Minicon 49, part 1: Fandom or Fandoms?

Squeevolution!Executive summary: Minicon 49 was lots of fun.

In the same vein as this year’s Con of the North, I was rushing to get to the con on time Friday. If this keeps holding true, I’ll need to start asking for no events before 6pm the first day of the con.

The panel I was rushing to get to:

Fandom or Fandoms?

Is SF Fandom one monolithic thing or a collection of sub-fandoms? Is there a generational difference? “My fandoms are …”

Not particularly gaming-related, but definitely concerned with overall fandom(s) and how we tend to segregate and construe ourselves.

It’s very interesting that this seems to be primarily a generational thing. Younger fans are much more likely to describe their passions in terms of “fandoms”, as in, “My fandoms are Middleman, Utena and BSG”. Older fans are much more likely to talk about “fandom”, as one big thing, with separate sub-fandoms or interests.

Elise made the point that it’s not just about differences of scale, though. People who think in terms of “fandoms” often have very different ways of approaching their passions than those who talk about monolithic “fandom”. We didn’t have time to go into detail about this, and to be honest, it’s a kind of geekery I don’t have a lot of experience with. However, I’m pretty sure that (for example) fanfic and vidding are major parts of it.

I find it particularly interesting that a lot of “fandoms” seem to be major commercial properties, such as TV shows, specific movies or major anime series. Is this necessarily a part of the plural form of geekery?

We discussed this a bit: perhaps it’s because geekery has become a major form of commerce? If, as they say, ‘the geeks have won’, then we’ve won by becoming more mainstream and more accepted, which also seems to mean ‘more exploited by the forces of capitalism’. So it’d make sense that people getting into geekery more recently might think of it in terms of commercial properties.

Another possibility is that the big commercial properties are the ones that are more visible. Seems eminently likely that there are people being fannishly engaged with very small-scale or non-commercial realms that I’ve just never heard of. A parallel with gaming: many people seem to think that D&D is the only RPG in existence. And naturally they would, if they weren’t actually involved in gaming; D&D is by far the biggest, most visible RPG around. You have to be relatively well acquainted with gaming before you necessarily know that other games exist, and it takes some true insider knowledge to be familiar with some of the highly obscure games.

Another difficult issue surrounding this divide is the tendency to see media fans as necessarily ‘shallower’ or ‘less serious’ than [insert other type of fan here]. It’s especially strong, I feel, when the comparison is being made with fans of prose fiction; it seems that a lot of geeky subcultures still seem to assume that ‘published author of prose fiction’ is and should be the necessary highest state of being that all fans aim for. Add in the tendency for older fans to look down on younger fans as insufficiently dedicated, inadequately serious or lacking in the right type and number of battle scars and you have a recipe for misunderstanding and hostility. These fights have been going on since the beginning of geekery, and I don’t think they’re going to disappear any time soon. That doesn’t mean I have to like them, though.

Regardless of how we construe our fandom(s), it’d be nice if we could take pleasure in other people’s geekiness — compersion, in other words. It seems that a lot of us feel threatened by the existence of other ways of being passionate about things, and so we feel the need to tear down other people’s passions in order to elevate our own.

Well, it’s not a zero-sum game, and it’s a big enough world for all of us to be wonderfully geeky. Approach your passions as “fandom”? Approach them as “fandoms”? Well, so long as you’re not trying to tear down other people’s passions, then your fandom(s) are good.

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