What Makes a Show Develop Dedicated Fans?

Shows like Stanger Things, Black Mirror, and The Punisher are all incredibly unique, potent, and immersive. All of these shows have die hard fans and it’s no surprise. Black Mirror for example caters to thinkers who dream about where the future may lead us and it fills a gap in the entertainment industry where Twilight Zone once resided. I’m a huge fan of the show myself because of it’s incredible writing and close to reality plots. I’m a computer science major who’s working on a glider drone that can use image recognition to spot people and plot their gps coordinates on a map all autonomously so I realize how close we actually are to robotic militarized dogs. It’s completely feasible even right now. So when a show taps into this kind of futuristic subject matter and does a good job of it, I’m very intrigued.

Stranger Things is a popular show with millions of fans for very different reasons. It is reminiscent to 80’s Stephen King films and deals with science fiction in a very fun way. The show is simply very likable and intriguing with it’s vibrant child actors and mystery. It’s also a very unique show (much like the others mentioned) and stands alone among countless other Netflix shows with virtually no overlap. When a show’s universe is this distinct and well thought out, it tends to naturally attract a lot of fans because people want to tap into these worlds and escape into them by watching the show or movie and by reading the fan fiction. Good examples of well realized distinct worlds are those of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. Stranger Things’ universe isn’t as far fetched as the others mentioned, but it feels well defined due to it’s retro aesthetic and unique cast of monsters (oh and the upside down).

The Punisher is an interesting one because the guy is an example of a realistic super hero. Realistic meaning he’s just a normal guy with military training who actually has the personality you’d expect someone to have when all they do is kill. He is the superhero for grown men who enjoy military related things and violence. He doesn’t have cheesy pick up lines, he’s very relatable, and the action scenes in the show are full of carnage. In one episode, he clears out a room full of bad guys by going on a shooting rampage. This is reminiscent to ancient warriors like Spartans holding off 20 men single handedly with a sword. Many guys are drawn to this archetype of a mighty warrior because 2000 years ago, their ancestor’s probably were just that. It takes a long time for traces of this mentality to leave a gene pool if they ever do seeing how some men still fight wars generation to generation.

I like people who are hardcore fans of shows, movies, and even video games because these people show that they have a lot of passion for what they’re into. They do and watch what makes them happy and will even dress up as their favorite characters at Comicon. I see no issue with this except for when it completely takes over a person’s life and renders them useless to society (but this rarely is ever the case). In the USS Callister episode of Black Mirror, I don’t think it is about being an obsessive fan of something, but rather about the dangerous mentalities a person can have. In this case, the guy was kind of a pushover with a number of behavioral problems who let out his frustration in the form of being a glorious leader in a fantasy world. The guy knew that his crew was conscious and terrified of their leader, but he rolled with it because he was such a frustrated and dysfunctional person in secret. To say it is about toxic masculinity isn’t quiet accurate because in this man’s case things were much more complicated. Toxic masculinity is only a part of what’s going on here. Only Black Mirror can explore such weird and dark behavior in a person, and it leads to some thought provoking and impressive television.

Thin Line Between Fandom and Obsessive

Fandom is something that goes beyond just enjoying a show. It gives a whole new meaning to being a fan of something. When I think of Fandoms, I think of my friends and their obsession with the Harry Potter films. They were constantly asking me questions like “What House are you a part of and what is your horcrux?” The hell if know was typically my response and then they would walk me through this website called Pottermore which apparently had all these quizzes and explanations of everyone’s characters and personalities. I am not here to judge and I have had my fair share of weird nerdy stuff in my life, but this seemed like a whole new level, and I honestly enjoyed it. It was a way for people to connect on a higher level other than just watching these movies. They were able to relate to other fans as well as the show in a greater depth and I enjoyed it. Its almost like a convention like Comic Con. They are massive events that bring together people of same interest to share experiences and to enjoy the company of others who are passionate about things like themselves. In my opinion, these social gatherings are great for each other. Having the opportunity to share a common interest with someone else, no matter what it is, is a great experience and allows you to build friendships.

 

For this week’s viewings, I decided to watching End of the World, Stranger Things, and Black Mirror and while watching these shows, it became obvious why each one could have a significant following. With End of the World, I feel like the following is for many different types of people. I think it could be for a younger generation who feels misunderstood, and feels that others do not understand the problems they are going through. For me personally, I found it quite hilarious to see Alyssa being blatantly rude and outrageous to people she did not even know. I would be lying if I said I was not dying when someone would ask her a simple question and she would reply with a sarcastic answer scattered with various curse words.

 

The episode of Black Mirror I watched reminded me of older Star Trek shows and the fan base for that show is one of the largest and oldest fan bases out there today. You will find these fans all over the world and they have no issue showing their support for the show. They appear at conventions all over and represent one of the most popular shows of all time.  I have not watched any other episodes of Black Mirror besides this episode but what I have heard from others, the show pretty much blows your mind ever single episode.

