Yes, FANDOM must be in all caps in that title.
Back when I started this blog as an author I came out as someone who is pro-fanfiction. In fact, I’ve been plenty honest about the fact that I’ve written fanfiction in the past, still write fanfiction and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.
Fandom is a lot more than simply fanfiction. It’s fan art, it’s AMVs, it’s parody, it’s meta. It’s simply talking about a show with you co-workers/friends. Fandom isn’t just about going to conventions or buying merchandise or posting gifsets on Tumblr. Though those are all good fannish things! Fandom is the power of the people putting their time and money and emotions into a piece of media and comes at all levels of commitment. And fandom can be powerful.
Exhibit A: Dragon Ball (Z, GT, F, Kai and Super and every non canon movie ever, etc.)
Dragon Ball started in Japan back in 1984 as a Shonen Jump manga about a genius scientist and a boy with a tail on quest for the mythical dragon balls. (So she could wish for an endless supply of strawberries or a perfect boyfriend. She was 16, cut her some slack.) It started making traction in the US in the mid to late 90s as Toonami started importing more Japanese anime across the pond. And here we are in 2018, Dragon Ball Super is on it’s fifth season in the Universe Survival Saga. That is over 20 years of Goku vs. the next big bad shenanigans.
The only way this happened was through a huge and still in some spaces thriving fandom. Dragon Ball became the bar and the standard for a Shonen (boy focused) fighting manga and inspired another huge fan favorite, Naruto. There is an entire group called Team Four Star that have created a parody of Dragon Ball Z called Dragon Ball Abridged where they cut down the drawn out fights and crank the character’s personalities up to eleven for the humor factor. (Given that Akira Toriyama is a humor writer at heart, this can be entertaining since many of his character are already parodies.) And the success of Dragon Ball Abridged is considered part of the reason that Dragon Ball GT has been replaced with Dragon Ball Super. (Or Super has gone in the middle of Z and GT or something.)
So, boys (and girls) of every age can still debate who is better, Vegeta or Goku, 19 years after Vegeta’s introduction! Thanks to video parody and the fact that DBZ merchandise still sells and sells and sells.
A lot of these super fandoms have a major thing in common, fandom world building.
Exhibit B: Harry Potter
When Harry Potter first came out, my mother bought the first book because she wanted to see what the divisive fuss in Christian circles was all about. By the time I finished college, we ended up having all seven books. Harry Potter still has a huge following, the books are still on the tops of every fantasy book search. There are new movies coming out. JK Rowling created Pottermore and tweets facts about the universe still. There is still a great deal of interest in Harry Potter.
One of the reasons of this, and it happened in Dragon Ball as well, is that the author became so focused on telling their adventure story that the world building was closer to broad outlines than actual sketches. And this left a lot of wiggle room for fans to fill in the blanks with their own ideas and own rules and thoughts. Sure, a lot of it a pre-teen and teenage Harry Potter didn’t actually need to know in the books. (But did we really have to spend half of the seventh book running around the forest either, no.)
In fact, in Exhibit A, Vegeta is an alien that hasn’t been raised on Earth like Piccolo or Goku has and this fact is blatantly ignored throughout the entire series and Vegeta’s inability to integrate with the other warriors is more often portrayed as him being an aloof jerk rather than him just not getting Earth society and not being able to set aside his pride and ask. In Harry Potter, Harry did ask a lot of questions. Whether or not he asked the correct questions is up for debate. But in Harry Potter, given that muggles came into Wizard Society on a semi-regular basis, the wizards had a slight understanding of how to deal with it.
The unanswered questions and the fun that the fans had in creating their own answers to them really prolonged the longevity of the series. (In trying to answer some of the questions, JK Rowling created more questions!)
Of course, there is also the mega-cross over fandoms.
Exhibit C: Supernatural
I’ll admit. Even after 12 seasons, I haven’t managed to sit down and watch one episode of Supernatural even though 2 good looking guys, a classic car and hunting monsters should be my jam. But nothing about that premise (even well done) should have given Supernatural the legs it’s had. And the fandom is or at least was rather rabid in my wide eyed let’s skirt about the edges of this lurking. And nothing would account of that except the rise of the super crossover fandom.
Think Supernatural plus Doctor Who plus Sherlock all in the same universe and the characters playing off each other even if the different story’s rules are completely different and why would Sherlock leave Britain? But, it kept people interested in all three of those shows. It kept people going back and watching for more hints and clues and ideas to put into their stories. It kept Supernatural in the minds of FANDOM.
(And after mega crossovers came the revival of the coffee shop AU and the invention of the florist, tattoo shop AU, then the ABO stuff, and I’m not sure where we’ve gone from there. Fandom, you be crazy and I love you.)
But, as it is, most the intellectual property right holders of these huge mega-fandoms have a love/hate relationship with their fans. While they love the attention that fandom can bring to their works, they want fans to only react in certain ways. It’s rumored the animation company behind Dragon Ball hates Dragon Ball Z Abridged, even though the current writers and animators on the ground are also rumored to love it. (So much that it might have influenced the characterizations of the characters in Super.) Granted, not all fans have interacted with the principals (actors, writers etc) appropriately. It still makes very little sense to bite the hand that buys your merchandise and keeps up your television ratings. Especially over works that 99% of the time, the fan makes no money off of. The fandoms that embrace their fans (Buffy, AtlA, I’m looking at you) deserve all the credit in the world.
Fandom has even managed several times to have movies made for cancelled television shows. Now, the quality of these movies is up for debate. (Personally, I loved the cinematography in Serenity and the way it opened the universe a bit more, a lot of the story was simply meh and would have played out better over a long television show.) Fandom interest has gotten producers interested in continuing that franchise even when the studios have decided not to do more with it.
Now, fandom definitely has it’s dark and ugly sides. However, I’m still going to lean that there are more positive sides to having fan art and fan fic and parody and meta in free publicity than downsides. We, as creators, can always hope to have a fandom no matter how big or how small.
Viva La Fandom! Squeee!