The evolution of fandoms has seen many forms, but the fandom that initially led me to studying this evolution through media and mass communication was the Young Adult Fiction fandom through different media outlets. This era of time, the early 2010’s, was when fandoms really became participatory. The progression of teens making videos on MySpace to eventually YouTube, gushing about the books and films and talking about theories and fan opportunities, soon went straight to the experience of social media.
The term “fandom” wasn’t even really a word people used in the early 2010’s. Not until the end of the decade did the term become more mainstream and was incorporated as a term fans used to describe their overall culture. Now fandoms have been around for ages, as early as 1897 to 1902, when Sherlock Holmes had public demonstrations of mourning for him after he was “killed off” in 1893. This became known as the first modern fandom. During this period of time however, it was used mainly by individuals that considered themselves to be in a relatively niche group of people who thought of themselves as being a group of fans.
Imagine having such an intense and fond interest in a certain topic, but loving it and learning more about it just by yourself isn’t cutting it. You need other people to bounce ideas, theories and even just admiration off of. Well that’s exactly what fandoms are for. They’re safe spaces for people with a mutual like/love in a certain genre or topic to expand and discuss what they like most about it and even create new aspects around it with the help of other fans.
The best thing about fandoms is that there is no specific criteria to make one, so there are fandoms about literally anything you could ever think of. Sports and the ins and outs of them, books, book genres, films and specifics about films, literally anything. There are even fandoms about celebrities in general and celebrity culture. Admiring their work, and talent as well as the phenomenon of idealization/romanticization are huge factors in these kinds of fandoms. These seemingly safe spaces have been created for it to be comfortable for fans to “geek out”, such as Twitter fan pages, and Tumblr. Outside of media, there are even conventions, such as Comic-Con, for various different fandoms and group events. From these events, and social media sites, lifelong friendships have been created through fan media, starting the blazing phenomenon of people finding friends through fandoms. This topic, while yes it is interesting to me, is an interesting/important topic for other populations as well, such as individuals that are studying fandom theory or individuals that are not currently in fandoms but are looking to enter into one with sufficient information, even someone studying communication habits in teens and young adults could benefit from this research. The way our communication and way of life could have been/has been changed in a beneficial way with the help of media sites connecting us is such a strong factor in this research. The definition of being a fan has changed in so many significant ways and our communication through it is a big part of that change. Not only that, but the significant difference in how fandom culture had changed from earlier generations. How was it being a fan for our parents? Aunts? Uncles? Through this study, involving interviews of individuals that are young adults as well as individuals that are of an older generation, the evolution of fandom and the value it brings people now versus how it was decades ago will be evident and it will be fascinating to see this significant change.
The purpose of this study is to understand and follow the evolution that new media and mass communication has had on the culture of fandoms, social fan relationships and just culture wise overall, to see the ultimate change that society has had on these demographics when it comes to fandoms. I will be looking into how this culture has evolved with the help of these interviews, gaining different perspectives from those currently in fandoms and from those that were in fandoms as young adults, to truly see this trajectory that fandoms have taken to get to where they are today through the help of new media and mass communication.
In order to understand the culture of fandoms and the evolution trajectory that it has taken with the help of media and mass communication, it is extremely important to analyze how fandoms started and evolved from the source. The literature I have collected will also aid in answering my research questions because they each will hold new and different perspectives on my topic that my interviews may not present to me.
The overall presence of fandom culture can be defined as a social and public process. According to Fiske (1992, 30), “fandom is a common feature of the popular culture in industrial societies”. “The process of building the fandom itself is collective. Almost every fan within the fandom has a significant contribution in creating and utilizing both the media and cultural texts. These are perpetuated to the fans’ culture through their interaction within the fandom’s public and social space. ” (IPL 2022) These interactions lead to a mutual sense of understanding in the cultural community. Fandom overall involves cultural works made in a community that the fandom initially created and these works are based on the fan’s performance, made to be shared with others in the community and outside of it as well.
Jenkins (2009) defines a participatory culture/fan culture more specifically as one that consists of: relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, some type of informal mentorship in which the most experienced members pass along their knowledge to novices, members who believe their contributions matter, and members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members’ opinions about their contributions.
Fandoms weren’t created overnight or even in the last century, in fact. They have been around for over 400 centuries. Steve Wheen (2019) examines the evolution of fandoms and starts with going way back, to 1440, with the invention of the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg created an outlet for the masses to obtain and spread information that was at one point only available to a select few people, and how this began the ripple effect of creating what became known as fandoms. The invention also gave people the opportunity to voice their opinions on matters that would make its way to a widespread audience. With this important and revolutionary invention hundreds of years ago, it set the precedent for 2 key ways of how fandoms present themselves today: “a means for information and art to gain widespread popularity, and a tool for more individuals to become active contributors and creators of culture, instead of passive users.”
