Curator’s Note: This piece, the second of two centering on conflicts within fandom, was written at a moment of ongoing tension in the author’s fandom, captures a sense of that other side of fandom, when any sense of ‘community’ ends up feeling out of reach – not only between fans, but also fans and producers as well.
For some, it’s probably a remarkable weekend to be a fan. For others, well.
The convention thing is tricky. SDCC in particular: the big one, the biggest one, the one all the media outlets pay attention to, the one to which many of these media outlets still send clueless reporters, the type who gawk at fans and, even now, in 2014, do things like make actors read fanfiction for the purpose of mockery. It’s hard, to sit at home on your couch halfway across the world, and not feel a little left out. Such is the nature of these things. (I mean, to be honest, I don’t feel terribly left out at all, at least not the way I have in previous years. The (stupefying) effects of a hot British summer.)
I always find it funny how conventions and similar in-person fan activities make people feel like their fan-hood is in question, and, similarly, like their fan-hood is quantifiable—I suppose by that metric, it is. Are you being the best fan you can be? You must spend $X to fly across the country, $X more for the Super Special Greatest Fan Gold Level Pass, $X more for pictures in front of that screen from class picture day. All your hard-earned money, for the chance to shake the hand of a famous actor, to sit at a table with him for a few minutes, to have the actual real live moment of intimacy to compliment the endless one-sided moments of intimacy you always have in your head, when you watch the show or read the book or put the song on repeat or scroll through all those endless gifs.
Perhaps it’s those intimacies—the ones in your head—that make you feel, sitting on your couch halfway around the world, that things are unfair. There is a binary: people feel that attendees are privileged and they, non-attendees, are not. It’s childish, but hard to tamp down. (Remember when some Sherlock fan bitched at Mark Gatiss about the small number of seats at the BFI, and after presumably a deluge of these, he snapped back, rightfully, “Grow up.”) “I don’t have that kind of money,” people might say, trying to diminish the experiences they don’t have the cash or time or inclination to have. But you know no one’s circumstances but your own. Perhaps that fan saves every last penny she has, works two jobs to afford those tickets. She probably loves the thing just as much as you love the thing. I guess the point is that in the end, you really can’t quantify that love.
So take these themes—the binary, the idea that you know no one’s circumstances but your own—and spin them into broader fandom dynamics. Take an argument about the thing that you all love, and stir in some continuing residual anger. Give it a name, a special day to celebrate, a bubbling confusion for all the people seeing vague references whisking across their dash. Who is joking? Fill me in; tell me where I’m supposed to be laughing. While some people are waiting on endless lines and shaking hands and celebrating fandom, other people are sitting on couches halfway across the world from each other, tearing each other apart.
I’ve written before about the stakes of fandom: somehow incredibly high and incredibly low all at once. It feels a bit paradoxical to me. I think what this has in common with Comic-Con, or any other big gathering, comes down to the difference between being a fan and being a member of a fandom. You love the thing and it occupies your thoughts and you are a fan. But a fandom is a collective thing. We seek a sense of belonging, to see ourselves in others, and in the group; we gather, in physical spaces or in digital spaces, to share something. On tumblr, as posts cross each other and bile is spewed, we don’t have these structures that keep things orderly at the convention. There are no lines, no corporate wranglers, no one to shake hands with. This is the Wild West. We must police ourselves. And yet.
It is a binary, because it feels like if you don’t fall into Camp A or Camp B, you are squeezed out: you have nowhere to pitch your tent. It’s a big tent! you insist. I’ll admit this metaphor is quickly slipping through my fingers. When we have trouble seeing ourselves in others and in the group, it gets harder and harder to stay. Fandom: am I doing it right? I look back to the group for confirmation—but every day, it grows more difficult to tell.
There is an easy prescriptive cure for this ailment. You hear it all across the web. Block, unfollow, blacklist—winnow the group down to the faces, the voices, that don’t make you feel like your own voice is being drowned out, or smothered, or some other metaphor for silenced. But it’s not a great solution: It hurts us, to shut out a diversity of opinion. But it also hurts us to do this, the same old thing, every few weeks, little stinging shots across cyberspace. We came here for a sense of belonging, but it’s increasingly hard for me to see what, exactly, we’re all trying to belong to.
“A Sense of Belonging” ©Elizabeth Minkel, originally posted on July 27, 2014