Mainstream media's misplaced judgment of fan culture

Expo2013With the annual Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo coming up this weekend, sci-fi and fantasy fans from across the city and beyond are preparing to flock to Stampede Park for a chance to meet up with fellow fans, spend far too much money on overpriced merchandise and welcome some of the industry's biggest stars.

Geek, nerd, dork, whatever you want to call us, I am one and have been since I was five — or old enough to decide that my parents weren't reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone fast enough (I snatched the book away and finished it myself). In the 15 years that have followed, I never looked back. I tripped delightedly from one fandom to the next, happy to lose myself in one world after another.

I don't do anything half-assed. I put my whole self into everything from school to partying, and I think that translates to my life as a fan as well. It's just not in my nature to like things casually, a trait that a lot of us seem to share. Whether it's analyzing character development in The Lord of the Rings or shot gunning an entire series of Doctor Who in a weekend, I fully embrace my status as a fangirl.

Comic-Con2011Batman's costume from The Dark Knight stands on display at the 2011 Comic-Con in San Deigo.
Photo courtesy of: SonOfErat, Wikimedia Commons
Classically, the concept of fandom has carried decidedly negative connotations. Even the origin of the word "fanatic" calls to mind obsessive, hysterical deviants hovering on the fringes of society, and often mainstream media calls us out.

A recent example is Katie Couric, who interviewed Benedict Cumberbatch, the Internet darling famed for his work in Sherlock, Star Trek and The Hobbit. During the interview on her talk show last October, Couric asked viewers to send questions to the actor on Twitter.

"You got a lot of weird fans out there," she said, noting that one viewer's handle was @Cumberbuddy.

As far as fandom's treatment by mainstream media goes, we're usually dismissed as weird, and held up as objects of ridicule. Couric shamed this particular Twitter user for his or her innocuous online alias — and trust me, that one's on the tame side.

An unfortunate consequence of this marginalization is that fans can feel uncomfortable sharing their passion for fiction and creativity with others. I don't hide the fact that I'm a fangirl, but that doesn't mean it's the first thing that comes up in conversation when I meet someone new.

I have been blessed with what is probably more than my fair share of good friends who are just as in to the fandom life as I am, but the discovery of our mutual interests happened gradually. I didn't exactly introduce myself with, "Hi, I spend my free time obsessing over fictional characters, how do you do?"

I've found that non-fans often see our intensity as foreign. They don't understand the appeal, and they can't be bothered with the level of personal and emotional investment in fiction exhibited by diehard Trekkies, Whovians or Potterheads. And that's fine, but it doesn't mean we deserve to have our passion used against us.

Even when mainstream media tries to be supportive of fandom, it somehow manages to go off the rails. I started reading NPR TV blogger Neda Ulaby's article "The Few, The Fervent: Fans of 'Supernatural' Redefine TV Success," expecting a piece about how a show's fans have more power to keep it alive than its ratings do. What I ended up with was a disparaging article full of dated references and jibes against fanfiction writers.

As fans, we have found ourselves a community, a safe space where we can be ourselves and share what we love with like-minded people. Humans are social creatures, and that instinctual need for interaction is about as a basic as it gets.

That's what conventions like the Calgary Expo do for fans — they give us the opportunity to surround ourselves with people who aren't going to look down on us for what we like. Mainstream media is still demeaning us, but among ourselves, the attitude is very different. If brainy really is the new sexy, then "geek" is no longer an insult, but a badge of honour.

To those who don't understand the appeal of fandom, answer this: how can something that generates so much passion, imagination and fun be a bad thing? Yes, we're enthusiastic and yes, that can be intimidating, but it would be a waste to not engage in all the talent and creativity the world has to offer. If refusing to passively accept the media I consume makes me weird, then that's okay with me.

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