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How Fandom Has Changed During a Year and a Half of Pandemic (So Far)

Compilation of online fan events Disney investor day, Comic-Con at Home, and DC Fandome.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. One of the ways many of us have coped with this tumultuous time period is through diving into the things we love as a comfort and joy. Even fandom has changed quite a bit in the year and a half the pandemic has been going on.

We’re All in This Together … “This” Being Online Fandom

The cancellation of in-person fan events like conventions disappointed (and, in some cases, continues to disappoint) many of us. Some online versions of these celebrations fared better than others, but mostly paled in comparison to their original counterparts.

The online events that have stood out the most, though, have been brand new ones born from the pandemic. Last summer’s DC Fandome was a wild success that’s coming back next month. Disney’s Investor Day—which had happened before but now allowed anyone with an internet connection to see many of the presentations and new material—also generated tons of buzz, and now Netflix is getting in on the action with their “TUDUM” online event later this month.

The shift to this style of presentations from major studios was already starting before the pandemic, with less and less major studios showing up for events like San Diego Comic-Con in favor of events in which they were guaranteed to have the spotlight to themselves. That has remained true even during SDCC’s pandemic-friendly “At Home” editions vs. ones like the aforementioned Disney and DC virtual showcases.

While in-person events will surely rise again (as they’re already beginning to) it does seem easier to get big stars to participate in pre-filmed video presentations rather than to fly them all the way out for very brief onstage convention appearances.

What’s been so great about online celebrations like DC Fandome is that it’s all the news and previews with none of the jealousy and clout-chasing that comes with in-person presentations. As someone who has been on both sides of the coin when it comes to being in “the room where it happens,” these virtual events have cultivated a fun, community vibe on the internet that we can only get when the goods are experienced by all of us at once.

Manufactured Mysteries

No, we’re not talking about political conspiracy theories, or any of the various ones surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. This is all about yet another side effect of the internet becoming pretty much the only way to connect with fellow fans of just about anything during the pandemic.

There wasn’t a lot of new entertainment coming down the pipeline for awhile, so any new content that came out was dissected to a whole new level. Dedicated fandom was nothing new, but now even more casual fans were getting in on the action; people needed something to keep their minds busy, and for many, trying to unlock the supposed “puzzles” presented by various media was it.

Vision vs. White Vision on Wandavision

(Marvel Entertainment)

The most obvious example of this was the discussion that surrounded Marvel’s WandaVision during its release on Disney+ earlier this year. Not since Game of Thrones was there a better argument for streaming services to use the weekly release model; the show trended on social media every Friday, and everyone wanted to figure out what was coming next in the superhero-sitcom hybrid that was the first Disney+ series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Though clearly some of these theories went a little far, as fans read way too much into comments about an “aerospace engineer” that turned out to be neither of Marvel fan-favorite characters Reed Richards and Riri Williams, theories that Mephisto was the series real villain flew every which way, and of course, the much buzzed-about cameo that turned out to be … Paul Bettany acting alongside himself.

It wasn’t just WandaVision, though. Soon after that was done, Marvel fans turned their attention to the first Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer’s contents and release date, which—much to their chagrin—turned out to be significantly later than typical for an MCU movie. On the music side of things, Taylor Swift fans have tried to figure out the order in which the singer’s remaining re-recorded albums will come out by analyzing her every move and social media post, and when Red was revealed to be the next one, talk immediately shifted to what the first single would be. Even things like figuring out which celebrities do and do not bathe are being treated as major mysteries for the internet to solve.

The web was created for people to share information and put their heads together (though figuring out the showering habits of Hollywood probably wasn’t what its creators had in mind). During a pandemic without a lot to explore outside, though, everyone has been eager to weigh in on whatever trivial mystery there was to be solved. (If only we were all big enough brainiacs to help figure out how to thwart COVID once and for all!)

Peak Nostalgia?

Nostalgia always was and probably always will be ever-present in our world; society tends to view whatever decade occurred 20–30 years earlier with rose-colored glasses, and it affects the current pop culture sphere when it comes to music, fashion, and film. For the past ten years or so, though, it feels like every show and movie has been remade in some fashion, with no sign of slowing down … until now, maybe.

Neo in the Matrix 4

(Warner Bros.)

During this pandemic—particularly at the beginning, when everything was new and scary and we didn’t know what to expect as we were forced to stay home for who knew how long—people did a lot of comfort-watching their old favorite shows and movies, or comfort-playing favorite video games of the past. Yes, a lot of folks used the time to finally get around to watching that series everyone had been recommending for years, but many people just wanted to escape back into the past in whatever way they could.

Unfortunately, the things we use as coping mechanisms during hard times like a pandemic can create negative associations with them, and the way we experience media creates memories associated with it, for better or worse. Retreating into the past may have been our only option at the beginning of the pandemic, but those in places where things are more open now are largely eager to move forward, and it’s likely those currently in some form of lockdown or quarantine will also want to do so ASAP.

Going back to the reboot craze, the strengthening desire to experience something fresh and create new memories may very well end up leaking into the entertainment industry to an extent. This isn’t to say no property will ever be rebooted again (because we all know that’s not going to stop), but that it’s possible the market for nostalgia is starting to wane in favor of the thirst for a new era.

Changing Celebrity Culture

While we’re on the subject of tainted nostalgia and memories, it’d be remiss not to mention how the public’s image of celebrities has been altered since the pandemic began. It started when Gal Gadot and company singing “Imagine” on Instagram, just a few days in, woke many people up to the privilege of these stars, and only grew as the health crisis rolled on and so many of the rich and famous went against the advice of health experts in very public ways.

This isn’t just about those directly spouting false information about the virus or treatments for it. Many of those who publicly rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated were also seen partying it up or jetting off on some lavish vacation (often to countries in very bad shape with the pandemic) while everyone else was still locked in their homes. Celebrities have always operated on a different system of rules than the rest of us, but a lot of people didn’t truly see how different it was until the pandemic hit and they couldn’t resist exercising their privilege—privilege that put the lives of many without it in danger.

Some famous people have also shown their true colors in other ways; with so many social issues coming to the forefront in the media since the pandemic began, we’ve been finding out a lot of unpleasant truths about people who were formerly heroes to many … looking at you, J.K. Rowling. Being forced to work through feelings on people like this has also started to dismantle the idol worship phenomenon for many involved in fandom, and this, combined with the rise in attention and appreciation for essential workers, has changed the definition of “personal hero” for many.

Keeping up with celebs isn’t inherently unhealthy, but unconditional adoration of them is, and while the phenomenon is far from over, it’s good to see many people popping their worship bubbles and taking them off the pedestals in their minds.

(featured image: Disney, DC Comics, Comic-Con International)

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