What Causes a Fandom?

Fandoms are all around us. The two most popular ones that come to the top of my head are Star Wars and Harry Potter. I actually don’t think there are any greater fandoms than these two. I’m sure why these particular movies have created such a culture within themselves because I personally haven’t seen them in a very long time because I didn’t like them. However, I’m not a huge science fiction fan. Whenever I tell people I’m not a fan of either of these franchises I always get a surprised gasp and wide eyes starring back at me. Out of everyone I have met my best friend is the only other person I know why also isn’t a big fan of either.

After watching Stranger Things, The Black Mirror (the USS Callister), and The End of the F****** World I can see why these shows would create such a fandom. Stranger Things has already created quite the fan base because it has been out for a little while now. I remember when it first came out and every one super excited about it and no one was let down. It’s set in the 80’s which makes it more retro and interesting to the modern audience. I know I found it more interesting because of that feature. I wasn’t a huge fan of the show, but again, not a fan of science fiction. After reading Dee Lockett”s article, I was extremely shocked! I had no idea that people get so caught up in the characters and actually harass them even if they’re children. I knew this happened with celebrities as themselves, but not the other way around. In the beginning of the article Lockett gives the example of fans not being able to separate Eleven and Mike from their real selves and were harassing them because they wanted to see a  romance bloom between them like it did between their characters.

Black Mirror was really interesting. I’ve never seen an episode of the series, but knew it was pretty popular and that it was about technology. IT was a really interesting episode because to me having that kind of technology doesn’t seem that far away. I’m not sure if it would be accessible to the public right away, but I could see the rich having it. I could especially see the wealthy taking people’s DNA and putting them in their own game to control. It’s easy to see why a fandom would begin because this episode in particular id very familiar to Star Trek which is another show that has a fandom that rivals with the Star Wars fandom. I also think a lot of people could relate to Daily. He’s treated very poorly in the real world, so he creates a game where he is in control and is able to have copies from people in the real world to control. He gets power hungry and even though at first it seems like the crew loves him he’s actually really mean. Jenna Scherer talks about how this is not a shocking story line and it’s one that quite often acquires a fandom.

The End of the F****** World is actually a really good show! I really enjoyed it even though I still yet have to finish it. I thought it was interesting how the story was from both perspectives. I really Alyssa because she was so different than how females usually act in the media. She was just very blunt and acted so sure of everything even though she hardly ever was. James was also interesting because he wanted to kill someone then he did and found out that he wasn’t a psychopath because he didn’t enjoy it. I wonder if he would have if he hadn’t met Alyssa because she’s the reason he started to feel things. I’m not sure if the show is big enough to create such a big fan base of crazy fans. I haven’t even heard of it until this class. I’m sure there are some crazy fans out there that might try to follow James footsteps and plan out a murder, but it’s also a long shot.

All three of these shows were very interesting. Some were better than others, but I can see how Stranger Things and The Black Mirror could create crazy fandoms. As for myself, I wouldn’t say I’m involved in any fandoms. I enjoy certain shows, but I don’t have posters on my walls, or go to events specified for people who love that specific show. I think it’s so crazy that people get so involved and invested in shows and with characters that they dedicate their lives to it!