The global trade of information intensified as 16th century Europe began developing a capitalist and primarily money-based system, much like what we have today. The dissemination of information turned into manifestation of values, statuses and preferences of things, this is where groups of people with mutual tastes were born, much like modern fandoms today. From this is where the first shred of fandoms was created. “It became a way to acknowledge, display and strengthen our shared identity.” By the 17th century, what then evolved into collecting things, such as art or relics, was made to be known as you being enthusiastic about a particular something, such as ideas, values, practices or objects. They became known as “lovers” or “connoisseurs”. In modern day English, they would be referred to as “amateurs”, meaning “people that do something primarily for enjoyment.”
Even before social media, fans found ways to love their idols and interests, even in close accordance to how social media is today. “According to historian Vera Keller, fans in this period developed a series of practices which can be compared to today’s social media, especially because of their emphasis on collaboration, community-building, and playful approach to multimedia, (Wheen 2019).” Although the word “fandom” was not yet in use in the 17th century, lovers were already acting as if they were in one: “being self-aware, informed and active consumers that started gathering to exchange ideas, inspiration and knowledge about their shared passions.” This strong sense of community brought such an immense power, with one of the first instances of a fandom revolt, blossoming in the 1800’s when Sherlock Holmes was killed off. Fans banded together to revolt, wearing black armbands, and canceling their subscriptions to The Strand, the magazine in which the stories were published. Obituaries were written by fans for the beloved character. This was the first known instance of a “fandom revolt”, where fans realized they had a voice and authority as active consumers, being fueled by the community of like-minded individuals.
In the 1920’s, this is believed to be where the birth of the first fandom truly was. The letter columns of Amazing Stories, a science-fiction magazine, allowed fans to send in letters, and some were even published. This began the evolution of mass communication between fans and how to easily find people with mutual interests to form these fan communities. These fan communities evolved into conventions, today, like Comic-Con, or Anime-Con. “Historically, fan culture has played an enormous role in the creation and development of science fiction and fantasy, and the genres have left a significant impact on the lives of their fans.” (Gooch 2008) Fandom relies on and is truly well described by its method of communication, and from this communication fans have developed languages (fanspeak), dress codes (costuming), literature (fan fiction), art (fan art) and music (filking). Gooch (2008) examines how each of these activities and productions is a mode of communication, and it is this communication between fans that creates fan community and culture. During that time science fiction scholars began concentrating on the increasing number of fans, known as media fans, fan studies had begun to be more structured and focused on those who were fans of visual texts. These fans had become solely devoted to the aspects of the genre related to film, television, and comics. Media fans (or mediafen), were once shunned by the overall fan community, and are often the stereotypical image most people have of a traditional science fiction fan today. “Mediafen, like fans of written SF, have close working relationships with the producers of their preferred texts.” (Gooch 2008)
Going back to the timeline of fandoms, the 1960’s brought them to a whole new level: mainstream. Being a fanatic, one of the most recognizable versions of fandom, was first displayed at a Beatles concert. Overwhelming fans screaming for their idols, a phenomenon that became known as Beatlemania, and brought fandom to a higher height. Being seen as a crazy fanatic fan was normal and like second nature for many. The 70’s brought fan clubs and bigger communities, especially with the release of Star Wars. “As fans began actively voicing their knowledge and admiration more for films, literature, music, objects and trends by creating their own versions of it, they couldn’t be ignored.” This became known as participatory fandom, Wheen (2019) explains.
Through the decades to follow, participatory fandoms only grew and evolved, to be much more than what it was just from the 1970’s alone. Romano (2019) recognizes how “before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, participatory fandom was something fans could only do publicly every once in a while; performative geek culture was reserved for special events like Comic-Con or the newest sci-fi or fantasy film.” With Marvel churning out films left and right over the decade, fandom was suddenly prominently expected to be participatory to the extent of Marvel. “Geek culture became a new and intense form of consumerism, and superheroes, instead of being a nerdy fringe interest, became a standard model through which a plethora of fans could relate to pop culture.”
Over the past 2 years, especially in 2020, the creation of fandoms boomed, more than it ever had in the past, and that was due in major part to isolation from the Covid-19 pandemic. Delbel (2021) explains how during the height of the pandemic in 2020, a time of isolation and loneliness, fandoms were created and heavily leaned on in these dark times. A sense of community over social media and other forms of communication made people feel connected when they were isolated and alone. With more time on their hands as well, people discovered existing fandoms as well through television, films, video games, books, everything. The cancellation of in-person fan events like conventions disappointed (and, in some cases, continues to disappoint) many of us. Some online versions of these celebrations fared better than others, but mostly paled in comparison to their original counterparts.
