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I've been slowly coming to realise something about fandoms and how they operate. I haven't quite pinned it down yet, but this is as far as I've got so far; let me know if you have further thoughts.

So I feel like there are two main kinds of fandom, two main ways in which people express themselves fannishly. There's what I tend to think of as "text-centric" fandom, the kind that I tend to associate with old-school, male-dominated sci-fi circles; an obsession with the minutae of the spaceships, the languages, the worlds and their climates and populations, the details of the story itself. This kind of fandom likes to catalogue, likes to be completist, likes to be correct on its details rather than exploring what-ifs. In fandoms that don't have sciencey details to obsess over, it's often characterised by a heavy focus on what's canonical and what can be deduced from the details given in the series. It may involve emotional attachment, but that emotion often isn't expressed too fervently; people tend not to gush.

Then there's what I call "character-centric" fandom, where people get excited about the characters as people (or concepts of people), and like to play around and be creative with what those people might do in situation X or Y. This is, overwhelmingly, the type of fandom that inspires fanworks; the type of fandom that writes fics, that draws art, that slashes and pairs, that writes speculative essays, that makes vids and colourbars and generates other expressions of, well, fannish love.

What sets these two kinds of fandoms apart, I think, is that one treats the characters, as aforementioned, as people, and the worlds as worlds, and the other treats them as fictions, as documents set in stone. Where one type of fandom is willing to look at a character and wonder what they might have been like if this or that event in their life had gone differently, or speculate on their emotional reactions to a certain thing, the other type isn't deeply concerned about anything that didn't happen in the canonical series. It's happy to analyse the text as literature, but being literature, it is treated as something that it makes no sense to be creative about; what's there is there. Character-centric fandom often also recognises the literary value of a text, but doesn't see this as a limitation to conceptualising the people and worlds involved as if they were living and breathing.

I've theorised a couple of things based on this:

* The overall dynamic of a fandom - the driving force behind it, regardless of what individual fans are doing - sems to differ depending on how easy it is to make fannishness in that fandom a socially bonding activity. TV show fandoms, even if they're fairly small, seem to generate a lot of character fannishness because their weekly schedule makes them a talking point and thus invites more bonding between fans than a standalone text that people are discovering at different times. Videogame fandoms, while small, seem to stay text-centric until a certain critical mass of people is drawn to the fandom, at which point they become character-centric fandoms. (Witness old-school versus current FF7 fandom for possibly the best example of this ever. Or worst, depending on your standpoint.) In general, the bulk of the character-centric collective becomes drawn to a series when it becomes popular enough that they can emotionally connect about it with other people.

I may be a little off centre here, but I think I'm observing at least some kind of trend, even if it isn't quite the one I think I'm observing.

* Fandoms that are text-centric don't get it when people with a character-centric view of fannishness come in and try to be fannish.

Essentially, the purpose of fanworks seems to go over their heads a little. I found this out when I tried to write slash in the Lunar fandom; the entirety of the fandom just seemed to take a collective look at me and go, "uh, what". It wasn't that they were for it or against it; they just didn't have the ability to parse it because it wasn't the way they interacted with the series.

And here's the thing. I tend to be someone who gets into small videogame fandoms and wants to interact with them in a character-obsessive way. And it goes completely over everyone else's heads. And I think I'm just beginning to understand why. It's partly because they don't have the familiarity with the semiotics of character-centric fandom; they're not used to seeing fanvids, crackfics, and all the rest of it, and thus they don't have an immediate template from which to relate to them, but have to understand them from scratch. But I think it's partly also that this just isn't the way they are fannish, and it never occurred to them that fannishness might be this way for some people.




( 7hp damage — Attack! )
Sep. 9th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC)
Videogame fandoms, while small, seem to stay text-centric until a certain critical mass of people is drawn to the fandom, at which point they become character-centric fandoms.

Actually, I was seeing a lot of character-centric FF7 stuff on the web early on; maybe we were just looking in way different places. (I do think it's a good description of Suikoden fandom, though.)
Sep. 11th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
Good observations, although the phrase "text-centric fandom" is hard for me; it makes it sound like there's an image-centric or video-centric fandom it's in opposition to. Maybe "fact fandom" vs. "fic fandom"?
Sep. 11th, 2008 01:44 am (UTC)
Oh, good point. I actually thought in retrospect that "character-centric" was a bit confusing; it's more about facts versus speculation, so basically as you said. :)
Sep. 12th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
I think it's also true that certain types of stories invite certain types of fandom, and the stories that are both rich in character/plotholes and rich in worldbuildy are likely to attract both types of fans.

While there is technology in FF7, there's never much rhyme or reason to how that technology works, and most of the stuff that you see or hear about in the game, most of the claims that are made about people and companies and monsters, is so fantastical that you kind of just have to take the game's word for it. Otherwise you're stuck with "wait, that doesn't make sense, that would never happen" and wouldn't be able to parse the story (indeed, some people can't). That's the issue with a lot of anime, in fact, and the reason I think anime fandoms tend to be more character-fannish than canon-fannish; canon relies on a suspension of belief on the player/viewer/reader's part, and as such there isn't much to personalize on a creative level. Characters, on the other hand, are more malleable, their motivations and emotions less certain, and can be more concretely defined and, curiously, therefore more easily manipulated.
Sep. 13th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
That's the issue with a lot of anime, in fact, and the reason I think anime fandoms tend to be more character-fannish than canon-fannish; canon relies on a suspension of belief on the player/viewer/reader's part, and as such there isn't much to personalize on a creative level.

