I really do think the biggest problem about show runners, authors, and suchlike responding to fandom—online or otherwise—is that they’re fundamentally misunderstood what fandom is.
They see a group of fans and they assume that they, the author, is like unto a god for these fans and that they can send decrees down to them from on high.
That’s not what fandom is at all.
No one is more critical of art than fandom. No one is more capable of investigating the nuances of expression than fandom—because it’s a vast multitude pooling resources and ideas. Fandom is about correcting the flaws and vices of the original. It’s about protest and rebellion, essentially. Fandom is the voice of a mob that can do better than the original, that often flies in the face of the original, that will accept nothing less than the best the medium (and the human at the helm) is capable of. Fandom is about putting debate and conversation back into an artistic process—-especially if the artist or author in question has become so vain that all criticism falls on deaf ears. (Moffat, I’m looking at you.) Fandom is about mutual creative expression—-there are no gods in fandom and every time someone thinks they’ve become a god of fandom, fandom corrects them again. (Cassandra Clare, I’m looking at you.) Fandom doesn’t need permission and it’s certainly not waiting for it. (Robin Hobb, I’m looking at you.) And fandom doesn’t actually want your attention; often, they’d rather you left them alone to get back to what they’re doing better than you anyway. (Supernatural, I’m looking at you.)
I would bet dollars to donuts that most of the people who run into this post could name five fics off the top of their head that could go head-to-head with canon any day of the week. I could name five fanvids with more biting commentary than a NYTimes review of the same film. I’ve definitely—and this is the easy one—seen hundreds of thousands of better fanart than the promotion materials for a lot of mainstream films and television shows.
Fandom is not worshipping at the alter of canon. Fandom is re-building it because they can do better.
This is so important to me, and one of the reasons why it’s so vital not to discount fandom as hordes of screaming teenage girls. It boggles my mind how much art and writing of an incredible caliber gets written off because of who it is produced by, and in response to what.
I’ve always love love loved subcultures, the way that people band together solely over a shared interest or characteristic, and the internet makes it only more interesting to look at them because members can be from almost anywhere in the world and share little else in common with other members. Little traditions and stories get passed around for years; legends like polybius, or copypastas that suddenly crop up again when I haven’t seen them since 2006. If I had a nickel for every time a HP fan told me that he/she can’t believe that I’ve never read Shoebox Project, well, I’d have enough money to buy story notes and sketches that one of the authors is selling to fans. Fanfiction and other fan works are like little chain letters, whispers through the wall, bonded and shared artistic acts created within the safe space of a community as invested and interested in the source material as you are.
This is why, to a certain extent, I can sympathize with gatekeepers of culture. I’ll rail against it as a toxic attitude for any group; it’s exactly the attitude that created the straw man of the fake girl gamer which continues to exclude women, overtly or through subtle intimidation, from gamer culture. But I can also understand it as (and many think pieces have hashed this out to death) “geek” identities enjoy sudden mainstream popularity, and bitter geeks of yore scream about corruption. It’s a shit outlook, but from their perspective, they were the ones getting shoved into lockers and laughed underground, and now suddenly, new members enter their subculture, free of ridicule or trauma. Cultures change, and there’s still no acceptable response aside from accepting that change, but I still understand what they see as a dissolution of a culture that once kept them buoyed in a tough world.
The predominantly female population of fandom has had their obsessions mocked; they may not have had 80s-movie-style torments, their notebooks ripped from their hands and read to the whole school, but thinking of the subtle way even I talk about fandom as one of many emblems of an embarrassing past, everyone’s middle school, great fodder for Pokemon-style nostalgia-fests with like-minded friends. But that’s also what made the culture. It wasn’t easy to talk about with people you knew in real life, or at least one couldn’t reveal the full depth of consuming passion that fandom can involve; hours spent reading, responding, discussing the extreme minutiae of a character’s imagined life. Fandom creates a community in which the most obsessed and dedicated member is king, but that degree of hyper-obsession cannot be revealed, and cannot be acceptable, outside of its community.
So every time there’s a fandom rupture over a new and emerging ship, or some BNF falls from grace, every time the oldfags go on a wrathful tirade about the days when /b/ was good, it’s because they care about this culture, the inward-turned, all-consuming closeness of it. And the more niche the fandom, the more tightly the bonds form between its members, the us-against-the-world mentality of knowing how few people in geographical proximity to you would understand.
Basically I was thinking about this because last night out of bored curiosity, I went back to /cm/. For a few years in high school, it was the best place for Transformers fandom discussion, until the weekly Friday thread petered out and any activities moved to the slower-moving, more content-based Livejournal. I came across this thread (safe for work, but embarrasing for work), discussing grander days for the board, which dissolves into mentioning of old times, bringing up notable old posters, and famous or notorious threads, arguments, stories. The larger boards formed a culture through sink-or-swim; traffic moved fast, and whatever survived to get archived, become a meme, or get re-used was pure chance and force of numbers behind it. I can’t think of a name that I remember seeing a lot there, but on smaller boards, culture and community were a lot more based on involvement. I can still list off the top 5 users that used to draw for Friday threads, even though I think that a lot of my fascination with such communities is that I was never really a part, never contributing or notable, usually just lurking around. But those communities are important, and they’re important to me, and I think it’s worth talking about them in a serious way, as befits the years of my (and many others’) lives that they occupied.