Fandom at its Finest

After watching the first episode of Black Mirror and Stranger Things, it’s not hard to imagine how these TV series’ have a die hard fan base. Black Mirror is a contemporary reworking of The Twilight Zone; following unrelated stories that tap into the modern technological world and what it has the potential to do. Due to the fiction aspect and investigating the “unknown”, this genre of show has a large fan base. Many Fan-fiction aficionados enjoy the aspect of a show where much of the plot and setting is realistic but there is a significant twist or change in the story that clearly classifies it as fiction, whether it be space ship battles, dragons, or in USS Callister case, a video game where you can integrate real people into it. The appeal that this brings to many fans is that it is easy to put yourself in the characters’ shoes, leaving the show up to your imagination. In regards to taking fandom to the next step, USS Callister makes it a bit easier to do. The unique Star Trek like costumes within the game allow the viewer to emulate their favorite character. Another show that has a large fan base is The End of the F**king World, based on a comic book series by Charles Forsman. The show follows to estranged children as they run away from their homes. Alyssa, is in love with James, part of the reason why she runs away. James has other ideas. He has graduated from killing small animals and has decided he wants to kill a person, Alyssa. As they run off together James begins to have feelings with Alyssa and thus begins a budding relationship. This series is a bit harder to have a hard core fan base but their definitely is one. I say its difficult because unlike Black Mirror, there are no costumes and a lack of characters to dress up as and look up to. Due to this, it’s not as exciting or fun to be a die hard fan. There are many different conventions and parades that people can go to in order to show demonstrate their passion. I think Fandom is a perfectly normal thing that various different people should involve themselves in. I personally do feel it is progressive or regressive. I simply see it as a past time, a leisure if you will. Every person has something they like to do whether it be golfing, fishing, going out to eat, literally whatever you want outside of work. This is how I view fandom. It’s a sort of cultural engagement that is not harmful to anyone and the people that believe it’s regressive don’t understand how people think and view themselves, an important thing to consider when analyzing human tendencies. Part of the reason of Black Mirror’s toxic fandom because of the plot of the USS Callister episode where the main character is a while male, who happens to be sitting on a captains space ship seat. I believe this sort of toxicity is completely unnecessary. I think it is related to masculinity because it is indeed about a sexism and who the stars should be. This sort of toxicity is deranged and brought up only by extremists who’s view on society are skewed and biased. To be quite honest, although I advocate for people to be hard core fans, I have never been one myself.

When Fandoms Become too Much

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. 

Fandom. Friend or Foe?

Reality can be hard, really hard.  Being the kid who’s a little too different, trying to survive middle school, figuring out your identity in high school, becoming an adult, the pressure of full-on adulting.  So it’s no surprise that many embrace different levels of fandom throughout their lives.  But why do some comics, film franchises, and television series draw such a cult following?  Relatability.  The reality is that none of us are going to be a Jedi Master, get superhuman strength or indestructibility, get spidey powers from a bite, or “boldly go where no man has gone before!”  However, when we see a character that we can relate to, for whatever reason, overcome, be the hero, be treated fairly, etc. we are drawn to that character and their story.  These stories can become a safe escape from the hard realities of life.  And when we find refuge or positive identity in stories it’s easy to understand why people would want to surround themselves with merchandise that is representative of that connection.  Let’s look at a few of the more recent programs that have developed cult followings.

On July 15, 2016, Netflix introduced us to Stranger Things.  Presumably aimed at modern adults in their late 30’s through mid 50’s, Stranger Things follows four geeky middle school boys beginning in 1983 as one disappears, a strange silent girl appears, and the search for answers begins.  For those of us who grew up in the 80’s Stranger Things not only took us back to our childhoods and simpler times but also gave us a childhood mystery to solve, an adventure to live out.  Incorporating characters representative of different ages and social statuses the writers ensure a wide audience appeal without compromising the integrity of the storyline.  What really brings it all together is their integration of these characters into the main plot.  By staying focused, while still showing multiple assets viewers are invited to identify with Stranger Things in the way that is most comfortable for them.

Then we have the different Marvel series that Netflix has brought to the small screen.  DaredevilJessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Punisher are all part the Defenders group of characters with all of the stories centering around NYC.  With multiple plot lines and a variety of stylistic perspectives each series can be viewed alone or as a part of the whole.  Unlike Stranger Things which holds true to the 1980’s stereotypes of gender, and largely of race, the different Marvel series break away, in part from previous MCU stereotypes.  This departure has led to criticism of some of the shows, in particular, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage neither of which has a white male in the hero role and send the clear message that one isn’t needed for the lead characters to perform at their heroic best.  For many, these are selling points allowing women and people of color to have heroes that are a better representation of themselves and thus increasing the MCU fandom base.