 

Stranger Things happens to be one of my favorite shows, and in the show, there are many different concepts that could attract groups of people. The first of which is the geekiness of the kids throughout the show. They are a part of the AV club, they constantly reference games, and my personal favorite, they play Dungeons and Dragons which I love. Alongside the geekiness of the show, there are essentially aliens in the show which could attract another audience and then finally the 1980’s themes to the show could bring in more people.

 

The USS Callister episode shows an example of extreme fandom. Obviously this is a fictional show and cloning people in a video game is not possible, but it represents when someone takes their fandom too far. For me personally, I am a huge Game of Thrones fan, and a big Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan. I absolutely love the stories of each and the Medieval era shows always attract me but you will never see me get too involved into these. I am also a huge video game geek and love D&D but the most you will see out of me as far as fandom goes is maybe a Comic Con or Renaissance Festival appearance.

Jake

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. 

Being a Fan or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Geek

At least we have reached a topic I can weigh in on with a (short) lifetime of experience. Since the 6th grade (if not before) I have been involved in a number of fandoms that make up an important part of my identity — for better or for worse. I grew up engrossed in everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to the DC comic universe. One wonders why I chose to watch The End of the F***ing World; I have to maintain brand loyalty. (Actually I’ve seen every Marvel movie and all of Jessica Jones, really I just wanted a change of pace). I have 3 tattoos, all from various fandoms I am a part of, and am very aware of my status as a social misfit overly invested in media. While it is something I greatly enjoy and will continue to do so, I recognize there are some potentially debilitating effects of my commitment. One need look no further than the disastrous re-release of the szechuan dipping sauce at McDonalds in honor of the Rick & Morty episode featuring it. Fans flooded the restaurants, jumping on tables, reenacting scenes from the show, and screaming obscenities at workers when the sauce packets ran out. This is NEVER acceptable behavior and I am ashamed to admit I am a fan of the show now after this ludicrous display. When someone’s life is defined entirely by fandoms and not belief systems or interpersonal relationships, it is incredibly harmful both to them and those around them. They seek to emulate the characters in the show and live their life by the imaginary rules the show follows; those rules often don’t translate to real life. Perhaps the best example of this concept is the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister”.

Black Mirror is a superb show and “USS Callister” is, alongside “San Junipero”, my favorite episode of the series. It is a punishing look at the world of one of the most famous shows of all time as well as perhaps the most famous fandom of all time, Star Trek and its fandom the Trekkies (or Trekkers, whatever I like Star Wars). It takes a look at the real-world consequences of trying to emulate the characters of the famous 1960s television show. Its main character is a programmer named Robert Daly who creates a virtual world where he can inhabit the persona of Star Trek protagonist Captain Kirk in all but name. In Star Trek he is an effortless womanizer, sleeping with any woman he pleases, is cool, calm, and collected, and orders his crew around with efficiency. For these very same reason he is a prime example of toxic masculinity, and this is what “USS Callister” outlines so effectively. In his desire to live the fictional life of Captain Kirk he creates a world of real people and then tries to force them to invest in the fantasy the way he does. He sexually assaults his female coworkers and threatens violence on anyone who disobeys him. While this type of behavior is played as manly and suave in the show, in real life is is creepy and unacceptable. In Jenna Scherer’s article for Rolling Stone, “‘Black Mirror’: How the New Season’s Breakout Episode Guts Toxic Fandom”, the episode rails against the possessiveness of toxic fandom, with fans in this category believing they own everything about the property they obsess over and trying to recreate that possession in their daily lives. He, like so many other “disaffected nerd-bro” tries to hook up with his coworker and when she isn’t interested, he “finds a way to possess her the same way he meticulously collects his complete set of Space Fleet DVDs.” Fandom should be about enjoyment, not possession and exclusivity, and CERTAINLY not about coercion and abuse. I sat here for awhile and couldn’t think of a good segue so let’s talk about cult fandom.

As I mentioned before I watched the first four episodes of The End of the F***ing World and I can certainly see why it would attract a cult following. It has all the staples of a cult classic: low budget appearance, disaffected youth, a very dark sense of humor, flashes of extreme violence, and general anti-establishment sentiment taken to its almost comical extreme. Main character James is a self-proclaimed psychopath who has killed many animals and is looking for his first human victim. He finds it in Alyssa, a petulant child who delights in raging at anyone and everyone around her. All of these things lead up to a following not of mainstream appeal, but of those disillusioned by the world around them who look for people seemingly like them who are willing to live a completely atypical life. While I struggled a bit to get into the show (I didn’t find either of the characters relatable so I wasn’t really invested in their struggle; James’s dad seemed nice enough, if a little banal) it did have a very distinct appeal and aesthetic, and the later episodes involving James’s first kill were quite tense. However, without a doubt the best example of a cult classic show on our viewing list this week is the Netflix original series Stranger Things.

