The Comet

Fandom as Culture

Back in December, I took on Meg Guroff in my post, Fandom is not Obsessive Weirdoism! for saying:

One distinctly modern form of obsessive weirdoism is fandom: becoming so devoted to a work of art that you want to augment or even inhabit it. Out of this impulse was born the Klingon Language Institute (, the phenomenon of “fan fiction” (unauthorized stories by civilians advancing new plotlines of beloved films and TV series) (The Urbanite Magazine),

She responded by saying:

Hey, thanks for the shout-out, but anyone who reads the essay—or even just the rest of the sentence you truncated—would know that your outrage is misplaced. This passage is not an attack on fandom, it's a defense of it. I'd invite the curious to read the essay for themselves or visit my (built, obsessive, weird) site at Best wishes.

Originally posted as a comment by Meg Guroff on dashPunk using Disqus.

The rest of the sentence I truncated simply said: "and also, one might argue, my ever-growing Moby-Dick website, which now includes not only a full annotation but also links to artwork, poems, movies, and even cartoons based on the book (The Urbanite Magazine)."  I am glad she enjoys working on a fan site, and I am sorry if I offended her by intimating she had attacked fandom, but the fact remains that characterization of fandom as obsessive and weird obfuscates the fact that what we are seeing is the birth of a new culture, not merely a niche cultural phenominon.

History of Fandom

June 1947 issue of Amazing Stories, featuring ...
Image via Wikipedia

Hugo Gernsback forged the modern Science Fiction genre in 1926 when he founded Amazing Stories magazine.  In the letters section, he published the addresses of the fans who wrote in.  Readers began to organize themselves into local clubs.  In 1934, Hugo founded the Science Fiction League, a correspondence club where local clubs could apply for membership.

Chicago's Science Correspondence Club published the first known science fiction fanzine, The Comet, in 1930.  The first convention was held nine years later when at the 1939 New York World's Fair, when the World Science Fiction Society held the first WorldCon.

Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, members of a New York fan club called The Futurians, wrote the oldest known filks in the 1950's by taking the music from folk protest songs and changing the lyrics.

It wasn't until the  1970 that the conventions grew in popularity as a result of Speculative Fiction taking on the role of mythology.  More people found Speculative Fiction gave them a set of values, goals, and practices. Through our conventions, filksings, fanfic, and fanfilm, we have developed a culture that is uniquely ours.

Pattern of Behavior

Fans don't just watch the shows they love, or read the books, they devour them.  We take in these stories, critique them, and rush to share and discus them with our friends.  We often watch the shows or read the books multiple times to see if we missed something.

We flock to conventions to meet the stars, creators, and authors of the works we love, and to spend time reveling in the series we love.  We roleplay, craft fan works, and some even engage in cosplay and LARPing (Live Action Role Playing).

Characteristic Features

It is not hard to spot a fan.  The t-shirts we were, the calendars on our walls, the tchotchkes on our desks, and the phrases we like to use.  Many of us use fanspeak around mundanes and not realizing it until we see that confused look on their face, and realize we need to translate into English.

Shared attitudes, values, and goals

The one thing I have always found most intriguing about fans is how a true fan is not hard on new fans, and wants to make sure everyone is having a good time.

Most of us grew up with Star Trek, and took to heart the idea of IDIC (Infinite Diverity in Infinite Combination) to heart.  Where ever we are, we try to bring IDIC, foresight, and community with us.  Life is to be enjoyed, and nothing cuts off the fun quicker than bigotry, ignorance, or that one guy who is looking to have a good time at the expense of everyone there if necessary.

Fan culture is always developing.

Dear Meg

I wish you the best of luck with your Moby Dick site, and I hope I didn't upset you further.  My complaint with your article was merely that you used the phrase "Obsessive Weirdoism."

Any culture is "Obsessive Weirdoism" when viewed from the outside.  You have a fannish heart, and I think it is time you stopped talking in a way that excuses your fannish tendencies to the mundanes.  You are a fan.  Be out and proud about it.

At any rate, I am a little jealous, I can see the merit in Moby Dick, and I can understand from where your passion derives, but I don't think I will ever share it.  You see something most of us don't.  That is a gift.  Relish it.