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Harry Potter fans dressed as Hogwarts students

Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates "fannish" (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.

A fandom can grow around any area of human interest or activity. The subject of fan interest can be narrowly defined, focused on something like an individual celebrity, or more widely defined, encompassing entire hobbies, genres or fashions. While it is now used to apply to groups of people fascinated with any subject, the term has its roots in those with an enthusiastic appreciation for sports. Merriam-Webster's dictionary traces the usage of the term back as far as 1903.[1] It is formed of the word fan plus the suffix -dom (as in kingdom).

Fandom as a term can also be used in a broad sense to refer to the interconnected social networks of individual fandoms, many of which overlap.

Organized subculture

Fan art for the Sherlock TV series on an English telephone booth

Fans of the literary detective Sherlock Holmes are widely considered to have comprised the first modern fandom,[2] holding public demonstrations of mourning after Holmes was "killed off" in 1893, and creating some of the first fan fiction as early as about 1897 to 1902.[2][3] Outside the scope of media, railway enthusiasts are another early fandom with its roots in the late 19th century that began to gain in popularity and increasingly organize in the first decades of the early 20th century.

A wide variety of Western modern organized fannish subcultures originated with science fiction fandom, the community of fans of the science fiction and fantasy genres. Science fiction fandom dates back to the 1930s and maintains organized clubs and associations in many cities around the world. Fans have held the annual World Science Fiction Convention since 1939, along with many other events each year, and has created its own jargon, sometimes called "fanspeak".[4] In addition, the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medievalist re-creation group, has its roots in science fiction fandom. It was founded by members thereof; and many science fiction and fantasy authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Poul Anderson, Randall Garrett, David D. Friedman and Robert Asprin are or were members of the organization.

Media fandom split from science fiction fandom in the early 1970s with a focus on relationships between characters within TV and movie media franchises, such as Star Trek and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..[5] Fans of these franchises generated creative products like fan art and fan fiction at a time when typical science fiction fandom was focused on critical discussions. The MediaWest convention provided a video room and was instrumental in the emergence of fan vids, or analytic music videos based on a source, in the late 1970s.[6] By the mid-1970s, it was possible to meet fans at science fiction conventions who did not read science fiction, but only viewed it on film or TV.

Anime and manga fandom began in the 1970s in Japan. In America, the fandom also began as an offshoot of science fiction fandom, with fans bringing imported copies of Japanese manga to conventions.[7] Before anime began to be licensed in the U.S., fans who wanted to get a hold of anime would leak copies of anime movies and subtitle them to exchange with friends in the community, thus marking the start of fansubs.

A cartoon of an "anthro vixen" furry

Furry fandom refers to the fandom for fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. The concept of furry originated at a science fiction convention in 1980,[8] when a drawing of a character from Steve Gallacci's Albedo Anthropomorphics initiated a discussion of anthropomorphic characters in science fiction novels, which in turn initiated a discussion group that met at science fiction and comics conventions.

Additional subjects with significant fandoms include comics, sports, music, pulp magazines,[9] soap operas, celebrities and videogames.

Fan activities

Members of a fandom associate with one another, often attending fan conventions and publishing and exchanging fanzines and newsletters. Amateur press associations are another form of fan publication and networking. Originally using print-based media, these sub-cultures have migrated much of their communications and interaction onto the Internet, which they also use for the purpose of archiving detailed information pertinent to their given fanbase. Often, fans congregate on forums and discussion boards to share their love for and criticism of a specific work. This congregation can lead to a high level of organization and community within the fandom, as well as infighting. Although there is some level of hierarchy among most of the discussion boards in which certain contributors are valued more highly than others, newcomers are most often welcomed into the fold. Most importantly, these sorts of discussion boards can have an effect on the media itself as was the case in the television show Glee. Trends on the discussion boards have been known to influence the writers and producers of the show.[10] The media fandom for the TV series Firefly was able to generate enough corporate interest to create a movie after the series was canceled.[11]

Some fans write fan fiction ("fanfic"), stories based on the universe and characters of their chosen fandom. This fiction can take the form of video-making as well as writing.[12] Fan fiction may or may not tie in with the story's canon; sometimes the fans use the story's characters in different situations that do not relate to the plot line at all.

