Trekkies, Whovians, Potterheads, Bronies; what do these names have in common?
They are separate fandoms, a group of people who share a common interest in a subject. Here, it refers to the obsession over media icons outside of mainstream pop culture, like Star Trek. The passionate drive over these non-existent entities even earned fandoms a spot on Al Jazeera’s program, The Stream, where the enthusiasts and journalists discussed the positive impact fandoms have.
Francesca Coppa, a Professor of TV studies at the University of Pennsylvania, sees fandoms as highly inspirational. On The Stream episode, titled “The Power of Pop Culture”, Coppa says that the obsession fandoms possess inspires creativity, debate, and even causes.
“Fandom is extremely social,” Francesca Coppa said.
While fandoms can inspire writers, filmmakers, and other occupations, what does the fandom do for everyday life?
Angela DiLella, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, sees fandoms as a nuisance. While she is a fan of various icons, she does not find their obsession noteworthy. Instead she finds fandoms to be socially counter-productive.
“I don’t want to sit with a group of people and discuss this one thing,” Angela DiLella said.
Unlike the interviewees on The Stream, fandoms still have little impact on society. They are just another group of enthusiasts, bordering on the eccentric.
Even here, there is more to these fandoms than what many think. Sean Richmond, another student at Eastern, says that the inner-workings of fandom allow for the non-binary discussion of icons like Kirk or Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. When he says non-binary, he means that it goes beyond the stereotypes like race and gender, alluding to a universal appeal.
“You like it and that’s all that matters,” Sean Richmond said.
So while everyday fandoms seem obsessive and annoying, they allow fans to discuss what they love without the pressures of society. In the case of Doctor Who, Neil Perryman, a interviewee on The Stream who manages the Wife in Space blog, explains that the fans not only influenced the BBC to bring back the show in 2005, but many of them went on to write and work on the show.
“The people now making the show are those same fans,” Neil Perryman said.
Fandoms, while being peculiar, can do so much for the object of their fixation and for themselves. So how have fandoms impacted my personal life?
Even if I am a Whovian, a Doctor Who fan, I find that fandoms have seldom influenced my life. I got into the show because of Douglas Adams, who wrote “The Pirate Planet” (1978) and “The City of Death” (1979) and find the writing more interesting than the heroic acts of the Doctor; played by Tom Baker in the mentioned episodes. I could find one of these fandoms and argue that Adams’s writing greatly influenced the modern Doctor Who, but is it worth it? Is it better to let these aspects of a media icon to inspire a person rather than debate about the minor aspects, like what character is the best?
As fandoms become more mainstream, only time will tell whether they still remain eccentric in the public’s eye, or become an advocate for positive, progressive change.