Celebrity culture was heavily altered during this time as well. “The public’s image of celebrities has been altered since the pandemic began. It started when Gal Gadot and company singing “Imagine” on Instagram, just a few days in, woke many people up to the privilege of these stars, and only grew as the health crisis rolled on and so many of the rich and famous went against the advice of health experts in very public ways.” (Delbel 2021) Fans took to banding together on social media with the newfound time and energy they had to create these spaces of mutual agreement on celebrity actions. Not all fandoms/fans are positive and optimistic people. There is always the side of everything that brings negativity and tears others down for amusement and enjoyment. But on the more positive side, I actually joined my favorite fandom that I am still in during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and have made some great friends through it on different forms of social media, specifically on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. There is always a brighter side to every platform and culture.
The Digital Age heavily emerged in the past few decades, taking fandoms to a whole new intensity and speed. The revolution of mass communication and media blurs the lines between content creators and consumers, allowing for communities to grow bigger and faster online. “Fans now ‘follow’, ‘like’, ‘save’ and ‘pin’ their passions–they can even directly ‘tweet’ their idols.” (Wheen 2019) Fans have solidified their presence in the online realm, especially on social media sites such as Twitter, TikTok and Tumblr with vibrant, and visible fan communities dominating the spaces. The idea of fans becoming more active and engaged participants turned into extensive online fanfictions such as Fifty Shades of Grey and mainstreamed fan-based ideas such as “shipping” and “problematic faves”. The pop-culture dependent site, Buzzfeed, thrives off of these ideas.
Groups of fans began a new time of dictating how they wanted to when it came to fandoms, they made their own rules. “In the era of Fan Rule, crowds that once screamed for their idols have morphed into masterfully organized groups, an evolution that reflects the tribalism of our times.” (Armstrong 2022) From the beginning, fandom has centered the regular folks, growing from their reaction to their relative lack of power. And it has also elevated mob mentality. Scholar Henry Jenkins, the dean of fandom studies at University of Illinois, explained the unique set of behaviors that developed around fandom, going back to “Lisztomania” (stemming from the piano player Franz Liszt), as a reaction to the imbalance inherent in the relationship. “Fandom originates, at least in part, as a response to the relative powerlessness of the consumer in relation to powerful institutions of cultural production and circulation, but that balance has flipped in the Internet Age.” Lewis (1992) explains how even the role of the audience, under the rapid development of media technology, has drastically changed, with the boundary between the consumer and producer becoming increasingly blurred as a result. “Fans are part of the audience, arguably the biggest part. Fans can be defined to some audience who has a fervent devotion to an actor, celebrity, television programme or other textual form portrayed by the mass media,” (Lewis 1992). In short, they are a group of people who devote their time and emotion to an idol or a film, TV show or novel or comic book. They regard these cultural products as spiritual belief.
Overall, the essential structure and changes that have been evolving within society have resulted in the dramatic and expressive change in fan behavior. Fans have gained more power and rights in regards to the culture within this digital media age evolution. According to Liao (2021), fans gain more power shown in two ways: firstly, they have become more active in producing and distributing derivative work on the internet by themselves; secondly, they have more ways to communicate with the cultural industry. Fans enjoy a considerable amount of freedom through social media and with this emergence of new media and mass communication, audiences have become more active and comfortable with expressing themselves while being a part of a fandom. “Fans have been able to create, re-create and share ideas on the internet, and actively use cultural products to create secondary art works, performing them online in order to create self-idealized identities and characters, (Liao 2021).” According to Stephenson (1988), these behaviors exhibit the characteristics of the play theory of mass communication and in addition to communication as work, there is a kind of communication that goes beyond the utilitarian and is only for the pleasure of the self. Such communication allows people to be immersed in active play. That is the reason why many fans enjoy communicating with each other on the internet.
