Fandoms represent a new 21st century culture


Noelle Pryor

Claire sports her fandom spirit with buttons and trinkets adorning her backpack.

The general enjoyment of a topic or subject is a sensation that most people can relate to. However, that public enjoyment moves on to something else once someone begins to define themselves by it. Which begs the question, “why are people even fans in the first place?”

“Certain things are comforting. With shows or podcasts, I know when they’ll update, and I have something to look forward to,” junior Luciana Devito said.

Being a fan of something is different for everyone, varying from a casual enjoyment to something along the lines of obsession. One of the most joked about stereotypes of a fan is the fangirl or ‘stan.’ When most people read that word, they imagine the caricature of the fan: the fanfiction reading, celebrity admiring, Tumblr scrolling, hyper committed teen. However, being a fangirl works on a spectrum as well. Hardcore fans are often viewed in a negative light, no matter how well they act. There are, however, plenty of friendly fans who happen to be hardcore. 

“I use fangirl because I’m a fan and a girl. I started to use the term years ago because I liked to think of myself as part of a community” Devito said

That emphasis on community is what defines a fandom. In all simplicity, a fandom is just a group of people who interact based on something that they like. These communities allow people of all walks of life to communicate based on a common thread: the thing they all love. They can make massive impacts on culture as a whole, influencing creators and content as a collective. In an age where social interaction is experienced mainly through social media, the fan has found a way to strengthen and grow communication utilizing the new technology to its advantage. Communities have come together for good in many ways, leading to an impact reaching far outside of the fandom itself. 

Fandoms have long been a driver of culture in the United States. It may seem a bit strange now, but most of history’s massive movements, be it artistic or intellectual, were pushed forward by “fandoms.” In enlightenment Europe, thinkers were praised and admired for their works, with some even inspiring entire forms of government. Ben Franklin very famously captured the hearts of the French people and became a pseudo-celebrity among the nobles of the French court. Even in the Renaissance, artists became the first celebrities and used their artistic abilities to give prestige to the church and several of the rising nobles of the Mediterranean. 

The early “fandoms” surrounding these thinkers and artists of the pre-industrial eras of history were mostly elitist, however. This is primarily because of the lack of development in all of these countries didn’t allow the general populous to have an interest in the arts or the humanities. What the first celebrities showed was that being famous was just about being well known by the nobles of these countries. This would all change; however, following the industrialization of Great Britain and the United States and the cultural revolution that happened within the United States. 

As the US developed into a world power, the poor and oppressed of the country developed musical styles that broke every tradition set forth by the European arts. Before the Civil War, America lacked any real musical genres and mostly got its music from European influences. Following the Civil War, however, the rise of income inequality due to the Gilded Age and industrialization, as well as many African Americans experiencing extreme poverty and racism within the states, led to the formation of musical genres that spoke to the ordinary person.

The Harlem Renaissance, without a doubt, sparked the beginnings of not only modern artistry but also the idea of the contemporary fandom. Following the origins of the Renaissance, Charles Lindbergh would become one of the first models of a real modern celebrity. Endless press, a cult of personality, and political intrigue dominated the young pilot showing off the power of the first modern star. Lindbergh was so renowned that the US Congress officially made kidnapping a federal crime because Lindbergh’s infant child was kidnapped. 

Following Lindbergh, the modern notion of fans and celebrities began dominating American culture. The rise of Hollywood enamored the American people with actors and actresses of all kinds, starting the romanticization of the Hollywood lifestyle. Musicians, authors, artists, and even politicians began becoming celebrities resulting in some of the most prominent cults of personalities that last to this day. 

Today, the advent of social media and the internet has allowed even more people to find their passions. Despite the newfound speed of social media, however, the actual actions and motivators behind fandoms have not changed that much. Fandoms continue to push culture forward and have allowed artistry to grow to new levels not seen before. While it may be weird to think about, the k-pop fan posting fancams on every tweet you see on twitter, is not too different from the French noble following and praising Ben Franklin wherever he went.