Cosplayer. She-Hulk, 2012

Especially at events, fans may also partake in cosplay (a portmanteau between costume and play)  the creation and wearing of costumes designed in the likeness of characters from a source work  which can also be combined with role-playing, reenacting scenes or inventing likely behavior inspired by their chosen sources.[13]

Others create fan vids, or analytical music videos focusing on the source fandom, and yet others create fan art. Such activities are sometimes known as "fan labor" or "fanac", an abbreviated form of the phrase "fan activity". The advent of the Internet has significantly facilitated fan association and activities. Activities that have been aided by the Internet includes the creation of fan "shrines" dedicated to favorite characters, computer screen wallpapers, avatars. Furthermore, the advent of the Internet has resulted in the creation of online fan networks who help facilitate the exchange of fanworks.[14]

Some fans create pictures known as edits, which consist of pictures or photos with their chosen fandom characters in different scenarios. These edits are often shared on social media networks such as Instagram, Tumblr, or Pinterest.[15] In some edits, one may see content relating to several different fandoms. Fans in communities online often make gifs or gif sets about their fandoms. Gifs or gif sets can be used to create non-canon scenarios mixing actual content or adding in related content. Gif sets can also capture minute expressions or moments.[16] Fans use gifs to show how they feel about characters or events in their fandom; these are called reaction gifs.[17]

Fandom is sometimes caricatured as religious faith, as the interest of fans sometimes grows to dominate their lifestyle,[18] and fans are often very obstinate in professing (and refusing to change) their beliefs about their fandom. However, society at large does not treat fandom with the same weight as organized religion.

There are also active fan organizations that participate in philanthropy and create a positive social impact. For example, the Harry Potter Alliance is a civic organization with a strong online component which runs campaigns around human rights issues, often in partnership with other advocacy and nonprofit groups; its membership skews college age and above. Nerdfighters, another fandom formed around Vlogbrothers, a YouTube vlog channel, are mainly high school students united by a common goal of "decreasing world suck".[19]

In film

Feature-length documentaries about fandom (some more respectful of the subjects than others) include Trekkies, Ringers: Lord of the Fans, Finding the Future: A Science Fiction Conversation, and Done the Impossible. "Fandom" is also the name of a documentary / mockumentary about a fan obsessed with Natalie Portman. Slash is a movie released in 2016 about a young boy who writes slash fanfiction.[20]

In books

Fangirl is a novel written by Rainbow Rowell about a college student who is a fan of a book series called Simon Snow, which is written by a fictional author named Gemma T. Leslie. On October 6, 2015 Rainbow Rowell published a follow-up novel to Fangirl. Carry On is stand-alone novel set in the fictional world that Cath, the main character of Fangirl wites fanfiction in.[21]

Relationship with the industry

The film and television entertainment industry refers to the totality of fans devoted to a particular area of interest, whether organized or not, as the "fanbase".

Media fans, have, on occasion, organized on behalf of canceled television series, with notable success in cases such as Star Trek in 1968, Cagney & Lacey in 1983, Xena: Warrior Princess, in 1995, Roswell in 2000 and 2001 (it was canceled with finality at the end of the 2002 season), Farscape in 2002, Firefly in 2002, and Jericho in 2007. (In the case of Firefly the result was the movie Serenity, not another season.) It was likewise the fans who facilitated the push to create a Veronica Mars film through a Kickstarter campaign.[22] Fans of the show Chuck launched a campaigned to save the show from being canceled using a twitter hashtag and buying products from sponsors of the show.[23] Fans of Arrested Development fought for the character Steve Holt to be included in the fourth season. The Save Steve Holt! campaign included a Twitter and Facebook account, a hashtag, and a website.[24]

Such outcries, even when unsuccessful, suggests a growing self-consciousness on the part of entertainment consumers, who appear increasingly likely to attempt to assert their power as a bloc.[25] Fan activism in support of the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike through Fans4Writers appears to be an extension of this trend.

