When I was a little girl, I went on an archaeological dig through my family’s “basement.” I say “basement” because we were then renting a house whose basement had been converted (or perhaps built from the get-go) as a full functional living space that mirrored the floor above ground. Below the stairs was a convenient storage area for family artifacts that didn’t belong in other places. I was prompted by my mother to go on this dig–perhaps to give me something to do while she quietly sewed her latest project–because I had recently discovered Star Wars. She revealed to me that my brothers were avid fans and thought that some of their toys might be found in that storage area. Yes, I did find their old Millennium Falcon and some action figures (a few of which were missing limbs). And I found an almost complete set of trading cards. And there was an envelope of ship blueprints that I wish I still had. But there was one other gem (that I also wish I still had): a quiz that my brother had written to pass around his friends. In my love of Star Wars, my Trivia Geek persona was born thanks to my brother’s little quiz.
Back then, being part of a “fandom” was very different than it is now. Well, not really. There are those fans who dress up, attend cons, have salons in their mom’s basement. But being “out” as a fan outside the acceptable realms of fandom marked one negatively with a scarlet letter “x.” I remember one of my junior high crushes was very “out” as a Star Trek fan, which was perfect since I was fairly “out” at the time as well, but I also remember the difficulties of being a tween and young teen were that much more annoying because I was a Star Trek geek and fairly uncool.
At some point between my awful junior high experiences and right now, being part of a fandom has shifted from being something negative, but rather has become a crucial part of one’s identity. Remember that Star Trek fan in [was it Arkansas?] who wore her uniform to work? She stood out at the time. People either praised her for being true to her self and her values, or they judged her negatively. Now, it’s okay for me to wear my Doctor Who scarf. It marks me as a “friendly,” it helps build communitas. I occasionally wear my Harry Potter sweater (complete with tie) without shame. I could even dye my hair Twilight Sparkle purple.
So what is it about fandoms? I just finished wanting a documentary about Bronies (a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom). The Bronies are the latest incarnation of the “inclusive” fandom–“it’s the place where I find acceptance;” “it’s where I can feel like myself;” etc etc etc. A Brony made a comment in this documentary about how other fandoms are exclusive. I have yet to have this experience. If I feel excluded, it’s likely because I’m not pouring enough energy into the fandom.
Which I don’t much any more. I followed the Potter fandom with fever until it lost steam after the release of the seventh book. I also lost a lot of respect for it after Pottercast made a comment that Twilight was the next Potter. I do wish I could have the hours of my life back from reading that series. I walk on the fringe of several fandoms.
Fandoms seem to exist because a particular pop culture channel speaks to several people on a mythic level. They provide the fulfillment that Joseph Campbell would once have attributed to traditional myths (I often wonder what he would have to say about fandoms if he were alive today). They also allow us to respond to the pop culture channel in our own unique way. Some people consume the fandom–they collect, they decorate their homes and offices around the fandom, and they are walking encyclopedias about the original work (and maybe all of the collectibles and fandom artifacts as well). Some people are the creatives–they are so inspired by the original work that they create something new within the parameters of the canon–fanfiction, filks, and for the obsessive knitter like me, wearables and toys. And there are those who just need the community–are they looking for validation or are they so hungry for community? These people want the conversation. And there are those who are along for the experience.
“Experience” is a complicated word. In the way I’m using it here, it could mean a few different things. I could be referring to the experience of the myth. I could be referring to the experience of the fandom. I could be referring to the experience of the experience of communitas. I could be referring to the ritualistic experience fandoms allow. I refer to all of the above. “Mythic experience” happens for each of us differently. That moment when “Star Wars” engulfed the screen for my first viewing is just as potent to me as the moment when the Enterprise first hits the screen, or when the TARDIS appears, or when I exit the tunnel under the railroad and am embraced (welcomed) by the sights and sounds of Main Street, U.S.A., or when I am standing underneath the Rose Window at Notre Dame de Paris during mass, or when I first stood in the Sistine Chapel and looked up into the face of God. My mythic experience is different than your mythic experience because we are different people. Fandoms are born when we find people who have the same degree of experience that we had. The Internet has made it easier for us to find each other and, hopefully, be friends. And that’s totally groovy.