Confessions of an Adjacent Geek
December 9, 2019 11:01 AM   Subscribe

When I think about the current rules of engagement/consumption for fandom and what they’ve evolved into, I do sometimes wonder if there’s a room for the person I am now: a “lightly geeky,” casually interested fan with a history of being more highly engaged.

It can feel disingenuous to be a “true-but-casual” fan, the kind of fan that drops in and checks out at one’s leisure, but still makes time to occasionally socialize and be present in public fandom spaces, but it especially stands out in spaces that make assumptions about the validity of your fandom and don’t necessarily make room for people like you in the first place.
posted by storytam (56 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Pulling this bit from the linked article because it needs to be emphasized:
Geek culture has traditionally centered the experiences and perspectives of a very specific kind of fan: the 18-25-year-old white cisgender middle class American male. It’s this so-called “ideal demographic,” his money, his participation, the lifecycle of his fandom, that is primarily courted and rewarded by media companies. This is the person whose lifelong loyalty is primarily valued; and his entry point and consumption within a fan community is usually analyzed and validated.
This is such a wonderful essay and I've been nodding my head for several minutes.
posted by Fizz at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2019 [19 favorites]

Imagine being able to enjoy something without joining a pseudo-religious cult, complete with in-group enforcement of piety, and sacred scriptures. Incredible.
posted by Jimbob at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2019 [44 favorites]

Fandom is a full-time job. You can't just watch a new movie every couple of years; you have to follow three TV shows, keep up with all the latest memes online, and make a pilgrimage to a theme park. Definitely don't try attending a convention if you can't give that level of commitment. If you try to dabble, you won't even understand what you're looking at.

And that's how I've gatekept myself out of almost all popular culture in the past fifteen years.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:36 AM on December 9, 2019 [32 favorites]

I feel so seen.

I draw sci-fi comics and I don't feel like I qualify to be "a fan" of anything by current standards. Ten-year-old-boy me would probably be aghast if he could hear fortymumble-year-old-lady me say that she could really quite happily go the rest of her life without ever hearing a single thing about anything Star Wars. Conventions are part of my job, and they mean 2-5 days of sitting in a dealer's room trying to get enough oxygen out of the air everyone's already breathed to pretend to be an inviting social person whose comics you should totally think about buying.

I also quit being a fan of animation when I got into that industry. I left it but I still don't make time to try to keep up with what's out there and watch anything exhaustively; becoming part of the sausage factory makes looking for exciting new developments in sausage less appealing, y'know?

Now that I think about it, there's really no fiction out there I want to consume extensively. "Fan" feels like it's become about buying tons and tons of product related to some setting and set of characters owned by Disney, Warners, Activision, or Nintendo. Searching for new stuff is an overwhelming task, so much stuff just feels like I've read this six times already because I know pretty much every damn trope in the sf/f genres beloved by "geek culture" by now.

Maybe the word for me is just "burnt out", I dunno.
posted by egypturnash at 11:37 AM on December 9, 2019 [38 favorites]

What it means to be a fan “in your off time” is different than what it means to be a fan where there is no off-time, when fandom can be a daily, potentially 24-7, pursuit.

See, this is what makes fandom boring to me and makes me unlikely really to "be a fan". I read a lot of science fiction, sure, and there are certain fandoms about which I care, but...okay, look, let's consider famous and important science fiction writer Samuel Delany. He's amazing, but he doesn't just read science fiction. I'd be surprised if most of the writers I admire only read science fiction, in fact, whether they write light SF or Very Serious Literary Science Fiction.

Science fiction is great! I put time, thought and money into reading science fiction and keeping up with where the genre seems to go. I go to a book group. I used to run a book group and will probably run one again. And god knows I spend plenty of time on Ao3. But if you aren't also reading history and non-genre literature at the very least, your takes on science fiction can get pretty dull and limited.

Like, bring something else to your fandom, especially as you age and grow as a reader/viewer. The science fiction standards (for instance) that are thought-provoking and challenging when you're in your teens or early twenties won't keep challenging you as you change and grow.

And, okay, is this a hot take if it's something that I've thought for a long enough time for it to have grown cold? Genre stuff often isn't as complex and challenging as "serious" stuff. This isn't always true and there are definite pluses to genre stuff, but when I'm looking for books that actually challenge me as a reader, there are a lot more non-SF books than SF ones. Science fiction is mostly something that I read for fun, or maybe to discover a genealogy of, eg, utopian thinking, but it rarely makes me work as a reader.
posted by Frowner at 11:39 AM on December 9, 2019 [34 favorites]

Reminder that "fan" derives from "fanatic," and isn't really something to aspire to.

Nothing wrong with enjoying a show, movie, or band without obsessing over the details!
posted by explosion at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

posted by doubtfulpalace at 12:00 PM on December 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

Like, bring something else to your fandom, especially as you age and grow as a reader/viewer.

