Fandom, Culture, Economy, and The Future

I'm an old school fan.  Yes, I still have early Star Wars figures.  I saw Tron in theaters.  I was planning an IT career before some friends of mine were out of elementary school.  I've forgotten more about coding than some people I know learned in class.

(OK I'm also apparently cranky, but I digress).

I'm also currently living through the worst economic downturn I've seen, and I've seen a few.  So as I turn my cranky, fannish eyes upon the world, I'm actually wondering what the meltdown has done to geek culture and to progeek culture.

So bear with me as I analyze.  Also, you may if you wish, get off my lawn and stop listening to that gosh darn bad music.  Or you can listen to the cranky guy.

First of all, fan culture itself  has actually changed less than I thought.  I still meet people with the same geeky interests, and if anything in an age of geek chic, I meet more of them.  There's still fanfic, fanart, collectables, conventions, etc. and more and more people are into them.  Not much has actually changed.

Why?  Because frankly I think fandom is the domain of people with some disposable income and media interests, and they've been hit less hard than other socioeconomic groups.  Most fans I meet are also technically savvy and educated, and thus able to ride out these problems.

What I have seen change is twofold:

  • What people spend money on.  They have less of it, frankly.  That doesn't seem to be a huge change – we all have tough times.
  • What career ambitions they have and what place fandom has in their lives.

I've noticed an odd split in the fans and geeks I talk to, and I see three areas of fandom that, to my mind, have become more distinct:

  • The temporary fans.  I see more of this in the younger (under 25) crowd.  They indulge in their interest in anime, games, etc. but assume it'll go away as they go to school, get jobs, etc.
  • The recreators.  This is the group of people for whom their fandom is a recreation, treatment, or escape from stress.  This group can cover everything from people who use their fandom to escape from life's stress, to those who have distinct fan-life boundaries and can both work hard and play hard, to people who are well-engaged in life but go on "sprees" like multi-convention months, buy large amounts of books/games intermittently, etc.
  • The integrators.  The integrators are people who are more what I call "profans" and "progeeks" – they use their fantoms as part of their career (and vice versa).  In these tough times, they may view fandom as a skill, a place to grow, or take a "why not" attitude and live their dreams because things are so tough anyways.

What I see, as I mentioned, is not necessarily a change in any population (though I think I have detected an increase in profanes) but I seem to find them becoming more distinct as I go on.  People are less ambiguous about their fandom and its purpose in these tough times.

So oddly, I am not worried about the future of my culture of fandom and geekery, of The Inheritance Of The Nerds.  However I think in these times of economic and cultural change, there are very distinct divisions evolving.  Indeed, I, being an Integrator, find I already have some trouble talking to others about their interests, and I've observed similar divisions in my travels and conversations.

Maybe the future of fandom, of geekery, is not just its increasing reach, but of increasing divisions among people of the place of their geekery.

Or maybe I'm just old and cranky.

Steven Savage