Three Ways Social Fandom Can Inspire Us

I’m a nerd. I’ve been one since Pokemon first aired in little ol’ Aotearoa and I tried to make Pikachus out of modelling clay with my mum. The attempted Pikachus melted, I still loved them.

Much of my childhood was dominated by Pokemon, to the point that I would actually say my childhood was defined by it, as well as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. These franchises helped me form strong friendships, find a love for the creative, and explore an interest in books and film. Most of all, these things helped me encounter joy in hard times. Being a nerd is as much a part of me as my love for food.

Recently, cynicism has been everywhere. Or, has it always been? It seems that whenever enough people love something, a vocally negative group pops up to disagree. So let’s talk positive:

There have been three defining moments for me recently that sparked something inside me. As if, for just a second, the clouds had parted and sunlight had shone down upon me. Weird, right? Who even remembers what happiness feels like these days? Not me, apparently.

Wait, didn’t I say I was going to talk positive?

Fandom inspires connections.

So Nintendo’s been doing this thing where every month they give out a different mythical Pokemon for the 20th anniversary of the series. There have also been other Pokemon doled out as mystery gifts for reasons I totally don’t know. I mentioned on Twitter that I missed a Pokemon I love (Manaphy), but that I had one I didn’t even remember getting (Zygarde).

A friend replied, saying they had a Manaphy they’d trade for the Zygarde, and voila! We both got online and traded across oceans and continents for the Pokemon we wanted.

I’m in my twenties, and I can’t honestly say I ever expected to be so overjoyed at a Pokemon trade—let alone that I’d one day be able to trade with friends from overseas!

And isn’t that wonderful? That this little game can connect two people from across the world as they show off the little creatures they love, and collaborate to create the teams they want.

Back in my younger days, kids would meet up at lunchtime and trade Pokemon across games, excitedly displaying their latest rare find as everyone else gaped in awe. Now, thanks to the internet and social media, it’s not just whichever kids are nearby that have the game. It’s anyone. I whined into the void, and ended up  interacting with a friend through a game I hadn’t touched in months.

Nowadays when someone likes something, they can reach out to like-minded folks on forums, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on. Game of Thrones has given people a show they can bring up with almost anyone they meet and have a conversation about; Pokemon GO has encouraged people to go out into their communities and join in on city-wide walks to catch Pokemon; conventions like Star Wars Celebration gives fans a place to go where they can make hundreds of connections formed by a mutual love of Star Wars.

Connections are made, friends are found, and suddenly fans can find themselves with a wide network of people they enjoy talking to.

Fandom inspires interaction.

A new Star Wars book came out a couple week ago. Aftermath: Life Debt, written by Chuck Wendig. There’s a lot I could say about that book, and there’s a lot I have said, but I think my favourite thing about this novel is how it sparked a lot of conversations with friends.

I was talking to one friend I don’t actually talk to that often one-on-one about Life Debt. We were both yelling excitedly (AKA TALKING IN CAPSLOCK), and I just felt myself light up at effortlessly being able to blab about something I enjoyed, as well as listen to my friend gush about what she loved, too.

What we talked about in particular? Not important, not really. What was important was that we were talking, and in such an enthusiastic way.

In a similar vein, a friend that I don’t tend to see out of group situations asked if I wanted to go for a Pokemon hunt. We walked for hours, chasing Pokemon and just talking. I’m bad at finding opportunities to hang out with friends, absolutely awful at it, and these nerdy things have helped me bridge that gap.

Fandom can be an exhausting thing. When you venture out into the wild of it, you can find that it’s filled with conflicting opinions, anger, and entitlement. More than often, it’s easy to shy away from something you love because you’re overwhelmed by the negativity and bickering.

But there will always be people in your fandom circles who enjoy things you do, or who have differing opinions that help you look at something in a new way. There’s a reason you’re drawn to them and they’re drawn to you.

For those who struggle with social interaction, having a fandom connection over a book, a game, or an episode of a show can really aid opening up and making friends. Have you ever seen the way someone’s eyes light up when they hear a topic they love mentioned? Fandom opens up infinite opportunities for this passion and love to be shared through interactions with fellow fans.