This is something that has occurred to me recently with a certain RPG playing podcast I listen to, featuring a group of people in their 20s-40s. And I adore this podcast and the people on it (maybe I’m a “fan”?) but I’ve noticed the cultural touchstones they chat about and joke about and refer to are just this one, very specific set of blockbuster superhero/sci-fi movies. Every joke is about Marvel or Star Wars or Batman. They never refer to a novel they’ve read, they never mention something obscure and interesting and new, it’s always “lol Iron Man am I rite?”. And it makes me a little bit sad on their behalf. I don’t know if I should be because, I mean, they seem to be having fun...
posted by Jimbob at 12:03 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Reminder that "fan" derives from "fanatic," and isn't really something to aspire to.

You know it's interesting to note that many people equate the term "fan" as something bad or toxic. In the same way that people think that "gamer" is also bad or toxic. That both of these types of communities are usually places where white men gate-keep other minorities/women/lgtbqia from joining in is not surprising.

The Venn diagram for both of these is probably pretty much one on top of the other. Just another thing that capitalism and patriarchy have ruined.
posted by Fizz at 12:04 PM on December 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

Following up Frowner’s point, I get the impression that SFF readers as a group avoid anything that’s harder to read, to the point of not just lower sales for that book but endangered contracts. Either experiments in form or political breadth or just not guaranteeing a HEA. Some of my favorite books are one-shots by pseudonyms. (If i were a trufan I might try to guess who, but since I’m still gobsmacked that KJ Parker evidently is Tom Holt I don’t think literary forensics is my bailiwick.)

The resentment of unpredictability seems to be part of the gatekeeping and detail-hoarding of approved consumption, to the post link.
posted by clew at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

At some point fandom about a thing became fandom about fandom itself.

Despite playing board games, watching Doctor Who, and reading comics I feel like I'm not much of a "fan" anymore because that's all I do with them. I don't live the life, I just enjoy the product, and am aware that that's what it is. I won't go to bat for any of it anymore and I certainly don't want to be any kind of an evangelist for any of it. That puts me right out of fandom and, for all I know, geekery in general.

In short, though I still consider myself a geek, I'm not sure other geeks would anymore.
posted by Legomancer at 12:07 PM on December 9, 2019 [22 favorites]

But Star Trek, and the universes and possibilities of its stories, was important enough to her to want to share it with someone—namely me and my stepfather—every weekend. We were a fandom micro-community of sorts

i really like this bit! my favorite fandom experiences have been when i happened to have a couple friends all get really into something at the same time and bounce off of each other for a few weeks or when me and my ex found a new show or game we both really gelled with. the tiny community experience is cozy and more well-remembered by me than trying to engage with The Fandom at large and keep up with everything -- canon and fan content and people's opinions about both.

and i think i reflexively stay away from media that's gonna have boys quiz me on trivia about it unless it's decades old and now taken over by the gays (resident evil until 7 came out, final fantasy, 90s batfam comics, trek seems well on its way here so eventually i'll get into it like i know i would), which is by accident but very nice
posted by gaybobbie at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

One of the things that I miss about independent cinema being a mass culture phenomenon was the ability to connect or disconnect from a particular part of culture within 2-3 hours. These days, it feels like the buy-in is a day or more of engagement. Like timeshares, I guess.

In the end, this is cult building, not culture.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, and to expand, my lack of interest in the MCU and its adjacent TV shows and whatever also make me ineligible anymore, as it's always with surprise that people learn I haven't seen whatever and have no interest in it. Apparently if you're down for any of it you have to be down for all of it, and anything less calls your credentials into doubt.
posted by Legomancer at 12:10 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Geek culture was definitely something I was bullied over as a kid. The boys who played football on the playground picked on the boys who played Star Wars. Even though nerd culture stuff was still big business at the time (Star Wars practically invented the blockbuster; Dungeons &Dragons sold enough to get its own Saturday morning cartoon), it felt marginalized, even to a white boy.

A lot of that marginalizing and fear turned in on itself as both enthusiasm and gatekeeping. If we got tortured over liking something, we had to make sure that it was worth liking A LOT, and we had to make sure that everyone else who liked it had to suffer for it too. It was a dynamic that turned people off and invited more ridicule.

I turned my back on that world after college because I was trying to be a grownup (though I still watched Star Trek casually). I feel like it was around the Buffy era that I started seeing that nerdy didn’t have to mean unserious and childish.

