Fan I am #4: Fandom Identity And Pathology

Planetary Collision

We’ve all been there. Some of us may be there right now and wish we weren’t.

The fandom meltdown. The flame wars, the slander, the arguing, and perhaps even the outright confrontations and questionable activity. We’ve all got a story of arguments, of failed endeavors, of con overspending, and so for.

Now when you back up and say “but aren’t we here to like the same things” it makes one think. Why the people dedicated to “liking” something are so busy hating each other and creating problems.  It sort of botches the whole goal.

In fact, it may seem fans hate each other more. As a friend once, when discussing a specific (and yes, unnamed) fandom noted that he saw more infighting among fans than he did in people who didn’t like said fans. Familiarity is seriously a petri dish for contempt.

So as I noted I think there’s five kinds of fans: Recreational, General, Social, Active, and Applied. People may just relax, or their fandom is part of their overall active and probably professional life.

I think conflicts can actually be understood as meltdowns in specific spheres. Usually this leaves the Recreational and General fans going “WTF?”*

But for others, it makes perfect sense. Or at least imperfect sense.

Here’s where I think it happens.

Type #1: Larger Life Impact:

For some professional people or tightly tied fandom/life areas fandom conflicts easily spill over into the rest of life and vice versa. A writer’s group inspired by one book series, containing aspiring and current professional writers is a place where meltdowns can spill over as what everyone does really is deeply important as Primary identities or potential ones.

In this case fandom battles make sense as the Fandom is Active and Applied. it is a larger, understandably large, part of people’s lives and identities. When a book deal is on the line or someone’s new indie game steals the voice actor you wanted, it gets serious. And then it gets personal.

But I find these conflicts tend to be localized. There are others causes that are more common.

Type #2: Inappropriate Identification

Every now and then I hear bout how a given fandom/book/game is “only for” a specific group. This “fandom” belongs to a given gender, ethnicity, demography, or something else that seems ridiculous.

Romance novels are not for men (despite the many who read them and won’t admit it). Gaming isn’t for women (despite the female gamers). Anime is for white people (yes, I’ve seen people who feel they have to note that’s not true).

I mean once you get beyond, say, fandoms pitched to a very specific group, then this kind of identification seems ridiculous. Yet, it happens.

It’s also pathological because, in my experience, this kind of identification quickly drags in assorted irrelevant issues and conflicts. Or to be more brutal, if you’ve ever seen people having a blatantly racist argument, imagine that grafted onto “But this vampire action series is clearly for MY race” and you get the idea.

And you’ve probably seen it. In fact, some of these conflicts can spill over into real life as people get worked up over them. Identity politics is a nasty thing.

Without going into detail, I find that having ones race, gender, etc. as a primary identity to be faintly ridiculous. It’s like arguing that because I’m a straight guy who loves Japanese Curry, gay people can’t. Love of something rarely involves ones race, gender, sexual preference, etc.

(Now admittedly, say, there’s probably few Gay Muslim fans of the “Left Behind” series, but that’s heavy demographic targeting and has its identity in its origins)

I could probably analyze why this happens (and may in the future), but for now let’s just note this is one area of pathology.

Type #3: Social Spirals

Most meltdowns I see in fandom occur because, ironically, of its usefulness for socializing. This is going to take a bit of explanation.

Fandoms provide a way for people to socialize. Having common ground, even for something others may find irrelevant, allows people to bond, form, and experience community. I’ve documented many ways these communities can benefit others, from Cloud City Battalion to Bronies for Good**

However I think that at some points having a social group based on fandom can turn pathological. This is much the same way as any group can break down, but I want to call out specific elements relevant to fandom:

  • If one is heavily invested in the social aspects of ones fandom, if that is threatened, one may respond forcefully – and inappropriately.
  • Being heavily invested in a fandom means one is adept at communicating with fans but not non-fans. In time one, less connecting with other social groups, may invest more in fandom.
  • Sometimes heavy investment in a fandom (as in anything) can result in one being so “into” said fandom there’s a bit of disconnect with non-fans. Eventually one is more easily threatened by fandom changes.
  • A fandom lacking Active and Applied fandom where the skills and interactions with larger social circles, identities, jobs et. are lacking may be more likely to turn inward. In short, one needs the “larger world” contacts to keep perspective.
  • Active and Applied fandom also keeps one growing – the fandom investments “pay of.” Primarily being in fandom for socializing may result in the investments only being in that fandom – so any threats are taken harshly.
  • If you’ve ever seen a fandom meltdown that turned to fury, as if there was an existential threat to people, you get the idea. If one’s identity is so tied up in one area, it is easily threatened.

Tie this into Inappropriate Identification and you really get a toxic cocktail

Type #4: Outside Ham-Handedness

One of the problems with fandom is that it’s often affected by those creating the things people are fans of. All it takes is one bad season, one lost game, one uninspiring new novel to send it all crashing down. Or maybe there’s a bad marketing plan that makes people feel irrelevant, or . . . you get the idea.

The weird thing about fandoms is in a way the things people rally around are out of their control, their ownership, and in the case of a few people and companies out of their freaking minds. The things people rally around can be destroyed because someone decided to pander and make this movie and not that one.

Of course once some outside decision affects the fandom, then all the previous pathologies can kick in.

This is one case where I’ve seen fandoms “taking ownership” of ideas and think it may be a good idea. There’s quite a few that could probably exist on their own in some cases. That may lead to other conflicts, of course, but still.


So when we look at fandom meltdowns, I think they often come down to several possible forms, all based on identity – and it’s vulnerabilities.

As I have often noted repeatedly, your fandom is either fun or it is for personal growth, so its best to have fun or to behave professionally/appropriately. I think after this analysis I stand by that. Act like a pro or have fun.

It’s my hope this analysis may be useful for people in diagnosing fandom problems and preventing them. Self-awareness, inclusion, a sense of humor, a sense of larger-world connection, a sense of independence can work wonders.

This also ties into my love of geeky charities and causes. I think nothing like coming together to do good can give perspective and positive approaches to fandom.

* Why This, Fandom?
** If this doesn’t give you an insane team up idea, you’re not trying hard enough.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at