Communities are created on the internet for these interactions and relationship-building experiences. Mafessoli (1996) states that the tribe of our time is no longer the primitive community with its emphasis on religious values as Turgot believed, but a postmodern aesthetic way of grouping together. Nowadays, fans are keen on finding each other and form groups through the internet. Nowadays, with this emergence of new media and mass communication, fans have gone more in depth into defining their social networks, by setting boundaries for these groups that hold a specific linguistic value. This linguistic value establishes a mutual and common space for meeting other fans, but also to single out those that don’t belong to the group, known as “the other”. Tafjel and Turner (1986) explain how these discursive systems become the default rules of the fan community, allowing for a greater sense of cohesion and belonging among fans. Social identity is the awareness that an individual is a member of a particular social group, and that the awareness of belonging to a particular group brings unique emotions and values to the individual. The internet has created a sense of value and collaboration for its users that are in fandoms, being brought together by shared emotions and sentiments for their groups. “Fandom is more than just watching, consuming or even liking something: it evolves into a relationship filled with anticipation, dedication and even expectations. It summons the kind of devotion that brands want to cultivate, (Chuku (2022).” According to Chuku (2022), fan relationships are defined by a few key components: identity, self-care, human connection and trust. Through these key components, strong bonds are formed among individuals and the fandom subject itself online and in person. This now leads us to the center of this study, which ultimately looks to follow the social and technological evolution that fandoms have been through with the help of media and mass communication.
The theoretical framework that was used for this study is Fandom Theory. Fandom Theory is based on the concept that “fans enjoy media texts so much that they create content based upon the text and form communities around it, which has been made even more possible due to the internet” (Jenkins, 1992). Jenkins (1992) outlines how this theory looks at how fans create online communities, produce all forms of content, nourish these communities into personal relationships, and how this all shapes the overall form and flow of media and communication. Fandom Theory can be directly associated with this study because the goal of this research is to follow and examine the social and technological evolution that fandoms have had when it comes to media and mass communication with the perspectives of different generations of people. This theory coincides and affirms this evolution while strongly adding to the overall conversation of fandoms. The purpose of this study is to understand how these evolutions have led to where fandoms are today and this theory acts as a framework to understand how these evolutions commenced, what fed into them and how they led to what we have in the present day in regards to fandoms.
RQ1: How has the culture and relationships of fandoms changed through the evolution of mass communication and social media compared to that of earlier generations?
RQ2: What new value does fandom bring people due to this cultural and communicative advancement?
To gather information and experiences for this study, twelve interviews were conducted for the eighteen to twenty-five year old demographic and eight interviews were conducted for the thirty to fifty year old demographic. The set of questions between the two demographics were different based on their experiences thus far in life, but had one common theme of asking how fandoms have evolved and changed into what they are today. The interviews were conducted in-person, over Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and email. After the interviews, the information gathered was used to form results in regards to the research questions, which is further detailed in the Results section.
For this qualitative study, a phenomenology approach was taken. Specific participants were gathered to get targeted experiences of how fandom culture was in earlier generations according to individuals in the older demographic, with their approach to how it is now versus in the younger demographic to get experiences and thoughts about how fandom is now in this generation compared to older generations. Fandom has become a strong phenomenon in this day and age and to track this phenomenon’s evolutionary change, participants were either asked ten questions (See Appendix A) or five questions (See Appendix B) , depending on their age demographic, with the younger demographic participants being asked ten questions and the older demographic, five questions. The questions were tailored to the experiences they have had thus far in their lives in fandoms and how/if their lives were or weren’t altered relationship wise because of fandoms. A sample question for the younger demographic is: In what ways have you connected to people through fandoms? In the sense that they could be someone you know, or someone you happened upon through the media. A sample question for the older demographic is: If you had had the access to media communication as it is today to join and make the most of your desired fandom, what would that have looked like for you? With the different questions tailored to both demographics, this allowed for various themes to arise between the demographic's views of fandoms and the value they bring people, such as ( ) in order to adequately answer the research questions from various different perspectives.
The sample population for this study consisted of twenty participants that were recruited through Instagram and Facebook. The participants were from New York, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Germany, and Canada. To qualify, individuals had to be between the ages of 18 to 25 and 30 to 50, as well be in a fandom or multiple fandoms now or when they were younger, depending on what age demographic they’re in. The sample population resulted in a mix of male and female identifying individuals, ranging from Caucasian to African-American. The specificity with the ages and gender allowed for a diverse set of answers, as well as experiences in the world of fandoms.
To fully gauge the emotional experience of fandoms in older generations and fandoms today, a series of interviews were conducted with individuals that currently associate with fandoms and individuals that once associated with fandoms when they were younger. Twenty one people agreed to be interviewed for this study, all with different fandoms and age ranges. After seeing either the Instagram post or Facebook post (See Appendix C) looking for participants, each participant that commented or directly messaged me about participating, was briefed beforehand what the interview was for, about and what it would entail. As a result of looking for participants on both Instagram and Facebook, six interviews were conducted over Zoom, one over email, eight over Facebook Messenger, and two through Instagram direct message. Two in-person interviews were held, but as a result of word of mouth and the participant having time in that instance to sit down and be interviewed then and there. Each participant that had an interview conducted over Zoom or in-person, verbally agreed to be audio recorded beforehand. The two individuals that were in-person interviews were immediately interviewed after being recruited to participate. All participants consented to having their names used, except one, which will be kept anonymous. Interviews started November 10th 2022 and ended on November 15th 2022. Each interview ranged from being 15 minutes to an hour depending on the length and specificity of the participants' answers.
