Have you ever been so enamoured of some form of media — a television show, a movie, a book, a celebrity, a video game, etc — that you sought out others who might share that same interest? Have you ever excitedly talked about this media with those fellow fans? Have you ever felt better knowing that you’re not the only one with this interest? If you’ve said yes to any of these questions, you have found yourself a fandom.
Fandom is more than just your typical watercooler talk about the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Dating back as early as the last 1800s, fans of the Sherlock Holmes series created one of the first known fandoms. A fandom is, to put it simply, a community of people (often online) who share a common interest. Within these online communities, you will find writers, video makers, graphic designers, fangirls and fanboys, trolls, and a smorgasbord of people of all ages, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, and creeds. Together, these people come together to share their mutual love for some form of media.
Within a fandom, creativity abounds in the form of fan fiction, graphics, gifs, videos, etc. Fandom doesn’t just exist behind a computer screen, either: conventions like the San Diego Comic Con are outlets for fandoms and cosplayers (people who dress up like characters from a particular form of media — think Halloween, only cooler and more detail-oriented). These conventions allow for community to exist in the real world and bring people together from across the world.
I’ve always found the idea of fandoms to be a beautiful, feminist thing. In these communities, people are able to immediately connect with others with their shared interest. For many people who experience social anxiety, depression, loneliness, or social isolation, fandom is a way to find other like-minded individuals and even make long-lasting relationships. Hell, I met my wife through fandom (shoutout to The Closer fandom)! There’s something to be said about being a part of a community that supports and cares for each other beyond just a television show or movie.
Mental health professionals believe that fandom can actually be good for a person’s health. Dr. Laurel Steinberg told Teen Vogue, “Connecting with people over shared passions and interests is good for mental and emotional health because it helps to create a fraternity-like or family-like sense of security. It’s also generally fun to scheme and get excited about something with others, and gives them a subject to talk about that they know will always be well received.”
Fandom is also about more than just creating fanart and fangirling. Some fandoms use their communities for social justice, raising money and awareness. For example, the fandom devoted to actress Mary McDonnell participates in Mary Cares, a fundraiser for a charity or a cause that McDonnell supports. This year, fans raised over $13,000 for Sinte Gleska University, an American Indian university in South Dakota. Within the Harry Potter fandom exists the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that has brought people together through activism. Some of their impressive accomplishments include donating 250,000 books through the Accio Books Campaign and raising $123,000 for Partners in Health and sending give cargo planes of supplies to Haiti.
Fandom also makes room for critical thinking. According to Professor Paul Booth, “Fans want to make the things they love that much better, so they find something that they don’t agree with — a problematic representation or a social issue that could be highlighted — they talk about it, work with it, try to explain or understand. This is how significant social change happens — it’s very difficult for media creators to be able to see their own blind spots. Having students learn from fans is a way of allowing students to become more critical of the media they watch.” Fan fiction affords fans a chance to re-imagine storylines, and discussions amongst fans foster new ideas, challenge the status quo, and educate and inform each other.
With the good must also come the bad. It is not uncommon to find trolls in a fandom — people who find pleasure in instigating fights, declaring someone as “not being a real fan,” or talking down to those who enjoy themselves. Fandoms tend to rally against trolling, coming together stronger and more protective than ever.
There is strength in community, and fandom is no exception. Not only is fandom a chance for people to let their freak flags fly and enjoy some form of popular culture with other fans, it is an opportunity for people to express themselves creatively, make long-lasting personal connections, and experience — sometimes for the first time — a sense of belonging. Fandom can help people overcome mental health struggles as well as allow for activism.
I have benefited so much from being a part of fandoms — I’ve found solace during times of intense depression, togetherness during times of loneliness, and I’ve even found love.
It’s a good time to be a fan.