Okay, show of hands – who here has ever heard of 50 Shades of Grey? Everyone, right? If you have, you’ve inadvertently stumbled across fandom. Today I’m going to explain what exactly fandom is, how it started, and how it has managed to make its very own subculture, complete with its own language.
First, it must be said that there is a difference between being a fan of something and being part of a fandom. Fans are casual in their interest – they will tune in from week to week to watch the show or pre-order the next book in the series, but they don’t devote any more time to it than to set their DVR or actually enjoy the material.
A member of a fandom is an entirely different story. For a member of a fandom, they invest their time and emotions to their interest. And it’s a phenomenon that’s been going on for over a century.
One of the facts I find most surprising about fandom culture is that it’s not new or recent by any stretch of the imagination. Though I only stumbled upon fandom in the last few years, fandom culture has actually been around for decades.
The first modern fandom is considered to be Sherlock Holmes. That’s right, there were fans sitting around as early as 1887, writing about these beloved characters in the first recorded cases of fan fiction. In 1893, fans of Sherlock Holmes even held public demonstrations of mourning when the titular character was “killed”. Let me do the math for you – 125 years this has been going on. And for the record – Sherlock Holmes is still being written about today. I saw a story about him that was updated this morning.
The thing about fandom is that it can be for fans of literally anything. The most common and mainstream fandoms tend to be related to television shows, movie franchises and book series. They even have nicknames – you’ve probably heard of some of them:
- Twilight fans are Twihards,
- Firefly fans are Browncoats;
- for Star Trek there are Trekkies
- and Dr. Who has its Whovians.
- Janeites are those who adore Jane Austen
- Whedonites worship at the alter of Joss Whedon – figuratively, of course.
- And yes, there are even Bronies – fans of My Little Pony.
I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
But there are less mainstream fandoms as well – for musicians and bands, anime, plays and video games. Even celebrities.
And when I say that fandom is a culture, that’s not a lie. It’s so expansive it has grown to have its own language. My friend Diana and I, though we have zero fandoms in common, can hold an entire conversation about the phenomenon without anyone understanding. It’s not their fault, they’re just not part of the culture.
So if you hear a strange conversation about a new ‘fic’ someone read, know that they’re probably talking about fanfiction – or fictional stories – anywhere from a few words long to a few hundred thousand – about a show or movie or book. In case you didn’t know – that’s how 50 Shades of Grey was born. It was originally published – probably on a site like fanfiction.net or Archive Of Our Own as Twilight fanfiction.
Or maybe you’ll hear the word ‘ship’ but no context clues to think the conversation could be about boating. They’re probably talking about two characters being in a relationship, or wanting characters to be in a relationship.
And beyond that, there are OTPs, or One True Pairings – the couples a fan thinks should belong together.
These ‘ships’ or OTPs may or may not be canon, which means they take place in the continuity of the fandom’s universe or ‘verse. If something is ‘canon’ it means it happened on the show, or in the book series, et cetera.
But something may also be ‘fanon’ or “fan canon”. That means that a fact which doesn’t necessarily exist in the universe or continuity of the show has been accepted by the fans as fact – such as minor character backstory or the first name of a character.
I know this is a lot to hear, especially if you’ve never been exposed to fandom before. Believe me, I understand. The first time I stumbled across a fandom I was googling every other word to understand this new language.
The thing about people that take part in fandoms is that you may never know that it’s a hobby of theirs. While I’ve always been a television addict, I’ve never had anyone that truly shares my passion about the same shows.
But then I joined Twitter and could follow the writer’s room of my favorite show. I thought – no big, I love to write, I wonder what their process is. And then I started recapping television shows for a small blog. And then I befriended THOSE writers on Twitter. And then I joined tumblr and all bets were off.
It grew slowly, and steadily, my delve into fandom. And now, after watching an episode of my favorite show, I no longer turn off the TV and get ready for bed. Now I log onto Twitter and see what is being said about it, and complain about how many FEELINGS the show has given me.
Fandom can be a bit of a life ruiner, but at the same time it’s rewarding to connect with people about my interests. It’s nice to live in a world that makes it easy to connect, and make friends. Now you don’t have to trek to San Diego to take part in Comic Con or Austin to go to the Austin Television Festival. Now if I want to talk about my crazy theories about ANYTHING I can take to tumblr or twitter, and immediately find some camaraderie.
Fandom is a strange concept to some. It’s even a strange concept to me, and I take part in them. But they can also be rewarding. And if you’re still lost, think of it this way – do you have a sports team that you’re devoted to? Do you take part in fantasy football or baseball? Then you, my friend, are also part of a fandom. Welcome.