When I was 16 (half a lifetime ago), I had just graduated from high school and was recently heartbroken. I remember struggling from the uncertainty and pressure of deciding what to do in the future, while feeling a sense of loneliness from having to move on from some of my best years. (And of course, there was also Teenage Angst™ in the equation). I didn’t want to burden others with my whining and self-pity, so I turned to my first love – music. That’s when I discovered Bullet For My Valentine, The Used, Avenged Sevenfold, and of course my favourite – My Chemical Romance. As I fell in love with their music and grew more connected to their dark lyrics, I was hungry for a way to feel closer with them.
And that was how I discovered online forums (2006 was a simpler time). It was a gathering of nameless individuals from all around the world with the same interest; other broken or lonely souls who would talk about what drew them to MCR’s music and anything to do with the band. But we did not just talk about the band – we created. We wrote fan fiction, we composed poems, we drew fan art, we edited media. We cheered on each other, and gave feedback when asked. I didn’t realise what it was back then, but this was essentially the backbone of fandom.
Fandom is the collective refusal of thousands of people around the world to be passive about the media they are exposed to.
Thanks to the community we built, it was natural that after a while, we were no longer just avatars to each other. It was exhilarating to trust these people I had never met before with my hopes and fears, and to have them trust me back in return. We talked on MSN Messenger, we added each other on Myspace and Friendster. I grew to love these friends from the internet, when I should probably have been worried about online predators. I remember clearly being in a tutorial class one day when I received the devastating news that one of us had died from overdose (you must remember the circumstances of how we all met). I was fighting back tears as I read the post written by one of the forum leaders. That was when it hit me that this connection goes beyond just text and pictures on the screen – it’s real, as real as any of the relationships I made with my friends in real life.
In fact, not many people I know in real life understood the fervour I experience when I love a musician, a show, a film, or book. They understand the general appeal, but it’s enough for them to accept the source material as is, and that’s where their relationship with the content ends. I always wanted more. And most of the time, that’s okay – most of my closer friends never judge me for how much time I spend in fandom spaces even if they do not fully understand what goes on. But there are so many others who are quick to cringe and go, “ew, a fan girl?”, and imagine hysterical young teenagers crying at the front row of a boyband’s concert. They are so quick to mock and dismiss anything to do with it, usually saying it is “a waste of time” and “embarrassing”.
(On that note, barely anyone’s first reaction to football fans is cringe and “ew, fan boy?”. But that’s a whole other conversation for another day.)
But seriously, what’s so wrong about being a fan girl and enjoying fandom spaces? When we’re together, we make beautiful things happen. What you think is a waste of time, is us learning how to photoshop, edit videos, or create a website. Even if we do not create, we are forming communities and making friends with people around the globe, always learning as we consume, and supporting small artists and businesses. And above all, we are enjoying something we love. How dare anyone say we should be ashamed of it.
One of the fandoms that left a lasting impact in my life is the ontd_ai (American Idol S8) fandom on Livejournal back in 2009. It was not without its drama but I met some of the best people there and had the privilege to meet them when I travelled. I bunked with two of my closer friends in Houston and Lisbon. Some brought me around their favourite spots in London and New York, and I had lunch with others in Kuala Lumpur. It’s been 12 years and I’m so thankful we are still friends.
Something I will never forget during my time in the ontd_ai fandom was how we banded together for a fundraiser created by Adam Lambert to provide music and arts supplies for high-need public school classrooms in the US. Writers and artists volunteered their time and effort into offering commissions which will be donated to the cause under the LJ Community name. Others ran campaigns to spread the word. Over 900 of us raised $100,000 in total. It was insanely amazing. And being the top donor, we had an exclusive online video chat with Adam, too (the memes and inside jokes that were born out of that; good times).
The thing is, you will easily find all the creativity, charity and friendships replicated in many other fandoms. Humans are, after all, creative beings and they are always hungry for connections. Having been in MCRmy then in 2006 and the BTS ARMY now in 2021, I can see that at its core, fandom encompasses of people who are looking to make genuine friendships to bond over something they love, without fear of being told they’re being too much or too weird.
So go ahead and be weird, be too much, and don’t let anyone make you feel like your interests and hobbies should be kept as a shameful secret.
Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.John green (2009)
Have you been in fandoms yourself? Did you experience the same things I did in mine? Let me know in the comments 🙂