From Barbaro Fandom to Political Activism
You may have heard about the online websites that sprang up around beloved racehorse Barbaro. Delaware Online recently posted a profile of Alex Brown, the man charged with providing continuous online updates about Barbaro’s condition:
Since May 2006, Brown also has overseen the popular Tim Woolley Web site, www.Timwoolleyracing.com. It was started to keep fans updated on the progress of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro after he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Barbaro’s fight for life ended last month when he was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.
One might wonder what happens to a community born of a shared concern after the object of that concern is gone. The answer so far seems to be that it goes on:
“After Barbaro was hurt, I was on the Web site five hours a day,” Brown said. “We created the Web site for you, the public. We did updates, even blogged about things that might be happening. When Barbaro first passed, the traffic went up considerably. It’s gone down a good bit, but we still average about 8,000 to 9,000 hits a day.”
What keeps it going? As this article spins it anyway, it’s shared commitment to the shared political cause of eliminating horse slaughter in the US:
Brown said the Web site remains popular because of a recently formed group of people around the country known as “Fans of Barbaro.” They continue to spread the word about the slaughter of horses in the United States and the anti-slaughter bill currently before Congress. Human consumption of horsemeat is rare among U.S. residents, but is an accepted practice in some countries.
“The fans of Barbaro are growing and growing,” Brown said. “We are hosting this group on our Web site. These people have become active on a variety of horse issues. They encourage each other to lobby their representatives and senators on the anti-horse slaughter bill. Just this week, they raised $3,500 in 24 hours on the Web site to save six horses and a mule.”
Fandom launches shared practices that go way beyond fandom. This is a good example of an online community spurring offline civic engagement and, I would bet, spurring new opportunities for offline interaction with one another and with new people as well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still think of online community in opposition to offline community and worry that people who spend time doing things like hanging out in a website for a horse who has passed are passing up some kind of rich meaningful face-to-face interaction that they would be having if they logged off. John Robinson and colleauges have studied how people spend their time for several decades. The only really big differences they find between people who spend time on the internet and people who don’t is that net users sleep a lot less.
Update note: This post is generating a lot of traffic from TimWooleyRacing.com — Welcome! This blog (Online Fandom) watches trends in how fans, industries, artists, and sometimes horses, are relating to one another in new ways using the internet. Click on the header up there to browse around and explore some other interesting fan phenomena.