I’ve been thinking thoughts about fandom lately. I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that I’ve been in fandom for, oh, decades now 🙂 I’ve been in fandoms for many shows, books, movies. I’ve been a moderator of a lot of communities, email lists etc. I’ve gone through phases of intense involvement and phases of ‘too exhausted by chronic illness to do more than listlessly read fic and be grateful it was there to transport me elsewhere.’
I don’t know anyone into scifi or fantasy who hasn’t been involved in fandom, whether peripherally or up to their eyeballs. Genre literature/shows/movies/games seem to be extra fertile ground for fandoms to spring up around – I love that about them 🙂 I’m oriented more towards scifi, but given that I also love YA literature I’ve got a strong streak of fantasy appreciation, too; I mean, the first book I read to each of my kids was A Wizard of Earthsea!
Anyone who’s been in fandom and forums and LiveJournal and Dreamwidth and tumblr and blessed blessed AO3 [we must own the servers], has seen different flavors of toxicity come and go and done our best to weather them, avoid them, moderate them, block them, and sometimes address them head on with writing and with action. People are determined to stay in fandom because the communities of people they build around them are so joyful and supportive and intimate and fun. And the nice thing is, like attracts like much of the time; toxic people attract people who want to hurt others and stir up shit, and healthy people attract healthy people and help each other grow and become our better selves.
My experience of fandom has been marvelous people having a wonderful time sharing our love of whatever story we’re all enjoying, and often becoming good friends in the process. The reason this has been my experience, is because i have followed/joined/etc. people or communities who were themselves healthy and where the community standards were ‘no hurting anyone in this place,’ with the ability to enforce that in some way. The more healthy people I found, the more healthy friend’s-friends I met, and then followed/friended, and on and on. I still read the blogs of people I first followed 20 years ago – that’s how delightful and positive the spaces those people have created.
Of course I hear about fandom drama (tumblr will keep one apprised of it!), but I don’t want that energy in my happy-place so I steer clear and block as many keywords as it takes to keep drama out of my tumblr dash, twitter feed, etc. On the rare occasion fandom drama lands on my door step and wants me to weigh in, I have two strategies: if someone is being trashed, I’ll pull out my Fandom-Old badge and say that this is not the way, that we’re here for fun and a break from all the crap in the ‘real world’ and then bow out; or I’ll bow out in a simple, ‘not joining in right now,’ fashion.
I seldom engage unless someone is being hurt, and I do that because when fandom gets crazy it can be incredibly assaulting. People with imagined or projected intentions, an entitlement to demand creative work from others, malicious attacks intending to cause harm, and on and on…and amazingly, there’s a tendency for a crickets and tumbleweeds level of silence from the bystanders (there’s extensive research on bystanders to bullying and why they don’t defend the victim – fun fun fun to read about, give it a try). Someone has to stand up and say, ‘All these accusations are projections/not made in good faith/deliberate slanders/insert dysfunctional concepts here, and the poor person on the receiving end is being REAL LIFE injured by this whole spiral of dogpiling and it is not okay.’ For the person being attacked, even if only one person names the situation for what it is it can make all the difference to their sense that everything just went crazy. For the bystanders who know they are witnessing someone getting hurt but can’t bring themselves to say something, it’s a chance for them to speak up.
(if a good conversation seems to be starting, I’ll keep writing, encouraging deescalation pathways so the whole thing doesn’t just reverse the direction of the dogpile)
Fandom has given me so much – endless fascinating meta conversations, friends, community, insights, personal growth, improving my own emotional intelligence and developing strategies for helping groups do the same, and just the joy of squeeing with people in love with a particular story 🙂 It’s one of the central parts of my life! Having chronic illness has been made so much better since the internet came along – online friendships and playing in the worlds we enjoy watching/reading are my social life, support system, circle of friends. How isolated I would be without it! I hate to imagine the past two decades without my pocket friends and all we do together.
It’s for these reasons that I still expend the spoons to try to help make fandom an ever-improving place, where people can come and play without fear of irrational attacks or being subjected to drama one thread/discord channel/reblog over from where they’re sitting. There will always be dysfunction in fandom – people are people. But the more communities we build where the expected behaviour is ‘be kind, or don’t be here,’ the better the world gets.
We can only influence the world one interaction at a time, over and over. Fandom is not some abstract online imaginary place – fandom is made of real people in the real world who experience real emotions and impact on their real lives. We need to remember that truth, and to always weigh our words before we hit ‘post.’
Change the world one action at a time. Even the smallest actions have impact, and some times they have a much bigger impact than you realize. Be good to each other 🙂