But what does this fandom do?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Or can it be both?  The answers to these questions are as numerous as the fans themselves.  You might have heard it said that you can never have too much of a good thing, but I would disagree.  For fans of Black Mirror show writer Charlie Brooker shows us the dangers of fandom in season 4 opener “USS Callister”.  While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone is going to use our DNA to recreate and place us into a version of their favorite show or film franchise it does bring up the question of where the line lays between reality and fiction.  In her article “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans” Dee Lockett highlights the disturbing lengths to which some fans will go to engage with the actors who play their favorite characters.  For some, their fandom becomes so all-consuming that it’s no longer entertainment or a temporary escape from reality but rather a way of existing.  While this can become dangerous for the celebrities that they only see as the characters they’re obsessed with, I would suggest that this toxic fandom is even more dangerous for the fans themselves.  This type of singular focus can lead people to detach from existing social circles, family, and eventually reality.  However, these are extreme classes and not what I would consider typical fandom.  For most, their fandom won’t reach beyond seeing their favorite franchise movies on opening night, watching the premiere of a new season with friends, collecting some memorabilia, and possibly attending Comi-Con.  In short, fandom is generally a hobby like any other.  In many cases, fandom is a topic around which friendships and social circles form.  Just like most things in life fandom is great…in moderation.

Fandom

Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and Iron Fist might attract fans through their fantasy and interesting characters.  In Stranger Things, I think a lot of people became fans because of the empathy they feel towards the young characters and begin to relate to one or more of them.  In Black Mirror, the show has a different story every episode but presents deep and philosophical ideas about the world, which could be addicting and enjoyable if one is partial to this kind of entertainment.  Iron Fist features a superhero who struggled to get his share of his parents business back and is now an extremely wealthy person with powers.  I think that in shows like Iron Fist and Stranger Things, fans like to live vicariously through the characters as an escape from their own personal realities. Who wouldn’t want to be someone who has a lot of money and can fight off gangs of ninja-like people and have powers?

Hardcore fans of Iron Fist might show their enthusiasm for the show by taking up kung fu classes, or fans of Stranger Things might decorate their house like it was from the ’80s. In general, I don’t have a positive view of fandom as I think it could start to control a person’s life.  Personally, I haven’t ever gone beyond the text with any show or became a hardcore fan, so I haven’t had the same sense of community that other fans have.  Another aspect of fandom that I think is very negative is the sense of entitlement fans develope, like when they expect actors to give attention to fans or engage in romantic relationships offset, as discussed in Dee Locket’s article, Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans.  

I think that Black Mirror’s, USS Callister, did a good job of presenting toxic fandom, where a fan feels that he or she has some kind of control over what happens outside of the script.  The USS Callister episode features a man who goes by the name of Daly, obsessed with his favorite show Star Fleet, so much so that he has created a game to play where he is the captain of the ship and the hero when they achieve anything.  At first, it seemed quite innocent, but as the episode goes on, the audience discovers that he has essentially stolen DNA of his coworkers to create slaves inside the game.  Daly exerts so much control and is very evil in his actions towards his “crew” that one of the characters refers to him as an “asshole god.” I think this analogy can be compared to how hardcore fans feed into their obsessions, as they would like to be the controller of the worlds and stories they enjoy.

I do enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I can’t say I would commit significant time, energy, or money into it.  I really enjoyed the Marvel movies, but I didn’t like watching Iron Fist as much, but because it was so strung out and didn’t have as much action as I would have liked to see, as compared to the Marvel movies, such as The Avengers.

 

Crime in Television

After watching multiple television series and shows that are surrounded around action, drama and some scary things, it was clear to me why many are addicted to these shows. A cult following group is typically fans that are very interested and committed to watching the shows and very invested in it. The high dedication and time commitment seems like it comes from the cliffhangers that most of these shows use. I know in Black Mirror episode “USS Callister”, is very different than the other episodes previously aired in this series. While Mary, a young girl makes herself the hero of the story essentially. She wins the respect and affection of the men and masters the combat by the experience she gained. I think that this specific show is very much a cult following shows because of the storyline it presents. With each show being something completely different, it allows the audience to be left guessing what will happen next. These types of shows appeal to the pathos of the audience, making them invested in it and often times feeling like they know the characters on a personal level. With that being said, fans often times go “beyond the text” to connect with the show on a more deep level. Personally, I know that I follow a lot of the actors from this show on Instagram. This allows me and many others to feel that connection with the actor ad character because you are able to get a look on the inside of their lives. In return, when watching the show it allows you to feel like you know that person and you feel a personal connection with them often times.