Gaming fans have also recently made a big impact on content developers. In March 2012, when the most recent installment of Bioware's Mass Effect series was released, the fandom was so displeased with the game's available endings that they demanded there be some kind of change. Buckling under the pressure of this heated demand, BioWare released a DLC (downloadable content) packet on June 26, 2012[26] in hopes of reconciling the game's endings and soothing the fandom's aggression. This simple change to the game's ending was a huge step for fandoms because the entertainment industry has never before taken such large steps to comply with a fanbase's desires.[27]

In science fiction, a large number of the practitioners and other professionals in the field, not only writers but editors and publishers, traditionally have themselves come from and participate in science fiction fandom, from Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison to Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Toni Weisskopf. Ed Brubaker was a fan of the Captain America comics as a kid and was so upset that Bucky Barnes was killed off he worked on ways to bring him back. The Winter Soldier arc began in 2004 and in the 2005 sixth issue it was reviled that the Winter Soldier was Bucky Barnes.[28] Many authors write fan fiction under pseudonyms. Lev Grossman has written stories in the Harry Potter, Adventure Time, and How to Train Your Dragon universes. S.E. Hinton has written about both Supernatural and her own books, The Outsiders.[29] Movie actors often cosplay as other characters to enjoy being a regular fan at cons. Daniel Radcliffe cosplayed as Spiderman at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con.[30] Before the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield dressed up as spiderman and gave an emotional speech about what spiderman meant to him and thanking fans for their support.[31]

The relationship between fans and professionals has changed because of access to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These give fans greater access to public figures such as creators, authors, and actors. Online platforms also give fans more ways to connect and participate in fandoms.[32]

Some fans have made the work they do in fandom into careers. The book Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was originally a fan fiction of the Twilight series published on The story was taken down for mature content that violated the site’s terms of service. James rewrote the story to take out any references to twilight and self-published on The Writer’s Coffee Shop in May 2011. The book was published by Random House in 2012 and was very popular selling over 100 million copies.[33] Many fans were not happy about James using fan fiction to make money and felt it was not in the spirit of the community.[34] Cosplay has also become a career and way to make money participating in Fandom. Some cosplayers have made money cosplaying at cons for companies and others have been featured in promotional materials.[35] There is contention over fans not being paid for their time or work. Gaming companies use fans to alpha and beta test their games in exchange for early access or promotional merchandise.[36] The TV show Glee used fans to create promotional materials, though they did not compensate fans.[37]

See also

Fandoms by medium

List of notable fandoms


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  2. 1 2 Brown, Scott (2009-04-20). "Scott Brown on Sherlock Holmes, Obsessed Nerds, and Fan Fiction". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2015-03-12. Sherlockians called them parodies and pastiches (they still do), and the initial ones appeared within 10 years of the first Holmes 1887 novella, A Study in Scarlet.
  3. The editors (2015-02-06). "Sherlock Holmes". Fanlore wiki. Fanlore. Archived from the original on 2015-02-06. Retrieved 2015-03-12. The earliest recorded examples of this fannish activity are from 1902...
  4. "Dr. Gafia's Fan Terms".
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  18. Archived March 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Kilgler-Vilenchik, Neta (2013). "Decreasing World Suck: Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics." USC
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  21. El-Mohtar, Amal. "Fan Fiction Comes To Life In 'Carry On'". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
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  26. Jackson, Leah. "Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC Release Date Announced -- Closure Is Coming". Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. Defranco, Philip. "OREOS Are GAY!!". YouTube. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
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  30. Reporter, Tyler McCarthy Trending News (2014-07-28). "Daniel Radcliffe Disguised Himself As Spider-Man During Comic-Con". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
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  37. Stork. Matthias (2014). "The cultural economics of performance space: Negotiating fan, labor, and marketing practice in Glee's transmedia geography". Transformative works and cultures. 15.
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