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The Fandom Family Experience: A Cyber Relation

Though the internet is primarily seen as an outlet for conformity and portrayal behind anonymity, the internet can also play a crucial role in self discovery. The internet in this way can serve as an outlet for true expression of self and interests. The internet as a platform is so broad, that this virtual space allows for expression in pretty much any number of specific outlets imaginable. In finding others who share the same interests and inherit similar values, specific online communities can become places of confidence and comfort. These feelings may eventually raise notions and feelings of being a part of a family and truly belonging within a community. 

ImageI started to recognize these familial impressions when first watching the “American Juggalo” documentary by Sean Dunne. Throughout the documentary, there seemed a sense of belonging, freedom and an avid expression of self amongst the participants of the annual juggalo festival. As the first interviewee stated, “this is family. It’s like being home”. In the real world, these juggalo festivities only last a week, but venturing into the online world, these feelings and senses of reassurance could potentially be constant. Pairing this with the article entitled “The Internet Is Magic: Exploring the Wonderful World of My Little Pony Fandom in Bronies” by Molly Lambert, there was a sense that a surplus of genuine connections can be faster made online rather than adventuring into the real world; due to less room for harmful and direct judgement and more room for creativity and community building. 

In consideration of these articles, another important part of this sense of belonging is the further sense of expression. This is where the topic of a fandom comes into play. According to Wikipedia, fandom defined is 

“a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates “fannish” (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.”

ImageBringing a fandom to the cyber world allows for more discussion within and throughout people and perspective from all over the world, more opportunity for discovery and education within the fandom, as well as more connections and a sense of belonging happening on a consistent basis. 

Blogger Sara Kendzior reported on the life of Carol Burrell, a “Star Trek” fanatic, who expressed her enthusiasm for the “Star Trek” series in many areas of her life. According to Carol’s experience, 

“the Internet, she found, proved an even more perfect outlet for her wide range of interests, as well as a natural way to unite the geographically disparate members of the fan community she so valued….The Internet has made people aware that they are, in fact, part of something called fandom. It has given the individual the power to shout out loud.” 

In addition to Burell’s statements, what I also found interesting was that the article was dated back to the year 2000, commenting on fears regarding fandom, corporate copyright and lack of participation and authenticity in online forums and cyber-worlds. The fact of the matter is, 14 years later the internet has offered opportunity for just the opposite effect. With a single search on google, one can find a number of ways to express their specific interests, and there is rarely a lack of a platform to communicate these interests and values. In addition, the many outlets of the internet allow for censorship of every single form of online media and communication to be nearly impossible. 

In reference to the internet as a primary source of fan expression, a video I came across was a PBS response that involved a similar notion. The discussion of the video was the movement towards fandom as the dominant mode of engagement online, no matter what one’s interests or values.

The commentators within the video discuss the sense of community that potentially makes an individual feel more special and reassured. Though a worldly community, there is a sense of a smaller and personalized community. These communities tend to be drawn towards creative worlds which are slimmers of a virtual or imaginary world. The purpose of the fandom is then to self identify with this world and culture and further engage in the culture as they deem necessary and suitable. The community is reassured when individuals are able to fully express themselves in their interests, without getting hurt or being judged.

One aspect of fandom life that continued to be unspecified  despite the overall separate communities was the amount of participation and engagement that was required to be an active fan. In my search, I came across a YouTube blogger under the username “Danisnotonfire” who uploaded a video interpreting some of the differences.

At 1:50 into the video he describes a visual difference between a ‘casual fan’ and an ‘internet fan’. I found it interesting the difference was the inclusion of the internet as a source for more behavior and commitment for the fandom culture. The difference seemed to be one of maniac obsession. Though this may not be the case for all partakers of fandom culture, it seems to be a cyber trend in which the easy access and surplus of information on the internet allowed for endless searches, resources and evidently possibilities in any realm of fandom; all feeding into the needs of a fanatic. In addition, the blogger interviews an Avenger fan who describes her participation in the fandom as filling a void in her life. In his reaction to her response, he states 

“Fandoms are like drugs. You try a little and bam you are hooked. There is a need for rehab”

In further searching the sources for fanatic internet behavior, Buzzfeed featured a step-by-step article about the process of becoming part of a fandom. The steps seem to feature curiosity, then mixed with a peak interest, one gets sucked into the world that is reinforced by the internet, and essentially becomes a prisoner to the world they have seen as an idealized one. With this process in mind, it seems a fandom entails some sort of level of succumbing to a specific ideology of world, or commenting on a world one thrives to be a part of. What is considered being part of a fandom however varies by user. However, there seems to be an expectation for direct participation in the online culture, as well as an updated knowledge on the culture. ImageFor some online users this could range from creating a blog focused on the culture to engaging in fan fiction about specific characters, shows, books, etc. Fandom consists of multiple shades of grey. It is about defining one’s own fandom within a context of a topic. 

The fandom I have come across the most in recent social media, especially my use of Tumblr and Twitter, would be the One Direction fandom. According to a blog by Diadem Pamden, “Directioners”, as fans of the band are called, are seemingly a deadly fandom for they feel the need to completely protect and defend One Direction in every scenario and accusation possible. In becoming a fan, they feel a sense of ownership and duty over the band. There is a need to be constantly fulfilled by the band in forms of new music, tweets from the band, videos, etc. To remain in the fandom and be up as a nominee for “#1 One Direction Fan” there is an expectation of loving the band no matter what the case may be, mixed with a constantly updated knowledge of what is going on with the band. The blogger comments on the power of Twitter as the most vicious outlet for the fandom. One tweet states “I’m part of a fandom that can kill you if they wanted”, while another tweet states “When Harry was with Taylor I was giving her death threats and she blocked me off Twitter”. The fans come together online to celebrate and communicate about the band then to further defend and fight over their supposed rights of control and defense for the band. 

The article hints at a documentary featuring ‘Directioners’ and how they engage in fandom behavior.

The documentary features testaments by fans making statements like, It’s like a drug addiction”, “we are constantly sharing all our passion online” and “we got to extreme lengths to get noticed”. The commentator in the video makes sure to state that these fans are “fiercely loyal and not to be crossed” and have “funny ways of showing their love”. The behavior of the fans has increased to a somewhat maniac obsession and protection that they feel is somehow validated by the band itself. In this way, they have created a personal and in some way imaginary relationship with the band in which active participation fulfills their desires as a fan. It seems hard to imagine what would happen to these fans if the band were to break up. Their world would seemingly end because the fandom has become their ideal world; a world in which they work towards personal and imaginary goals daily in addition to building a community in which their sole interest is the band. This community building would have the most profound effect on the online communities basing themselves off the band and the lives of its members. 

ImageOverall it seems that a fandom varies and can range in extremity and participation. It starts with an interest or value and when brought to the cyber world can become an active conversation which seeks participation, opinion and imagination. Succumbing to a fandom world is almost a maniac behavior which consumes most of one’s time, thoughts and creativity. In this way, the fandom realm has such significance and power in the cyber-world, presumably even influencing corporate decisions and direction when providing new information that may effect or persuade a fandom. 

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