The Good and Bad of Fandom

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about toxic fandom, spurred mostly by the reaction of some fans to the recent Star Wars movies. They’ve driven some of the actors off social media with their horrible abuse, and now there’s even a group trying to raise money to remake The Last Jedi “the right way,” so that it’s not so much about social justice (I guess they missed the fact that in the original trilogy, the villains were literally Stormtroopers, and the heroes were freedom fighters battling oppression). I think I got the most response to anything I’ve ever tweeted when I responded to someone else’s post about how male fandom, when disappointed by something, tends to react with “You’ve ruined my childhood! Now I will destroy you!” while female fans just go and write fan fiction. I added that female fandom also will tend to get into in-depth analysis of the characterization and plot elements, and out of that discussion will develop lifelong friendships. That got a lot of “likes.”

That’s certainly been my experience. I have a number of good friends I initially met through online or convention fandom and discussions. We don’t always like everything that’s done in the show or movies, but when we don’t like it, there’s fun in the community that forms around figuring out where the problems are. I haven’t done a lot of fan fiction, and when I have, it hasn’t been so much about “fixing” things. When I “fix” things, it tends to spur something entirely new that never really exists as fan fiction. But I really get into analysis.

Not that all female fandom is non-toxic. The “‘shipping,” or advocating for certain romantic relationships, can get really nasty. I’ve seen actors driven off social media by fans who harass and abuse them because the fans perceive the actors as being obstacles to their chosen relationship, either because the actors play characters who get in the way by being involved with one of the parties in their chosen relationship or because the fans perceive the actors as being opposed to or not supportive of their chosen relationship (which can include the actor speaking positively about the relationship the character is actually in on the show). It can go as far as fans trying to spread nasty rumors about actors in an attempt to get them fired.

But for the most part, the fan community can be a positive thing, and that’s a central theme in the book I’ve been working on for ages. It’s largely about what it is to be a fan of something, to love it so much that you wish it was real and you could actually live it, and how that love can form connections between people who otherwise are very different from each other. I haven’t delved into the toxic side of things in the story because I wanted to write something about joy. I think that’s why it took me so long to really find the right story for this book because it’s hard to have both high stakes and that joy. I’m doing my final pass before I send it to my agent, and I think I’ve finally captured what I wanted.

It’s wonderful when you find that shared connection with someone over something both of you love. Star Wars was a great icebreaker when I was a kid. I was a military brat, so we moved around a lot, about every year to year and a half in the years after Star Wars came out. I found that bringing up Star Wars was a good way to find new friends when we moved. It meant we had at least one thing in common, and soon we’d learn other things we had in common. As an adult, I’ve made long-term friends in discussions of The X-Files, Buffy, Firefly, and Doctor Who. These are friendships that have transcended the original topic and continued in other forums, or even in person. Sometimes, I even forget how I originally got to know these people. They’re just friends, not specifically fandom friends.

I really hope this book finds a home, because I think it’s a story people will relate to and I think it’s a good reminder of what it is to share in the joy of loving something.

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