My misspent youth was all about fandom. The term officially refers to 'the fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc. regarded collectively as a community or subculture', but is more commonly used to describe fans involved in 'transformational fandom'. To put it another way, a fan of Harry Potter might collect the merchandise and post reviews of the books online. But someone involved in Harry Potter fandom will more likely be drawing fanart, discussing fan theories about plot points, and reading / writing fanfiction, fictional stories based on the books.
Fanfiction has long been seen as key to this kind of fandom, and is something which can trace its roots back as far as humans have been telling tales. We like to elaborate on those stories, imagine what happened before, after, or even during, and the distinction between pastiche and fanfiction is mostly one of money and respectability. Because contemporaries were writing their own Shakespeare spin-offs, describing what happened after Austen's 'Happily Ever Afters', and churning out Sherlock Holmes mysteries by the dozen. Still, the birth of fanfiction as a widespread hobby is generally dated to 1967 when Star Trek awoke the world's inner geek, and people began publishing their own Star Trek stories in fanzines.
Those same Star Trek fanzines also popularised the most infamous of fanfic genres: slash. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with knives or urination; the 'slash' referred to is the '/' symbol which is used to denote the romantic pairings in a story. Mulder/Scully for instance, or - perhaps more pertinently - Kirk/Spock. Because while the / symbol is used to denote couplings of all persuasions, it came to be most associated with male/male relationships, and was used derogatorily by detractors to suggest that all fanfiction was about nothing more than gay sex.
|Fanlore explains that the most likely candidate for the first circulated Kirk/Spock story is The Ring of Soshern by Jennifer Guttridge, probably written c. 1968. It was later published in the 1987 fanzine Alien Brothers, which also featured this rather cool illustration by Mary Stacy-MacDonald.|
What really made slash controversial however was that it wasn't, for the most part, being written and consumed by gay men. Slash, right from the get-go, was predominantly something written by women, for women, and took its cues from conventional romance novels rather than the realities of the lives of gay men. It's not a particularly unusual concept, you only have to look to the proliferation of Boys' Love manga (well distinct from gay 'bara' manga) aimed at teenage girls and young women in Japan. It does sit uncomfortably with what society expects women to be interested in reading and writing though, and long after the advent of the internet fandom was generally relegated to a shadow world of anonymous secrecy.
|May 2008 issue of Chara, a popular Boys' Love title which launched in 1994. The BL genre dates back to the 1970s; the term itself emerged in the 1990s as a replacement for earlier labels like tanbi, shonen-ai and yaoi.|
I was first introduced to the concept of fandom in 1999, when I stumbled across 'gen' (general) fanfiction for Dragon Ball Z while searching for, well, who knows. Whatever it was eleven-year-olds looked up on the internet in the last millennium. It seemed fun but of little interest. Then a few months later I was searching for song lyrics and instead found a slash 'song fic' (story written around song lyrics) from Gundam Wing fandom. Gundam Wing, for the uninitiated, is an anime (Japanese animation) series about five teenage boys who have to save the world with the help of their giant robot suits. Its fandom is 99% about the perceived romantic entanglements between them.
The concept piqued my interest, because though I'm often accused of being the least romantic person in existence, I still like to read about it. Suspension of disbelief and all that jazz. By the time I hit my teens I was fully immersed in fandom, and stayed right there for the best part of a decade. I still dabble even now, whenever I'm feeling particularly fannish about something. It's a much more mainstream hobby these days, thanks to the huge popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey and After which began life as fanfiction. (The process of converting fanfic to 'original' fiction is fairly widespread and known as filing off the serial numbers.) I'm happy to admit to having written almost a million words of fanfic over fifty or so different fandoms, and I'm really proud of the fact that so many thousands of people have read and enjoyed it.
It might not be 'proper' fiction, and it's always going to be looked down on in some circles, but fandom is out of the box - and there's no way of stuffing it back in there!
|Tumblr blog ToastyStats looks at fandom through the eyes of a statistician.|
How about you? Have you ever been involved with fandom?