The wide world of digital media gives niche groups of people the chance to find each other over the internet, and talk about whatever it is that their subculture is obsessed with, such as My Little Pony, Insane Clown Posse, and others. However, this same digital media that brings people together also gives others a sort of window to view the certain group in its “habitat.” When outsiders peer into the worlds of Bronies or Juggalos, there is a fine line between just learning about their world and the way they live their lives, and “gawking” or judging them based on our own life norms.
Besides the two niche groups, the Bronies and the Juggalos, some other groups are not really as extreme, unbelievable, or in the case of some Juggalos, borderline scary. Many tremendously fanatical groups follow certain TV shows/movies/bands/singers/basically anything you can become obsessed with and are referred to as “fandoms” (which, I was disappointed to learn recently, means “fanatic domain” and not “fan kingdom.” I’m still bummed out about this new knowledge). Some fandoms have more intense fans than others, and some of the most devoted fandoms include the Whovians (fans of the show Doctor Who), Potterheads (fans of the Harry Potter books and movies), Directioners (fans of the boy band One Direction) and Sherlockians (fans of BBC’s Sherlock). These fandoms and more all use digital media to communicate with each other, and talk about their obsessions with other rabid fans from all over the world. One of the best places to do this, apart from any specific websites and forums for each fandom, is Tumblr.
Tumblr, in general, is infamous for its particular infatuation with Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the BBC series Sherlock:
Before I started watching Sherlock myself, I gawked at the obsession that so much of the internet had for this very strange-looking man. I totally didn’t get why so much of Tumblr posted and reblogged SO! MANY! PICTURES! of Benedict Cumberbatch, and judged the internet’s fetish for the British actor. Tumblr serves not only as a gathering for all the crazy, fanatic so-called “Cumberb*tches” of the world to talk about Benedict’s every move, but also for those who are not in the fandom to observe the enthusiastic fandom in its natural, digital habitat.
Everything I thought about Benedict Cumberbatch COMPLETELY changed, though, when I started watching Sherlock, which was the best AND worst thing I’ve ever done. After watching Sherlock and becoming totally obsessed with the show and actors, I myself am now one of the many “Cumberb*tches” who spams other people’s Tumblr feeds with reblogs of many pictures of “Ben,” as well as occasionally posting my own edits I’ve made to Sherlock pictures, just for fun. Even though a handful of my “real life” friends are actually in the Sherlock fandom with me, and love Benedict Cumberbatch as much as I do, it’s a lot weirder to “freak out” about new photos or stories about Ben in a real life scenario than it is to do on the internet, mostly because it is kind of embarrassing to talk about, to a point. In real life, people get annoyed or tired of someone only ever talking about one certain show or actor, but in the digital fandom world, everyone is only there to talk about the one show or actor.
Blogger Molly Lambert, in her article “The Internet is Magic: Exploring the Wonderful World of My Little Pony” addresses this “real life vs. digital media life” friend difference, through her own experience as a hardcore fan of the show X-Files. She writes:
These are not words I ever would have said out loud to friends, but online I was surrounded by fellow X-Philes who didn’t think it was weird to spend hours consuming fanfic, reading interviews with Chris Carter, or searching for scans of the new Rolling Stone cover story. It was easy to acclimate to the new reality. Offline I was a person with a specific age, of a physical type. Online I could be free from those markers of identity; I could exist as an avatar, a nonrepresentational idea, a collection of thoughts. I was a brain in a jar, conversing with all the other brains in jars about X-Files mythology and my favorite Monsters of the Week.
Just as with my own Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch obsession, Lambert would not want to talk about her X-Files fandom with her real life friends, because it is a really a completely different experience.
Also, even being inside a fandom, there is still some amount of gawking that goes on. My personal level of fandom participation starts and ends with my reblogging, basic photo editing, and moderate amounts of fan-girling. However, some other fans are a take a much more creative approach with their participation in the Sherlock fandom. There is a whole side of the fandom that obsesses over “johnlock” (warning: link may contain NSFW images) which is the creation of a romantic relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and the artistic members of the fandom like to make drawings of “johnlock,” or write very strange fan-fictions about the two men, almost all of which are shockingly pornographic. When these crazy “johnlock-shippers” appear on my Tumblr dashboard, I tend to gawk at other members of my own fandom, because their conceptions of the Sherlock fandom are very different than my own. Although we all are big fans of the same TV show, they are on a more extreme side of the group than I am. Talking about it even now, I can feel myself gawking at the intense “johnlock-shippers:” just the act of calling them “crazy” earlier says that I put myself on a higher level of the fandom than they are, which is judge-y and gawk-y. While some of the “johnlock” art is very impressive and well-done, I still gawk at the time and effort so many fans put into their creepy interpretations of fictional characters. Honestly, even though many “johnlock-shippers” can be pretty appalling, I feel bad for gawking because since we are all a part of the same fandom, we should back each other up and not judge each other’s views and interpretations of the fandom, no matter how strange and absurd they may be.
From the outside of a fandom, there is a lot to gawk at: fans take their passions VERY seriously, whether that be a TV show like My Little Pony a band like Insane Clown Posse, or an actor like Benedict Cumberbatch. Looking at the fandom’s actions through a site like Tumblr from an outsider’s point of view, and based on society’s norms, it seems crazy that people should take any movie, TV show, book, band, or actor so seriously. However, being a member of a fandom changes this outlook: these once thought to be “crazy fans” are actually awesome to interact with because you all share the same love for a subject, and it isn’t weird to talk about the subject non-stop with each other, which would probably be considered weird in real life. A certain amount of gawking still occurs within fandoms themselves, based on the levels of extreme devotion that certain fans have more than others, but overall, members of fandoms are united in their obsessions. Outsiders may gawk at the behaviors of fandoms, but when you are actively involved in the group, who cares?