Have you seen people on the internet discussing the “fandoms” they’re a part of? Fandoms are some of the most powerful forces on the internet. Here’s what these devoted fanbases are and how they bring people together.
A “fandom” is an organized subculture of people who share a common interest. People who are members of fandom are often the most devoted and invested in the media franchise, with the fandom often going the extra mile by documenting small details, extensively speculating, and creating fan content.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the term was in 1903. It was occasionally used throughout the 20th century for fan communities of franchises like Star Trek before eventually exploding in the 21st century as the internet made it significantly easier for fandoms to organize.
While all people in a fandom are fans, not everyone who’s a fan of a media property is in a fandom. Fandom groups are part of participatory culture, where individuals are both consumers and contributors to the media. Being in a fandom means being part of organized communities, building relationships, and contributing content of your own.
While there can be a fandom for virtually anything, an internet fandom normally refers to the fanbase of a particular fictional creative work or published media. These include books, movies, TV shows, video games, stage shows, graphic novels, etc. Some of the biggest fandoms on the internet are giant franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Minecraft.
What Do Fandoms Do?
Fandoms tend to engage in a lot of activities on the internet. The most basic of these is creating online spaces where they can discuss the work. In the early days of the internet, these were usually bespoke message boards or mailing lists. Modern fandoms use platforms like Discord and Reddit.
Another thing that many fandoms do is maintain a repository of information and lore. Often, properties that draw dedicated fandoms have a lot of characters, worldbuilding, locations, and events. Fans compile this information into user-editable wiki websites. For example, Bulbapedia is a wiki website that contains highly detailed information on nearly everything about the Pokemon franchise, from the games to the TV shows.
People in fandoms are also the most likely to create UGC or user-generated content. The most common form of user content is fanart, artistic depictions of characters or scenarios. Many fans also write fanfiction, stories set in the same fictional universe as the property exploring different events and relationships that may not be in the original story. Many of these works explore “ships,” which are canonical and non-canonical romantic relationships between characters.
Sometimes, fan creations can reach incredible levels of scale and ambition. For example, gaming fandoms have made mods with customized campaigns that can rival the original games in length. There are also fan-made stage shows, movies, music, and published books. For example, A Very Potter Musical, a stage show viewed over 100 million times, started as a school production made by a group of Harry Potter fans.
The Good and Bad of Fandoms
Fandom behavior is a mixed bag. Some negative behaviors are often associated with groups of hardcore fans. They often engage in antagonistic and insular behavior against other fandom groups, with “fan wars” being a common feature of online communities. Many fans also engage in infighting within their group, especially when they disagree about certain things. For example, “ship wars” happen between groups with different preferred relationships.
However, fandom brings a lot of positives as well. These groups often help people on the internet find communities to be a part of and friends who have common interests. In addition, fandom can bring people from all over the world together, all of whom are devoted to a specific interest. On top of that, fans of less financially successful franchises may support the property financially through channels such as Patreon or Kickstarter.
There are many internet “spaces” where fandoms tend to organize. The most common fan spaces are sub-groups of popular social platforms, such as subreddits on Reddit, groups on Facebook, or servers on Discord. These are organized and moderated platforms that can help users build up connections with each other, create fanwork, and share news. In addition, these communities often hold events for their members.
Fandoms also organize on content-focused platforms. For example, there are many fandoms on Archive of Our Own or AO3. It’s the largest fanfiction website globally, with some fandoms like Marvel having hundreds of thousands of stories. There are also websites like Tumblr, which has plenty of fan content and discussion across different franchises.
Lastly, there are plenty of IRL or “in real life” spaces for fandoms to gather. The biggest of these is fan conventions, which can range from minor to enormous depending on the size of the group and the organizing committee. These conventions can be multi-genre affairs like Dragon Con and San Diego Comic Convention or more targeted to specific groups like Harry Potter or Star Wars conventions. Local networks will also sometimes hold fan events with smaller groups.
RELATED: What Is Fanfiction?
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