Full Force: Fandom and the Fan Experience

Full Force is GFN’s in-depth look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists take a look at the fandom in general and what it means today.

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To you, what does it mean to be a “fan”?

LadyCroft3: To me, being a fan is simply liking something enough to go beyond just watching/playing/reading something, to have a passion for the thing you are a fan of. It’s hard to explain really since every fan handles the thing they are a fan of differently and there are varying degrees of being a fan. Some fans may just watch every new episode of a show while others dedicate all their free time to being an active part of message boards or getting deep into character backstories, etc. I guess to put it plain and simple it’s liking something a whole lot more than just “Oh yeah, that’s a cool game” or “I read that book, it wasn’t bad”.

Cary: LadyCroft3 really hit the nail on the head. Fandom can take many forms, from the people who live their geeky loves to those who enjoy them a little less flamboyantly.But one thing that separates the fans from the rest of the general populace is the “must” factor. Being a fan means you “must” accomplish things for the sake of your fandom. I must have this book for my collection. I must watch the latest episode of my favorite show. I must attend the latest convention. And just as our interests evolve over time, those “musts” change too, and can become stronger or lighter depending on one’s life goals at any given moment.

Ashley: I totally agree. We all have different levels of “intensity” with the things we like, but I think being a fan means you really feel passionate about it. You want to talk about it. When you meet somebody else who likes the same thing, you feel an instant connection with that person. Being a fan can be kind of an emotional experience!

Chris: Yeah, intensity is one of the words that comes to mind for me as well. I don’t think you have to be a crazy ultra super supporter to be a fan, although there are a handful of franchises that I certainly get that excited about. Do you enjoy something to the point where you go back for more? Then you’re a fan in my book.

simpleek: I agree with what everyone has said about how they define what it is to be a fan. From my personal experience, there are things I “like” and then there are other things I “love” to the point I’m seeking any and all information about it. I’m also more likely to want to buy or collect merchandise on the fandom I’m really passionate about.

Grumbl3dook: You people are all crazy. Being a fan involves steady rotation at a set pace around a central axis while suspended from a ceiling…

The internet age has made fandom easier than ever, with forums, websites, message boards and Twitter accounts to give information on your favorite media. Does this access cheapen the experience, or simply make it more accessible for everyone?

LadyCroft3: I think social media makes everything more accessible. There are things that I am a fan of now that I never would have even known about if it hadn’t been for the internet. Plus, with message boards, fan pages and the like we can communicate with other fans and discuss ideas for the next game/book/episode/whatever or talk about our favorite characters and why we like them while seeing other people’s opinions too. I think it’s a good thing, but in moderation. As is the case with most things internet related.

Chip: This can be a tough spot for so many people, since being a fan of something normally means that is a part of your identity.  Some people can embrace the community of like-minded folks and use the various outlets of the internet to learn more about their favorite media and share in joy with other people.  But there are many people who feel threatened by the thing they love so much belonging to a bigger community. It can cause feelings of lost identity or begrudging others who aren’t necessarily just like you for enjoying the same piece of media.  Speaking personally, I have felt both sides of this coin with several of my favorites.

Cary: I’m very bad at wearing fandom on my sleeve…or social network, so I tend to keep my distance in that regard. Short of the things I write about online, I don’t usually take to the Internet to repeatedly proclaim my love of this or that. But while I may not be an initiator, I will gladly jump into existing conversations in order to become part of a fan community. So the Internet has, for me, made fandom a little more accessible. (That still doesn’t mean I’m ready to take to the proverbial mountaintops or anything.)

Ashley: I think social media makes things more accessible. For me, it’s a fun outlet to be a “fan,” since I’m pretty shy in real life and try not to ramble on too much about, say, Dragon Age if the person I’m talking to doesn’t know anything about it. Online, you can find more people to connect to who have the same interests. That being said, it can feel like overkill a little bit to scroll through pages and pages of Sherlock gifs on Tumblr. Some weeks, I love it; other weeks, I feel like I need a break. But it’s awesome that it’s out there, for sure!

