When talking recently in an online chatroom to an avid Star Trek fan, I was surprised to find the other person disconnect as soon as I confessed to having seen only the most recent films. Whilst there is no evidence for a link between the two, it made me think about this snobbery which is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst internet fan groups.
An abbreviation of “fanatic”, the word “fan” has long existed to describe enthusiastic and devoted admirers of something or someone. Since the late nineteenth century, both “fan” and the slightly more recent “fandom” have seen application to hordes of bibliophiles, gamers, film and television connoisseurs, music-lovers and foodies. With the introduction of social media sites like Tumblr, these cliques have been thrown together, and, despite sharing an affinity for elements of popular culture, are oft to be found squabbling amongst themselves.
It appears that, instead of uniting to celebrate their enthrallment, many fans spend their time trying to out-do the others in search of the Holy Grail of Fandom – the title of “true fan”. This mysteriously unattainable honour has no clear-cut definition but, scrolling through the ‘#truefan’ tag of Twitter, it seems to involve ingestion of a veritable mountain of information on the subject, possession of miscellaneous memorabilia, and willingness to have fandom references permanently inked onto one’s skin. Those philistines who take but a casual interest in these venerated sectors of contemporary culture can easily find themselves shunned for their apparent indifference: “you’re not a true fan if you haven’t seen them in concert/supported them from the beginning/watched every episode twice/written fan-mail/offered your first-born child to the author in return for a sequel”.
Straying into the dangerously active world of Tumblr fandom, one can find declarations of undying fandom not limited to the confining 140 characters of Twitter fans. Not only this, but on Tumblr, the fandoms collide. BBC’s Sherlock, Warner Brothers’ Supernatural, Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight among others vie for the right to the ‘#bestfandom’ tag. Overexcited teenage girls caps-lock their way through battles over which television fandom has it the hardest – who waits the longest for new seasons, who has to endure the most character deaths, who has more plot twists… Although it is possible to be in more than one fandom (and this is often the case), whoever makes the most noise gets the most attention, and these TV-orientated web warriors have no qualms about attacking the “feels” of the others by dredging up past emotional episodes of the series.
To me, this cult of obsession and idolatry is just petty. It’s great that there are groups of people who all love the same thing (and good for them that they are voicing that) but there is a limit to how much competition should exist. Whether someone has seen the Harry Potter films and liked them, or had their nose surgically removed to look more like Voldemort, everyone should have equal claim to identify as a “fan”.