There’s a lot of toxic roots of fan culture that have faded to the degree that women and minorities have fought their way to the table. D&D is way different now than it was when I was a kid. But there’s a lot of work left to do, and the problems of the genre have a long heritage that’s hard to shake.
posted by rikschell at 12:18 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

See also: "filthy casual." I mean, I'll obsess over the smallest details in Trek (as witness my wads-o-text in various Trek rewatches on FanFare), but I still remember a fellow librarian seeing my Klingon pin and immediately starting talking in Klingon, a conlang deliberately constructed to be difficult to learn and which I didn't learn because there were other things in my life. Not to mention over-the-top browncoats who insisted that, if you didn't promote the movie Serenity as assiduously as they did, you weren't a geek, period. Or people in World of Warcraft who examined my PC's stats and, apropos of exactly nothing, informed me that my PC sucked because it wasn't min-maxed. Or, pertinent to periodic posts on the blue, any video discussion of a particular show that approaches or even exceeds the length of the show itself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:19 PM on December 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

Following up Frowner’s point, I get the impression that SFF readers as a group avoid anything that’s harder to read, to the point of not just lower sales for that book but endangered contracts. Either experiments in form or political breadth or just not guaranteeing a HEA.

You could change this to "readers as a group" - it's not like Joyce is flying off the shelves compared to Tom Clancy or Nora Roberts. SFF readers are just like any others - often looking to literature for entertainment, since we have enough challenge in form or political breath or lack of HEA in our regular lives.

That said - I'm re-reading a pulp SF series for the 7th (? 8th? lost track) time, and contemplating the morality of war, whether someone who has committed horrific crimes can change, whether it matters if they do. Just because something is easy to read - e.g. I don't have to spend excess intellectual energy just to figure out what is going on - doesn't mean that it is empty.

back to the FPP: I've known many people who are "geek adjacent" - reading / watching SF&F, but not engaged in the fan-social world. Myself, I suppose I am a lapsed geek - gone from being on a convention organizing team to not even attending for 10+ years. I'm too disconnected now, and busy with other interests - and happy to read (and re-read) my favourites, and discover a few new ones when I have more energy.

There’s a lot of toxic roots of fan culture that have faded to the degree that women and minorities have fought their way to the table.

It also depends on the part of fan culture you're in: where I've been (Star Trek, cons, art shows, fiction), the majority of participants have been women (sometimes overwhelmingly so) since at least the 1980s.
posted by jb at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2019 [14 favorites]

posted by ZeusHumms at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Following up Frowner’s point, I get the impression that SFF readers as a group avoid anything that’s harder to read, to the point of not just lower sales for that book but endangered contracts. Either experiments in form or political breadth or just not guaranteeing a HEA. Some of my favorite books are one-shots by pseudonyms. (If i were a trufan I might try to guess who, but since I’m still gobsmacked that KJ Parker evidently is Tom Holt I don’t think literary forensics is my bailiwick.)

I mean, I think it depends on what your tastes and where you're finding recommendations more than anything else - SFF isn't all HEA rayguns any more than litfic is all divorce novels. The books that I read this year that did interesting things with language - This is How You Lose the Time War, Black Leopard Red Wolf, and The Bird King, for example - were all SFF, but I also read a lot more SFF these days.

The masses in general avoid anything that's harder to read, but that's the masses for you. I don't think that's different in any genre. Also, the folks that I know that are talking about Black Leopard Red Wolf are not necessarily the types who consider themselves part of fandom - or if they do, it's for completely different reasons.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:28 PM on December 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

As with so many others, this hits home for me. I was in the target demographic and am still fairly close (middle-aged cishet white male with at least some disposable income). I remember feeling somewhat ostracized for being into geek stuff, and like so many others chose to wear that particular badge with pride. Being a geek was a big part of my identity.

Now, though...I still lightly engage directly and dip into the waters of fandom at one remove. I've never managed to watch Steven Universe,but I eagerly read the threads talking about it on I've seen the MCU films and some of the DCCU ones (despite being only a DC reader in my heyday), but I don't watch any of the associated TV series. I read the first few Game of Thrones books, but made it about 1.5 episodes before my wife decided it wasn't for her and have never gone back. I haven't bought comics in years, but check scans_daily on a near-daily basis just to see what's going on.

I do feel like I've lost something by not being a full geek any more, though my favorite moments were the micro-fandoms discussed above, like the group I watched Babylon 5 with, or my particular RPG group...but I'm not interested in taking a swim in the toxic fandoms I see in my toe-tipping.
posted by Four Ds at 12:32 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

For me, fandom's always going to be about the lego set. That is, I care about the source material inasmuch as it gives me a set of metaphorical legos to play with on my own, and in fic and art producing transformative fandom. Do I need all of the lego sets, and do I need them nownownow? Not really. Do I need to maintain an exhaustive, encyclopedic, up to date knowledge of these lego sets at all times? Nah. Do I need to buy a bunch of merch to supplement these lego sets? No, though if said merch is sufficiently weird/hilarious/cute, then sure, I'll get some of it if I'm in the mood.

