So here’s where we start, asking about how fandom identity works and the benefits, problems, and questions of the fan identity. To do that we’ll need to ask what kinds of fans we are.
It may seem strange, one may say, to analyze why people identify as yaoi fans or love the Cleveland Browns inexplicably. However man people do identify with fandoms and their loves even in things that may seem irrelevant to others.
However, identity is not irrelevant. And that’s where we start.
The Need For Identity
People need identities.
Right now if I ask you who you are you will doubtlessly rattle off a list of traits, but how many of them will be some kind of identity. You will note you are this person to someone, this role, this thing you do for others, this way you are perceived by people. You are not you – you’re a set of terms that denote connection and position and relation among yourself, institutions, and people.
You’re a bunch of identities.
People are storytelling creatures in a way – we create coherent tales and relations and terms to understand things. That includes ourselves. A person without other people to relate to has no identity – in a way they’re not even human.
So really identities are practical – we have an overwhelming need for them it would seem. So fandom identities completely make sense insofar as we humans need identity. Some of us make it around fandom.
Fandom And Society
Fan identities may seem strange to some people. I don’t know how many centuries or even decades one has to go back before identifying as a “fan” seems a bit odd socially. I myself am not sure, though one can find echoes of fannish behavior quite far back in enthusiasts for literature or poets or painters or singers.
So though fandom may not be something we’ve seen in a large stretch of human history, it is something we’re awash in now in this media age. Understanding fandom identities is vital to understanding our identities now. To that extent, I think we should first explore why so many people in modern societies identify as fans
I think we see far more modern identification with fandom in modern times for a few reasons:
- Our societies are quite complex, providing many more opportunities for identities.
- Our societies also change quickly, and thus people may seek new identities.
- Our highly literate societies allow for people to become fans of various things as they have access to media.
- Marketers and producers of media, events, sports, etc. are happy to have people who identify with them.
So I’d say today, more than ever, in modern civilization we’ll see more people identifying as fans. In a few cases (as I will explore later in the seies) it may be all people have
So what is a fan?
What Is A Fan? A Pile Of Passion
See, I’m answering my own question.
Fandom, as an identity is something where a significant part of said identity is liking something.
Note I don’t say all of the identity. Or even the majority of the identity. It’s just a significant part of the identity as a fan. I’ll explore that in a bit.
So in general, when one identifies as a fan, one is expressing their love of something. That’s a core identifier for fans – not the only one, but an important one.
In many ways it’s an expression of honesty. “Man, I really like this.” There’s a certain purity to basic fandom in that it’s just saying the truth about oneself. It’s an intimate statement.
Perhaps this is why some people are embarrassed to be fans as part of it is quite intimate, and they worry about being judged. It also is why some judgementalism about fandom seems strange – people who mock “Twilight” may then passionately love something that is equally mocked.
(And, yes, I’ve said bad things about “Twilight,” until a friend pointed out the contradictions.)
But it’s not always just “liking” something. I think when we start examining fans we find that many people who identify as fans fall into several categories.
This is where it gets interesting.
The Forms Of Fans
So as I analyzed fans, and how people who all “liked the same thing” could be so different I realized there’s several “subtypes.” I’d like to explore those.
Now one kind of fan I am not exploring are the unhealthy obsessive types. I consider that more a pathology and think it unfair to consider it in a taxonomy of classification. Thus what I examine will be neutral, though some fan types may be more prone to pathology than others. But I am not studying those who were brought into fandom via pathological issues.
The forms I noticed are the following – and note a fan can fit into multiple categories here.
Recreational – These fans love something but it’s largely to get away, to relax, blow off steam, etc. Social and additional elements are often secondary to this – if they exist at all for specific fans.
Example: A person who likes a given band, buys their albums, listens to them, but that’s about it.
General Interest – These fans are interested and passionate about the subject, but do not do much with said subject. They don’t write fanfic, they go to restaurants for a cuisine but don’t cook, etc.
Example: A fan of a video game who gets all updates and reads the FAQS.
Social – These fans are enthused not just about the subject matter, but the social community they belong to and get a lot of benefit from the community.
Example: The fan of an anime who seeks out message boards and conventions and groups to join to share their love.
Active – These fans are fans of something as it relates to things they do or like to do. It may be on a professional level or a personal level, but their fannish interest intersects activities like writing, webmastery, etc.
Example: The fan of a classic series who helps maintain an archive of remakes of the classic works.
Applied – The Applied fans go further than active fans, and their fannish interest is part of their life and what they do with it. They are (or want to be) professional writers or actors, or they run a charity drive at several conventions, and so on.
Example: The aspiring artist who does fanwork while working on their degree.
So when we’re talking about fans, in my book we’re actually talking about five different kinds of fans, and people may fit into more than one category. People may even be different kinds of fans in different fandoms.
Gets a bit complicated doesn’t it?
What This Means
When discussing fandom identity, what this means is that, beyond the expressive nature of fans, we’re rarely discussing the same kinds of people. Someone making game mods and someone collecting sports memorabilia are as different, as are someone that “just reads the books” and a professional writer who is also active in collecting ancient genre fiction.
Kind of makes you wonder if we need a whole new taxonomy? Well anyway, start with mine because I must be right, I have a blog.
So now, with the idea that beyond the core of “liking” something fans are different, what does it mean for identity?
We’ll get to that next.
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.