There are, of course, a number of things that I have been a fan of over the years. In some cases, I discovered something right at the start and in other cases, I came along years later. But regardless of when I come across it relative to its genesis, I become a fan because it presents the right message to me at the right time for me. I watched Firefly during its initial broadcast on Fox, but I didn’t find the Fantastic Four until over 20 years after their first issue, and I wasn’t even born until over a full century after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published. Which means the social context these pieces were first developed in might not be very familiar to me.
In my mind, that’s part of the fascination. Not only what these stories say to me when I first encountered them, but what were they trying to say at the time of their creation. What they were in reaction to. What helped to inspire those creators. So for those pieces that I become a fan of, I make a concerted effort to learn not only about their creation and creators, but also the full context of their origins. What was going on in the environment that led to their creators wanted to express themselves in that manner. And while I could obviously never know everything, I prided myself in making that ongoing learning a part of how I approached fandoms.
For years, then, it seemed to me that anyone putting in less effort was just a “casual” fan. They only had a passing interest, and weren’t a “true” fan because they obviously held enough indifference to not even try to learn everything they could about their alleged favorite story/character/creator.
The problem with that, however, is that I was applying my approach to fandoms to everyone else. I was assuming that everybody who got enjoyment out of Alice, for example, got equal enjoyment out learning about Lewis Carroll. Or the nuances of all the wordplay in the story. Or the clever puns built into John Tenniel’s original illustrations.
But maybe, instead, they just thought it was a fun nonsense story.
The thing about fandom—any fandom—is that lots of different people can be a fan for lots of different reasons. Not everyone has the same background, and not everyone comes to the table with the same mindset or approach. There’s no way to measure my enjoyment against anyone else’s, and there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy any story. Which means that there’s no reason to judge how “devoted” or “casual” someone is towards something. The only thing that counts is that they do enjoy it. If they say they’re a fan, who’s to argue?