Fandom as Faith

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about fandom as a faith. A certain fanaticism that we associate with stories–comic books, movies, television shows–veers away from a rational affinity for art and into something religious. Once it gets to that point, we can’t have rational conversations about that particular work’s quality or meaning. Once it is canonized (in the religious sense), it becomes untouchable. And the great irony is that–as in a lot of faiths or cults–the more ephemeral the thing which is believed, the more strongly the believers feel about it.

It’s easy to draw the parallels: we have our holy books (the source material from which more popular media are created). We have our churches–our comic book shops and movie theaters. We have our congregations–those who dress in the symbolic robes (cosplay) versus those who do not. We even have those revivals across congregations–conventions. We have our Fundamentalists (“Michael Bay raped my childhood”) and our Pluralists (“I like the prequels just as much as the originals”), our Catholics (Tolkien’s books) and Protestants (Jackson’s movies).

We demonstrate the transformation from fandom into faith with our desire to establish the true history of the faith and its theology. Do we follow George R. R. Martin’s unfinished gospel uncompromisingly? Or do we see Benioff and Weiss as the Reformation our church needed? Is the Force a godly power controlled by an order of priests? Or is it merely explained away by the science of midichlorians?

Canon, continuity. Like the followers of other faiths, these are our biggest concerns because when events don’t fit the continuity, we realize our faith is based on unstable ground. Was the universe created in seven literal days? Was moon goddess, wife of sun? Is it known?

When fans becomes apostates, the faithful attempt to recruit them back into the flock. The faithful tease the apostates with spoilers and promises of the next cool thing (a sneak preview, a toy, their priests!) that they’ll see at a revival. Fans will cajole and mock the apostate who has missed out on the salvation the faithful have received that day.

Faith has power. But the true nature of a faith is that its power comes only from the believers. Were everyone to turn apostate at once, would this history survive? If no one went to see The Battle of the Five Armies, did it exist at all?

Faith does grant power to believers but not the way they expect. It does not free them from their worldly troubles; merely it helps them forget. And as long as they believe, they empower the priests–the Benioffs and Weisses, Lucases and Jacksons–to contravene the continuity. Where the faithful’s power truly makes a difference is when they decide not to believe. Apostasy is the most powerful weapon against religion, after all.

So it’s enough to wonder: if we stopped having the arguments about the tenets of our faith, would we have any faith at all? If we no longer cared who shot first, would we care at all?


Originally published at heytodda.com on June 1, 2015. Patronize me.