Just For Fun

Fandoms and Building Communities

If you’re joining us from the newsletter, welcome! Keep reading for this week’s full entry and the rest of Max Gladstone’s chat about fandom…

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This week we’re thinking about fandoms, about when fans turn into a force. Fandom can be an awesome kind of community, as well as a kind of collective power. But with great power comes, well, you know the rest.

Obviously what has us thinking along these lines right now is the news last week that Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, left Instagram because of harassment from Star Wars “fans.” Those are scare quotes, yeah, because, as Dom Nero writes at Esquire, the so-called fans who think Rose and The Last Jedi are anything but fully in the spirit of the original movies fundamentally misunderstand the spirit and politics of Star Wars. (But also, even if you think your favorite movie franchise has gone off the rails, don’t harass people??) We hope that, as io9 suggests, people with the power to do so keep working to shut down this toxic perversion of fandom.

The internet has been a huge boon to fandom—allowing fans to find their communities, and allowing fans unprecedented access to creators as well. We asked one of our own creators, Max Gladstone of Bookburners, a few questions about his view of fandom:

What was the first time you realized your work had a fandom?

Fan work was the big clue! Fan art, fan fiction, fan mail—even cosplay! It’s amazing to think that my ideas have gone out there in the world and affected other real humans, encouraging them to create.

Has fandom changed the way that you write?

Not really. I’m, honestly, a fan of my own work—so I’m already writing for fan appeal in a certain sense! I like bringing back old characters, referencing other plot developments, tying continuity together. Though it’s always interesting to see how fans respond to characters—sometimes exactly as I intended, sometimes a little to the left.

What’s the difference, in your eyes, between a fandom and a passionate audience?

An audience has a relationship with the work; a fandom has relationships with the work through one another, or with one another through the work. A group of people who get together for Star Wars-related reasons—playing a tabletop rpg, say, or watching movies on release day, or whatever—can be a fandom even if they’ve never touched a usenet board, or never poked their heads into tumblr.

That’s a meaningful reminder that fandom is as much about community—other fans—as the thing that you’re a fan of. Abraham Riesman at Vulture pointed out a dangerous way of thinking about fandom: “If you love something hard enough, it’ll love you back.” Riesman has a great vision for how to move forward—with fandoms:

“Could it be that the best route forward is to start putting more dollars into truly new stories, ones that center traditionally marginalized creators and characters, that are not just tilting toward our values, but are instead built on them? … Let’s build new fandoms, ones the trolls don’t have a stake in. The dark side may try to topple them. But I believe in the power of the light.”

If you enjoyed this week’s entry, head this way to Meet Clint McElroy, the voice of Ben Franklin!

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