Before each interview, each participant was made aware of the conditions of the interview and verbally consented to these conditions as well as being recorded. After each question was asked, and the participant answered, this gave room for the interview to become conversational, putting the participant and researcher more at ease. Every answer participants gave was complex and added great context to the questions being asked for those that will read this study. At the end of each interview, each participant was asked if they had any closing thoughts about the subject and to please elaborate if they did. This gave room to speak freely without a constraint of a question.
After gathering each audio recording and set of written out answers from the participants, the form of coding in which to sift through and connect themes among the data collected, was decided. Open coding was used to figure out what potential themes held the raw data together before each and every audio file was transcribed. After figuring out the key words and themes that ran through the data, the audio files were transcribed. While sifting through the interviews, the themes and keywords were created through open coding, and created a web of links throughout the interviews. Some of the themes included highlight how fandoms turn into friendships, how communities are created to nurture fandoms, and the strong connection throughout communities with fandoms. The interviews were separated based on the age demographic to differentiate experiences and opinions of fandoms and their evolution socially and technologically through new media and mass communication. More specifically, the transcripts were analyzed with axial coding, directly pinpointing back to how the data relates to the theme and research questions. Specific quotes that applied directly to the research questions were included to enrich the results and its purpose. Throughout the preparation of this study, the results section was crafted to show the difference between how fandoms were/are socially and technologically between two opposite age demographics. The results gathered show a true change in how fandoms were utilized and viewed in earlier generations with what they were given access to versus today where we have social media and technology that maintains and creates fandoms and fandom relationships left and right.
As previously stated, the research questions are touching upon how fandoms have evolved and changed with the evolution of mass communication and media as well as the value that they bring people in different times of their lives. Overall, from this study, when it comes to the social and technological evolution of fandoms with the help of new media and mass communication, we see a significant and important change in how fandoms are viewed, valued and participated in today versus in previous decades. With two different age demographics being questioned, the sets of questions were different, and the purpose of this study was to get the specific experiences and opinions from adults that have lived through various different fandoms eras. Participants had similar answers when asked the question “how did you discover the fandoms you are currently in?”, with those answers being through social media or word of mouth. This was the general consensus for the 18-25 age demographic and for the 30-50 age demographic, the general consensus of how they discovered fandoms when they were young adults was through magazines, books, television, radio or film. Much before the internet really boomed, so they were unable to directly connect with others online or with their celebrity idols. The only true form of connection seemed to be word of mouth unlike now with there being many other options as well.
When questioning the participants about how new media and mass communication has changed fandoms in the time between the two age demographics interviewed, participants all mutually seemed to give the same kind of answers. Social media has cemented its place in the foundation and nourishment of fandoms. Connecting with people has become increasingly easier as well, in the sense that joining online groups can stem into different kinds of relationships. Participants each described their own experiences with fandom, socially and technologically and what value it has truly brought to them. In order to truly understand the interviews that were gathered, themes were found from their responses and used to further analyze their answers.
The Evolutionary Change in The Value of Fandom
Comforting, safe space, understanding, and loyalty. These are only a few of the words that participants used when defining what value a fandom brings to them. Danelle (47) said “I think the biggest value that fandoms gave me was loyalty. I think a lot of us kids who grew up in the 80s were super loyal to brands, teams, shows, or whatever.” Another participant, David (39) said “I believe fandom in general gives that feeling of group acceptance.” More on the media side, and what a fandom is/what value it brings to individuals, participants in the 18-25 year old range took to speaking about how fandoms can shape positive experiences. Conner (21) said “Being a fan is consuming media and enjoying it, often to the point of wanting to share the experience with people in your life. Being in a fandom is actively connecting with others with a similar experience in order to establish a sense of community surrounding the media and its consumption. Some participants had an opposite viewpoint, feeling like value was brought to a fandom when there was a sense of mystery overall. “It was more exciting because you weren’t over stimulated with to much information and constantly knowing what these people were doing in their daily lives. “ said Marc (36) “Celebrities felt more surreal and more distant from their fans. “ said Matt (34) “We didn’t have the same expectations of them as fans do today” said Jess (35) Every participant had their own definitions of what brought them value in a fandom, whether it be having access to lots of information a lot of the time, or barely any at all. This shows the difference in how value in fandoms can shift over decades.