All this makes me a less than ideal fan, at least from the IP owners' perspective. But this is my hobby, not my second job. I participate to the extent that it makes me happy. Also, I don't care about what the "ideal demographic" thinks about my fandom or how I do fandom. I'm 0% interested in making my way past any of the gates those gatekeepers are keeping.
posted by yasaman at 12:39 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Apparently if you're down for any of it you have to be down for all of it, and anything less calls your credentials into doubt.

Which is so strange, because aside from the Avengers movies, each branch is self-contained. Even most individual movies stand on their own without needing to have watched the earlier ones. I watched Thor: Ragnarok (The Gayest Thor) without having watched the first 2, and it was great.

This imposition is just from the fans, not even from the creators! Oof.
posted by explosion at 12:53 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

All through high school, I considered myself a nerd / geek / whatever. I was into computers and ran a BBS and wore a trenchcoat after watching Darkman but way before that aesthetic was toxified by Columbine. Then I got to college and met the CS majors, at which point I stopped identifying as a geek / nerd because, man, they were on a whole different planet than I was. I felt like an impostor and decided maybe I was just normal with some vaguely nerdy interests.

So it is with fandom - I would never in a million years call myself a "fan" in this day and age because the sheer level of commitment to pass is just, like, not worth it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

The biggest problem that being geek-adjacent has caused in my life is that it throws an extra level of weird difficulty into dating via the apps. If I put anything in my own profile about some bit of pop culture I've enjoyed recently, fandom dudes quiz me on it. If I message a dude first and refer to anything on his profile about some bit of pop culture, surprise, here comes the quiz. It's exhausting.
posted by palomar at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

They never refer to a novel they’ve read, they never mention something obscure and interesting and new, it’s always “lol Iron Man am I rite?”.

There's an evergreen post on tumblr about how fanfic is so great (yes!) because other fiction doesn't engage in intense study of character (um!!!). It's such a massive, massive self-own that every time I see it reblogged I have to go take a little break to fight off the secondhand-embarrassment squick.

I don't know a lot of older fannish people for who fandom is the be-all and end-all, though. Few adults in the U.S. enjoy the kind of lives where that would even be possible.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

egypturnash: exciting new developments in sausage

That's the name of my post-punk sausage industry magazine.
posted by clawsoon at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

I attended my first Star Trek convention in 1976, and wore my geek/nerd/trekkie badge with pride up until about 5 years ago. Trek fandom seemed to have more women, more LGBTQ, more minorities and that made me love it even more.
Now, just as people want to Punch Nazi's, sometimes these days, I want to Punch Toxic Nerds just as much for the way that they treat others whom they view as Not Geek Enough, Not White Enough, not Male Enough, etc.
I turn 59 tomorrow, and I just feel too old for this shit.
I'll be in the corner, getting ready for a DS9 rewatch in honor of Rene'.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

... I’ve noticed the cultural touchstones they chat about and joke about and refer to are just this one, very specific set of blockbuster superhero/sci-fi movies. [...] And it makes me a little bit sad on their behalf. I don’t know if I should be because, I mean, they seem to be having fun...

Jimbob, in my circle of friends, every joke is about Star Wars, Marvel, Batman, Skyrim, Fallout, and (other set of AAA video games and other tabletop RPGs) because the pool of genre entertainment is so large that those are the only ones that we all share. My husband and one of his friends are the Illuminati! and Philip K. Dick fans, and make those jokes to each other, I read a vast number of obscure and self-published fantasy and SF books that the others haven't, there's the horror fan sub-group, the Lovecraftian fan sub-group, the obscure anime fans, and so on.

When the larger group is together, the jokes and references tend to be to media that we're pretty sure everyone has either read, seen or osmosed enough to get the jokes. Perhaps that's what the podcast hosts you mention are doing: making sure that they don't alienate audience members by sticking to popular media that they can be pretty sure that all the audience will get? It does feel alienating to me when my husband and his buddy get going on Philip K. Dick and the like and I'm left out of the conversation. If they were a podcast, I'd stop listening. (In real life, I just pick up my phone and start reading Reddit.)
posted by telophase at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Honestly I'm feeling like this thread took a weird turn because being hyperfixated on something is a well known neurodiverse thing, and there's nothing wrong with that, as much as there's nothing wrong with having a passing interesting in said stereotypically fannish thing. Just don't impose your preferred method of experience on other people, or insist one is better than the other.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

This is from a previous post of mine, but I think it fits here, too:

My experience is that to some extent, the way people fan things can be a bit gendered. I'm trying really hard not to speak in absolutes here, because I know people who fall outside the gender roles I'm about to describe, but I've observed it as a bit of a pattern.

I think many male geeks relate to their fandoms in a very knowledge/fact collecting sort of way, much like, say, male sports fan collect stats about who won the batting title in 1956 and how many RBIs the lead-off hitter of their favorite team has this season. They know all the starship classes, even the ones that never appear on-screen, and which episodes were on what stardate and why the stardates aren't in proper order.

