Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: fandom

Some Thoughts on Fan Culture

From the recent discussions on fans and fandom I’ve read going around the internet, I’ve been thinking about the topic and how I am a fan (or not) of things I like. I’ve come to the conclusion that being a fan means you like “X”, whatever that is. If you want to call yourself a fan, go knock yourself out. No one has the authority to bestow the title “fan” to anyone. Gatekeeping is for obnoxious clique defenders. Being a fan is NOT the same as getting a Ph.D. Fans don’t need to buy all the merchandise, read or watch all the “classics” (whatever the hell that is), ace a qualifying exam stuffed with trivia like a Jeopardy pro, and/or write several theses worth of fan fiction. What separates the fan from the normal person who likes “X” is degree of obsession. I admit, it’s a blurry line. For instance, I would consider myself someone who simply likes and enjoys “X” if I interact with it because someone’s put it there in front of me or I came across it by accident. Otherwise, I don’t think about “X” much. I am a fan, however, if I go out of my way to engage with “X” even after initial exposure.

What gets confusing is the terms “fan” and “fandom.” They’re not the same thing. You can be a fan and still not be in fandom. But all people in fandom are fans. In other words, fandom is a subset of all fans. When people start yelling at each other about who is a “true fan,” it’s usually because someone’s thinking that “fan” is an exact synonym for the word “fandom.” It’s no longer about liking (or even obsessing) about something but passing all these particular checkpoints (whether or not it’s even relevant to “X”) in order to get into a particular clique labeled as “fandom.”

I think of fandom as a community of fans who are governed by rules, explicit or implicit, which dictate how they behave towards one another and how one must engage with the topic of interest. Depending on the fandom or clique, these rules can be flexible and inclusive or rigid and exclusionary. People are social animals so, of course, they want to join the group which likes the thing that they like. Unfortunately, if you don’t follow the conventions of the fandom in a way that it likes or accepts, you are persona non grata. In any case, there will always be fans because people will always like stuff. The existence of fans is independent of social behavior. But fandoms will rise and fall depending on outside factors like politics, social change, fashion, style, and technology.

As for me, well, I’m a fan of some things. But I don’t consider myself part of fandom. It’s not because I think fandom is inherently bad (or good). Whatever that I am a fan of may have changed me, but I’ve never interacted with any fandom in such a way that fandom itself has significantly influenced the course of my life. Simply put: I like what I like. I’m happy to talk to other people about it, but being a fan is a personal thing that has nothing to do with what other people like or how they think one should engage with it.

(As an aside: This naturally leads into the topic of “fans” and “professionals.” While fandom is a subset of fans, there can only be an intersection of professionals and fans. Certainly, professionals can be fans but they have strict rules for behavior. In fact, they are even more strict than those implicit/explicit rules in “fandom” because money and ethics are involved. I feel that if you are both a pro and a fan, the behavioral rules for being a pro trump those of being a fan.)

Are You a Nanowrimo Fangirl?

Way back in 2007, I discovered the Chris Baty fan club thread.  At the time, I thought this was both disturbingly hilarious and a one time thing.  Well, apparently not.  Kelly Lynn Thomas observed that when she went to the Night of Writing Dangerously (a Nanowrimo fundraising event), “Authors at the event literally squealed when they met Nanowrimo founder Chris Baty.”

Sushi, a prominent poster on the Nanowrimo forums and the founder of Wikiwrimo, further expounds on Thomas’s idea that Nanowrimo is a fandom.  I will take her word for it that all the activity surrounding National Novel Writing month–the drama, the “fan conventions” in the form of write-ins and other Nano get-togethers, the Nano metafiction, the Nano spin-offs, and others–are hallmark characteristics of a fandom.  The closest I’ve ever gotten to fandom is of the periphery sort, like figuring out what “slash” meant or going to a science fiction and fantasy convention and finding out with some frustration that everyone there were silly gamers who had no idea who any of the attending award-winning authors were.

As someone who has the tendency to Only Take Serious Things Seriously, I usually shake my head and leave the fans to do whatever they wish to do.

But by participating in Nanowrimo, does this make me a fan?  Some people might say so.  I often say that ever since I started participating in Nanowrimo, I can’t really imagine not doing it.  But even before Nano, I’ve been writing because it’s my compulsive hobby.  I don’t view myself as being fannish about Nano because I use Nano as a means to an end.  A fan, I think, would view Nano as the end, not the means.  Usually, when I play the “Grumpy Old Wrimo”, it’s not because I think people should do a Nanowrimo-specific thing a certain way. It’s because people don’t use their common sense–regardless of the situation.

Then again, I have a slightly different perspective about this as both a long time participant and a municipal liaison.  One could argue that the ML would be considered the uber-fan.  But to be honest, in the beginning, I didn’t even want to be ML (if I did, this would be my ninth or tenth year of MLing, not my fourth).  I only became ML for my region when it became clear that no one (not even the ML at the time) was willing to schedule regular write-ins.  One could argue that I did this because I was a bit set in my ways.  I came from regions where the MLs* did an excellent job of organizing things and in some ways, I felt that Nanowrimo wouldn’t be Nanowrimo if events weren’t scheduled.

Then again, you could argue that taking over a role that nobody else wanted is the strongest indication that I am a fan.

Anyways, I’m not a demonstrative sort of person so it would be difficult to tell on the outside if I were a Nanowrimo fan.  While I do buy Nanowrimo merchandise, I rarely wear it or show it.  In some respects, I’m kind of like the collector who keeps things in mint condition and in their original boxes.  (All the Nanowrimo posters I possess are still in their original mailing tubes.)  I have my own personal Nanowrimo site where I post my novels, prep work, and links to other Nano-related sites.  I’ve kept it up since 2001. (I have every single page I’ve made for every year that I’ve participated–even if not all of them are easily accessible.  Which is more than you can say for even the official Nanowrimo site.)  I’m not sure if anyone has an older fan site.  Maybe mine’s the oldest there is.  At any rate, it’s evidence of my obsessiveness–another fannish trait.

But that said, even if I’ve been around for a while, that doesn’t mean that anyone knows I exist.  Very few people visit the site, even during November.  I might say I have the awesomest Nanowrimo user ID number in the universe**, but that means nothing to most people–except other fans.  So maybe I’m a fan. But like everyone else, just one obscure one among many.

*New Hampshire and Nashville if you’re curious.  Those groups have awesome MLs and I look up to them as role models.  Count yourselves lucky if you happen to live there.
**The answer to life, the universe, and everything.