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 read...fan fiction?" The purpose of this step: to find out whether they think it's weird or not.
"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 fanfiction.net 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.