At the same time, I find that many female fans don't relate to their fandoms in that same knowledge collecting sort of way. It's not that they are unknowledgable about the things they like, but their knowledge is less listy and encylopedic.

Sometimes in geek circles NOT having that listy, encyclopedic knowledge makes it very hard to be part of the conversation. You mistake a Defiant class starship for an Intrepid class starship and suddenly everyone assumes you can't possibly know anything at all.

posted by jacquilynne at 1:20 PM on December 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

I like the terms 'high investor' and 'low investor' for basically this phenomenon, which I think I picked up from a particular summary text rather than from Bourdieu, but that's what it connected to. Anyway, I think there are high investors and low investors in most domains, and in my mind neither term seems negative. But where there are high investors, status markers indicative of class fractions probably follow along, and it's usually painful to see. Like, it's not great seeing folks with a lot of systems and networking experience look down on people who've always only worked in JavaScript, however practical or valuable that other experience may be. In SF/F fandoms, I guess it may still be a way for folks excluded from other social fields to acquire ego rewards or cultural capital or whatever, particularly as this stuff has grown more and more popular, but it's especially ugly because the whole field is supposed to be fun.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:31 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Sometimes in geek circles NOT having that listy, encyclopedic knowledge makes it very hard to be part of the conversation.

I'm a history buff, so when the USS Constitution museum held a reception for members a couple of years ago when she relaunched after some restoration work, I decided to go (in hopes of meeting new guys and) learn about a nifty ship with an important history.

I'm terrible at parties anyway, and was completely unwelcomed by everyone who was not a staff member. Why are you here, because you're attached to someone who's involved with the launching? Or because you're an obsessed fan who knows every single detail of the ship and her history down to the number of feet in her rigging? What? You're neither of those things? Then why are you here? I pathetically tried to make small talk with people, but since I couldn't discuss in detail things like Captain Hull's childhood, I was shut out.

And it isn't the first time I've gone to a history event only to find people talking at each other, not with each other. As the teacher said in the movie "Fame" (1980), that's not music, that's masturbation.
posted by Melismata at 1:35 PM on December 9, 2019 [17 favorites]

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how corporately owned our shared culture and stories have become. With few exceptions, like maybe SCP, the worlds we imagine and play in and think about aren't ours collectively.
posted by gryftir at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'm a nerd and look the part but I've honestly never been a "fan" of any one thing, I just tend to dabble in a lot of different geek-adjacent areas. I've had the "geek cred" conversation probably hundreds of times, and it's definitely confusing about how often it comes up. I always just admit straight up that I like something but am not a fan, and that always defuses it. It often does disappoint the other person though, which makes me feel bad

I think it derives from the raw psychological need to always know where you stand in the social hierarchy of a certain community. People literally get anxious if they don't know how they rank relative to people they are talking to, and cues that are normally useful like obvious wealth or physical attractiveness are not relevant to the nerd community. So, that quiz comes out to try and figure out where you stand relative to each other. I don't think it's about "establishing dominance" as much as it is about "learning where you are." In either case it's pretty offputting but I don't know what can be done about it because the social hierarchy stuff is pretty deeply embedded in the psychology of most people
posted by JZig at 1:40 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Nobody's ever questioned my geek cred (probably because I am a frumpy middle-aged librarian), but I sort of hope they do one day so I can fix them with a steely eye and say "I have founded two science fiction conventions. How many have you started?"
posted by telophase at 1:49 PM on December 9, 2019 [30 favorites]

Jimbob, in my circle of friends, every joke is about Star Wars, Marvel, Batman, Skyrim, Fallout, and (other set of AAA video games and other tabletop RPGs) because the pool of genre entertainment is so large that those are the only ones that we all share.

That's probably a fair point, but as gryftir indicates above, it's sad that our shared cultural experiences are corporate, capitalist, exploitative, handed down from upon high in the name of profit. And that's what the current array of superhero movies feel like to me; utter audience exploitation.
posted by Jimbob at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

I think of fandom these days as like an airport food court. You can dash in somewhere for coffee or candy and be on your way; you can stop for lunch; or you can get drunk in a dark bar at weird hours with some of the creepiest, most improbable people on the planet.

When I was coming up, saying you were a geek or a fan put you in league with the creeps, and so I felt--heck, I still feel--vaguely responsible for what other fans do. This results in a combination of defiance and shame. I love meeting other fans as people, but not crowds; I don't go to cons. I'm older, and I've seen some things--frankly, I've smelled some things. Fandom's failings are not all down to the stereotypical male fan. Still, such as it is, it is our mess.

... But if you aren't also reading history and non-genre literature at the very least, your takes on science fiction can get pretty dull and limited. Like, bring something else to your fandom, especially as you age and grow as a reader/viewer.

