She Has No Head! – The “Science” Of Fandom
As some of you more creatively minded types know, November is something called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – frequently shortened to the even shorter NaNo).
NaNo happens every November and is an experiment in writing a novel (or at least 50,000 words of one) that novelists everywhere (both professional and amateur alike) participate in. There’s a whole official website where you can register and track your progress, and find like-minded friends, and even get a certificate of completion (if you meet the 50k word count goal).
I’m not much of a joiner, so I don’t ever officially join up, but I’ve done NaNo three times unofficially. Twice I failed miserably (in 2010 and 2012), for both legit and non-legit reasons. In 2011 I freaking killed it. Writing more than 90k in just over five weeks.
So why are we talking about this on She Has No Head!? Well, mostly because I’m doing NaNo (unofficially) again this year and thus it’s what I’m consumed with right now and what I’m spending most of my “free” time doing/trying to do.
But since I have an audience here, and you guys have been receptive in the past to opening a dialogue (cough>sometimes more receptive than other times<cough) I thought I’d ask you some questions about what it is for you – in any media – be it comics, prose, movies, television, music, or even sports – that gets you to devote yourself so entirely to something.
What is that elusive THING that gets you to start a Tumblr about a “ship” you like, or gets you hunting down hard to find copies of a comic book, or make fan videos for youtube, memorizing stats, staying up all night watching and re-watching something, or re-reading the same books over and over again?
Because that elusive thing that we’re all chasing – as consumers – that’s what I’m trying so hard (as a creator) to pin down in my new book. My new book for NaNo is the second in a new series (the first book is not yet published) and I find myself thinking a lot about what it is that makes something obsess-worthy on a large scale. While I don’t want to manipulate my book in a non-organic way, and turning readers into slavish devotees of a character or world I create is not my PRIMARY concern, I admit to a fascination and interest in what makes some things “fandom” worthy and what keeps other from ever achieving that level. As a writer I’d like to make that evolutionary leap with this new series…but like anyone, I have trouble pinning down what it ACTUALLY IS about certain books, songs, shows, concepts, characters, or even character pairings, that gets me all obsessed, that makes me become an unequivocal unabashed FAN.
One of the reasons this is hard for me to pin down (as a consumer of media) is that I can’t find a great pattern for myself. Sure, there are some similarities – like I tend to get a little fanatical about very specific character pairings – one of the few I “ship” is Buffy/Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I would also call myself hardcore Team Peeta (Hunger Games) and for some reason I find myself MORE interested in “ships” than I ever used to be (hell, I’m officially Team Avery over on Nashville for Christ’s sake). I never used to think of myself as someone that shipped a lot (though maybe I was just in denial?). I also almost never ship outside of continuity (comics or otherwise) though I certainly understand how a lack of inclusivity leads consumers to that place a lot of times. Anyway, all that to say I’m having trouble with the “SCIENCE” of FANDOM if you will…anyone have any ideas?
Maybe you all have just as much trouble with this as I do – it is a hard thing to pin down – if it wasn’t then there would be some sad little formula somewhere that we could all follow (man that would be depressing). But I thought if we all put our heads together maybe we could figure out a pattern about what it is about certain things that makes us tick, swoon, obsess, and sometimes all of the above.
I took to twitter last night with the question and got some really interesting comments back. Some suggested that open-ended universes as well as ongoing ones with no definitive endings or ways to feel “finished” hold strong appeal. Another suggestion was the controversial or “flawed” obsession – i.e. it’s more interesting perhaps to talk about the thing that not EVERYONE likes. Some suggested that the community aspect of some fandoms drives them almost as much as whatever the impetus for the fandom was – the ability to find like-minded people in safe spaces. Another suggestion, specific to shipping was that the ship is sometimes less about what is actually good for a specific character(s) and more what the consumer his/herself actually desires. Which absolutely makes sense, especially given how popular some cipher characters are in fiction. And that idea certainly makes sense given the escapist/fantasy nature of fandom in general. This is a comics website, so I expect we all know a little bit about this kind of thing, but in truth you can apply it to almost anything. Who is more devoted than a sports fan? Memorizing all the stats for players or teams, collecting cards, watching a ton of content, wearing jerseys, painting faces, re-living events through highlights and analytical shows, reading every article you see about a certain player or team. No matter how you want to look at it, we are a culture of die-hard fans and I’m just fascinated by the WHY.
So what do you guys think? What are some of the things you obsess over? Do you know why? What does it spark in you that elevates you from just liking something to feeling you’re a part of “fandom” (officially or otherwise)?