by Alyssa Harrison
“Harry, didya putya name in the Goblet of Fiyah?!” Dumbledore asked, calmly.
This disparity between the books and the movies of Professor Dumbledore’s character has caused great hilarity and outrage within the Harry Potter fandom, sparking the creation of dozens of memes. Fandoms, however, are not just about memes, although they definitely make up a large part of it and can keep you endlessly entertained. Fandoms are something a lot bigger than that – they are communities of people who have come together because of common interests. This cuts across genres, ranging from sports and music, to TV shows and books.
Although fandoms are generally perceived as being a modern cultural phenomenon, the term ‘fandom’ was first used in print in 1896 in a Washington Post sports column, which made reference to a “local fandom”. The concept then became more heavily associated with the emergence of science fiction in the twentieth century. It derives from the word “fanatic”, meaning “frenzied” or “mad”. These generally hold negative connotations and the word “fanatic” was, in fact, used derogatively against Nonconformists by the English in the seventeenth century. The suffix of “dom” relates to “a rank or an area controlled by a person of that rank” (i.e. kingdom). Today, fandoms are understood as being a group of people who have a common interest over an entity in popular culture (such as books or movies), or who share admiration for a person, such as a celebrity.
Sherlock Holmes is considered to be the first modern fandom. Although this status has largely been proclaimed by the fans themselves, it is founded on the fact that many of the first fanfictions (fictional stories based on an original work, which include many of the same characters and settings) originated from this fandom. When Conan Doyle killed off the literary detective in 1893, there was such an uproar that many people cancelled their subscriptions to the newspaper publishing the stories (The Strand) and sent hate mail to Doyle. The fervour surrounding this character was so intense that people mourned him by publishing obituaries in newspapers and wearing black armbands. Even though Doyle eventually resurrected Holmes a decade later, people wrote many “sequels, pastiches and imitations”, which paved the way for fanfiction as we understand it today.
No matter how large or small, fandoms create a space for people to connect and obsess over their passions, whether online or in person at fanconventions and comic-cons. Fans hold debates and discussions online, whether it’s attempting to predict what is going to happen next on a show or arguing over their favourite ships (by which I mean the romantic pairing of two people, not the sea vessel). It has become a space not just for entertainment, but for creativity as well, with fans cosplaying, writing fanfictions, or creating fan art.
Fandoms construct a feeling of community and belonging among like-minded people. It has been argued, in fact, that belonging to a fandom can improve your mental health. Being part of a fandom can boost your self-esteem, as it reinforces your individualistic blend of interests and identity within this group. Fandoms can give you a sense of purpose and allow you to find meaning in the world around you. Furthermore, you can establish strong connections and relationships with people and share excitement over a common passion, which directly increases your level of happiness.
There is a toxic side of fandoms that needs to be acknowledged, which is that over-obsessiveness can often lead to aggression and violence. For example, the show runner of Pretty Little Liars, Marlene King, received death threats after the finale had been released, as fans had been unhappy with how it had ended. Although obssesive fans can be violent, this is often the only impression that people have of fandoms, which is inaccurate. Fandoms are increasingly becoming part of a global network, which opens up many more opportunities for people to communicate and connect with each other online. Although conflict is inevitable on these larger internet platforms, fandoms should not be perceived as a breeding ground for violence. Anabelle Marie Bivins argues that “any groups that serve to bring people together and make them happier should be encouraged rather than denigrated”, especially during a global pandemic when mental health is particularly vulnerable.
Some of the most popular fandoms (this is only limited to TV shows, books and movies) are Doctor Who, Supernatural, Harry Potter and Marvel. If you are keen to join a fandom but have no idea where to look, here are some options for you to explore: Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Archive of Our Own and Tumblr. A quick word of advice before joining any fandom: try not to get involved in an argument between a Marvel and a DC fan - it will never end well.