Every Friday this summer, Refinery29 explores the passionate, rollicking world of fandom. We’ll take a look at how we organize, create, debate and show our passion for the things we love — the good, the bad, and the loud.
Arianators, the Beyhive, Swifties, Cumberbitches, Jake Paulers, A.R.M.Y., Whovians, Bernie Bros — these fan communities don’t just have passion, they have power. I still remember being 16, my heart dropping when my friend called to tell me she had found my Harry Potter vlogs on YouTube. Despite ostensibly making these videos (in which I ran through the latest Harry Potter news and trends) for the public by putting them on YouTube where anyone could see them, they were only meant for a small community of friends I had met online through forums of other Potterheads. Back then, your internet presence wasn’t something you wore on your sleeve. As the world wide web was working out the last of its growing pains, and school assemblies warned of cyberbullying and pedophiles posing as teenage girls, I was loathe to admit I willingly plowed into the wild west of the internet and talked to people I had never met. About wizards.
But when I look at online fandoms now, I’m almost certain things would have been totally different had everything in my life shifted just a handful of years later. I wouldn’t have had an alias, for one thing. I could have contacted actors and directors from the franchise on Twitter, not to mention definitely gotten J.K. Rowling to drop a fun fact or two. I could have been loud and proud about my internet friends, and probably made a lot more of them. Because if you make a social media account in 2019, you want it to be found. The internet is no longer a place to hide your love for something, but to amplify it, and that’s what Refinery29’s Fandom Friday is about.
Fandoms move as one, a buzzing hoard that can chill your blood when they gather in your Twitter mentions, or genuinely change the world just by showing up at concerts.
Thanks to the seemingly limitless reach of social media, fandoms have brought people from opposite ends of the world together, influenced album sales, tipped votes, set records, sent animators back to the drawing board, and staged coordinated and sometimes personal attacks. They span genres, devoting themselves to music, sports, TV shows, celebrities, books, and beyond, taking on lives of their own that far surpass their source material. They move as one, a buzzing hoard that can chill your blood when they gather in your Twitter mentions, or genuinely change the world just by showing up at concerts.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to fandoms. In Eminem’s 2000 song “Stan,”, a hopelessly devoted Slim Shady fan writes letters to his rap god, growing increasingly desperate in his quest to get a response. The term has since been co-opted, first with a negative connotation: A “stan” was a fan whose devotion bordered on becoming a danger to their chosen icon. That does still happen, but “stan” as a term has largely moved past its negative origins. Instead, “stan” describes a fan with a level of earnest, supportive love for their idols that grows from a genuine relationship (that the girl making Harry Potter videos 10 years ago could never dream of).
Fandoms themselves aren’t exclusive to 2019, or even the internet. The image of screaming girls at boy band concerts has surpassed cliche to the point of almost not being worth mentioning, except to serve as evidence that no matter where, when, or how, art and entertainment will inspire people to come together.
But now we ask, what’s next?
This summer, we’re pausing every Friday to answer that question, visiting a particular aspect of fan culture that warrants further scrutiny. What did fandoms look like before the internet? And what does it take to be a part of one — buying merch, running Twitter accounts, cutting together YouTube videos and setting them to Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life”? What happens when fandoms turn to standoms, and then start to rot with the kind of toxicity of the original song? Stay tuned (be that following on Twitter, setting up alerts, or lining up in the rain) for everything that’s ahead for Fandom Fridays.