Wanderers, there are varying levels of fandom, and sometimes it can be pretty hard to work out which level you’re at. Sometimes, it can feel as if you don’t know whether you’re still in the fandom at all. So how can you tell when you level up or down in your fandom?
Of course, it’s not a competition. Whether you’re a Big Name Fan (BNF), a 24/7 obsessive shipper, or a casual viewer who occasionally gets caught up in the meta, no fan’s enthusiasm is any more or less valid than any other’s. That said, it’s sometimes handy to have some kind of idea about where you fit in the grand scheme of things, so let’s try to work out some of the stages of fandom you might recognise. And, just to shake things up a bit, let’s not look at it from the point of view of someone entering a fandom and being gradually pulled in – let’s start at the all-consuming core of the fandom and work our way out. Just for a change.
Perhaps you’re a BNF. Perhaps you’re not. Remember, different fandoms have different levels of BNF – in a large fandom you’re far less likely to become universally well-known than in a small one – and it’s usually not worth trying to set out to become one. Regardless of that, at the most involved level of fandom, it’s usually quite a time-consuming passion. You’re probably getting into debates about your source material, you might spend a lot of time watching, reading or listening to it, and you may well be involved in both creating and consuming fanworks on a regular basis. At this level of fandom, you’re also likely to be actively encouraging your friends, acquaintances, and arch-nemeses to join you in watching it (a warning – this may backfire on you, so exercise caution). Many of your friends may well already share your fandom(s), and of course a lot of new acquaintances will come to you in the form of fellow fans.
A little further down the scale are the fans who might check in on the fandom every few days, or once a week. Maybe, after each new episode of your favourite show, you get involved in big discussions about it. Perhaps you get into the odd argument about a particular character that can last for hours, but for the most part you just look up fanfiction now and then. If there are fandom-related events near you, you’ll do your best to get them. The nearest convention can, with the right guests, count on your attendance. You’ll probably go in costume.
A little less intense still are the fans who undoubtedly love something, but don’t seek it out. You don’t really need to; people who talk to you about a certain film, for example, will soon find out more about it than they perhaps needed to know. When your fandom crosses your path, you throw yourself enthusiastically into it – again, if the right sort of event comes within a reasonable distance of you, you’ll be there – but it’s a passion that can lie dormant until you’re reminded again.
Then there are casual fans. You like the thing, but unless a new book’s coming out you don’t really engage with fellow fans or spend large amounts of time on fandom-related activities. You might snap up the latest 24-hour t-shirt if it’s relevant to the thing you like and tickles your fancy, but you do actually have non-fandom clothes. To you, the fandom is probably more about the media or central figure than about the other fans (which is not always the case) and that suits you fine.
Of course, fandom is a spectrum, and I’m covering it in broad strokes. There are plenty of fans who fall somewhere between these divisions, or who behave in ways that belong to a number of different levels on the list above. Every fan’s experience is different. Additionally, you might be a core member of the really-intense group of Supernatural fans, but only get excited about Sherlock when new episodes are actually released. Different fandoms may strike you at different levels and, of course, the level of fandom you’re at can change. You can be such a huge Harry Potter fan that you get the mark of the Deathly Hallows as a tattoo, then slip down to lower-level fandom after no new material’s been released for a while. Of course, with recent news of new films, you might then shoot back up into the really intense level again, and that variation – in either direction, or both – is fine and natural.
By far the most important criterion for whether you’re in a fandom, however, is whether you consider yourself to be part of it. If you haven’t watched or read The Worst Witch in a decade and very rarely have anything to do with it, but consider yourself part of the fandom, the chances are you are. Being a fan, after all, is really a matter of liking something enough to make it a part of your identity – to call yourself a fan, at whatever level.
Eleanor Musgrove (is trying not to think too hard about how deeply into each of her fandoms she is)