When first approaching Fan Studies, as with almost any academic discipline, it becomes easy to get lost in the minutiae of study and forget that behind the area of Fan Studies as an academic discipline lies the actual basis for what it is. Yes, I am talking about Fans. It’s not called Fandom Studies or Collective Media Studies or something along those lines. Fan Studies begins with the fans who dive deep into a show or book or sport or whatever. For a long time, fans have been labelled in many ways—vast amounts of these ways are negative. But what do fans think of themselves and their passions, I wondered?
From my own perspective as a fan I think of fans as sort of “ghosts” within the greater fandom we’re involved in. We’re of the fandom but never quite belong to the world that was originally created. We become part of a series or book, but we can never actually “live” within it. When I think about the amount of thought I put into what it means to be a fan, I wondered if other fans felt the same way. So I, your intrepid columnist, decided to find out. I conducted some generalized questioning, but wanted to delve deeper. So I ended up doing some individual interviews with several people who consider themselves fans. I asked them all the same five questions and am extremely grateful to these people for the thoughtfulness and depth with which they approached and answered these questions. I was also surprised by where I found similarities among their answers but, most interestingly, where I found the differences. Because of the excellence of these replies, I’ve decided to devote two columns to the interviews so that I can use direct quotes from them. In the cases where I directly quote, I am using the interviewees initials.
The first two questions I asked, in my mind, build off of one another. The questions were: 1.) Why do you consider yourself a fan? and 2.) What do you feel you get out of belonging to a fandom?
JH says: “I consider myself a fan because I watch the show/movie or read the book/comic, and I like it. I don’t consider having encyclopedic knowledge about the topic or being completely involved in the fandom a prerequisite for being a ‘fan’. You just need to LIKE something enough to say ‘oh, hey. I really like this.’”
KT says: “Because some things, mostly entertainment like books and movies, are so good I want to live in the world they create for much longer. I do this by browsing through fanart and writing essays about a work’s theme and storytelling.”
Both of these replies, as well, as many of the others I received, point to what can be seen as a divide into the idea of someone as a “fan” or a “Fan.” As one interviewee, MJR, stated though: “The more appropriate question I think is: How much of a fan are you? I think it’s obvious that there are many levels of fan. There’s the fan who waits on the edge of their seat for the next episode or next book. Then there’s the fan that scours the Internet for behind-the-scenes, interviews, and tweets. And then we have the fan who turns to fanfiction/fanart and blogging and chat room discussions. Not to mention that there is the fan who is ALL of the above (and mostly is on Tumblr subsequently).” For an example, while I enjoy a show like CSI and often watch it and might call myself a fan of it I don’t consider it on the same level as say my fanship of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—a show which I’ve not only compulsively rewatched many a time, but which I’ve also read essays on and have looked into the mythos behind. While I don’t necessarily agree with these sorts of classifications (hear me rant sometime about the idea of literature versus genre and you’ll understand just how deeply I don’t “necessarily” agree with classifications that demarcate something as being more study-worthy than something else), Fan Studies does mostly concern itself with this type of Fan with a capital “F.”
As to that second question I asked, here is where I began to see my own reasons for belonging to fandoms, even if they weren’t necessarily reasons I’ve ever articulated to myself and, I believe, this is where the importance of fandoms and their worthiness for study came into light. I think I’ll let the fans have their say here without comment.
TW said “Fandom, in some ways, brings more closure than canonical endings. For example, after Harry Potter ended I wasn’t really ready to let go. Being in the fandom, however, allowed me to consume Harry Potter-related things until I came to the point that I was ready to let go of what had been a big part of my childhood.”
MJR states “Joining a fandom nowadays allows for a fan to see and communicate with more people than those in their physical environment. I know from experience, that I have been completely immersed in a series and no one around me could relate or discuss it with me. By having the fandom, especially connecting to one with the Internet, broadened my mind, social skills, and validated that I wasn’t alone in my thinking (and wishful dreaming) mainly.”
KT wrote “I get a sense of community.”
JB answered “I get the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world, and over something we have in common. I get to flex skills that I don’t use in everyday life. I get to be myself, with no threat of judgment (though that isn’t the case for quite a few of us, if you’ve heard of The Johnlock Conspiracy…) Essentially, I get a LIFE that isn’t work or putting on a face for others.”
So I ask you readers: what sort of fan are you? What do you get out of fandoms? Is it an area worth studying? Send your replies and thoughts on Twitter to @PintsNCupcakes or @lunaquarterly with hashtag #ghostsandfandoms. Next month I’ll be back with more of the Who (and, for once, I’m not talking about the Doctor) of fandoms. Until then: Keep Fanning On!