What makes a fan a fan?

In August last year had a bit of back and forth over the definition of a Fan with Eoghann Irving from Solar Flare:

Eoghann Irving has posted an interesting rebuttal to my post, Fandom v The Scifi Channel, where he tackles the question What makes a fan? The critique of my position is an interesting one, and I have to say, I agree with his assertion that it sounds like I am trying to say that fans define themselves by their interest in SF.

While there are some who have adopted the fan culture for themselves, cultural adoption is not a requirement to be a fan.

What is a Fan?

We are fans.

We love music, stories, characters, settings, and images. We know about what we love. We participate in what we love. We support what we love. What we love supports us.

Fans are special.  We are more than just enthusiasts who enjoy a piece of work, fans connect with the work.  We feel it.

Fans love

Fans share a bond with the works they love and with one another.   Fans' passion is infectious, spreading the the works they love to others.

The love of a fan is a blessing to a responsible creator, but it is a curse to the reckless.

  • Farscape fans kept the series alive despite the many attempts by the network to cancel it.
  • Star Trek fans helped kept the series alive until the death of Gene Roddenberry when studio pushed the franchise away from its heart.
  • Heroes and X-files fans fell in love with disparate aspects of their respective franchises, but when the series lost their way through a lack of focus on the part of the studios.

If a fan's love is scorned or goes unappreciated, the fan reacts in the same way a jilted lover would.  If a fan's heart turns cold, it is almost impossible to rekindle it.

Fans Know

Ulic Qel-Droma
Image via Wikipedia

Fans know things about the things they love and enthusiasts don’t.

Anyone can quote Star Trek or Star Wars because many of the aphorisms have gone mainstream, but a Star Wars Fan knows who Ulic Qel-Droma and Exar Kun are.  They have become such an important part of the Saga.  They know the Chewbacca died on Sernpidal during the Yuuzhan Vong war trying to save Han Solo's youngest son.

Fandom is not defined by obscure knowledge.  On the contrary, a fans love for a franchise causes them to seek out everything they can from that franchise.  We read the books and watch the OVAs.  A fan remembers the details and more often than not knows the minutia.

Fans participate

Fans create and enjoy filk, fanfiction, fan films, fan art, costumes and conventions.  We often play role playing games, video games and MMOs in the settings we love.

Fan participation is the most commonly mocked aspects of SF fandom.  No one mocks a music fan's attendance of a concert or a sport fan attending a game.  They don't even mock the wearing of band shirts or sports jerseys, or fantasy football or rock and roll camp.  These are not different from conventions, or filk, or role playing, or cosplay.

Fans support

Fans support what we love.  We buy the books, DVDs, and games.

This is where modern fandom is in the most trouble.  The studios and publishers have not offered fans the options they want for media they consume.  DRM (digital rights management) and region codes restrict how and where media can me viewed.

International fans often have few options for obtaining media other than piracy.

Media companies have to listen to the fans and make media available in as many ways as possible to they do not drive money away.  They also must learn that they are not owners of their franchises, they are caretakers and conservators.  The tighter they hold on to outdated and outmoded concepts of ownership, the smaller market they will have and the most desperate they will become.

What we love supports us.

"Never give up, never surrender!"
Image by barcanna via Flickr

Fans often gather insight and inspiration from the franchises they love.  In moments of fear, I have found myself reciting the Bene Geseret prayer from Dune.  It is also not uncommon for fans to quote dialogue to make a point.

These franchises are not just shows or books we like.  More than we realize they are the myths that help us:

  1. talk about the aspects of life that are impossible to discuss straight on.
  2. see the connections between our lives and the transcendent mysteries.
  3. develop a pattern of living with honor, integrity, and purpose.
  4. react the trial, tribulations, and joyful moments of life.

This is why fans embraced the movie Galaxy Quest.  It is a love letter to fandom, showing at its most extreme, but also showing it for what it is.  A culture that gives hope and inspiration to millions.

Are you a fan?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself.  The more times you answer yes, the better the likelihood you are a fan.

  • Have you ever connected with a work on a deep level?
  • Have you ever enjoyed something so much you rushed to tell someone?
  • Have you ever played a game, watched an OVA, or read a book that is part of the extended universe of a franchise you love?
  • Have you ever debated or conversed with someone about an aspect of a franchise's setting or the minutia of a setting?
  • Have you ever dressed up as one of your favorite characters?
  • Have you ever attended an SF convention?
  • Have you ever bought a boxset?
  • Have you ever quoted SF to make a point?
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Where have all the SF Fans gone?

Where are all the SF fans?Long time passing

-SF Fans

Generation Gap

The rise of throw away media in the '90's and '00's sapped the passion of a generation of would-be fans away.  With the exception of a few cult classics like Firefly, Lexx, and Farscape, the last two decades have produced little quality content.

Firefly and Stargate produced the most rabid fan followings, but they were slow to adopt the fan culture established by earlier franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars.  As a result, a gap in fandom grew between the older generation of fans and the newer generation coming up.  The new fans were not brought into the conventions, filk,  and fan works until lately, and they are still few and far between.

Enter the web

Compounding the problem, through out the '90's, the Internet began to take over the work of more traditional media.  The BBS became the forum.  The fanzine became the website.  The local fan club became the blog.

These newer form of fandom introduced new issues:

  • Unlike fanzines, fanfiction sites are not edited.
  • Fan clubs went from being collections of local friends to a collection of anonymous strangers on the web.
  • Fans stopped sharing new finds, and specialized in one franchise.

Fandom became increasingly less personal.  I have watched the average age at conventions and filksings go up.  Then it happened:

Revenge of the Corporation

Star Trek vs Star Wars
Image by Metal Chris via Flickr

Paramount started suing fan sites and clubs.  The few fan clubs that went online had their sites taken down.  The corporate obsession with copyright pushed more would-be fans away.

What had been a nascent culture was now under attack by the copyright holders.  Viewership dwindled, and the corporate media assumed there was something wrong with the shows and not with the alienation of their fanbases.  So they started changing to shows.  Retool, remake, reboot, and reimage became common terms used by the corporate media to try to garner attention.

Their final assault was on the conventions themselves.  Corporate conventions started signing exclusive deals with celebrities changing the convention from a gathering of fans into little more than a weekend shopping spree with the sole purpose of milking as much money from the attendants as possible.

Retaking Fandom

It is time to take fandom back for the fans.  I grew up in the vibrant fan culture the once was, and now that it has been lulled to sleep, and not destroyed.

Like I said in Speculative Fiction: The Lost Art of “What if?”, it is time for us to dream again, but more than that, it is time for us to organize again.

It is incumbent upon us to:

  • defend fandom from those who would abuse it.
  • promote the culture to those new to the scene.
  • spread the franchises we love that treat us with dignity.
  • organize a revitalized fan culture, filled with conventions, fan works, and filk.
  • seek out solutions to the problems that still plague fandom.

Seeing the problem is the first step to finding a solution.  Together, we can take fandom back!

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