For the past three years, my best friend has been nagging me to watch Game of Thrones. Between keeping up with new episodes of the Big Bang Theory and American Horror Story, and the emotional toll Sons of Anarchy had taken on me, I genuinely thought that I didn’t have the time or energy to invest in a new fandom, especially one as passionate as GoT.
Yeah, yeah, I know; I should have listened to her sooner (I’m currently trying to squeeze in a second viewing of all six seasons before the mid-July premiere of season 7).
Sometimes we’re in the right place at the right time, just casually watching the premiere of a pilot episode or reading a recently released first instalment, unaware that we’re witnessing the birth of a fandom.
Other times, we let a brilliant story slip past us because our real lives are too busy, or we’re emotionally invested in another fandom, or we falsely believe that the story (or its setting, or the characters) isn’t really our thing.
Despite its seemingly recent innovation, the concept of fandom isn’t unique to 21st century pop culture – cult classic films have been around for decades. Think Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, Clueless, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to the Future, Fight Club…
However, recent social and technological adaptations have helped modern fandoms to evolve beyond their cult classic origins, and into their own little subcultures.
Gone are the days when the fans of a television show had to wait for it to be picked up for syndication, or when the intervening months between the cinematic and VHS releases of a film stretched on like years. DVDs and Blu-Rays, YouTube, Netflix, online streaming and illegal downloading have resulted in films and television shows – both recent and retro – reaching a broader viewership.
The way audiences communicate with other like-minded fans around the world has also changed. Back in the days of VHS, fandoms consisted only of repeated viewings, quoted dialogue and collectable merchandise. Specialised groups and pages on social media, memes and GIFs on Pinterest and Tumblr, online forums, fan-fiction websites, cosplay tutorials, and fan conventions such as Comic Con have allowed for fandoms to expand their communities.
Additionally, the mainstreaming of nerds as a subculture has encouraged unbridled enthusiasm for our favourite stories and characters, as well as allowing books, TV series and films previously deemed too “geeky” to be relabelled as “cool”. This is especially true for the sci-fi and fantasy genres, with works such as the Star Trek franchises, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones among the highest populated fandoms.
However, for a newcomer venturing into a well-established fandom, this passion can be intimidating. Those who’ve been there from the beginning can be overly protective of their “precious”, and condescending towards late arrivals.
But don’t let other fans’ arrogance scare you away.
Storytelling is for everyone; young or old, poor or rich, happy or sad, black or white or green with pink spots. Creativity is a basic human need after food, shelter and companionship, and humans are social creatures, so enjoying stories with others not only bonds us together as a society but also improves our individual mental health.
If you’ve only just discovered the awesomeness of a book, film or TV series, don’t be afraid to admit to your newcomer status – any real fan will be happy to have recruited another member to their cause. Whatever you do, though, do NOT pretend to have been a fan from day dot – the natives will know, and you’ll damage your credibility as a genuine fan.
However, if you have no intention of ever reading or viewing a highly popular series of books, films or television show, don’t be disrespectful towards the fandom. Star Wars, Doctor Who and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are not my taste, but I don’t make fun of those who do enjoy them because I understand, and respect, the emotions induced by these works.
Stories draw us to them for a reason; either we relate to the characters or the themes of their stories, or we find solace or inspiration from their emotional journeys and the outcomes.
So when we share our love for a particular book, film or television show with our peers, we are also sharing a little part of ourselves with the world.
What highly popular book, film or TV series have you stumbled upon late in the game? Or do you have fond memories of the birth of a cult classic? Leave a comment below.
© Tara Jenkinson 2017