I agree. Older fans will do this, and they tend to go for older fandoms.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

This is an interesting article for me, because on one hand, I do understand what she says, about fandom being aimed primarily at young white cis American men, with gatekeeping both obvious and subtle, and a big focus on knowing minutia as a way to "proving" that you're a real fan.

On the other hand, "fandom" to me is a word that refers entirely to the world of fanfiction, fanart, and meta that is analysis or extrapolation oriented rather than focused on the details of the canon - the LiveJournal, AO3, Tumblr set, basically. My understanding of this space is that it is overwhelmingly female, significantly queer and/or gender-nonconforming, and fairly diverse culturally. I heard someone once describe the difference as curative vs. transformative fandom, and I hang out in the latter and feel no need or desire to visit the former. And then every now and then I read something like this that reminds me that oh, right, the word "fandom" describes this whole other set of communities too, that I don't really think about.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 2:09 PM on December 9, 2019 [19 favorites]

Fandom has become dominated by fanatics? Say it ain't so!

I really enjoyed reading The Sandman, which led me to venture into the world of comic books that were a bit darker than normal...picking up the trade paperbacks for Alan Moore, Frank Miller and discovering James O'Barr over time. I never considered myself a comic book person, though, and would totally not be able to get past level 2 or 3 of that geek hierarchy. I'm totally good with that.

I listened to a lot of music in my life. There were periods I was really into a wide range, from heavy metal to Goth to punk rock and even EDM...but I never considered myself part of "the scene." I've been to a ton of live shows, too. You can always tell when you don't fit into the crowd based on how you're dressed, but I never really wanted to fit in, and got over any self-consciousness about it pretty fast. The "I just picked up the latest Throbbing Gristles AND Happy Flowers on vinyl!" crowd never impressed me much, but occasionally had good recommendations. I don't enjoy the mosh pit, you'll find me standing over here by the sound mixer thankyouverymuch.

Growing up with TV and movies, I enjoy the things, but for every "A New Hope" set of bedsheets that I grew up with, there's a "I got you these Yoda pajamas because you did that voice once" situation. Don't get me wrong, I'll totally throw on a Millenium Falcon t-shirt if I like it, but wearing one isn't a testament to my 30-page blog entry about the Mandalorian violating canon because of Episode 26 of The Clone Wars or anything. I don't give that much of a shit about any movie. I watch movies and TV to be entertained. Some more often than others.

My kids are totally into their own stuff now, and I do my best to keep them aware of what their [insertmediahere] is referencing...where that sample is from, what movie that one-liner refers to, how that anime owes a lot to Miyazaki, etc.. - but c'mon, there's no way I can keep up with that stuff. Their brains are growing like mine did back in the day.

I think it's one of my strengths to be geek adjacent, if you will...I can strike up conversations with people about a lot of things that they're interested in, even if I'm not completely immersed in it myself. I know enough about football (the soccer kind) to hold my own in a bar, but I couldn't tell you which Premiere League team is the "best." I wouldn't be ostracized by Manchester fans for it, I could hold my own and be just fine. I have that ability across a huge spectrum of things, because my inner geek is curious and also social enough to just ask questions and not posture as though I know everything...I don't need to do any dick measuring. If someone is THAT into WWE or Marvel, they can hold court. I know enough to stay in the conversation, or am smart enough to know when to get the hell out of it...that I never really feel like I need to belong. I don't need credentials or validation.

IMO, it's a great place to be. You can talk to anyone, really. It's nice to be a geek.
posted by Chuffy at 2:20 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Dropping in from the William Gibson thread. Surprised that "otaku" is not mentioned here.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:22 PM on December 9, 2019

(I added some sports for my references above on purpose, as sportsball and geek culture seldom cross - the "geek adjacent" concept extends to fandom outside of people who know which Doctor they like the best)
posted by Chuffy at 2:32 PM on December 9, 2019

I think there’s a difference between geekery (we which I definitely do) and fandom (which I definitely do not do) and one does not necessarily require the other.

For example, I can geek out about aspects of Star Wars (the stuff I’ve watched) but I don’t feel the need to read every book or watch every show and movie. I enjoy a discussion about the mythological and cinematic references used in the stories or the motivations of Luke when he pulled a light saber on the young Kylo Ren. But I’m not interested in collecting the various forms of merch or learning the differences between the various imperial officer uniforms in order to more accurately build my cosplay outfit.

Fandom has within it an element of performative exhibition that I find off-putting. Like, your devotion to Star Wars can only be measured by the size of your collection or depth of arcane knowledge about stuff that doesn’t affect the story (who cares about the history of the Hutt clan, really?). Like, if you enjoy that stuff, more power to you but don’t try to make it some sort of measuring stick that everyone else must abide by.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

(also too, my comment is totally that of someone who "fit the suit." 20 years ago, as far as who can be a fan comfortably)
posted by Chuffy at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2019

Fandom is such a strange thing.

