Fan the Flames
Why fandoms are now as influential as the figures they revere.

  • Words Tom Faber

Picture a typical fan. What comes to mind? A Trekkie wearing pointy Spock ears at a sci-fi convention? A teenage girl screaming at a One Direction concert? Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, guzzling slushies and haggling over a mint-condition Batman figurine? Or perhaps one avatar in a virtual horde, tearing across Twitter to wage war on a rival fan group? 

You might note that none of these images cast fans in a positive light. Despite many formerly maligned fandoms going mainstream over the past decade—think of Marvel, expanding from geeky comic subculture into the biggest film franchise on the planet—such unkind stereotypes remain our automatic reference points. But the essence of fandom is innocent—it’s feeling passionate about something and sharing that with a community. So how did it get such a bad rap? 

According to Mark Duffett, professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Chester, “Media fandom is the recognition of a positive, personal, relativel...

( 1 ) After The Beatles' guitarist George Harrison mentioned he was partial to a British candy called Jelly Babies in a 1963 interview, fans soon began sending him packets in the mail and pelting him with them at concerts.

( 2 ) “To be a fan is to scream alone together…” Ewens writes in Fangirls: Scenes From Modern Music Culture. “It means pulling on threads of your own narrative and doing so with friends and strangers who feel like friends.”

(3) Lady Gaga famously nurtures her fanbase, and has even tattooed the words “Little Monsters” on the arm she uses to hold her microphone.

(4) Last year, fans of BTS and Blackpink exerted their power in an entirely different realm: political activism. They took credit for helping to inflate expectations for the poorly attended Trump rally in Oklahoma by reserving tickets they had no plans to use.

(5) One Eminem fan broke the world record last year for having the most portrait tattoos of a musician. She has 16 images of the rapper on her body.

(6) In the 2020 US presidential election campaign, many candidates’ supporters began to identify as “stans.” Political stanning, wrote The New York Times in 2019, “is a new way of seeing democracy, and of obscuring it.”

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