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Into The Hive Mind: Fandom Means Family; Family Means No One Gets Left Behind

Christine Bancroft |
January 17, 2013 | 12:26 a.m. PST


In the same way that marijuana is a gateway drug, "Harry Potter" is the gateway fandom for many people.
In the same way that marijuana is a gateway drug, "Harry Potter" is the gateway fandom for many people.
The way I see it, being in a fandom is kind of like being in a family. You're usually pretty sure you love each other but sometimes can't stand each other, and at least 90% of the time, no one seems to have any idea what's going on.

In spite of the differences, petty feuds, ship wars, emotional turmoil and cyclical upheaval, fandoms exist to fulfill the desire for a community of peers and equals who share similar passions. But like a man, no fandom is an island. Fandoms do not stand alone, nor can they ignore the existence of others (possibly rival) fandoms. 

Think of the interweaving of fandoms as you would a family tree. The Fantasy genre often contains the "gateway" fandoms. After all, how many young children began reading wildly because of "Harry Potter", "The Chronicles of Narnia" or "Lord of the Rings"? As Harry went on his adventures, we too grew alongside him. The Pevensies stood proudly alongside Aslan in their mystical wardrobe wonderland, and slowly but surely, we became more than just readers. We became fans. 

Perhaps those readers then moved on to the Classics fandom—containing the oldest fandom, "Sherlock Holmes". While we never wore black armbands at the death of the detective in "The Final Problem", the Strand stories and the subsequent adaptations (currently in production, Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" films, headed by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, BBC's "Sherlock", a modern twist with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and CBS's "Elementary", with Jonny Lee Miller as the detective in modern New York and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson). 

While "Sherlock Holmes" may have been the first, it's not alone in the Classics family. Particularly for stories that have been updated, re-taught and re-made continuously over the years, the Classics include Jane Austen's works, Poe's short stories and poetry, Shakespeare's plays and the fairy tales, which all have thriving fandoms, despite their age. 

There's the Sci-Fi Family, headed by patriarchs "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who", two of the oldest television sci-fi shows (certainly those with the longest-standing popularity over the years), with the wizened granddaddy being Rod Serling's classic "The Twilight Zone" series. Later products, "Star Wars", "Firefly", "Fringe" and the like fall under this same family name. 

Meet Joss Whedon, who has probably killed a character you loved. You may have seen his movie, "The Avengers".
Meet Joss Whedon, who has probably killed a character you loved. You may have seen his movie, "The Avengers".
Sometimes sharing works under the Sci-Fi banner, the Comics and Video Game fandoms are robust, diverse and widespread. These fandoms have grown conspicuously within the past decade, as superhero movies become blockbusters and being a fan of comics is "cool" again, for the first time in years. DC Comics (notably Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern) may square off against rival Marvel (Spiderman, the Avengers, the X-Men), but it is possible for fans of both to exist peaceably. 

Because while fandoms may have their separate interests, they have to interact with each other. After all, it's not as though there's much that separates them. They're all fans, simply seeking out other fans and friends who appreciate the same things. Simply extending an olive branch to "rival" fandoms could hardly hurt. (I'm looking at you, territorial "Sherlock" and "Elementary" fans. Settle down now, children, because you're not all that different.)

The Anime and Manga "family" is one of the most diverse and widespread, and often, the one of the most outwardly devout. Between the extensive (and often, expensive) cosplays and conventions and the simple depth of material available for perusal, fans of these subjects can find themselves spending hours deciding what to watch or read next. 

Of course, there are still families that are left out. There are the webcomics' fandoms, such as those who follow Homestuck, or fans of Youtubers, such as John and Hank Green's Nerdfighters. These are not the only so-called "families", but were, for all intents and purposes related to this column, deemed most "relevant" and "appropriate" (see: popular and visible) for the list. 

This doesn't even come close to counting as comprehensive. To attempt to list and organize every fandom for every subject would take far more time and effort and patience than I'm willing to spend, and nobody would read it. Even if your fandom isn't as well-known or visible as another, it's still fantastic, and, more importantly, it's yours.

Families often interact well-enough with each other, at least, outwardly. But like any family, "sibling" rivalry often results in internal dysfunction. As previously mentioned, the occasionally vicious arguments between the "Sherlock" and "Elementary" fandoms made it uncomfortable for members of both parties. It takes maturity and poise to accept that people will not always share the same points of view, but that does not make their views any lesser.

While it's not a perfect analogy, to call a group of similar or related fandoms a "family" often seems accurate. As time goes on, these families grow and develop and branch apart, appreciate each other (perhaps "love" is too much for this metaphor, but I'd like to hope that there's some sort of love for other fans, or at least a healthy sense of appreciation.) 

Tenuous connections between families are created—"Firefly" and "The Avengers" are connected through Joss Whedon; actors and writers and directors cross over and expand the fandoms, bringing in new ideas and new points of view. New fans should not be excluded; rather, it should be the opposite. New fans keep the fandom's population up; but also, it prevents stagnation. 

After all, as much as families sometimes hate each other, they're all that we have. (Ignore the real world. It doesn't quite cut it.)

This marks the end of the informational fandom columns. Next week, I'll be starting fandom-specific guides (á la "The Lord of the Rings'" column), starting with the "Harry Potter" fandom, the Potterheads. 

Contact columnist Christine Bancroft here or find her on Twitter here



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