Fandoms should not be the elephant in this room, but it has occurred to me that maybe everyone isn't aware of what it means to be in a fandom, or what fandoms even are. Or where all the GIFs come from (but that discussion has already happened once before).
So, without further ado, here are nineteen things you need to know about fandoms:
- If you're not a fandom person, you probably won't understand. This is okay. I once heard it explained like this: "Trying to explain fandoms to a non-fandom person is like explaining trigonometry to a dog. Except that the dog won't judge you for knowing trigonometry." Fandoms are often misunderstood, and if you aren't part of one, a lot of this will make no sense to you. We get this--we're not expecting it from you. Not everyone is a "fandom person", and there's nothing wrong with that. We won't hold it against you if you don't hold it against us.
- A fandom can be about a movie, book, show, game, band, YouTuber, and more. Most fandoms involve books, movies, and TV shows. It isn't limited to that, though--there are band/artist fandoms, YouTuber fandoms, video game fandoms, etc. Not everything has a fandom, but if it does have one, it's probably fiction or pop culture. It's fairly limited to these types of things, though. For example, there's no "knitting fandom" or "baseball fandom". It's hard to explain, but fandoms tend not to work that way.
- A fandom person is not the stereotypical shrieking Justin Bieber fangirl. We like to distance ourselves from this image as much as humanly possible. Yes, there are fandoms that involve some fangirl-screaming (some more than others...I won't even talk about the Directioners...). Mostly, though, fandoms are on a higher intellectual level. We discuss the work, we create fan art, we make memes, we write fanfiction. We reblog stuff on Tumblr. Please replace your mental image of "fangirl/boy" of the shrieking, crying 12-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert with an image of a girl/boy wrapped in a blanket, wearing a Firefly shirt, browsing Tumblr with the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing or watching Sherlock.
Okay, if she's watching Sherlock, keep the crying image.
- Some people just aren't "wired" to be fandom people. You might watch a movie that has a fandom. You might love this movie with every fiber of your being. Maybe it's even your favorite. You might go online and browse Tumblr or Pinterest for awhile for things related to this movie. And yet, you might never get sucked into the fandom. This is not uncommon. You can like something--love it, even--and still not be in the fandom. Some people's brains just don't work this way. You don't have the fandom mentality. Most people, in fact, never pass the "casual fan" stage. It seems to take a very specific type of person to be into fandoms, and there's no in-between: either you are that person, or you aren't. And, again, it's perfectly normal and okay if you aren't. I'd like to offer you my congratulations and condolences, all at once.
- Fandom is not a choice. Of course, you can always choose not to read a certain book or watch a certain show. If you participate in the thing, though, the choice of whether or not you'll be in its fandom is no longer under your control. Once you've experienced the thing, you can't choose whether or not to join the fandom. It just sucks you in of its own accord. So if the idea of having a minor panic attack every time someone mentions falling does not appeal to you, don't risk it and watch Sherlock. And so on.
- Pain. There will be pain. Many of the things that lend themselves well to fandoms also happen to be full of sadness. Main characters die. Ships (see #9) are broken up. Authors/screenwriters refuse to give characters any happiness at all. If you see someone cursing the name "Moffat", you can bet that they're in a fandom, and that Steven Moffat has killed off a character. (True story: before I knew better, I thought Moffat was the villain in Sherlock.) And yet, we keep on barreling ahead, despite the fact that someone will probably die. Because we love having the feelings. It's complicated.
- You can't leave a fandom. Once you're in, you're in. You can't decide to not be in the fandom, at that point. You can regret your choices all you want, but it would be like trying to shift your tiny tin spaceship into reverse once you're under the gravitational influence of a black hole. You're in this fandom for life, for better or worse. 'Till death do you part.**
- If you're not sure whether you're in a fandom, but you want to be in the fandom, you're in. If you're sitting here, questioning, "Am I part of this fandom yet? I want to be, and I love the thing enough, and I have all the feels, but I don't know if that counts as in.", then you're in. If you weren't in the fandom, you wouldn't be asking this question. On some level, you can be more into one fandom than another, but there's no half-in. And there aren't any weird induction rituals (unless you count the thing itself, which might be appropriate in some cases).
- Shipping. It happens. When you're in a fandom, shipping is inevitable. "Shipping" refers to endorsing a relationship between two characters. It's almost always a romantic relationship, but "bro ships" and other weirdness happens sometimes
coughScienceBroscough. I wrote an entire post on shipping, so go here for more details. If there are two characters in something, somebody is going to ship it. It's the way it works. Some ships make sense (HELLO Jon/Dany. No, I'm never going to shut up about that one), and some are just plain weird (see also: Wincest, Superfamily). Some ships cannot be unseen. And yet, no matter how bizarre it gets, you can't have a fandom without its ships. OTP: One True Pairing. The ship that you ship above all other ships. Well, at least, one of them, since people seem to have multiple OTPs at the same time. It's about as complicated as the line of succession for the throne in Westeros.
- Every fandom is different. Every fandom has a little bit of a different feel to it. The people are different, the books are different, and so on. If you mention angels to a Whovian, they'll run away screaming. If you mention angels to a Supernatural fan, they'll probably give a little smirk. Some fandoms get defensive really easily (Harry Potter fandom, I'm looking at you), while some are more easygoing (is it even possible to offend the Supernatural fandom?).
