I was seventeen when I joined my first fandom. It was 1999, and Rent was kind of a big deal. The second National tour was underway – The Benny Cast to be specific. It definitely felt like the highlight of senior year was going to be their stop through Cleveland. Always a loner, I wasn’t just going to see another show with my parents. I was going to rush (I didn’t really know what that meant), I was going with actual friends who had done it before, and there was promise of a “stage door” visit afterwards. Everything was new and exciting.
Fandom feels like a completely different beast in 2014. There’s a lingo to it you have to translate until you really go native. Things like fan fiction and LARPing are probably side-eyed fiercely by newcomers until they fall down their Saarlaac pit of a weekend and suddenly look up on Sunday afternoon and wonder what happened to the last 24 hours. Outside the great personal stories from individual fans, every somebody seems to have an opinion – and they’re rarely good – about fandom.
Descriptors like stalk, obsess and flame are frequently applied to more passionate fans, especially around genre shows and cult classics. Gossip blogs and news outlets alike cover the extreme stories: a fan with a tattoo for every member of the X-Men; a bedroom decked out floor to ceiling in Twilight memorabilia. Aren’t there any good stories to be covered? The only thing that comes close in my mind is the coverage that Batkid received in San Francisco this year.
But I have high hopes things are on the verge of changing.
Fandom has hit its stride in the second decade of the new millennium. Thanks to successful fan-funded projects like the Veronica Mars movie, the great things about being a part of a fandom are being pulled right out into the open. The friendships spanning many years and miles. The ability to pursue diverse avenues of the arts from filmmaking to sword welding. I find myself constantly impressed by the open-mindedness of other “nerds” and “super fans” because many of them are exposed to diverse cultures and backgrounds. Thanks to the World Wide Web, they have found a community of friends from all over the world.
When I clicked the link to the Veronica Mars kickstarter a year ago, I was making a high-pitched noise I think some of us refer to as “squeeing.” A coworker asked what was wrong. Much like any fan, I babbled and yelled and basically couldn’t stop smiling, and of course sent the article to every single one of my friends who was a fan, along with lots of shouty cap exclamations. My inbox flooded with excited responses, and I immediately had that happy glowing feeling I get right after a day of hanging out with my best friends in person.
Over the month of funding, we exchanged many excited messages between fans and received shockingly regular correspondence from the production team behind the project. It was really fun, and the movie premiering this weekend has all those awesome feelings returning. With the movie premieres this past week at SXSW, New York City and LA, all those feelings are rising right back to the surface for a third time as my twitter feed is filled with happy reviews, lots more squeeing all around, and the uncontrollable urge to physically bounce up and down in my seat at work clapping my hands like a little child.
Seriously, I’m getting some weird looks from my coworkers.
I have also possibly sworn at the slowness of my movie download. Not only am I squeefully happy about this day – exactly a year to the day from when I was squeefully happy about the Kickstarter announcement – but everyone else in the fandom is too. I tweeted about it and got new followers and so many responses that my phone vibrated for a solid minute. New friends made through fandom are the best!
I really hope the fandom-deriders – inside and outside fan communities – see this awesome community and all they managed to do when they pulled together. The negative stories about obsession and desperate acts keep new people from building communities around their passions and drive existing communities apart.
When I think back to the crazy things I did at 17 to see my favorite show, some of the crazy things I hear about fans doing online or at Comic-Con don’t sound that crazy. By the time I was done with my freshman year of college, I had seen Rent 27 times and was a regular poster in the Compulsive Bowlers message boards. I’m still friends with people I met on that message board and they’ve led me to some of my favorite shows, movies and books in the years since. I want people to talk about the good things about fandom – like raising money for charity and going on crazy adventures together. (Hello, have you heard of GISHWHES?) Thanks for making good and awesome news, Marshmallows. I’m pretty proud to be one of you.
Rachael Berkey has written for HelloGiggles, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and My Damn Channel. She also has a personal blog, tumblr and twitter where she shares her musings on books, Star Wars and whatever TV show she’s currently streaming. She lives in Brooklyn where she is working on writing her first novel, haunts the internet as her alter ego, Bookoisseur, and is still hoping to someday have a pet dragon.