The encouragement of this love and enthusiasm gives people confidence in themselves and their ability to talk to other people. Being involved in positive interactions brightens days, lifts moods, and builds strong friendships that can last for years. What could be better than that?

Fandom inspires community.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been playing Pokemon Go. There’s a Pokestop near my house, just a five minute walk down a nearby street, and one night while waiting for the kitchen to free up so I could make some food I decided to venture down to the Pokestop.

On the way back home, a man yelled at me out of the window of a passing car. Usually when I’m walking around in the evening in my neighbourhood, I get the typical jeers and catcalls so many women talk about. Hands held down on horns with the intention of scaring us, or… whatever.

But that’s not what this guy did.  He saw me playing the game, opened his window, and yelled, “GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!” at me as he sped past.

It was the first time in my entire life that a man has yelled something at me from a car, and it not been some kind of harassment. He was, in his own way, encouraging my adventure, proclaiming his love for the game, and establishing that he and I had this love in common.

This game in general has given me a stronger feeling of connection to my real life community than I’ve ever had. What kind of strange world is this, that Pokemon encourages men not to yell slurs, but slogans?

A bunch of kids at a playground near to where I was hunting for Pokemon gave me advice on where to find a rarer one. My nurse asked me if there were Pokemon inside the medical center as she gave me my vaccinations. While I was chilling at the beach in the evening, a teenage girl started screaming excitedly that she’d caught a Charmander.

This is just the real world, and this is just Pokemon. Online, a thousand communities exist, often created because of shared fandoms. They’re not people loosely connected by love for things, but actual virtual spaces where fans come together and form strong societies where anyone part of the community knows they have support.

Take the Star Wars podcasting and blogging community: a few months back, my co-hosts and I were let go from the Forcecast podcast, which we’d finally begun to establish as our thing. When we were, uh, bumped off, the entire community we were part of rallied around us and supported us. We were given new (and better) opportunities, and had so many friends to turn to when we needed.

We exist as a community because we love Star Wars. We share information, encourage and support each other, and find ways to give newer fans a platform. Not every fan community is inclusive, but many are, and more are popping up every day.

Whether in the real world or online, it’s becoming easier to find fellow fans and become part of fan communities. Being a nerd isn’t a bad thing, and things like Pokemon GO hitting serious mainstream only opens up fandom even more. There’s nothing wrong with new fans joining fandom; they can only bring more enthusiasm and diverse views with them.

That there are so many stories emerging about interactions people have had through playing Pokemon GO says a lot about how it’s changing perceptions of community in the real world. The game is even helping some people with mental health, partly through helping them explore their community.

Fandom is filled with possibility

It’s easy to jump to the idea that fandoms are filled with toxicity and hatred—and it’s true, some definitely are! But fandom is so diverse, and made up of so many different people. You can’t pick out one group of a particular fandom and blame all fans for their actions.

There will always be a place for anyone, whether they like that one side character in that one show, or that really popular book about those two characters falling in love.

Love for something, no matter how nerdy it seems, can transgress social anxiety and continents, and give people who might have never met otherwise a shared connection.

Through community, connection, and interaction brought about by fandom, we can find somewhere—whether virtual or otherwise—that feels safe to us. We can find friends who know exactly what excites us in a story. We can work together and help those who need it, and in turn have support when we need it. Through shared love and social connection, we can find excitement, passion, and even happiness.

And there’s something beautiful about that, don’t you think?

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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This is such a good an positive post!!!! I think in 2016 especially, which everyone considers Just A Bad Year, fandom is really really important!!! I think Pokemon Go especially resonates with people as a big turning point for this year, but even with things like Ghostbusters and Star Trek and screaming over the stuff happening at comic-con, there is so much for us to get excited about as a community. It’s silly but also heartwarming to know that fandom gives a lot of people hope for the future and a reason to look forward to tomorrow. You really captured well in your article why it helps make lives better and brings people together– I certainly wouldn’t have met you if it wasn’t for fandom!

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