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Here’s the thing: Everyone is part of a fandom. People just don’t always call it that. Instead, they say, “The Pittsburgh Steelers are my team” or “I love Margaret Atwood’s work.” If you feel invested in some form of pop culture – be it a sports team, author, musician, etc. – you’re in a fandom. You just don’t know it.
People hear fandom or fan like they hear a dirty word: it changes their perception of whoever is using it or whoever they are using it to describe. It paints the appointed person as obsessed, fixated on something that society deems unworthy. The depiction of the “fan” can range from shrieking teenage girls to hermits who never see the light of day, only the light of their laptop screens. Their obsession separates them from the rest of society; it marks them as outcasts.
What’s the problem with loving a certain TV show or book series? What’s the problem with dressing up as a character for a convention or writing fanfiction? There isn’t one. When asked what’s wrong with fandoms, the best people can come up with is that it’s weird. Weird is not a sufficient justification for shaming people. Diehard fans of Harry Potter are no less weird than diehard fans of soccer.
But not all fans and fandoms are treated equally. Take my family as an example. My dad and brother know all of the players and the teams in the soccer leagues, watch every game, and wear their jerseys at every opportunity. During the games, they are animated and loud. When there aren’t any games on, they are discussing the sport and outside kicking around a soccer ball. So, how is this branch of obsession deemed reasonable and normal while other fandoms face society’s wrath?
Perhaps there is an inherent gender bias in the way that certain fandoms and fans are perceived. Look at women who love football or any other “masculine” sport. While sports fandoms are generally accepted in society, women sports fans don’t always receive the same acceptance as their male counterparts. They love a sport, watch the games, play the game and yet they can be the target of degradation, ridiculed for deviating from their gender role.
Even in non-gender specific fandoms, such as the Sherlock series, the female fans are often unfairly ridiculed. Female fans of Sherlock are often referred to as “Cumberbitches,” which implicitly has a negative connotation associated with it.
If you look at women-focused fandoms, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, One Direction, or Twilight, you’ll see significant backlash against these fans, which is generally accepted by society. And if you’re a guy that is part of these women-focused fandoms, then you’re automatically treated as a social pariah.
Even if society has become more forgiving in recent years, there is still a stigma surrounding gender and fandom. Any man or woman joining a fandom that is not typically masculine or feminine, respectively, will receive hatred from a significant portion of the American population.
Besides gender bias, fandoms tend to receive criticism when they diverge from social norms. This division in pop culture is not a new development. Back in the 1920s, when jazz music was emerging and flourishing, there was collective resentment against it from older generations that considered the music to be threatening to traditional cultural values. This very much was an issue of the social values at the time, including racism that pervaded the US.
Jazz music saw a rise in black musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who played an integral role in defining the genre. Society, especially the conservative elitist, racist white upper-class, made it a social stigma to listen and love jazz music. This was very much a reflection of the times, when Jim Crow laws were in place to keep whites from mixing with blacks, and white parents and educators set in place social structures to enforce this segregation. Those who went to jazz clubs were immediately labeled as delinquents, and often disparaged by society.
Three decades later, this problem was as prevalent as ever, but with a new icon: Elvis. His music had jazz and blues influence, which was a problem in and of itself, but what made him especially threatening was his gyrating hips. Today his dancing would be considered tame, but for the 50s and 60s his hips and music presented a new following that affronted the conservative values of the white upper-and-middle class.
His reputation deterred a good amount of the younger generation from rushing to concerts, at least in the beginning (but no one could keep Elvis down for long). His fans, especially the female fans, were considered hysterical and obsessive, with unhealthy sexual feelings for an idol that their parents did not approve of.
There are many examples of fans and fandoms being ostracized because they don’t conform to social norms, and, unfortunately, it’s just as common today. Whether it’s to serve a racist, misogynistic, or puritan-esque agenda, fandoms receive hatred. The people within them are labeled as “others” and treated with a certain sense of callousness by society.
My point is that there shouldn’t be such disapproval and judgment. Being a fan just means that there’s something you’re passionate about.
Fandoms allow people to meet and connect with other people who love and appreciate the same things that they do. They are basically pop culture families. These supportive groups should be welcomed and celebrated by everyone. Even if they aren’t, don’t let others’ bigotry dissuade you from being a fan of what you love.
Besides, there is more to being a fan than just liking and talking about something. Being a fan results in all kinds of creative expression: writing stories, drawing comic books, or creating costumes for cosplay. And if it just so happens that you’re inspired by a certain vampire romance series, why not dive into the fandom? It worked out for E.L. James, didn’t it?
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