Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some Anecdotes on the Status of Fandom

So the other day at work one of the guys was handing around sheets where people could sign up to keep track of who won all the basketball games in the season.  I didn't take one but a friend did, and I asked if I could look at it.

He said, "I didn't think you were interested in basketball."

I said, "I'm not, really. But I'm interested in how people act around sports. It's fandom."

He said, "....Huh."

I think it was actually the Journal of Transformation Fiction or another source that introduced me to this concept. I set out to explain. "People watch every week, wonder what's going to happen next week. They get excited about it. Want to know who wins. They have favorite characters and talk about relationships between those characters. It's fandom."

My friend told me his world had been rearranged.


People do this funny little dance when they're trying to figure out if the person they're talking to also writes fan fiction. Somebody mentions it because they're talking about their favorite fandom and how they want more. Then comes the dance. This happens in workplaces, schools, or parties--not on the internet or at conventions. It happens in "normal places".

"Oh, you fiction?" The purpose of this step: to find out whether they think it's weird or not.


"Do you...write?"

"Yeah." It's this tentative little ritual of finding out how into it the other person is.

"What for?" And so on, finding out whether you're into the same fandoms or the same pairings. Best thing of course is if your interests coincide; second best is if you write for two different fandoms. All concerned probably exchange their names, because looking at what they've done online is so much more real than hearing about it to their face.

People like to hide the fact that they write fan fiction--and understandably so. Nobody wants to be seen as the one who does the weird stuff. There's weird stuff in fandom, and usually that's what people think of when they hear about it. So when writers meet each other they sniff around to figure out who's deepest into it.  If they're lucky they're in with the same amount of dedication. Because in the field of fan culture, unlike sports or original writing, the more dedicated you are, the stranger it is.

Writers of original fiction don't do that. Sports fans don't do that. It doesn't take the dance to find other fans.  There's the assumption that fan fiction is this underground, shameful thing, while the basketball fan goes around to everybody in the office asking whether they want to be in on finding out who wins this week, and all the weeks after.


Then, on the other hand, there are the rare people and communities who treat fandom as if it's as worthy as anything else: as if it's worthy to have books and research papers written on it, as worthy to be discussed at panels and in classrooms. At the Harvard University bookstore I found a book called Bonus Materials: Digital Auras and Authors by Jonathan Gray. It talked about how paratexts-- mostly advertisements and movie trailers, but also fan fiction and fan video -- create a larger framework around a movie (the primary text). My favorite quote from it was the following by writer/director Joss Whedon.

"I doesn't feel like [the producers of fan work] are paying homage to me...we're both paying homage to something else." 

That 'something else' is the world of his stories

This book and its sources inspired me to get more into the research aspect of fan culture. There are people out there doing it, mostly women online who gather around places like The Organization for Transformative Works.  I want to find out why people love fandom, and what they do with it when they do. I want to know what exactly both fan writers and original writers like Joss Whedon are paying homage to. That's what this blog is going to try to do; track my thoughts on this sort of thing.

And also provide amusing anecdotes.


  1. Whoa. Sports is fandom. I never really thought of it that way. Nice find.

    I think most of the problem with fan fiction versus more "mainstream" pursuits is that fanfic has such a bad rep. It's easy to look at the majority of fan fiction out there, amateur (or worse) writing with Mary Sue OCs and creepy/insane pairings, and feel ashamed that what you write is grouped into the same general category and that's what most people automatically think of when you mention "fan fiction". I think another element of "the dance" is trying to figure out, once you've established that the other person writes fan fiction, whether they write stuff that will make your eyes bleed, or meaningful and engaging things that you'd actually be interested in reading.

    I'm always up for amusing anecdotes.

  2. You're right; that's exactly what I was trying to get at with the "dance" bit. What's unfortunate is that the same thing can happen with original fiction. There's bad stuff written there too, but because writing is relatively respected, the bad stuff isn't what people think of as their first impression. I wonder if there's a way to change the public perception of fanfic.

  3. Hmmm. Well, if video games and the Internet can go from symbols of niche nerdiness to explosively popular mainstream activities, perhaps fan fiction can as well. It just may take a decade or so.

  4. Huh, good point. Well, I should still be around by then.

  5. Holy cow. Sport is fandom! I never would have thought! Thank you for opening my eyes to this, Nem. You always have something amusing or interesting to say. (A lot of the time, it's both!) Sadly, none of my friends are in to the stuff that I like. Such as, Star Wars, Stargate, LOTR, Video games... so I can't squee and discuss favourite characters and things like that. (Sigh) Oh well! I still love my friends.

    Maybe one day I'll meet someone who has the same interests as me. Maybe. (I mean, I do have friends who like the stuff I do... on the internet.)

    Anyway, enough rambling. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. KEEP WRITING! (Plus, Zu wants to know if you wear yellow shoes on weekends. He does.)

  6. You're welcome! As I said, it was someone else who originated the idea, but it amazed me too.

    Sometimes it's rare to have real-life friends who are into the same fandoms as you are. People are so scattered, and in real life there's no convenient search method to find out what they're into. You've gotta do the dance! And it's hard. I like that we've got an online community as well.

    Will do! (lol)

  7. Weird. I'll bet most sport fans don't even know what fandom is.

    Yes, I know. D:
    Haha. The dance. I might try it out...
    At least we have dA! ♥

    I think I'll write a fic about Zu and his yellow weekend shoes.

  8. No, probably not. But then, only the people who are into it, even on a peripheral level, do. :P

    dA is very valuable.

    lol awesome. You should. (But more Exile/Sion first?!)

  9. Gah~

    Exile/Sion! I had almost forgotten about it! (Almost. Not completely.)
    I really need to get my butt into gear! I have two pictures I have to draw for people and my Geonosis Fan Jam entry! Damn school, I say! D:<

    The in-between-terms holidays are coming up soon, though so hopefully I'll get some stuff done then. Don't worry, I'll do my best to get things done!

  10. Okay! Trust me, I know that being busy puts a damper on creative endeavors. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more Fan Jam entries trickle in for some time.

  11. It does, and it's really sad. I want to get things done, but I can't seem to find the time! This weekend I'll try to get at least one thing off my list. ♥

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