Creating a sense of connection brings value to one’s life. It can bring an emotional value as well, one such as what Najla (22) describes as “being able to freely express your love no matter how little or big the emotion is, we are free to express it. Almost like another home that welcomes you just for loving the same thing as you.” Matt (34) mentioned how he “plays hockey, and was a big fan of wrestling and music and through these similar likes, they brought me together with friends through them being conversation starters.” However, sometimes the value of fandom overall amounted to just wanting to fit in. As Tia (50) said, “clothing trends were a way to fit in which was very important especially as middle school/high schooler” Before the internet and mass communication really took off, fandom experiences that brought value stemmed from in person experiences. Tiffani (42) describes her experience: “I felt as a high schooler, a teenager, I didn’t quite feel like I belonged so to have this similar interest with others was nice, to have a group of people that didn’t see me as weird for liking vampires and dark things.” “I started reading Harry Potter after the second book came out and with the experience of midnight releases at the bookstores and there would be all of these people. It was maybe my first real experience with having a fandom of people who liked what I liked. It was so fun, seeing people dress up and seeing how enthusiastic they were. Coming from a family that didn’t enjoy fiction or these kinds of things, it was nice to have people that liked what I liked.” Tia (50) went on to detail what other kind of value fandom brought to her in the form of how young adults used to express themselves: “If you were a fan of a particular actor or celebrity you would purchase magazines with articles about them, like Tiger Beat or Seventeen Magazine. You would write a letter to the fan club that was advertised for that actor in magazines and usually pay a fee to receive a signed headshot photograph or poster and maybe some other merchandise like a patch or bumper sticker. Hanging posters on your wall was a very popular way of showing your fandom. A lot of fandom seemed to revolve around clothing or other merchandise. People would seek out certain brands to wear what others were wearing as a means of finding belonging and acceptance. Jordache, Coca Cola, Swatch Watches, Converse, etc were all examples of this.”
One of the biggest things that participants really thought about in depth was what makes it socially acceptable to be in a fandom. Being in a fandom brings value to someone overall in some sort of capacity and it was quite wholesome and positive to hear each and every participant's answers. For Conner (21), “practicing empathy makes fandom participation socially acceptable. For the fan, practicing empathy towards "outsiders" or members of other fandoms can help them understand how they present themselves, how they are interpreted in society, and why. Using this knowledge, they can choose to adjust the way they present themselves or simply educate others on misconceptions and set a good example. For the "outsider", practicing empathy towards someone in a fandom can help them separate the idea of being a "fan" from the reality of being another human being with interests. Despite the amplification of stigmas against fandoms, I would say that, as pop culture is widely adopted as an integral part of society and history, fandoms are already socially acceptable, just not socially embraced.” Hannah (19), went on to agree with Conner (21), stating in her own way that “anyone and everyone deserves to be welcome into any fandom. Obviously if someone is being a nasty person and hurting people/doing bad things, they need to focus on themselves before they enter a societal safe space with people just trying to have fun, but other than those exceptions who want to cause trouble, EVERYONE deserves a fandom. I think this because everyone needs a safe space and outlet to be who they are. No matter how strange it is to others, if you’re not hurting anyone, then why not be strange in a good way.”
Alex (21) commented how “you love what you love, any fandom is socially acceptable. There are always going to be people that don’t understand your fandoms and judge you, but at the end of the day I don’t think there are people out there that will judge you for being a part of a fandom. I also think that those people are in fandoms. They may not be in the same fandom as you, or not even realize that they’re in a fandom, but that person that walks on Fifth Ave and buys a new Gucci purse every week? They’re in the Gucci fandom.” There can’t ever be one definition of value when it comes to a fandom because everyone expresses it in a different and specific way to themselves. No one person is the same and that is what makes the concept and world of fandom so interesting and involved.
Fandoms Stemming Into Deeper Relationships
When discussing the concept of fandoms turning into deeper relationships, such as friendships, most participants detailed how many of their closest/bestest friends were met through fandoms and further connected with them outside of them. When participants were asked if they had fandoms that have ever evolved into friendships for them, so many of their faces lit up with smiles. James (21) said “I’ve met some of my best friends through my fandoms, my good friend Trevor and I first met when his sister told him I liked Star Wars and then he challenged me to a lightsaber duel” This was an immediate connection to someone bonding over a mutual like/love. Being in a fandom and finding others outside of it continues to create a safe and nurturing space to geek out. Hannah (19) responded “This is a good question—I immediately feel connected to this. Yes, fandoms definitely have the innate power to bring people to a “safe space” and introduce new bonds. Most of my close friendships, if not all, formed through fandom. Maybe it’s just because I’m one of those “geek” people, but for me it’s extremely easy to communicate and bond with someone else over fandom material.”