- There's a certain amount of insanity that happens in all fandoms. Being in a fandom is, by definition, a strange thing. You're so in love with a piece of entertainment that you devote a large portion of time to it, whether through writing fanfiction, or simply browsing. Or just thinking about it. Loving a book series takes energy, you know. And maybe it sounds obsessive to outsiders (and who is to say it isn't?), but somehow, it works. And it's awesome.
If you're in Loki's Army, you've probably only seen this odd little video about a dozen times. Loki'd!
- That being said, some fandoms are more insane than others. It's hard to describe some of the shenanigans fandoms get involved in to non-fandom people. Sometimes, fandoms make weird GIFs. Sometimes the fanfiction gets weird. The headcanons get strange. Different fandoms, though, achieve different levels of insanity. For example, I've never seen the Percy Jackson fandom get as weird as, say, the Hannibal fandom. It's just in the nature of the thing, and the types of people who join.
- And then there's Sherlock. Sherlock takes fandom insanity to a whole new level. Other fandoms might come close, but Sherlockians are widely regarded to be the most insane of everyone. The stuff this fandom comes up with is often too bizarre for words. It's hard to explain, unless you're in it, but maybe this Buzzfeed article will help a little. (To be fair, this is not a recent phenomenon. Sherlock fans have been crazy since the 1800s.)
- SuperWhoLock will one day rule the world, so you might as well get used to it. SuperWhoLock is the combined fandoms of Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock. Nobody's quite sure why these three fandoms have formed such a bond, since they have little in common. And yet, they stick together. It's basically one big fandom. It's slowly taking over Tumblr and other parts of the internet. You should probably be concerned about it taking over other things, like, say, the government.
- Fandom people are fluent in the language of the GIF. If you spend more than ten seconds on Tumblr, you'll see GIFs everywhere. Like I said in my GIF Usage 101 post, "The GIF is the language, currency, and weapon of choice of Tumblr users", and, by extension, fandoms. Sometimes you see lovely/meaningful GIFsets of the fandom. Other times, they are weird. And there isn't much in-between. Either way, GIFs are awesome. (Also, I should mention the Supernatural fandom here, because they're famous for having a GIF for everything. I discussed this more in the GIF post I mentioned earlier.)
- No, we aren't antisocial people with unhealthy obsessions and no distinction between fiction and reality. Well, I'm not 100% sure that the Doctor Who fandom understands that distinction. We'll give them that, especially since the structure of the show complicates things. Otherwise, though, it's true. We know that there's a fine line between the fictional world and real life (because if it means this much to you, isn't it still real on some level?). I expect I'll cover this topic in greater depth later. We are perfectly aware that it is fictional. And yet, one of the worst things to say to a fandom person is "It's only a book/movie/band/etc." No. It's so much more than that. Saying "It's just a [something]" implies that, ultimately, the thing is unimportant. Fandom is a way of life, not just some weird fad. Therefore, it is important, and the thing itself is important by extension.
- Tumblr is the home of fandoms. There are many places on the internet for fandoms to congregate (Pinterest is a close second), but Tumblr is the main stage. It's where most of the discussion, fanart, headcanons, etc. originate. If you want to get into the heart of a fandom, scroll through its Tumblr tag. There are other ways to be in a fandom, but Tumblr is where you can best participate in whatever action, drama, or other things are happening. It's also the best way to stay up-to-date with fandom news, since if something important happens, you won't be able to escape Tumblr without seeing it everywhere. For example, when The Empty Hearse aired, you couldn't get within ten miles of Tumblr without seeing reaction GIFs, fan theories, and other general freaking-out madness.
I'm sorry, Merlin fandom. It's not my fault but I'm still sorry.
- Secondhand Fandom Syndrome is common. If you spend time in the fandom parts of Tumblr and Pinterest, you'll inevitably see pictures/posts/GIFs from fandoms you aren't in. This puts you at a high risk for this condition. If you see these things often enough, you'll start to learn things about the fandom. In the late stages of this condition, you'll even know the popular fan pairings and you might even laugh at in-fandom jokes, despite the fact that you've never even seen the thing. The only way to avoid this quick-spreading virus is to avoid the internet entirely. The only known cure is joining the fandom. I have this condition--possibly multiple cases of it. Once I laughed at a joke about Zuko's honor. Then I realized that I have never watched a single episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- Still don't get it? That's fine. Creeped out? Also fine. We don't care. If you're sitting here, really scared of all this and completely confused, I understand. Sometimes, fandoms are hard to pin down, and it all looks very, very strange to outsiders. Like I said before, fandoms aren't for everyone. We know that not everyone will "get" us, but we're okay with that. As long as you don't bother us, fandoms won't bother you. We can be extremely defensive and territorial if attacked, but if not engaged, we will mind our own business and leave you in peace. If you judge us, we won't care. We're too busy crying over Bucky Barnes in this scene, anyway.
Let me take a poll: how many of you are nodding along right now? How many of you are completely confused and possibly a bit scared after reading this? It's okay--fandoms can get a bit freaky. Just know that while you can't imagine what it's like to be in a fandom, we can't imagine what it's like to not be in a fandom.
*Yes, I did that once. It happened at the bottom of this post.
**Legal disclaimer: I am not sure whether or not this applies to the Supernatural fandom.