One of the things that struck me and really helped my understanding of fandom was when I came across Henri Tajfel’s and John Turner’s theory of social identity. The basic theory suggests a fairly simple model of human organization. In fact, it’s not that far removed from the classic “us versus them” discussion: a person views others as part of their ingroup or an outgroup. An ingroup can be described as just the collection of people who belong to the same group as the individual in question; for the purposes of this book, that will generally be “comic book fans.” Everyone not a member of the ingroup is, therefore, part of an outgroup.
There is the suggestion that this largely comes from survival strategies from ages ago. Early humans would look at any new being they encountered in an “us versus them” mindset so they could quickly determine whether the person/creature was a threat. It makes for a sort of mental shorthand in threat assessment. Someone like me is okay; someone not like me is a potential danger.
The problem is that we continue to do that to this day, despite that vast, vast majority of our interactions never rising to anything resembling the life-threatening status early humans experienced, we still frequently apply “us versus them” thinking to others. It’s not helped by encouragement via marketing. “Buy our product because it’s better than Brand X. If you buy Brand X, you’re not part of the right tribe.”
Pick any sports rivalry for an easy example. They’re regularly touted as not just two teams trying to see who’s better, but bitter enemies with their very honor on the line in the game. You can see this at some level in marketing campaigns of all sorts that are trying to generate fans. Android versus iOS. Marvel versus DC. Republican versus Democrat.
And while people continue to buy into that thinking, it’s no longer necessary for our survival. Beyond that, it mostly works against our survival any more, serving to divide people who really aren’t all that different. Catering to that ancient lizard-brain mentality can certainly be effective in rallying support among the like-minded, but it inherently limits empathy and understanding, alienating these small ingroups from the rest of the world.
That saddens me. To think that so much of the planet can’t accept that we’re pretty much all the same, regardless of whether you like Star Wars or Star Trek more. Whether you prefer Count Orlok or you’re on Team Edward. Whether you fly an American flag or a Palestinian one. Whether your skin is light or dark. We’re all the same; these superficial differences are nothing. Elevating their importance or, worse, developing formal rules and regulations based on them collectively destroys our humanity and makes us less.
We’re all fans of different things. Even those of us who are fans of the same thing can have different reasons for being a fan. And that’s okay. The beauty of fandom is that sharing your enjoyment of something with others can bring us even more joy. But you don’t have to tear down someone else’s enjoyment because it doesn’t mimic yours.