For a few of the participants, sometimes the extra boost of fandoms to new conversations with people gives them more social credibility and confidence to engage in these conversations, such as Ryeder (21), who said that fandom friendships are a “gateway to a potentially healthy friendship because that common interest initiates conversations which so many of us lack the confidence to start ourselves in other settings.” Another participant, Najla (22) mentions how it just takes one person to find others who share the same passion to start this chain link of finding others who also share the same passion, so they are not alone. “A fandom friendship has no barriers. You can completely geek out about the mutual fandom at one moment and then talk about something happening in your life the next.” said Gabby (22)
People can find lifelong fan friends in the most interesting of places. Meg (24) reminisced on the fact that she found 2 out of her 3 best friends in the world through a Phantom of The Opera Discord group chat that she used to be a moderator of. She’s actually met up with people that she met in the chat to see Phantom many, many times. A lot of participants actually commented on the fact that even though a few of their close friendships were created and nurtured online, in person connections are better. Megan (22) mentioned she “had an Instagram friend and bonded over Harry Potter, and how she was the President of the Disney club in her college. “I much more enjoyed connecting with people in person over digitally” Megan (22) further remarked.
The difference between friendships made with the help of fandoms versus those made without the help of fandoms come with different variables. Shelbi (23) commented how “you’re able to do more without being judged with your fandom friendships. I camped out on the street for Harry Styles when he hosted SNL back in 2019, and when I tell people about that outside of the fandom, they think I’m crazy, whereas those in the fandom embrace and support it. There’s not a need to explain yourself” “It’s almost like one giant inside joke that people are in on within a fandom”
The Change In Connection And Its Current Ease
Between now and decades ago, the modes of media and mass communication have upgraded significantly. Between decades ago and now, hearing the differences in how fandoms were formed and run, is stark. Tia (50) went into depth about how fandom was for her in her younger years and the way that connections were when it came to being in fandoms: “You might attend organized "meet and greets" at the local mall as celebrities would tour around to do this. You might sign up to receive newsletters in the mail for favorite TV shows. If you were really into something...a game or particular author or movie franchise you might get together with other fans in your area by forming a club that would meet in person and advertise for members on a physical message board located in a hallway at school or in a local hang out restaurant etc. People would hang a poster with details and leave contact information.” When asked what the difference was when it came to fandom connection between now and way back when participants were young adults, answers seemed to be very similar.
Danielle (37) mentions how “the biggest difference in fan culture is that it’s much easier to access information about a celebrity today, especially since celebrities personally participate in social media, and I imagine participation in fan culture must be way bigger than it used to be because of that.” Between the two age demographics interviewed, the differences from how it was for them when they were young adults versus now in the present amounts to what Danelle (47) comments is “the world being your oyster and the fact that for every niche fandom out there, you can find a collection of people who also think it is cool. There are online sorts of families that emerge. A niece of mine loves BTS and she was able to attend concerts this year with people she had gotten to know online.” Fandoms today have formed into different versions of communication and connection, with social media being the driving force. “I think Tumblr was the original space, but now TikTok is really interesting because it’s really social and entertainment, so a lot of people have fan edits. And fan fiction is literature, and seeing this stem into movies and more advanced literature is really cool. Social media and viral tumblr threads, but also a lot of fandoms have conventions where they can really express their interests” said Lark (18). “I think with things like Facebook groups you can find and be a part of any fandom you think of from being at home. It changed in the way where you don’t have to meet in person but being able to still share your life together online. I am in multiple Facebook groups for different things I love in my fandoms like I’m in multiple horror Facebook groups like nightmare on elm street lovers to just general horror groups.” Najla (22) commented. It is definitely easier to connect with others through media and mass communication about fandoms, and as Ryeder (21) said, “It’s so much easier to connect with others now, and friendships which wouldn’t have been possible prior to the rise of social media platforms, are attainable.”
The results of this study highlight and show the progression that fandoms have taken through decades of ever changing media and mediums to discuss subjects that groups of people mutually like. The connections made through these different mediums have brought a whole new sense of value to fandoms, much more than in earlier decades. The results of this study show a broader and more specific picture of what being in a fandom means to people, what it offers them and how they were able to begin participating. The difference in the ways that fandoms were participated in between now and, say 25 years ago, is extremely stark.
