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Space for Rent: The Nature of Fandom

Tweet of the Day: Fallout


Fans, fandom, yes that old troublesome thing that hangs over every creative sort. They are the measure of success. But success comes at a price. The artist claims his creations as his own. The fan does the same. The reality floats somewhere in the between. We are elated when we our work is celebrated and horrified when it gets ripped from our hands. . Because as writers, creators and artists, well, we need them. They are the people who read, watch and above all else, consume our art. It is their money that keeps us afloat. So understanding the nature of this phenomenon is critical to our sanity. I’ve classified fans (of anything, sports, religion, games, TV shows, etc) in three broad categories:

  1. The Identifier/Tribalist: These tend to be the most rabid of fans. If you ever encountered a slew of nasty, horrid, hateful slurry of words in a YouTube comment section, blog post or social media site more likely than not it came from one of these. This is not about the object they talk about about, instead it is about them. They have incorporated that object within a definition of self. They are not simply voters, they are Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians, or Socialist. They don’t got to church, they are Christians (or member of any other denomination/religion). They don’t watch a show, they are Whovians, Trekkies/Trekers, or in case of a book you can call them Potterheads. Not to say that everyone who claims the title falls into this category, but Identifiers are claimers. Their rabid response comes from the idea that criticism the object of their affection (regardless of the accuracy/fairness of said criticism) is to attack on them. At its best these are the fans that stick with you through thick and thin. At their worse they are spiteful tribalistic children who see the world in terms of “Us vs. Them” and will defend the “Us” (which really means defending the “Me”) in the most visceral way possible.
  2. The Personality Cultist: They are the first cousins to the first class of fans, except that their focus is on characters(fiction) or people (real world). They are in love with the character and will follow them anywhere. They will ignore almost any flaw and excuse all bad behavior. Common in the music industry, religion and politics. When it comes to fiction it is an obsession with characters often demonstrate through “shipping“, that is, concocting stories in which the focus of the narrative is a romantic/sexual relationship between the characters the love, regardless of plausibility. Normally harmless, if you can stomach seeing your characters twisted beyond recognition, but just as fearsome as the Identifier when it comes to defending their characters/ships. The problem from a content creator’s point of view is that as your work gains more popularity the Cultist gain more ground within the fandom and become more demanding.  The pressure builds to give in to their interpretations of characters. In the process you can end up derailing your work. Their saving grace is that since their focus is so narrow (often falling on secondary or obscure characters) they tend to be far less toxic than the Identifiers.
  3. The Wonk: Dictionary.com defines a Wonk as, “a person who studies a subject or issue in an excessively assiduous and thorough manner.” The Wonk is obsessed with the how and the why of the subject. They love getting into nitty-gritty of policy making or the structure of a novel’s world building. They want to know how a things work and what makes it tick. They are, by far, the most detached of fans but beware, screw up a story’s cannon and they will come down on you like a ton of bricks wielding said cannon like a cudgel right to your head. The problem with this fandom is that it adverse to change. They draw comfort from “knowing” the work. And once you change any aspect of what the know, their world tends to crumble. On the other hand, they can be counted on to keep the content creator honest as long as said content creator understands that Wonks are more like archivist of your creation’s past rather than guides to its future.

Now, these are broad categories with a lot of overlap. And I must confess myself to be a Wonk myself. After all, I am a fan as well as a content creator. I can only hope the mix of the two keeps me balance, grounded, and sane.


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