I used to think I was on the geekier end of the spectrum (Doctor Who! Firefly! Buffy! -- not just the tv shows, but also their respective comics and books on a tape and merch!) until I started working at a place where, among other geek-related things, we run a large comic con -- and that's when I realized that the gate-keeping thing is legit and that any chance some white older dude (it's always a white, older dude, stereotypes be damned) can get for a word-vomit of some arcane comic-related thing, he will take it. I'm particularly recalling a moment when I was just trying to clarify an address for mailing purposes and the guy wanted to take a half-hour out of my life to explain the history of Wolverine comics. I don't care about your thoughts on Wolverine, bro -- I just need to know if this is your correct address so I can mail you this thing you purchased.

Everyone here at the office is aware of this kind of attitude, though, and we make a concentrated effort to make sure fandom and pop culture are open to all, even at the expense of the the "comic book guy" who we know could be our bread-and-butter. We're trying to remove the geek-mystique from everything the gatekeepers hold dear and give other people a chance to express their enjoyment of a piece of pop culture without fearing judgement. And it seems to be working! We consistently have more girls than boys in our DnD classes (our last class was ALL girls!), and eavesdropping on some other comics and gaming classes makes it clear that kids are just excited to be there and create cool things, rather than prove their knowledge to each other. It's really the adults who insist we've "lost" our "true vision" by not catering to their specific fandoms. Sigh.

The other way I make a living is via what used to be a pretty niche interest that generates some seriously devoted fans: Korean dramas and k-pop. Well, it's still niche, but nowhere as niche as it was just a decade ago. It's been fascinating to see how Korean pop culture has grown more and more mainstream in non-Korean spaces -- yet still generally dismissed by old white dudes since this is a fandom that's predominately run by young non-white women.

Admittedly, I sometimes find myself fighting the urge to gate-keep since there is so much more to k-pop than BTS and dramas than what are on Netflix, and there's a gremlin inside that wants to be like, "But you're not a real fan because you didn't suffer for the fandom like the rest of did!." But then I have to remember that it's pretty cool that people can access these things legally and without much hassle compared to a decade ago, and that people can consume the same media via Spotify and Netflix that I used to have to blindly trust links and torrents and pray there wouldn't be a virus (if we could find someone to rip and upload it in the first place!).

Just because someone became a fan in the past year instead of the past decade and have only heard a handful of songs or watched a couple of tv shows -- just because maybe they have it easier than I did to consume media -- isn't a reason to try and insist they aren't a real fan; it just means that the culture is changing, that these things that I enjoy that once set me apart as "weird" are now simply a part of the mass culture that is continually growing and changing. Instead of trying to keep people out since they can't name a 1st or 2nd gen group, or don't remember when tvN dramas were pretty meh, I can be happy that there are more people out there with which to discuss a shared interest.
posted by paisley sheep at 2:44 PM on December 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

Consider the similar-but-different problem of fans, administrators, and casual supporters of relatively marginal sporting codes; soccer in Australia. Because it's got a history of being a fringe winter sport (well behind rugby league and australian rules football), it also has a history of enthusiasm and fandom. It's been the vessel through which a lot of migrant communities have kept their socialisation going and resisted homogenisation; soccer is associated with groups of people organising themselves to know about the culture of the world's #1 sport. At best, the fans watch many, many matches a week, lose sleep because they're televised in the middle of the night. At worst, they're the kind of people who take fandom to be aping the 'ultra' habits they see from Euro leagues, complete with 'Forza Sydney' and tearing the seats up, and at the very very worst, the kind of people who use club fandom as a means of laundering political extremism (people who know will know exactly which clubs I mean, and what finger gestures they use). Australian soccer has had decades of this dilemma, that the behaviour of the 'fans' both attracts, because of the enthusiasm and the really literate knowledge that a lot of them bring to the culture of football, and repels, because let's face it, it's no fun to take your children to a match and have them bring home a bunch of new slurs.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:11 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's easy for me not to identify as a full fan of something when so many fandoms have been ruined by being so proprietary and exclusionary, some kind of hierarchy where everyone is competing to be the top fan of whatever. I wouldn't join any of those clubs that would have me as a member.

I'm a casual fan of Star Wars, one who is totally content to watch them on the big screen and get all excited at PEW PEW PEW and not need any more than that, and that's perfectly OK. Or should be.

"And fandom identity, like identity overall, doesn’t exist in a neat or linear fashion for everyone; for most of us, pastimes, passions, and what grounds our sense of self ebbs, flows, and evolves."

