From the Internet to Your Bookshelf
Before E.L James was the author of one of the bestselling series of all time, she was simply just a fan. After seeing the movie Twilight in 2008, James became absorbed with fictional reality. As she dug deeper into the fandom, she discovered the phenomenon of fan fiction. Inspired by this, she began to write her own version of the character’s lives. She called her story, ‘Master of The Universe’. Today, it is better known as the book 50 Shades of Grey.
Fanfiction in its simplest form is a fictional story written (or filmed) by a fan of a particular movie, TV show, book, celebrity, etc. Even though fan culture has been around for a while, the rise of the postmodern era has enabled it to grow and advance. With the ability to share information and fan made content, fandoms have grown rapidly in the last 5 years.
Fandoms can be looked at as groups created by shared experiences and passions. This can be directly related to Meyrowitz’s analysis of group identities. People are familiar with those that are similar to them. Similar to the way Meyrowitz contributes the rise of the Women’s movement to television, the rise of fandoms can be directly connected to the internet. People can meet others similar to them, regardless of geographical location.
Just because you are fan of something does not mean that you are a part of the ‘fandom’. Being a member of a fandom is the same as being a member of a community. You can make friends, share stories, and talk about common interests. Growing up, I was a part of fandom and it changed the way that I viewed online communities. I would even attend concerts with other fans who I had only meet online through our Fandom. It was a community that communicated through URL names and common interests. There were friend groups inside the fandom, different fan fictions that would circulate and even meet ups held for members that lived in similar areas. Group identities are strong influencers in how we act, what we do, and who we interact with.
“Fans are the most active segment of the media audience, one that refuses to simply accept what they are given by rather, insists on the right to become full participants” (Social Media Reader, pg 203)
It is no surprise that fanfictions like Master of The Universe gained popularity so quickly. When a fanfiction becomes popular, it is an extremely raw representation of what the fans want. Filmmakers are eager to please their viewers because they are the reason the show continues. One of the easiest and low risk ways of reaching an audience can be through fanfiction and other fandom trends, like art.
“Fans have always been early adaptors of new media technologies, their fascination with fictional universes often inspires new forms of cultural production” (The Social Media Reader)
Shows like Bob’s Burgers took advantage of this and actually created an alternative episode showcasing multiple fan’s interpretation of the characters.
When fans know that they are being appreciated, they become more engaged in the fandom. Ratings often go up because people are excited to see their friends, or ‘group members’, recognized on their favorite show.
Another example of this can be seen in the show Adventure Time. The creators took inspiration from a fan who took the iconic duo Finn and Jake and created Fionna and Cake. The creators went as far as creating an entire episode after the alternative characters. In fact, out of the 300 episodes over the course of 10 seasons, fans rated Fionna and Cake among the top 10 episodes of the series (imdb.com).
The positive response from fans suggests that the explosion of the fanfiction world will not slow down. Furthermore, it’s resulting in more TV shows also using fan art or stories to keep up ratings and keep fans happy.
Through my experience in a fandom, Meyrowitz’s analysis on group identities, and the high rating response of fanfiction shows, it is evident that fan culture is a large part of online communities. They have generated their own discourse through fanfiction, fanart, fanvids, and more. It has essentially created a new form of online appreciation.