Stranger Things is such a perfect example of cult television because it features the hottest thing to be a fan over: the 1980s. Everyone is in love with the 80’s right now; I am, and in 1989 I wasn’t even a twinkle in my daddy’s eye. My parents graduated high school in 1991! Stranger Things hold a nostalgic appeal that encourages people to go beyond the text to explore the 80’s more thoroughly. Increased interest in classic 80’s staples like Rubik’s Cubes and Back to the Future abound (those bomb Nike shoes from the second movie that lace themselves were released a couple of years ago!) And the 80’s maestro himself, Steven Spielberg, just cashed in big on the 1980s appeal with his movie Ready Player One. Stranger Things features a ton of this 80’s nostalgia, inviting people to go get retro movie posters and toys and the like. Even Netflix is cashing in on this further with other 80’s themed shows like GLOW. But once again, fan obsession rears its ugly head even in the idyllic world of 80’s nostalgia. Dee Lockett writes a depressing piece for Vulture.com in which she chronicles the struggles of fan v star, where 15-year old actor Finn Wolfhard was being endlessly harassed by Stranger Things fans to hook up with his 14-year old costar Millie Bobby Brown. This is obviously not ok and he once again links to the disconnect between reality and the world of the show; he said on Twitch “people don’t understand that we’re people who aren’t the characters in the show … and then they attack my friends.”

As a fan myself, it’s depressing to see fellow fans taking properties so seriously that affects their daily lives and the lives of those around them. Being a fan is fun; you can gush about shows, books, movies, and games with people who love those things too, can make inside jokes and memes, and perhaps the most valuable geek currency of all: references. But you need a healthy dose of life outside your fandoms; I like to go camping, drive ATVs, play board and card games with my family. I’m learning to cook, working, and going to school. Being a fan is an important part of my life but it doesn’t define it; for me being a fan is a positive and progressive form of cultural engagement where I can bond with people who would otherwise be strangers over Harry Potter because of my dark mark tattoo or Star Wars because of my many, many t-shirts. But for people whose lives revolve solely around shipping unwilling teenagers and screaming “Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub” on the counter of a McDonalds, it is a negative form of engagement indeed, and sets the widespread acceptance of fandom back immeasurably.

Fandom Makes You Want More

Fandom is a section of media that creates social interactions outside of the show itself. Fandom can be cosplay, books, merchandise, viewing parties, or anything else that relates to the show, but is outside of the show and in real life. This obviously only generates more excitement about the show, and brings a connection to the viewer’s real life. Due to this, show makers like Netflix love this. A show like Stranger Things, gives off the 80’s teen/tween fan boys and girls who love sci-fi and would love this show. Aside from that, it also attracts adult audiences as well. It could be considered that it attracts a cult following, because the genre is very specific- sci-fi, comedy, drama, and coming of age all in one. However, as the show grew even to be more popular, its reach expanded outside of just its cult followers and it became very mainstream. Fandom reached to the point where viewers would reference certain lines from the show (including myself). Referencing “the upside down” was frequent. However, Fandom can go overboard and become dangerous as well. As mentioned in the Vulture Article by Dee Lockett, “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans,” Vulture (November 9, 2017), she references a quote  from Finn Wolfhard when she says, “On Wednesday night, 14-year-old star Finn Wolfhard tweeted a plea to fans not to “harass” him and his co-stars, writing that while he doesn’t want to “ex-communicate” people who love the show, “anyone who calls themselves a ‘fan’ and actively goes after someone for literally acting and doing their job is ridiculous.” Obsessions are real, and can be creepy as well especially when the cast are kids and the obsessors are 55 years old. This can be unavoidable though, because if they actors are great and the show is great, what is stopping fans from loving everything about it? It may also be argued that the fans are in love with the characters themselves and not the actors who play the characters.

As for Black Mirror, fandom is much different, especially because each epiosde is very different from each other with different characters in each show. However, fandom can still exist by ways of t-shirts and fan viewing meet up groups. Fandom can be so intense and a passion by a viewer that it may be a reason why they date someone else who shares their obsession. With a show like this though, following a story plot as it progresses across episodes does not happen, so I would expect fandom to be far less intense than Stranger Things. Nevertheless, the show is still very addicting, and on a person note, sometimes I wish certain episodes would continue and have their own series around that particular storyline with the same characters and cast in it.

Fandom can have a big affect on a viewer’s life outside of the show. Addiction to the show can be so harsh that it could cause a lack in their lives in other departments such as work or school. However, it can also provide a great escape, and they can make friends along the way who are just as obsessed as they are. It is up to the show makers to make a good show though, for fandom to exist and for viewers to want more.