Through the theoretical framework of fandom theory, the results of this thesis were accurately predicted. With participants giving their own definitions of fandoms, each and every participant included in their answer “making art” or “creating a community around a certain subject or thing to have a safe space to geek out about”. Creating a community through media, such as an Instagram groupchat, or a Twitter/Tumblr page, opens up the door to so many others to be involved in your desired fandom or another fandom in general. This creates and feeds into participatory culture, a culture that has been strengthened immensely through fandoms. The internet and communication has evolved, as well as what we choose to value and how much we value it. Community through fandoms is a special kind of value.
Between the two groups of participants that were interviewed, 18-25 and 30-50, for the 30-50 year old group, the results imply that participants knew what fandoms where and that they were in fandoms when they were younger, as they were the ones to volunteer to be interviewed to speak about fandoms and their social and technological evolution. For the 18-25 year old group, the results imply that they went through different fandoms as they were growing up/still are going through different and various fandoms, so they have a good sense of how they operate and the value that they truly bring to themselves and others within said fandoms.
Limitations for this study consisted of very minor, small details which didn’t really hinder the study in any way at all. There was no lack of participants for this study, as many individuals were intrigued with this topic and were willing to be interviewed, but only the individuals that came forward first were included and interviewed, that being the first 12 individuals for 18-25. The only two limitations, per se, would probably be the slight lack in diversity for the interviews, gender and race related, and the time it took to gather participants for the 30-50 year old group. Many messages were sent and many phone calls were made, to finally end up with 8 participants. The results turned out well however, with the participants giving long, thorough answers.
Opportunities for future research within this project would be absolutely intriguing. With this thesis being about fandoms and fan culture through media and mass communication with the value it brings people, an extremely interesting concept would be to add film and video alongside it. Gathering clips of individuals showcasing their fandoms and how they got to where they are today within their fandoms. This would unlock a different and more in depth side to the world of fandoms, making it more personal than this thesis has already made fandoms out to be. For a new thesis next year, if a student were to ask what would be a good idea for a thesis next year, the answer to this question would be “What is something that has fascinated you or keeps you up at night, something that you truly want to look more into and study to really and truly begin to understand what it means? From this question, this would get the student thinking more in depth about what has meant the most to them or had their gears turning in their heads before. That’s the best way to creatively get the juices flowing.
To see the quick progression from only just a little over a decade ago of fandoms in so many different aspects, and how individuals that were not exposed to fandoms like this as young adults have grown up with and shaped their viewpoints, has been fascinating. With the purpose of this study being to analyze the culture of fandom and how it has evolved over time with the help of media and mass communication, as well as the value it has brought people alongside it, interviewing participants and finding research about fandoms and their different types of progressions socially and technologically truly made for some informative and introspective information. This study is quite important because not only does it follow a progression of media within fandom culture, but also a communicative uptick and evolution in how we communicate about things, in this case, fan culture and fandoms. Both age demographics interviewed have better knowledge of fandoms and the evolution after these interviews. Young adults and older adults everywhere engage in some sort of fan behavior whether they know it or not. Seeing this progression and learning how different fan culture used to be gives better perspective into its evolution.
Appendix A: Interview Questions Ages 18-25
- Please state your name and age
- What fandoms are you in right now and how did you discover them?
3. How would you describe what a fandom is and what emotional value does being in a fandom bring to you?
4. Fandoms have been categorized as “safe spaces where people can geek out about a mutual subject or thing.” Has fandom ever expanded into friendship for you? What has that been like?
5. How, if at all, do your fandom friendships differ from other “regular” friendships?
6. In what ways have you connected to people through fandoms? In the sense that they could be someone you know, or someone you happened upon through the media.
7. With social media and a strong form of communication conjoining the world, how do you think fandoms have formed and changed?
8. Compared to earlier generations, what would you say is the biggest difference between fandoms now versus decades ago?
9. How have fandoms been communicated into being in your opinion?
10. What makes it socially acceptable to be a part of a fandom?
Appendix B: Interview Questions Ages 30-50
- Please state your name and age
- In this day and age, fandoms thrive on social media and through media communication. Can you please describe to me what fan culture looked like when you were a young
3. What value did this kind of fandom bring to you?
4. Did you create friendships from finding mutual people that loved what you did?
5. What would you say is the biggest difference between how fandoms were for you versus how they are now?
6. If you had had the access to media communication how it is today to join and make the most of your desired fandom, what would that have looked like for you?
Appendix C: Participant Scouting Social Media Posts
Facebook Main Feed:
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The Communication of Fan Culture: The Impact of New Media on Science ...
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