Online communities: why joining a fandom could be the best (and the worst) decision you ever make

Online communities: why joining a fandom could be the best (and the worst) decision you ever make

On the internet you’ve probably heard about fandoms that have become real online communities. These communities, like any other, have good and bad aspects, so joining one could be both the best and the worst decision you ever make.

 

“Fandom” is a common word nowadays; used by many people and spread on almost every website and social media you can find online. But do you know the true meaning of the word? Taking a look at the website of the Cambridge dictionary, you find that a fandom is defined as  “a group of fans of someone or something, especially very enthusiastic ones”. Wikipedia even qualified a fandom as a subculture.

“Fan” is a very common word today, everybody says that they’re a fan of some music band or a movie, but it is just a shorter version of a word still used, but with a connotation: fanatic. 

The suffix “-dom”, in this case, could refer to “an area controlled by a person of that rank”, like for the word “kingdom”. It is logical for us to see the fandom as an ensemble of people united under the same banner, but instead of a king’s banner, it can be a movie, band, book, or any other piece of art. 

In an article for Bustle, Lara Rutherford-Morrison, instructor at West Chester University, Pennsylvania, situated the first use of the word “fandom” in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1903. However, people tend to consider the fans of Sherlock Holmes as the first modern fandom in the late 19th century, bringing with them the first fanfictions.

Fandoms are organised around events in which fans gather to celebrate the common things they love, but fandoms also gravitate to, and accumulate on, different websites, especially social media sites like Tumblr

Online, people can share their interests with others from all around the world. That’s why current fandoms can be compared with online communities, which the Cambridge dictionary defines as “a group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet.”.

Add a shared interest to this and the definition of a fandom emerges. These fandom communities grow rapidly due to how quickly ideas can spread online. 

Cosplays from various versions of Spider Man (Fandoms and Online Communities)

 

What are the positive aspects of Fandoms? 

 

If you ask this question to someone who considers themselves part of a fandom, the list would be endless. Since a fandom is a community, you can choose to enter and leave whenever you want, and people mostly stay for the positive aspects. 

In a fandom, you can find a safe place to share your thoughts about what you like or dislike in a fictive universe. People can share their disappointment in cinematic adaptations of the books they love with fellow members of the book’s fandom. 

The fandom is a space in which you can exchange points of view and create true friendship. Outside of the online sphere, it can also help you to break the ice with someone you’ve just met, if they are part of the same fandom.

Sometimes fandoms as online communities transcend the limits of the internet to find their place in real life. A fandom is also a space in which you can develop your creativity by writing and sharing various forms of fan artwork, mostly fanarts and fanfictions.

Examples of real-life positive outcomes of fandoms: 

Ask E.L. James, Cassandra Clare, and Anna Todd if they think the fandoms they were part of helped them, and they would probably say yes. The writers of the Fifty Shades Trilogy, Mortal Instruments, and After started their careers as fanfiction authors, respectively writing Twilight, Harry Potter or One Direction before seeing their works published and adapted on the big screen, only with changes in names and situations.

Cosplays of various Naruto characters (Fandoms and Online Communities)

Director Zack Snyder would probably thank the fandom that surrounds the DC universe if you asked him his opinion. Warner Bros. wasn’t happy with his work for Justice League and asked for a rewrite with Joss Whedon, when Snyder had to step down because of his daughter’s untimely death. 

The final cut released was very far from Snyder’s darker piece, but his own cut didn’t disappear. Fans started a petition and used the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut to pressure Warner Bros. They were supported by actors and members of the film crew. After various actions, the cut was released in 2021, four years after the original film. 

 

What are the negative aspects of Fandoms?

 

However, the Release the Snyder Cut movement wasn’t always positive and some have reported harassment and toxic behaviour from the fans. This is one of the negative aspects of the fandoms that we can unfortunately find nowadays. 

With online fandoms you can find all the dangers that surround online communities. The internet can be a dangerous place because identity can be easily hidden, and you can never be sure the person you are talking to is honest. That’s why you must always remember to be careful online and not reveal too much personal information. 

We could say, on a lighter tone, that joining a fandom could be a bad choice because  people can fall into a comfortable obsession – which they may never get out of. Maybe it sounds a bit dramatic, but it can be difficult to separate the good and bad aspect of a healthy obsession. You should be sleeping, you know it, but all your online friends could easily convince you to continue this 250k word fanfiction you started, even if it’s 2am.

This point can make you smile, and this was the fandom’s purpose, but more seriously, remember that not everything is nice online. Some people don’t know when to stop an argument or just don’t know how to argue without becoming violent and saying mean things. Protect yourself, even when you think people you’re interacting with are parts of the same group as you. 

Cosplay of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (Fandoms and Online Communities)

Example of negative real-life outcomes of fandoms: 

The Star Wars fandom is one of the biggest in the world because of the quantity of films, shows, and merchandising this universe has produced in its more than 40 years of existence. However, this fandom has also developed a toxic side. For instance, the Fandom Menace mostly developed around Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but generally disagrees with what Disney is doing with the universe. 

The Star Wars fandom has also some racist sides that were clearly visible with all the hatred Kelly Marie Tran (an American actress born of Vietnamese refugees parents who played Rose Tico) or Ahmed Best (an African American actor who played Jar Jar Bings) faced. 

Racism plagues a lot of fandoms and another example can be found in the James Bond franchise. Recently, Idris Elba has been mentioned as a possible next James Bond because of his phenomenal acting skills, but this is not going to happen because of racist remarks from the fandom.

That’s what Elba said to K. Austin Collins for Vanity Fair in June 2017: 

You just get disheartened when you get people from a generational point of view going, ‘It can’t be.’ And it really turns out to be the colour of my skin. And then if I got it and it didn’t work, or it did work, would it be because of the colour of my skin? That’s a difficult position to put myself into when I don’t need to.”

 

Fandoms can be great or very bad, but the worst aspects shouldn’t keep you away from trying to enjoy the best ones if you want to. You just have to keep some rational things in mind, like being polite, respectful, and not giving personal information to total strangers, then you should be good. And you, are you part of any fandom? Let us know in the comment section!

 

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About the author

Laurine Tiran

I'm a French student doing a Master's degree in International Politics at the University of Toulon, France.

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