Fandoms as Function

There are an impossibly large number of angles to come at fandom from. It’s an idea about how a group of people regard a topic, and can be expressed as anything from live-tweeting, debates, discussions, art, fan fiction, and up to and including becoming a creative force on the thing you love. Star Trek had an unsolicited manuscript policy up until Enterprise. This meant that during the run of Star Trek1 people could simply write their own scripts and send them into the studio, no agent needed. A number of now successful TV writers have gotten their start this way. They were fans that created their own story and had it end up becoming a part of the official continuity. Fanfic to canon.

There’s a taxonomy of sorts one can suss out of interacting with fandoms. One end of the spectrum would be the loner. That would be reading/listening/watching whatever it is all alone. For some this could be ideal, possibly meditative. For others it could be a bit alienating. further in is the assorted online methods of interaction. These include art, fanfic, and the like. Depending on how much one delves in affects the level of interaction. It’s completely possible to either put these things out there, or to consume them, on a relatively singular level. But it’s also possible to engage the community with this. It’s what you make of it. Parallel to this would fall discussion and debate. One can lurk or participate, and the very existence of these interactions proves that one is not alone in fandom, but it doesn’t necessitate direct contact. Meetups are next. This is a form of fandom interaction that exists exclusively as interaction. Mixed in here is cosplay and conventions. There are innumerable other ways, but I felt this was a good place to start mapping out a basic way of looking at this. This scale is not a value judgement. Each entry on the taxonomy is just as valid as any other. Some fandoms lend themselves to a certain type of fandom interaction, and some fans prefer certain methods. It’s just ranked this way to be on a scale of sociability.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because this past week/weekend I was at New York Comic Con. It was an intense four days, as it always is, and it was amazing. They’ve started imitating some of the functions of its corporately unrelated but spiritual big-sibling, San Diego Comic Con, by spreading panels and events from a single building (the Javits Center) to multiple locations (Javits, The Hammerstein Ballroom, Madison Square Garden, and Hudson Mercantile). They did this last year as well, but I managed to avoid leaving the Javits as I doubted their organizational ability and whether I’d be able to get back in within a reasonable time for anything else. Well, this year things were spread out to the extent that I winnowed my schedule down to one or two must attend panels each day. And some of those led to the most amazing convention experiences of my life.

My first must was Carmilla. This is a Canadian web series produced by Kotex and presented by KindaTV. As a het cis male I’m clearly not the target audience, but I do love me some Carmilla. It’s also worth noting that, for me, Carmilla fandom is a completely solitary experience. I don’t know anyone else, either online or in person, that watches the show. I don’t really touch much fanfic, I don’t do fan art, and I can’t have a discussion with anyone about it so for me Carmilla is simply part of me time. Something I watch after my wife’s gone to bed and I’m still up for a few hours. So with that in mind, I was pretty excited to go to the panel for the show. The line was long enough that we were told we might be shut out of it, but thanks to a line-buddy to help pass the time, we stuck around long enough to make it in.

The crowd was incredible. To go from enjoying something completely on one’s own to being in a full room of people who are part of the fandom was intense. When the movie was announced the room exploded into cheers so loud my ears actually hurt. But what really got to me was that I finally was able to experience the fandom in a new way. I was getting external, not validation, but participation. I know that there are other fans out there. I’ve seen tumblr posts, but even on an intellectual level I know that they aren’t producing a show with a single viewer. But actually getting to transition into a part of a group all in support of it was an experience.

Gravity Falls is a bit of a different fandom for me. I’ve been proselytizing for the show since it started, and have since pulled a few people I know into it. That fandom isn’t quite so isolated for me. But the fans in general are some of the nicest people I have met, and whenever given the chance I try to meet them. Last year we didn’t make it into the panel for the show as the room hit capacity when there were still about seven people in front of us. But while waiting on line, two kids turned to us and started talking about the show with us. The parents apologized when their kids asked to play with the prop journals we’d made, but it was delightful. This year was no different, and we ended up making two line-buddies and talking the whole time. Gravity Falls lines are almost a separate event before Gravity Falls panels. The lines almost turn into mini-fan meetups of their own.

For a more common fandom, I’d liken this to Harry Potter. Strangers that meet but know they have Gravity Falls in common have little trouble striking up conversation. Costumes are frequently found but not a must. Discussions with strangers is common, and generally there’s a feeling of shared secrets. This is probably cultivated by a mixture of the show being about character relationships, as well as the show having a penchant for insane codes and puzzles. In some fandoms there’s an implicit challenge to prove your worth within the group. That worthiness seems to be built into Gravity Falls. The town is strange, the show is strange, and if you’ve survived this long in either then you’re welcomed in.

But I’ve saved my personal best for last. Steven Universe is probably the closest thing to religion I have at the moment. Not in that I take it as gospel truth, but that the show and everything about it is generally the nearest thing I get to transcendental experiences. The show itself is so well written that it truly makes me feel as if I’m understanding people who have wholly different experiences than I do. The way it dissects what it means to be yourself, what it means to be with someone else, what role family and friends can play, and how to be a better person all resonate at a core level for me. I feel that I become a better feminist because of this show, that I can understand aspects of myself that I’ve struggled with, and aspects of other people who have heretofore eluded me. It’s pretty intense and I love it.

Touching on the taxonomy, I started this show in solitary. As I’ve told people about it, or shown them stand-out clips I’ve slowly brought people on board. I now have a handful of people who I can discuss it with regularly, but this con took me as close to the canon creation end of the spectrum I think I’ll ever get. I met the creator.

On Saturday morning there was raffle for a signing session with the creator of the show, Rebecca Sugar.

ticket

The line of winners was short enough that she was able to take the time and talk to each person while signing for them. I was able to tell her how the show helps certain people in my life and she seemed touched and thanked me for that. When she asked who I liked on the show I told her, and also mentioned what scene was my favorite and why. She told me that she had drawn the scene herself because she felt it was so important and she wanted everything to come across just right from it. While it was long for an autograph session, it was still just a moment in a busy day, which was just another busy part of her career. But knowing that the creator is explicitly aware of how her show has affected some fans on the most solitary end of the fandom spectrum made a difference to me. Had that scene not been the one she had wanted to draw, it still would be the scene that touches me the most. Had she just smiled and nodded when I told her how the show she’s created helps make the life of someone I know better, but not taken a moment to show how touched she was, it would still help that person just as much.

To me, though, this moment was an exemplar of what fandom can be. The point of telling people about something that’s touched you is to push it along the social scale. The point of reaching out online, of finding discussions to join in, the attend meetups, to see people at cons, to talk to the people involved, all of that is to reach out and find others that are touched my the same things you are. Nothing will take away what these books, movies, shows, etc. mean to the fan. But finding out someone else has the same reaction, even the creator of the thing, redefines what it means. It turns that solitary connection into a social one. Because that’s what fans do. They connect to something. That book means so much to one person, and they find another. Then within that group, people find those who connect with the same characters. Within that group, those who connect with the same pairing of characters. It’s all shorthand because someone that’s come to the same conclusion has shared a similar emotional journey, if not an identical one. It’s an emotional shorthand so it makes total sense that so many fans espouse their favorite media.

So that one moment of the show that meant so much to me? Now when I watch it that scene will mean that, but it will also mean that it meant that much to the writer of it. So much so that she wanted to be the one to draw it and bring it to life. That connection is more now. And, possibly, it will mean more to her, knowing that her artistic intent paid off. That her personal touch was effective and noticed. That what she put in, someone else pulled that out. And I think I’ll keep that moment between us.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager
Adam

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access is wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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