On Why Fandom is Important

I’ve been on the outskirts of a lot of fandoms. I’ve watched a lot of shows that have some seriously dedicated fan bases and have even participated a bit in a few. The fandoms vary a lot depending on the format of the show (obviously) but they all have one thing in common: passion. I know all of this is nothing new to most people. We all know how important these communities are and (if you’ll pardon the PR speak) how a few key influencers can be tapped to build an intense, interactive following.

All of that being said I’ve been around the fandom block and I’ve noticed some key differences in how they’re cultivated, some worse than others. In light of last night’s Arrow episode (no spoilers, no worries) there was a lot of expected divisiveness. Being a widely watched popular CW show brings a varied fan base that skews a bit younger it’s to be expected. They don’t pull their punches with the content and I appreciate that but the show runners aren’t exactly the best example when it comes to their social media presence.

They’ve got a large group of fans with very passionate yet, disparate ideas and yet they meet a lot of criticism with disdain. That breeds ill feeling and it spreads quickly. They’ve had this unchecked battle of Felicity versus Laurel fans for a few years and instead of encouraging fans to stop pitting women against each other they’ve let it run rampant even going so far as to make snide comments at fans that articulate an impassioned opinion. If you’ve got a fan base this passionate there’s so much you can do with that. There are a lot of ways to coach them through an event like last night’s episode and they have really seemed to fail by all accounts.

There are a lot of fans like me who live-tweet, engage social occasionally, make fan art and generally promote the show. I’ve gotten a lot of people to watch Arrow but I always warn them against engaging online and the fact that I have to do that is a real detriment to the show. I don’t like having to say that the fans are generally pretty mean and show creators (Marc Guggenheim specifically) that I like can be very callous and reactionary. I understand not wanting the small segment of online engagement to dictate the direction of the show but outright ignoring your biggest supporters and responding to their anger with flippancy is a great way to alienate your best advocates. And I’m saying this as someone who really likes the direction last night’s episode is taking the show.

As an example of good management I’ll point to Syfy’s Haven community. The audience is much smaller and skews a little older but they’ve had some serious, controversial episodes and they have dealt with their fans beautifully. The actors, writers and creators all made great efforts to engage with their fans and commiserate with them over certain plot points. They managed to explain their decisions without derision and would admit if they made choices they were unhappy with in the end. They were accessible, relatable and a lot less precious about their vision and it really helped to build a supportive fan base.

Fandom is important. Whether you’re creating a show, writing novels or selling cars. Managing your community is an extremely important part of the process and one where I’m seeing networks, like the CW failing exceedingly. Without the fans there’s no one to submit artwork or take your polls. They’re the ones you’re creating for so treating them like unruly children rather than the driving force behind your success will always be a very poor choice.

EDIT: I’d like to clarify that I think the CW social team handling the backlash from last night’s episode did a pretty good job of explaining their viewpoint and managing fans. I think it was a great episode and a good choice. The only problem I have is that, in my opinion, the fan community hasn’t been cultivated well over the past four years and can be extremely nasty. I think this is a sign of poor management overall. It could honestly be any number of factors and I’m needlessly throwing some blame on the social media team but I’ve seen a few of the show runners make some snappish comments to fans that irritate them and when you’re handling something that people are this passionate about you just can’t react that way. It’s rude to the fans who dedicate so much time and money into supporting you. Your intended target isn’t the only audience on Twitter. Ok, I digress, Arrow’s a great show, you should watch it and avoid the online audience like the plague. And be the change you wish to see in social media.

 

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Passion and Fandom Culture

I seem to have tumbled into one of the nicest, most insane fandoms of all time.

I’m not stranger to fandom culture. I have a Harry Potter/Star Trek/Stargate tattoo. Trust me, I’ve been this nerdy for a while. I usually try to remain an outlier because I just don’t seem to have the necessary amount of time to devote to the cause and when you have an addictive personality you tend to get hyper focused on that one thing. This will lead to slacking on the important life things and I just can’t afford to do that. For me it means that I am being too obsessive with another person’s creative work to create work of my own and let’s face it, I can’t compete with the time commitment of the people who get to be obsessive for a living. Or the 15 year old girls who are BAMFs at running full fan communities. Seriously. How do they do it?

Through teaching and through my fan community fringe drifting I have seen my share of amazingly talented kids. Smart, witty, thoughtful and driven kids. I have recently found myself so envious of them. They can create these social circles and connections that produce a multitude of art and interaction. It’s a beautiful thing and it just seems to come so easily to them. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for this and that their access to the internet and current social tools has a lot to do with it. The one thing that can’t be attributed to access is passion. People have always been passionate about things. Without passion there can be no creation (double entendre intended) and creation is, to me, the purpose of living.

The plight of the obsessives

I don’t think the world gives enough credit to obsessives. These women/men who love something so much that they are driven to create things and discuss all things surrounding it. There was a period of time in which people dismissed or hated these people. That whole period in the 80’s and 90’s where geeks were vilified simply for being so passionate that it would intimidate people. It was and still is intimidating and it can be off-putting if that person comes on too strong but that doesn’t mean that passion should be cast aside. Passion when harnessed is what leads to greatness.

The first fan community that I finally caved and participated in was The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I am passionate about a lot of shows but LBD was the least intimidating and I found my foothold in the Reddit group. I now have internet friends that I keep in contact with for things outside the LBD community. They are smart, dynamic people who love to be creative and share their passions too. Who knows, some of us may end up collaborating down the road. After all, when it comes time to start a big project I have this great new set of connections with specific talents and similar interests that I know I can collaborate well with. It’s a beautiful thing.

How fandoms can facilitate art

The fan group I have recently found myself in is for Haven (as you probably could have guessed). Haven fans are so welcoming and eager to share their love of the show with you. The insane part is that they seem to always be online. They are always sharing and creating and discussing and it’s wonderful and beautiful and terrifying. Terrifying because I can’t keep up but wonderful because I am always welcome pick up where I left off. Television has been such an intrinsic part of my life for so long and I finally have a creative outlet to express what it has meant to me. The sense of community is the foundation of all of that.

I firmly believe that mankind has always experienced this in regards to the arts. Renaissance painters studied the works of their mentors in close-knit schools trying to emulate their styles in hopes of being allowed to help the master’s create their work. We do the same thing now. We just happen to have lost the spatial boundaries (why, thank you internet!) and gained convention centers! Even better, people who create work love having fans. Fans are the people who truly appreciate the work and that’s all any of us want really. To find other people who love the same things and to create things that inspire them and help them understand that they aren’t alone.

I guess what I am saying is, don’t be dismissive of obsessive fans. That’s where all of the creativity is happening. Being creative about things that you love helps you to get better at the things that you do. Once you’ve honed those skills you will be better able to communicate your own unique concepts. It makes everything else less daunting and far more worthwhile.

All right. That’s enough of me justifying my obsessive nature. Have these other fan art promos I’ve been working on. If you have anything that you’d like to share I would be honored to see it.

Note: I get my images off of a standard Google image search. I don’t own them and I take no credit for them. The photo manipulation is what I do.