Take Two #115: Rising Power of Fandom
By Kyra-lin Hom
Being a writer used to be simple. There was the basic triumvirate of the writer, the word and the mind-altering substance. With enough popularity came the audience, which went hand-in-hand with the critic and the reactionary devil-may-care/secret crippling self-doubt combo. Very rarely, there was even money. But that was basically it. A writer was their work. The work was its writer.
Then there was the Internet and suddenly, even if a storyline only had 100 followers out of 7 billion people on this planet, those 100 fans could all find one another and forge a fandom. A fandom is exactly what it sounds like. It is an intangible kingdom consisting of everything related to a particular story – be it a book, TV show, game, whatever. The residents are the fans, constantly consuming and generating their own fandom content through chatrooms, role-play, cosplay, fanfiction, fanart, or even just talking obsessively about it with their friends.
I segued into my first true fandom in middle school. Sad to say, I was obsessed with the god-awful anime Yu-Gi-Oh. I nursed a seriously intense crush on the alternate personality of the lead character… Anyway, it was at this time that I first experienced online fandom. It’s both a terrible pit and a brilliantly awesome chance at community.
Back then – 10 to 15 years ago – fandom was very ‘tee-hee-ee.’ It was this great open secret that you would giggle about with your friends between classes. It wasn’t exactly accepted or common, and it definitely didn’t have any power. That isn’t true anymore. As the Internet grew so did fandom. Now for better and for worse, it is its own massive monster and has thrown a global wrench into the commercial creative process.
Fandom is consumer power at its most fanatic. With box offices, networks and publishing houses already competing with online media pirating, they can’t afford to ignore their fandoms. That has given the fans power. Piss off a fan at your own perile. You never know whose Twitter or Tumblr account just happens to have 40,000 followers (give or take several thousand).
This clash between producer and consumer is most virulent over ‘fan-pairings.’ These are couples that don’t actually exist in the story canon (the producer-generated, ‘real’ material) but that huge sects of the fandom support or ‘ship.’
Back in my day (and isn’t that just ridiculous), fans had no power. We never expected anything to come of our elaborate blog posts or chatroom debates. Now fandom has a booming voice, and media production is at a tipping point. Should the fans be able to influence the story? Who owns the content, the writers or the fans who give patronage? I vote for a combination.
Writers excel at what they do for a reason. Not everyone is a writer, and not every writer can write every genre. They shouldn’t be slaves to the consuming masses, but at the same time fans deserve respect. And I do mean respect not just the occasional humoring nod. I’m tired of content producers and non-fans mocking fanbases for creative interpretation of the material. Yes, some fans are awful, crude and insensitive. Most are not. Most are just looking to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Producers and consumers are locked in a symbiotic relationship. Without fans, content is just self-indulgent composition. Without content, fans are just lost, bored or lonely individuals. There is potential for balance here. We just have yet to find it.