 

Circling back to the “USS Callister” of the Black Mirror, it is communicating the issue of “toxic fandom” through the theme of Star Trek. Through the clones that have to live in the world of mirrors and ending on redemptive noteworthy. Because of the dark depths of the message it relates back to the toxic fandom. Because of the villain instead of the hero storyline makes the climax of the show shuffle around. Toxic fandom related to toxic masculinity in this show because of the way the male-female interactions are a competition instead of cooperation. Especially in this show and the Punisher, it seems as if the expectation and often times the reality is that men are stronger and more superior than women. In the Black Mirror, it seems as if it is hard for the men to understand how the girls work in this episode. This is a big sign of toxic masculinity related to toxic fandom.

 

Personally, I am not a huge television watcher and this class has been hard for me only because I do not like to sit still for a while or inside for an extended amount of time. The Marvel Cinematic University television series about the superhero-based appearance is an interesting series to watch. However, the series produced by them, The Punisher was very interesting to me. As the plot was very interesting, trying to figure out murder and crime with a lot of mixed in drama it made for a good show. After watching the first four episodes for our filled with heroism, perseverance, and drama it was something that I could see myself watching. Although I can not sit still for long, I am able to watch this because of the quick pace, and the interesting plot makes for a great show.

Race and Netflix

There are a few shows on Netflix that feature people of non-white ethnicities.  In Luke Cage, Dear White People, and On My Block, racial identity and multiculturalism are definite themes presented in the shows.  In these shows, racial identity is paramount. In Dear White People, the main character, Sam, is shown discussing the struggles black people face on her predominantly white college campus.  Being mixed raced, she touches on how asking the question, “What are you?” is not only annoying, but also perpetuates putting people into categories of race instead of viewing individuals as human beings.  Another interesting in part in the first episode of Dear White People, is when Sam’s black friends find out that she is hooking up with a white man.  This upsets them, as they feel that Sam is being hypocritical and not living up to her “black power” ideals by doing this.  While watching the episode, I wasn’t sure how Sam’s white boyfriend was going to tie into the plot as a positive or negative character.  I thought the point of his character was to show that interracial relationships are normal or that Sam doesn’t hate white people.  However, it seems that his character is to challenge Sam’s thinking about how to include white people in her group.  Since I only watched the first episode of Dear White People, I don’t know how Sam’s boyfriend will contribute to the themes, but I think that Netflix could have done a better job of focusing on the racism that Sam and her peers experience, instead of throwing in a white person to undermine that focus.

In the three shows mentioned, I think that racial stereotypes were perpetuated and challenged.  I think Netflix did a good job of acknowledging the stereotypes, but also used the characters to challenge them, or at least give some context for empathy.  For example, in On My Block, one of the hispanic characters, Cesar, is shown being affiliated with a gang, but his character shows that he is less than happy about it and seems to be in the gang to protect his love interest, Monse, from another gang member.  Cesar tells Monse about how deep gang culture is ingrained in his family and that he feels stuck in it.

In Luke Cage, the Luke’s character is shown as a good-guy, super hero amidst a lot of bad guys who are black and portrayed as thugs.  I think that in Luke Cage, the thug stereotype is perpetuated and perhaps they could have used other ethnicities as bad guys, but I think that it was a safe move on Netflix’s part to not show white people as the bad guys.  This would likely have ended in even more pushback from white Netflix viewers than the show already has received. In Lang’s article, “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk about Being Black All the Time?,’” he talks about the racial empathy gap and how responses from white people to shows like Luke Cage essentially proves the point that there is still a huge amount of racism among white people. I think that shows like Luke Cage will not change the mindset of bigoted viewers, but will only provide exposure to people who are less stuck in a racist worldview.  Hopefully these shows will positively portray ethnic communities and influence a better attitude and more empathy towards these groups.

I thought the most compelling character in these three shows was Sam from Dear White People.  She had a big personality and made her struggles blatantly obvious to the audience. I was not able to relate to her struggles, being a white female.  I felt I could relate to her boyfriend though.  I have found myself in situations where people of other ethnicities have made me feel like I don’t belong or like I don’t have any place to want to care about their struggles.