So much this. I've had many fandoms over the years, and they come and go. For the past number of years, I've become highly interested in mid-century Scandi glass. It's proven to be a fandom of the most rewarding kind -- a journey of self-education, training myself to recognize things and appreciate them, exploring lodes of knowledge. What I learn is important only to me as a mental exercise, with no ramifications for work or school, just something I'm interested in, and collecting little pretty things. And there are fellow travellers in this fandom, who are also interested in the same weird, esoteric thing I am. It's a clique, but it's an open clique, which has been the key feature of all the best fandoms I've known. It's all about the exploration, never exclusion.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:16 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is interesting to me as I think about venturing into online dating. I remember years ago being matched on OkCupid with a guy I knew (my profile was empty at the time so I doubt he knew it was me). He described himself as a fan of Marvel movies in a pretty nonchalant way in his profile. If I hadn't met him in real life I wouldn't have thought much of it. But in real life I knew he was a megafan and the topic dominated 90% of his conversations. He was kind of a jerky gatekeeper too about the comics rather than the movies. So I wonder what message it sends when I put something like "scifi fan" in my profile. I don't want to imply there's anything really wrong with being a devoted fan, but how to describe myself and my level of intensity appropriately? Yes, pretty much all of the fiction I read/watch is scifi or fantasy, and I love to discuss books with friends, but I don't stand in lines for books or go to cons.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:08 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Similarly, there was terrible gate-keeping among music fans when we were teens. Not just Commitments-style "What're yer influences?" stuff, but rea shaming of people who weren't Serious enough (or couldn't fake it adequately).
posted by wenestvedt at 5:18 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

They idea of "fandom" as something beyond just enjoying something, and maybe sharing this enjoyment with others, as a thing with rules and mores and mandatory actions and gatekeepers and purity tests sounds exhausting.
I'm very much a geek, nerd, etc., in terms of what I read, but would never describe myself as a "fan" for fear of being associated with this kind of fandom.
posted by signal at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Fandom is such a complicated thing, and it feels like it comes with different baggage than it used to. I'm honestly as big a fan of Star Wars as I've ever been; I have read a LOT of canon and legends novels, watched a LOT of TV shows, played a stupid amount of video and tabletop games and just in general orient an embarrassing amount of hours of my life around Star Wars. I have strong opinions on fictional planets I'd never even heard of a few years ago. But if someone asked me if I were a fan, I'd hesitate, because although I do Star Wars fandom to an extent I wouldn't have predicted if you'd asked me about it a few years ago, I don't like Star Wars fans. I don't want to identify as one to people because Star Wars fandom is often visibly toxic, racist, sexist, entitled, and generally gross, even compared to other SFF fandoms. I don't like the videos YouTube recommends to people who watch Star Wars trailers. That's not who I am.

I feel like when I was younger being willing to identify as a fan was about something else. It was dorky and mockable, but for different reasons, reasons I wasn't embarrassed to embrace.
posted by potrzebie at 5:38 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Didn’t a lot of black families also watch Star Trek because it was both integrated and forward thinking in regard to women in command roles? I imagine her mother found Star Trek as one of the few shows on TV where she could see herself in the show because of that.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:09 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

But if someone asked me if I were a fan, I'd hesitate, because although I do Star Wars fandom to an extent I wouldn't have predicted if you'd asked me about it a few years ago, I don't like Star Wars fans.

Yeah, this is as accurate and concise a meta-explanation as I've read in a long time. I could say this about all sorts of "things that have fandoms."
posted by Chuffy at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does this gatekeepy fandom dynamic exist outside the United States? I ask because my sense is that geekdom in other aspects looks different elsewhere. Like I get the sense that in Europe you don’t have to pick between being a jock and playing D&D - the gamers I knew when I lived there did both.
posted by eirias at 4:19 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely geek adjacent and I always have been just by default, even when I was attending Anime Expo before it blew up. I had a coworker note that recently noted that I am also "autistic adjacent" which, I guess, just means I have learned not to bother people for hours talking in detail about my special interests because I know it's annoying. But now that I think back to the height of my otaku days, I never really was able to fully immerse myself in the fandom of anything in particular, simply because my interests seemed to "mature" during my 20s toward music and more "hipster" type media. It wasn't until my early 30s that I dove back into comics and sci-fi and such with the annoying fervor I associated with my teen-early adult friends. But I can't seem to find the desire to go to conventions or cosplay or make fan art or discuss/fight about this media with anyone, which I used to quite a bit as a teenager. I also seem to lack the blind love for a series that most fans do even when it starts to decline in quality or lose vision (See Dr.Who, which I loved until it began to become to self aware and fan pandery in a way that was unapologetic and obvious).

Well okay I guess I am whatever a cyberpunk weeb is called, in that I want to spend 700 dollars on this coat and run around with my custom built cyberdeck and visor and what not but I feel like that's just me prepping for the inevitable tech hellscape.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2019

being hyperfixated on something is a well known neurodiverse thing, and there's nothing wrong with that

Sure, just as I can recognize being on the spectrum myself (disclaimer: diagnosis from an online test, plus memories of my behavior as a child). But I think that it's also possible to discern when someone's geeking out, when someone's gatekeeping, and when they're just having a dick-measuring contest.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:27 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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