It’s always that time of the year for people to complain about fandom: the discourse, the ships, the entitlement. But fandom’s not all bad! Sometimes, it can change lives for the better. Sometimes for the worst, but that’s not what this particular column is about. Fandom is a complicated beast, filled with rabbit holes and angry people, and of course, some people just wanting to have a good time.
I first got into a more liberal-leaning fandom in my teens—most fandoms have some sort of political identity, as do we all—and considering I was from a conservative Christian household where the only things to listen to some days were Focus on the Family radio dramas or talk radio, it was a radical shift for me at the time. The discourse of the Internet can be dizzying, and I’d argue without character or word limits, it’s even more so. But the old discourse brought about a political change in me and many others. We became radicalized through our interactions on the Internet, energized to believe in a cause more worthy than our own. Maybe that’s an optimistic view of it, but I saw it happen.
Friends are also made and lost in fandoms, sometimes at an alarming rate, but occasionally these things last years, even decades. I made a good friend several years ago, at this point, with whom I talk about so many things other than fandom. We’ve even exchanged memorabilia and physical media through the mail, and we collaborate on fic together. I’ve made other friends too, and even if we grow apart, I’m still grateful for the time we had. Fandom, as a complicated beast, means some of the friendships it generates don’t last, or disintegrate, or implode in a fairly violent fashion. But sometimes, you get lucky.
Fandom is also a great hub for queer communities, even if it comes with an exhausting, circular discourse at times. Still, with the prevalence of slash and femslash, people discover themselves and their preferences, and they help other people discover themselves as well. Through fanworks, so much good can be done. Fandoms frequently donate proceeds from ‘zines to good causes or do donation drives to boost awareness of their fandom.
Fandom has been, and always will be, a complicated beast. People get a little too involved, or way too argumentative, or catty and cliquish. Actors and creators, in today’s endless interactive space, come into fandom spaces and leave them worse than they found them. Fandoms live and die by how many people actually participate in them, and the Internet is littered with dead or dormant ones.
Fandom has been there for the past century, though, and will continue on past all of us, I think. It will still be a hub for people of like-minded interests to come together and flourish, and it will still be a space where people argue the merits of one thing or the other relentlessly and ruthlessly. The key is finding your people and sticking with them.