I first became interested in going beyond studying my favorite comics and TV shows, and into the people who become fans of them back in the late 1990s. Around 2002, I wrote my first paper on the subject. It was incredibly sophomoric and was probably far too light on actual research. (Thankfully, it never wound up being published!) I think most of what I had read as background was limited to one of Dr. Henry Jenkins’ books. I may have brought in a few ideas from Marshall McLuhan, but nothing extensive.
But I felt I was justified in my limited sources at the time; there simply wasn’t that much written about fandom back then. Certainly not comic book fandom, which is where my focus was at the time. The books I had weren’t everything that had been written, by any means—part of what made my work sophomoric!—but it was all I could find at the time.
Cut to 2009. I had found more than a few more resources, and seen a steadily growing interest in fandoms generally. I decided it was high time for me to dive in and write Comic Book Fanthropology, the first book about comic book fandom. Not a history or a memoir; those had been done. But a book about what comic book fandom is really about.
I recevied some generally nice praise, but one of the comments in particular that struck me was how useful my bibliography was. Because people were still having so much trouble tracking down good sources of information about fandoms.
Cut to this past weekend. Several hundred scholars collected in London for the second Fan Studies Network Symposium. They spent the weekend listening to and having discussions on topics like: Fandom and Identity, Fan Studies’ Futures, Spaces of Fandom, and Hierarchies and Capital. It sounded like a fantastic conference, and the hashtag #fsn2014 lit up with people Tweeting the events thoughout the weekend. The final keynote speaker was Sleepy Hollow actor Orlando Jones, who’s own interest in fans and their interactions has been noted before.
And I think that’s what is most striking about where fan studies are today. It’s no longer the realm of academics and esoteric writers, but has really opened up to a significant number of people. This, no doubt, ties in with the recent rise of “geek culture” in general, and there are unquestionably pop culture centered corporations who have entire departments devoted to studying fandoms. (I’ve even been asked to help as a consultant for a few!) Cynically speaking, they’re often looking to understand how to better market their products to niche groups of potential consumers, but that such a notion has been embraced by the corporate world not only shows fandom’s increased visibility, but also further helps to increase said visibility.
One thing I discovered while working on my book was that, at their core, all fandoms serve the same basic purpose: to connect people together via a shared interest. And in a world where we can digitally connect to virtually everyone on the planet, it should come as no suprise that people want to connect emotionally as well. And isn’t that what, at some level, we’re all students of anyway?