Chris: Though it’s a fault of my own and not anyone else, I tend to rebel against things that become extremely popular. I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve never picked up a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings book (or seen any of the movies) — by the time I had the chance to jump in myself, I had heard sooooo much about both of them that I didn’t want anything to do with it. The internet has been responsible for a large part of that problem. Still, objectively, I think it’s a massive improvement for fandom. You can find other people who love what you love and discuss the subject matter to death, even if no one in your area happens to like the same thing.

simpleek: The internet has been great with giving people access to the fandom they love. You have the option to either read other people’s discussions on the very topic you’ve been thinking of or participating in the discussion to get your own opinion out there. I used to participate in public forums back when Sailor Moon was huge and I’ve had a positive experience of just talking back and forth with people about a character or plot in the series. There’s a nice sense of community and inclusion when I used to frequent forums. These days, I don’t participate in forums all that much anymore, but I do read other people’s opinions about other fandoms I’m into when I feel like getting someone else’s perspective. Another great thing about the accessibility aspect is if you aren’t initially a fan of a particular video game, book, film, etc. but are interested in seeing if you want to give it a shot, it’s much easier to find the opinions of fans who have been into the very thing you’re looking into for a while online. It’s how I ended up deciding to buy certain video games or books. I discovered something new to love I probably wouldn’t have if there wasn’t much information and discussion about them.

“Fan” comes from the word fanatic, which usually has a negative connotation. The word “fanboy” (or girl) seems to be heading in the same direction. What can communities do to stay positive and welcoming while keeping a unique identity?

LadyCroft3: First, I think people should stop using fanboy or fangirl as a way to demean other people. I know that’s hard to do, but for example I don’t mind saying things like “I’m a huge Dean Winchester fangirl” because I am. I don’t see it as a bad thing, even though that word typically means you are over the top or blinded to everything else. To me it just means I really, really love Dean Winchester and consider myself a huge fan of his character. Aside from that, it’s always important to be as welcoming to new fans as possible. Being inclusive and not exclusive is really important and draws in larger crowds, making the community as a whole more diverse and open rather than snobby and uptight, which turns people away from liking cool things sometimes.

Ashley: I always associate “fangirl” with being a fan of a male character or group, but mostly for shallow reasons. Like how, when I was 12 years old, I was an N’Sync fangirl. (OKAY?! I loved them more than the Backstreet Boys.) That’s not a bad thing, but I always shy away from the term because it seems frivolous the way I think of it. However, I am totally a Garrus fangirl for a whole lot of reasons. And if these terms just means “fan,” I think they’re great. I also agree with what LadyCrof3 said, that it’s important to be welcoming as a fandom. The worst thing about fandom, for me, is that it feels like you have to pass some test to prove that you know everything about the subject at hand. But honestly, I have not had time in my life to watch every single episode of every single season of every single series of Star Trek. That does not mean I can’t be a true fan. I think the more we accept people at all levels of knowledge, the more positive the fandom experience will be for everyone. It should be a fun and inviting thing based on feeling connected to something, not necessarily knowing every single detail about it.

Chris: I’m a firm believer that words are only as important as the meaning we give them. So “fanboy” and “fangirl,” on the surface, are completely fine in my book. The problem is that like so many other things, these terms can be used in a derogatory fashion. I know that for many people, being a fan is a deeply personal experience, and some people feel threatened when others try to jump in as bandwagoners. But to me, if you really do love something, shouldn’t you want as many other people to take part in it as possible? If that’s the case, folks should stop deriding others who like similar things — and likewise, if you DON’T understand why somebody loves a series so much, don’t pass them off as a crazy fanboy/girl and demean the whole experience.

simpleek: I don’t mind calling myself a “fangirl” of let’s say Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Sailor Moon or whatever because it’s true. I get really excited about these fandoms because I love them to death. That doesn’t mean I’m a crazy person who can’t function in “normal” society either. Being a fan should, as everyone has already mentioned, be an inclusive experience. I love when you find other people who like the same things you do and you’re united in your passion and devotion to that fandom. When people start getting hostile against “fanboys” or “fangirls” because people either don’t get the hype or that person may not know everything there is to know about a series, then it sucks the fun out of loving a fandom. It’s a terrible feeling when you feel like you’re either a freak or not a “true fan.” It really comes down to respecting the other person for liking what they like and always being open to newer fans who are just discovering a fandom for the very first time. Connecting with other like minded people may actually give you a new friend you never would have met otherwise if it wasn’t for your shared interests.

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