Actually, I want to speculate that it's this very lack of detail and excess of Applied Phlebotinum that causes such fandoms to tend more towards creative play than canon adherence. In order to make the vagueries of the canon work, you have to throw in a lot of your own speculations and hypotheses and little additions to canon; whereas with more intricately constructed tech, people are more likely to obsess over the details of what's there.
Sep. 21st, 2008 12:21 pm (UTC)
Ah I've discussed this topic around Doctor Who fandom quite a lot, to the point that I was on a panel at a convention talking about 'Doctor Who and the Invasion of the Fangirl'.

In Who fandom in 2005 when the Ninth Doctor and Rose series started, 'old fandom' started getting 'invaded' by strange alien creatures who used unfathomable words like 'squee' and had a completely different definition of 'fan wank'.

This comment's getting too long so I'll do new fandom in a follow up comment, but here's a description of old fandom...

Old fandom's number one question was 'but is it canon?', they would speculate about what would happen next often postulating ludicrous theories involving fan favourite characters. They argued over if the Doctor was created in a 'Loom' on Gallifrey or half human on his mother's side. They'd argue about whether the Big Finish audio plays or Virgin New Adventures and/or BBC Eighth Doctor novels were canon for the 8th Doctor, or they argued over whether the 8th Doctor counted at all.

They had 40 years of continuity and almost that many of active fandom, and their show had been canceled but kept alive for 16 wilderness years by fan fiction, plays and films, some of which were officially endorsed and professionally produced.

Some fans worked tirelessly to create chronologies for 40 years of stories (much like Sherlock Holmes fandom, but even more contrived) and quibbled over 'UNIT dating problems' that could not actually be settled. Others wrote fan fiction that went to ridiculous lengths to fix continuity errors and plot holes -- this came to be known as 'fan wank' (a decade or two before other fandoms picked up this term to mean something else), with time fan service stories such as those which referenced a lot of continuity rather than presenting a good story got called that (cf Revenge of the Cybermen) and eventually this became the main meaning.

Typical questions were who would play the next doctor, will the doctor's face come out of the vortex in the opening credits, what monsters will return, will there ever be a black doctor or a female doctor etc.

In the UK at least, old fandom was mostly male and had a very prominent gay contingent. US and Australian fandom had a better gender mix.
Sep. 21st, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
New fandom loved the new 2005 series of Doctor Who and instantly went online to find the rest of fandom. They flooded Outpost Gallifrey wanting to squee about their favourite pairing and talk about what happened between scenes (old fandom would only do this if they were speculating whether missing adventures could fit there). New fandom had fan fiction but rather than exploring what would happen if the third Doctor had met the Cybermen or tying up the continuity around the Daleks, they would explore moments the Doctor and Rose shared between episodes or create 'bizarre' hurt/comfort scenarios.

New fandom loved the ongoing character storylines, like Rose's family and boyfriend, Old fandom disparagingly called this 'soap opera'.

New fandom gradually discovered the 40 years of continuity but came at it from a different direction, there was no 'the forth Doctor' it was 'Four' and 'Nine' and 'Six'. New fandom saw the relationship between 'Two and Jamie' in a whole new light and realised that Five and Adric's love knew no bounds :) They wrote fic and drew fan art to prove it. New fandom also brought crafts to Who fandom, creating more than the traditional long stripy scarves but branching out into crochet Daleks and knitted Ood.

But oddly, as time went on and the series did more and more 'fan wank' showing Sarah Jane, The Master, The Sontarans, the Fifth Doctor and Davros, new fandom started to go native, getting the same interest in continuity and chronology and speculation as old fandom. Meanwhile old fandom picked up the language of new fandom, many using 'Five' and 'Ten' over 'The Fifth Doctor' and 'The Tenth Doctor' as useful short hand, and began to agree that the 'soap opera' elements were actually good, worthwhile and made the series better.

As a result, we've ended up with a hybrid fandom and one that's split into a number of different venues -- there's different places for discussing chronology, sharing slash fiction, drawing fan art etc, but often you'll find that the slashers know just as much obscure continuity as old fandom, or even that some of the most keen chronology obsessives are also fangirl slashers.

I think in part the reason we've managed to get to this point is because the new series was written by fans of the classic series who had been influenced by shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, they've managed to include the classic continuity in the show but still write good stories. Also a lot of the people who are now writing the show are gay fans, who always had a bit of sly slashing of the Doctor with male companions, and never took the show 100% seriously even though they loved it.

The Old Fandom/New Fandom divide is no longer fans of the classic series vs fans of the new series, as the new fans eventually went off and watched all of the classic series and fell in love with that as well even though parts of it are very different, and obviously a lot of the classic series fans now love the new series as well and just see it as 'Doctor Who' rather than something different. We're now one big multi-faceted fandom with a huge age range.
( 7hp damage — Attack! )


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