Fandom for all

A few weeks ago, JST, a student at the University of Pennsylvania wrote in the comments here:

I’m interested in how you write about fandom as a fairly common process, not just limited to the hardcore folks making filk music and writing fan-fic.

It’s a piece of feedback that’s been percolating in my head since I read it and I wanted to say something about that, especially since writing this blog has made me more aware of the fanfic and flik and “hardcore folks” fandoms.

I think the term “fandom” has to an extent been appropriated by those communities. They’re the ones who use the word “fandom” to describe their own activities (so for instance, I get hits to this blog because people are searching “Torchwood fandom”). In one comment about “rare fandoms,” makesmewannadie even referred to fanfic for people that are a “fandom of one.” Now, there’s a ton of really interesting stuff that goes on in this kind of fandom, and in some sense it’s a model or archetype of what online fandom can be, but JST is right about my take on it.

Fandom IS an everyday very common practice. It’s happening whenever people are using some element of pop culture as a locus for their own social organizing, whenever they’re taking something from pop culture and making it a piece of their own social identity. So, yeah, it’s much broader than sci fi, it’s much broader than fanfic, it’s much broader than the stuff that usually gets covered when people talk about “fandom.”

I’d like to see the term claimed by all of us who practice it, because then we’d realize that most of us are engaging in some form of fandom to some extent. We’d stop stigmatizing it as a symptom of having no life (never mind the rich lives of those who are ‘the hardcore folks’), and we might even recognize that what goes on in fandom is a mix of appreciation, consumption, and creativity that is interesting in its own right and that has tremendous power as a model for many practices outside of fandom. That’s why I think the social devotion to Trader Joe’s and matter, because it shows us that more and more the leisure-based socializing that happens online means that anything that can be consumed socially can spawn fandoms. It’s not simple to resolve the challenges of intellectual property, communication, and so on that online fandom raises, but anyone trying to develop an identity that people will feel loyal to and buy, whether they’re an entertainment purveyor, sporting franchise, or a brand of any another kind, needs to be paying attention.

Update: Jason Tocci picks the discussion back up on his blog here.