Tossing it around, it reminded me of one of my other obsessions recently: this idea of meta-fandom.
What is meta-fandom?
Mostly something I made up, but I'd define it as the practice of fannish activities over fannish activities.
- Fanhistory - fandom
- Ohinternet - fandom
- Wayback Machine finds a post about fandom
- YaB posts tagged with fandom
Why is meta-fandom so important?
To me, meta-fandom is utterly fascinating because it holds in one package a peek at a future where social media and media are one and the same.
Fandom, I think, is one of the few social institutions on the web today which really encourage obsessive behavior. Fannish media is an odd sort of art, one that requires both obsession and social in equal doses.
Fannish media is similar to traditional media in that it is some sort of artifact, usually created to celebrate or explore some beloved thing. It is this behavior that strikes me as extremely "look at your fish"-ish. These are the ways that individuals challenge themselves to look differently at this thing, a sort of prism with which to look at an object in many different lights. It is similar to design in the way that building prototypes help us understand the world in new ways.
But it's not similar to traditional media in that fannish media is very much a social activity. The aesthetic of fandom is not a lonely fan, sitting in their basement among figurines and posters. The aesthetic of fandom is that of a participant in a cacophony of voices, all exploring this subject. There is no sense of being part of a "fandom" without participating in some social element of that fandom. There isn't really a sense of the fan artist, working in some isolated studio producing beautiful works - because that person isn't contributing to this global, passionate culture of fandom. The rise of fandom, in many ways, is utterly inseparable from the rise of the internet.
So fannish media is really one of these great, solid examples, to me, of a new type of media: a media that explores the things that we love, but does so with the intention of participating in a conversation. If there is a tone to the act of creation itself, fans seem to have one of the strongest. What that means is probably harder to dissect, but suffice it to say that there is a different feel to it, perhaps in the odd blend of collectivist versus individualist values that fandom has that the traditional media maybe lacks.
This is, of course, very much different from the social media we see today - yes, while it is meant to spur conversation, very little of that social media addresses true obsessions, and as such, very rarely builds one on the other in any meaningful way.
Why is obsession so important?
Dan W. emailed me the following question on the first day of 2012: "I wonder what the boundary between passion and obsession is?" to which I could only respond that I wasn't sure that there was one without the other.
Here's one of my favorite quotes from some interviews I did with various fandom participants:
“The dedication to the fandom is completely correlated to the time spent on it. Time is precious, so in giving time one is creating its personal worth. If I’m not reading fic at 3 am, I’m not really into it.”
What are some examples of meta-fandom?The general idea of fanon is one that strongly reeks of meta-fandom. While most of the ideas on that page have some sense of acceptance by the large fandom community of ideas from particular fans or evolved out of the fandom itself, there is also the idea of fanon wikis, which are purely all about creating a new type of canon completely - accepted or not. This Star Wars fanon wiki has a great description of what it is, exactly, that they do. Equally impressive is the community established around Club Penguin fanon (I never knew there was so much that was fascinating about a kids' game, but there you go!). Even Wikipedia acknowledges the presence of fanon. One of my favorites and oldest example of meta-fandom is the cultish behavior that arose around a Harry Potter fanfic called "The Shoebox Project." If you want to know how popular and influential this fanfic has become in the HP fandom, all you have to do is search Tumblr to get sense of it. All people still reading and talking about the fic, even though it's been a good five years since it's been updated.
Related: if this fic is ever updated again, pretty sure the internet will explode. In the meantime, the whole episode leaves us to wonder when fanfic and profic will slowly collide, and what the values of one might do to the other. Another one from my younger years was an adorable little web comic, which upon remembering I will probably have to go back and re-read all of it, iharthdarth. This isn't Darth Vader repainted realistically. This is Darth Vader entirely reimagined, and people apparently loved it (and for the interested, there's apparently a LOST-inspired comic by the same author now). The bronies (don't know who they are? EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE, seriously, GO GO GO) continue to show their status as the best fandom in the internet right now with large doses of meta-fandom (one could even say it was born as a meta-fandom, because how else do you explain /pony?). Yes, they seem to have comics whose fandoms have been super-charged by Tumblr. But even better is the fan-created Derpy Hooves. Derpy Hooves was born of an animation error, and when fans of the show noticed her in the background, all googly eyed, they promptly named her Derpy Hooves. The show even eventually acknowledged Derpy Hooves, which ended up in somewhat of a controversy. That Save Derpy Tumblr describes the meta-fandom of Derpy best, so revered even the show's creators began to participate:
Who is Derpy Hooves? Only the awesomest, most amazing, ditzy little pony this side of Equestria. Derpy Hooves was born as an animation error (or hidden joke) in the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The fans saw her, and adopted her as one of their own. She was given a name, personality, a backstory, a job, and even a family, all created by fans of the show. The creators saw the response and acknowledged it, they began to hide her in episodes for fans to find, and occasionally she would appear in a comical scene or two.
Anyways, so, uh, this:
What does meta-fandom teach us about the future of media?
When I look at this, I can't help but feel that while some forms of media are classic and eternal - the novel, the song, painting and sculpture - we may start new forms of media that begin to adapt to this world. This isn't a world where things are consumed passively, this is a world where consumption, and particularly consumption of the more intense, serious type of works, will be active, and interacting in some manner with consumers. So what will media that is designed for active consumption look like? I don't know. But it may shed many of the assumptions brought forth from the static medium of the page - linearity, permanence, timeliness (or the lack thereof). It may encourage a rethinking of what it means to consume media, and it's audience may change drastically, landing closer to these rabid super fans than the casual consumer. The role of author may turn to that of conversation starter and moderator, guiding this mass of ideas through a process of collective creation.
Newspapers and other digital mediums feel stuck, powerless, and undervalued. But perhaps it is time to stop, examine the new world, and start creating again. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking of how to squeeze value from our old models, and begin thinking about how to serve a new kind of consumer, and how we might build experiences that are meant to be social, to be built on and created along with. Like Robin's idea of "looking at your fish," the act of creation is a great way to see, and in that sense, fandom and meta-fandom may involve more time spent with media - characters, ideas, story lines - that we love, and less time with "new" and "different" media. So, the works that actually encourage this new sort of reaction may very well be the next great media form, as much about the UGC that exists around it as the thing itself.