Fandom Fun

SONY DSCAs the fourth Wonder Woman and second Scooby Gang pose in front of our book stall for a photo with a particularly buff Thor and a truly loathsome-looking Joffrey, I marvel at the colour, the life, the sheer enormity of this thing people still like to think of as cultish when it’s clear that at some point, it crossed over into mainstream: fandom.

crowdsartistsalleyIt’s Supanova, the biggest pop culture and comic book convention in Australia, and together with Oz Comic Con and a few smaller regional events, makes up the year-long national con circuit frequented by all things movie, TV, book and comic fannish. As authors and artists, we’re there with a table covered in books and artwork all centred around the genres most prevalent in fandom: fantasy, science fiction, horror, paranormal, and other subgenres of speculative fiction. We’re in the Artist Alley section of the exhibition floor, surrounded by other genre writers, artists, craftspeople and designers, all of us holding down stalls bearing our creative, nerdy wares like a great big colourful market of geekdom. Our customers are fans of all kinds, anime fans, Trekkies, Jedi, wizards, Brown Coats, Whovians… all wandering about in relative harmony, some dressed up, others not, many in some reverent state of in-between with a Sherlock-quote handbag or a Pikachu ears headband. When someone comes over to browse the books, it’s not hard to find something in common to chat about – we’re all fans, after all, though our sources of fannish interest and devotion are diverse. Fandom, whether fans identify with the collective or one of its subcommunities or not at all, is a fascinating worldwide space generated and sustained by the shared suspended belief of millions upon millions of media consumers of varying degrees of involvement. It’s here at Supanova, manifest in the cosplay and the hours-long lines to get a two-second photograph next to Stan Lee, comic book godfather; it’s online across hundreds of platforms and sites, evidenced in the deep meta discussions on Facebook and in forum threads about Kylo Ren’s emotional state; it’s in the conversation you strike up with your friends after walking out of the latest Avengers movie about the credibility of a particular action sequence or the execution of a particular humorous line. Fandom is real, and it’s far from underground these days. It really is a wonderfully fun place to be, and judging from the numbers of fanfictions just in the two biggest multi-fandom archives and the numbers of Supanova attendees ranging through the tens of thousands in each of the capital cities, I’m not alone in my opinion.

IMG_7900So for something so wildly popular, it’s almost funny that it continues to be treated as cultish, both in everyday discourse and academic circles. Introductions of fannish interests to polite conversations still seem to need a sort of disclaimer – “Sorry, I’m such a nerd” – and fan studies as a discipline, though established in the mid-1980s and then firmly legitimised by such pioneering researcher/fans as Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith (both 1992), continues to be painfully underresearched and underappreciated. Though it doesn’t shock me, I wearily acknowledge the raised eyebrow I receive when I explain that my PhD draws from fan studies – “That’s a real thing that people actually study?”

Well, yeah. A study of people gathering both physically and virtually around shared interests to engage in literate practices such as discussion, critique, debate, collaborative writing and the creation of other arts works, of an media machine both influencing and influenced by the evolution of globalised mainstream culture, of a multi-billion-dollar industry transcending singular forms and challenging old notions of time and timelessness with reboots and reruns and Twitter petitions for cancelled shows to be revived as films. Yeah, that’s a real thing, and it’s kind of in plain sight. Disney didn’t buy out George Lucas’s soul (pretty sure that’s what you get in exchange when you give someone $4 billion, along with their movie franchise) because they’re silly.

23509306_1759794297364578_1377898381681322401_oStanding at my team’s stall at Supanova in author-Shayla mode, it’s hard to shift the hat of researcher-Shayla and not wonder at all these up-and-coming writers around me with their unique story worlds, and at the Cruella and Hermione standing on the other side of the table animatedly discussing the author’s previous book and all that they loved about it. For the purpose of that conversation, that story world is real for those three people, and if I listen in or join them, that world is open to me, too. To all of us. I think that’s the magic of being a media fan, whatever your specific corner of fandom, whatever non-fans say or can’t perceive – that ability to make real what somebody else once envisioned and tried to share, either as a book, a screenplay, a television series, and to join others inside that shared vision. It’s an exciting kind of magic as a fan, even more so as an academic who gets to research that instead of something more mundane, but most especially as a creative. When I put my books out into the world, I opened that world inside my head up for others to join me. What had been real to me for years was suddenly a place others could come and experience, too. Does that make my work part of fandom? I guess I already have my answer in the Octavias, Lisa Simpsons, Ariels and Castiels who stop at my Supanova table to ask when the next Elm Stone book is out. I built the door, but the fans bring the magic.

Shayla Morgansen

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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