Whilst exploring the tangled and thorny jungles of the internet one discovers many things. Last week I discovered that Mitt Romney doesn’t know why you can’t open the windows on aeroplanes. I found that there are a large number of people who suggest that he should be free to experiment with window opening at 30,000 feet, provided they aren’t on the plane. I discovered the interesting fact that lots of people are delighted not to like J.K. Rowling’s new book, presumably because they were just getting really sick of everything else she did being good and a change is as good as a rest. I also discovered that people are seemingly only happy with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson possibly being able to have sex if they’re both of the same gender.
I personally have never been of the opinion that sex ruins anything, provided that thing is both consenting and adult, and it really, really helps if the thing in question is totally fictional.
What really fascinates and encourages me and fills me with a sort of bubbly excitement is the sheer degree of energy people out there are devoting to this seemingly fairly subjective and innocuous issue.
Because it’s not innocuous to the people who are invested in what they would refer to as their “fandom”; it’s a massively important issue that hits heart deep into their individual identities.
The identity question is an important one. The internet, which is where a huge proportion of people today spend a large amount of their time, is predominantly faceless. This isn’t news to anyone I realise, anyone who has had to sit their trying frantically to remember their username or password knows that; simply screaming “But it’s me!!!” at the monitor doesn’t help. The internet does not know you and is not your friend.
You are however free to construct and present yourself in any way you see fit. I for example could have constructed the persona of a muscular, handsome and dynamic antiquarian book dealer with encyclopaedic knowledge and a dry, yet gentle, wit. Justin Croft beat me to it, however, and I ended up with this.
As we are often told in warning tones the internet is full of people pretending to be something they aren’t.
So is the outside world, that’s what people do. Who on earth wants to be what they actually are?
Internet fandoms are massively complex and shifting communities. A better word might be territories, a word that brings with it the suggestion of the occasional border conflict or the possibility of a turncoat or two. Doctor Who, Glee, Supernatural, John Green fans, Twilight fans and a million more islands of avid devotion float in a massive sea of instant communication. Occasionally temporary alliances or a sudden shift in fan numbers might cause a few of these islands to swing closer together; Whovians and Supernatural fans (is there a word for them? Enquiring minds need to know…is it Idjits?) seem to have a lot in common and there’s a fair amount of sharing. Similarly giant rifts can open up overnight and you wake up discovering that opposing Glee fans have turned on each other.
There’s a lot of hugging and gif producing between Who fans and Sherlock fans (who may actually be the same people considering the family atmosphere of the Gatiss/Moffat Axis of New Old Fiction), and Harry Potter fans seem to be pretty cool with everyone provided you love Snape and hate Umbridge and have no objection to identical ginger twins snogging each other.
Game of Thrones fans are too terrified of their favourite characters being killed off by George R.R. Martin to attempt making friends with anyone else. A man knows how they feel.
So alright, the internet is a big sea of people who really like stuff floating around looking for people who like similar stuff, and it’s easy for them to do it because…internet. The motto of the internet is “MOAR!!!1!” and its crew simply reflect that, drilling deeper and deeper down into any fictional construct in order to extract every last shred of fulfillment from it.
I recall watching hard-core fans of “Lost” go frame by frame through shots of the jungle, the Black Smoke and each character’s apartments; stripping out every possible clue to what might be happening. In the end their suppositions and theories were far, far more interesting than the ideas of the actual program producers. Fan fiction (of which there are several Alexandrine Libraries full floating around out there) is frequently as engaging and interesting as the narrative structure it pays homage to.
What has this to do with books, you dribbling idiot, I hear you ask? Well, aside from the fact that a lot of these fandoms stem from books and that a lot of fandoms are held up and propogated by massive amounts of writing?
Even after the books have been absorbed by the Shoggoth of Hollywood the fandoms often bestride the two camps rather triumphantly, or at least amiably. The book fans apparently consider it partly their responsibility to encourage the screen fans to join them in their enthusiasms, and the phrase “The Books Were Better.” has achieved ironic t-shirt status.
I asked my favourite expert where she thought it had all started, she pondered for about 15 seconds (God knows what I’d have to ask about to have to wait longer than that for an answer) and said the original Sherlock Holmes stories.
So that’s what the next couple of posts will be about: when did we stop simply being readers and become fans? What was the first fandom?