward to reading about new and interesting perspectives on issues within the canon verse. In terms of economy, a larger fandom can also drive investment in the product, whether that means the television studio are willing to pay for better special effects or that publishing company is willing to take a risk on a slightly more controversial novel by an author who has already experienced a taste of success. As a larger fanbase you may find that you are capable of achievements outside your expected sphere of influence, something which Fandom Wanderers has previously discussed. All of this is undeniably great stuff. So why, then, do divisions between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ fans arise?
At this point, I should probably hold my hands up and admit that I am nearly always that person who joins the party late. (It takes time to look this fabulous darlings!) It’s not often that I am part of the older, more established elements of the fandom so I do tend to see things from the perspective of the newcomer. However, when I have been an enthusiastic and long-term fan, I tend to get excited and happy at the prospect of newcomers joining in. I can understand why some fans have an almost instinctive and protective reaction to the newcomers. Depending on the particular fandom, some of the more established members have endured many terrible trials and hardships such as obscurity, cancellations and even ridicule simply for liking something which wasn’t ‘cool’. After being teased about reading boring old fantasy novels at school, it can be slightly irritating to find that later in life the very same people are now praising The Hobbit as the greatest film ever made. However, I firmly believe that none of that justifies some of the unwelcoming and downright hostile reactions I have witnessed to new fans.
The general theme running throughout the comments on or the accusations levelled at newcomers is that they are not ‘real fans’. Huh? What exactly is a real fan?
Well, one of the main complaints that could be made is that newcomers to the fandom are only interested because it is the cool, popular, shiny new thing. You get the picture. It’s a pretty standard complaint but it’s arguably very unfair. Unless you happened to have a quirky friend willing to lend you their extensive and well stocked library/comic collection, it can be slightly difficult to find out about some of the awesome but lesser known literature out there. When something is given publicity, whether it’s because of the incredibly famous actor taking part in the film franchise or because it won an award, it means that more people will find out about it. People who may not, through absolutely no fault of their own, have considered watching a television show about the son of Count Dracula or reading a book about a boy wizard. They might be curious to see what all the fuss is about, they might be sceptical of the critical acclaim that the product has received and so they consume it, end up enjoying it and find themselves becoming a fan. When you look at it from this perspective, it doesn’t seem that far removed from a friend recommending that you try something new.
Ah, but then newcomers can find themselves hitting a secondary snag. It’s not enough to love/enjoy the product, you have to love/enjoy it for the ‘right’ reasons. You’re not a real fan of Iron Man because you haven’t read all the comics; you just like the actor Robert Downey Jr. You’re not a real fan of Doctor Who because you ship the Doctor with a certain companion and, as everyone knows, the original Doctors just didn’t do ships. Honestly, I could carry on giving examples of these type of comments for hours! And you know what, my lovely Wanderers – that really saddens me. Who gets to decide why we should become a fan? People fall in love with books, films, music etc for so many different reasons. Who are any of us to decide that someone else’s reason for enjoying something is lesser than ours? Especially as our reasons and motivations for becoming a fan can change over time as the product itself evolves. For example, you may start off watching a particular television series because you’re a fan of the main actor but find that you are completely hooked by the excellent writing.
Confession: I started watching the reboot of Doctor Who in 2005 because I was curious to see Billy Piper, a former pop icon, acting in a science fiction show. Nearly eight years later, I have endured a broken heart as David Tennant departed, got to grips with the older series by joining a Doctor Who society and found an incredible bunch of amateur actors who put together genuinely laugh out loud tribute videos. So, for all you who are thinking about dipping your toe into the pool of fandom, come on and join us! It doesn’t matter what your motivations are, your reasons for getting involved, what matters is that we all enjoy the same thing and we should be focusing on exactly that and not on creating artificial distinctions.
Red Hamilton (is a complicated creature with complicated reasons for liking stuff – so there.)