Have you seen people on the internet talking about the “fandoms” they are a part of? Fandoms are some of the most powerful forces on the internet. Here’s what these devoted fan bases are and how they bring people together.
A “fandom” is an organized subculture of people who share a common interest. Fandom members are often the most committed and invested in the media franchise, often taking the fandom one step further by documenting small details, speculating extensively, and creating fan content.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the term was in 1903. It was used occasionally during the 20th century for fan communities of franchises such as Star Trek before finally exploding into the 21st century, as the internet made it significantly easier for fandoms to get organized.
While all people in a fandom are fans, not everyone who is a fan of a media property is in a fandom. Fandom groups are part of a participatory culture, where individuals are both consumers and contributors to the media. Being in a fandom means being part of organized communities, building relationships, and contributing your own content.
While there can be a fandom for just about anything, an Internet fandom normally refers to the fan base of a particular fictional creative work or published media. These include books, movies, TV shows, video games, stage shows, graphic novels, etc. Some of the biggest fandoms on the internet are giant franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Minecraft.
What do fandoms do?
Fandoms tend to engage in a lot of activities on the Internet. The most basic of these is creating online spaces where they can discuss the work. In the early days of the Internet, these were usually custom message boards or mailing lists. Modern fandoms use platforms like Discord and Reddit.
Another thing many fandoms do is maintain a repository of information and knowledge. Often properties that draw devoted fandoms have many characters, world construction, locations, and events. Fans collect this information on user-editable wiki websites. Bulbapedia, for example, is a wiki website that has very detailed information on almost everything about the Pokemon franchise, from the games to the TV shows.
People in fandoms are also most likely to create UGC or user-generated content. The most common form of user content is fan art, artistic depictions of characters or scenarios. Many fans also write fanfiction, stories that set in the same fictional universe as the property and explore various events and relationships that may not appear in the original story. Many of these works explore “ships,” which are canonical and non-canonical romantic relationships between characters.
Sometimes fan creations can reach incredible levels of scale and ambition. Game fandoms, for example, have created mods with custom campaigns that can rival the original games in length. There are also fan-created shows, movies, music, and published books. For example, A very Potter musicala stage show that has been viewed more than 100 million times, started as a school production made by a group of Harry Potter fans.
The good and bad of fandoms
Fandom behavior is a mixed bag. Some negative behaviors are often associated with groups of hardcore fans. They often exhibit hostile and insular behavior towards other fandom groups, with “fan wars” being a common feature of online communities. Many fans are also involved in power struggles within their group, especially when they disagree on certain things. For example, ‘ship wars’ take place between groups with different preferential relationships.
However, fandom also brings a lot of positive things with it. These groups often help people on the Internet find communities to be part of and friends with common interests. In addition, fandom can bring together people from all over the world, all of whom are dedicated to a specific interest. In addition, fans of less financially successful franchises can support the property financially through channels such as Patreon or Kickstarter.
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There are many internet “spaces” where fandoms tend to organize. The most common fanspaces are subgroups of popular social platforms, such as subreddits on Reddit, groups on Facebook, or servers on Discord. These are organized and moderated platforms that can help users build connections with each other, create fanwork, and share news. In addition, these communities often hold events for their members.
Fandoms also organize on content-oriented platforms. For example, there are many fandoms on Archive of Our Own – AO3 or AO3. It is the largest fanfiction website in the world, with some fandoms like Marvel having hundreds of thousands of stories. There are also websites like Tumblr, which have a lot of fan content and discussions about various franchises.
Finally, there are plenty of IRL or “real life” spaces for fandoms to gather. The largest of these are fan conventions, which can range from small to large depending on the size of the group and organizing committee. These conventions can be multi-genre affairs such as Dragon Con and San Diego Comic Convention or more focused on specific groups such as: Harry Potter or Star Wars conventions. Local networks also sometimes hold fan events with smaller groups.
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