Monday, July 28, 2014

To All the Fandoms I've Loved Before...

If you're a proud feminist fanwoman,
you can buy this at
When I was about seven, I held an established and respected place in the playground hierarchy: I was the only girl who played Star Wars every day at recess. This meant that I always got to be Princess Leia, no matter the occasional girlish interloper who got tired of whatever girls do and decided to play with us for one or two days. She could be my handmaiden.

Playing Star Wars was a demanding pastime. You had to remember where you hid your stick that looked like a blaster so you could come back to it from one recess to another. You had to weave your way around other kids who didn't know the monkey bars were the Millenium Falcon. If you were the only girl who was Princess Leia, you had to transfer your burgeoning geek girl crush from the kid who was Luke to the kid who was Han because (spoiler alert from 1983) Luke was your brother. You also had to wear Princess Leia buns to school sometimes.

Being a fan is not easy.

This is Nathan Fillion,
and this was huge news in the geekoverse.

This past weekend was Comic-Con, the four days when every geek's heart beats in San Diego. For those four summer days, the city that's always 75 degrees and sunny becomes the capitol of all fandoms. Hobbits mix with Avengers, and Avengers hug it out with Westerosi. Westerosi give the appreciative head nod to Whovians. Nathan Fillion dresses like Captain Kirk.

For non-fans (one might call them Muggles, mundanes, etc.) this all sounds as indecipherable and pointless as the NFL draft does to me. Google "psychology of fandom" and you get a whole mess of articles about fandom as coping mechanism, fandom as outlet for personality type, and on and on. For fans of genre entertainment (that's what all that Comic-Con stuff is), I think there's an alternate explanation: we're narrative junkies.

Very rarely does someone become a rabid fan of something one-off. If they do, they often clamor for more. (Visit the Twitter profile of Rainbow Rowell, author of the near-perfect Eleanor and Park and you'll see how many people want a sequel, even though it's the ending that makes the book so amazing. You know, according to me.) Ongoing entertainments (comics/book series/TV/multiple movies) provoke our deepest fan-love. We become fans of expansive universes with multiple ongoing narrative threads, histories only-hinted-at, minor characters who have their own back stories and favorite breakfast cereals. And because of this expansiveness, there's always more to explore.
Supernatural fans have a reputation for being able to make
any conversation on the internet about Supernatural.
It's actually pretty impressive.

Critics of genre fictions call this escapism. There can certainly be an element of that. As a fan, I'm pretty fan-lite. I may pin a few Doctor Who-related jokes on Pinterest, but that's about the extent of my extra-curricular fannishness. However, there are plenty of fans who write fan-fiction and go to conventions and talk on forums about their fandoms and sort Supernatural characters into Hogwarts houses. They continue the narratives, analyze them, build their own corners of the stories. Escapism? Yes. But no more so than calling radio shows to talk about sports teams or visiting all the Major League baseball stadiums in a summer (something friends of mine did), which is considered mainstream.

Many say that escapism is all there is to genre fandom. Consider the following quote from Steven Petite at the Huffington Post:

"The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses."

Petite states that one is not better than the other, just different. However, saying that literary fictions provoke "real" emotional responses implies something ... that our emotional responses to our genre stories are not real. Anyone who has watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who knows that there are real emotional responses to be had in these stories.  Just because the world of Buffy has vampires in it, doesn't mean that it's not also our world, and that it can't help us navigate the world around us.

That's what narrative does. Our brains are hard-wired to make sense of the world in stories, and the narratives we love most help us figure out how to be in the world. From Buffy we learn what it means to be a woman with power, and what it means to accept and choose that power. From Who we learn that no matter who we are, we have a responsibility to make our own story great by helping to make the world better. From Supernatural we learn what it means to strive to be a man and fall short, and then keep striving. At least, those are the things I learned. Because each of these stories has its own universe, fans will pull universes of meaning from them.  Stories are meant to be our teachers.

But even after all that, I still don't get the Sherlock fandom.

No comments: