I myself have been involved in the fandom culture in some shape or form like so many people. I like looking up the lore behind world such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and I like watching Marvel movies and I take pride in knowing a lot about the MCU and its characters. I have even gone to Denver Comic Con for the past 4 years and enjoy buying merchandise and meeting the celebrities that come there to sign autographs.
Watching Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and End of the F*****g World, it’s easy to understand how all of these shows can gather such a cult following. Something that stood out in all of them was the sense of nostalgia. For Stranger Things it relied heavily on popular culture from the 80s. It reminds older audiences of their memories of growing up then, or it remindes other generations about classic Steven Spielberg films such as E.T. For the episode of Black Mirror it was the same effect with the clone of Star Trek in the episode called “Star Fleet.” It reminds audiences of the times they spent watching the show growing up, and it brings back a sense of fandom in almost all of us, even if we have never seen Star Trek like myself. EOTFW has a similar feel of nostalgia even though it is based of the present time because there is a “hipster” tone to the entire series that makes the clothes they wear, the places they go to, all seem so familiar.
Another reason as to why people gravitate towards these shows and create cult fan followings is because of the character development that occurs in all of them. With Stranger Things the audience is entirely within the group of the young boys. We grow to learn their personalities and relationships towards each other. If two characters seem especially close such as Eleven and Mike, then the fanbase will most likely “ship” them together, which means that they want the characters to be together romantically. This can happen with straight or queer couples. It becomes a problem however when the fanbase starts shipping the actors of the characters with each other, crossing the line between fiction and reality. Dee Lockett explains this in her article about Finn Wolfhard who plays Mike in Stranger Things. He had to publicly call attention to the inappropriateness of shipping himself with his coworkers, saying that it was inappropriate and “ridiculous.” The stars of EOTFW also have this issue when it comes to shipping because people (including me) were rooting for the characters of James and Alyssa to finally start liking each other and get together. However, it comes to no surprise that fans also started rooting for the actors Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden to get together in real life as well.
What is it about these shows and characters that make fans want to go “beyond the text?” Like said previously, it has to do with the character development that we experience when watching these shows. In Star Trek we come to know the characters strengths and weaknesses throughout the years of the shows running, and it makes us feel like we know them personally. This could be why Daly in Black Mirror wanted his victims to act like the characters he’s known from the show so intensely. We also see the characters change over time and this makes audiences cling closer to the characters still because we can see firsthand the journey they went through such as watching James think he’s a psychopath at the beginning of the series to coming to the conclusion that he’s not a psychopath at all. Another reason that viewers go beyond the text is because these worlds are so vast and the relationships become so complex that it is easy to try to create more content that fits into this world through fan fiction. Daly’s world in Black Mirror is like a super advanced fan fiction story because everything in his world fits his favorite TV show, yet he is making it his own and is creating new storylines that best fit him personally. If the show has an ending that is not the desired one fans are looking for such as the end of EOTFW which is left ambiguous, fans can create an ending that best suits what they desire.
My general view of fandom’s is positive if people explore it in appropriate ways. Going to Comic Con for example and cosplaying as your favorite character and buying posters and meeting celebrities in this atmosphere is appropriate and it is a lot of fun as well because other fandoms collide and you get to meet new people who love the same things as you do. It becomes a problem however when fans start stalking actors or creators of their favorite TV show or movie. It becomes a problem when older people start “creeping” on younger actors such as Finn Wolfhard or Millie Bobby Brown. It also becomes a problem when your fandom starts encompassing every aspect of your life and it becomes a literal addiction. Spending too much time on the internet focusing on a fandom is unhealthy and it alienates friends and family because they cannot relate to your fandom as intensely as you can. There is a time and a place to love and express your passions in a healthy and creative way. I think that Black Mirror demonstrates this idea of “toxic fandom” in a very provocative and elegant way. We have Daly who is an outcast in reality, but is a “god” in his own personal world. Instead of trying to communicate and make good impressions with his co-workers, he recedes into this office or in his home and is always immersed in his own world. Toxic fandom as I have said previously is when a person doesn’t communicate with friends, family, or the outside world if they can. They are completely immersed in their fandom world. This makes you look like an outcast, and for Daly his negative emotions about being an outcast push him further into this world. There needs to be a line between reality and fiction, and once a person can’t distinguish from the two or prefers fiction this is when toxic fandom takes place.
When it comes to my own “hardcore” fandoms I love The Lord of the Rings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Mad Max. I have posters of all these things in my house and have met actors from these movies at Comic Con. I enjoy the lore and storytelling. I love to communicate with people that also enjoy these things, but I know when it’s appropriate to express my inner nerd, and when it’s not. I have been self-conscious about my love for these things at times because sometimes I want to wear a Marvel shirt or talk about things from The Lord of the Rings but I am worried that people might judge me for being a “geek” or a “nerd.” Being a fan of the MCU, I can definitely see myself as becoming a fan of all the Netflix Marvel shows. I just haven’t had the time to actually watch them.