By Panagiota Katsaveli,
Books, movies, TV shows, boybands… These are merely some common examples from a long list of entities that people get obsessed with. Fandoms have proven to be a major force around the globe, especially in the field of business and marketing, while some people have yet to realize their importance since they dismiss them as an activity associated with teenage girls.
The word fandom consists of the noun “fan”, meaning an admirer or supporter, and the suffix -dom. The term has been around since the early 1900s but in the 2010s decade, it experienced a rapid increase in its use and occurrence. It describes the state of being a fan, in particular a very enthusiastic one, and more specifically forming a group of such individuals according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Even though fandoms have existed for many decades, the term remained unknown to the general public until recently- a development that many attribute to the increasing social media use as well as the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Until these developments, participatory fandoms were an event people enjoyed very infrequently and since then, fandom culture has changed and evolved in a dramatic and important way: it has started the gradual mainstreaming of geek culture. What was until that point labelled as geek culture became a new form of consumerism and a new way that fans could relate to pop culture. Fans around the globe started to become more vocal about their fandom identities in an accepting, vivid and growing social media environment. They were finally given the opportunity to freely showcase their interests instead of being pushed in the sidelines.
It may come as a surprise, but fandom power is not connected to the invention of the internet and it has actually existed way before its appearance. In the mid-15th century, the intention of the printing press created the means to share information to a wider audience, it was the first platform that could allow sharing opinions and knowledge to a wider scale and it set the ground for fandom culture. In the mid-19th century, “Lisztomania” was used to describe mainly female fans obsessed with a Hungarian concert composer by the name of Franz Liszt. Fans were even reported to be throwing their underwear on stage for the performer and their condition was considered a mental illness by doctors, as did most of female actions at that time. The first fandom power identical to our contemporary ones was in 1893 with the favorite British detective Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer, decided to kill off the character out of hate for his popularity and his decision caused strong protests by loyal fans; the writer was eventually forced to revive the beloved character, obeying the desires of the fanbase. All the events sum up the primary and most prominent historical occurrence of fandoms which since then have significantly grown. Star Wars, K-pop bands, Harry Potter are some of the entities whose fandoms have clearly dominated the world making their glory eternal.
The rapid dominance of social media in the 21st century has resulted in a participatory culture for fandoms with immense effects for businesses in the entertainment industry. In the past, corporations were able to control the output provided to the audience without asking or desiring the fans’ opinions on the pieces of culture they received, but they were simply focused on the financial side of it. Social media has allowed fans to play a more active role in the creative process; they have the opportunity to influence writers and push for better, more unique or modern developments, they can create their own freely-shared products from the original material also known as “fanfiction” and they can create a strong fanbase to discuss the various changes taking place. For instance, it is a usual phenomenon for fandoms to flood writers with tweets, as a sign of protest or to collect signatures when they are unsatisfied with the route being followed. All these and more not only keep alive a vivid discussion around products of culture simultaneously making them relevant, but they also result in huge financial benefits for the companies involved. Fans constitute a form of free marketing since they make products known through their love and constant talking about them, for which they are not payed.
However, it should not be implied that fandoms are an easy audience to control. Producers, companies and writers have to keep in mind the financial goals of each production which will be met only by appealing to a wide audience. The needs and desires of the general public that could make the product successful might clash with those of the loyal and stable fanbase thus resulting in fans drifting away from the fanbase and finding another passion. Fans experience and showcase excessive love for cultural products, but these feelings can easily be overturned if their desires are not fulfilled or if they feel neglected by those in charge of their favorites. Marketing agents and consultants have come to the realization that there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding fandoms. Why do some products attract bigger fanbases than others? What persuades fans into supporting a brand and becoming a consumer of their products? One thing is certain, even though there is still vast research to be conducted around the power of fandoms, they play a major part in the entertainment industry’s economy.
Overall, fandoms have a history that not many people know since they are considered a new cultural development. It is important that people realize their prominent place in this ever-changing world and start taking them more seriously as a socio-economic activity of our society. Besides, fandoms do not solely surround pop culture, there are fandoms in politics, science and other different fields. Every fandom and every single fan has the power to make a change and have their voice heard, so do not hesitate taing matters into your own hands!
- Medium, How the Internet has made Fandom Culture Powerful. Available here.
- Medium, The Power of Fandom. Available here.