Me: What does it mean to be a fan of something?
Arya: So… I would say it means to be wholly invested in the process and progression of [a fandom]. For example, if you’re into something that is ongoing, you’re wholly invested in the progression to see how that goes, and you’re highly invested in its creation, as well, so you’re there and excited for it. It’s a lot of emotion, I would say, very emotionally driven. You feel a lot of emotions when you are involved in it—it’s feelings of euphoria, feelings of intense sadness when something happens, you feel the emotions that the characters are feeling, because I’m assuming we’re just talking about fandom in terms of characters, so we’re talking like TV shows, movies, stuff like that. I’m not sure if I count fans of cars—I’m not discussing that. I don't know [if] you could feel emotion for a car (laughs). I don’t know! There are some people who feel really intense euphoria when they see a really cool car, and I’m like, “I don’t get that.” Wait, what am I talking about that, my brother feels that way about shoes (laughs). It’s a thing! It’s… I would say it’s a lot of… you’re emotionally invested in the progression and creation of the fandom and what it does. That’s what I would say, that you’re emotionally invested.
Have you been part of a fan community? How so? Please describe.
That’s a big question, because I’ve been part of fan communities since I was in middle school. I’ve been in fan communities of a lot of anime, I cosplay, I watch, I read, I buy fan art, I buy merchandise, so… I’ve done that for anime, books, TV shows, cartoons, movie series, pro wrestling… So, I think that the way I would describe my involvement would be [an] economic involvement, and also participatory fandom is probably what I would call it, like cosplay, going to conventions to talk to other people who are interested in the same things you are. So I would call that participatory involvement. And also emotional involvement where I’m constantly watching, or reading, or feeling emotions for it. The best description I have is, right now, [that] my brother’s really into Stranger Things, and he’s emotionally invested because he’s watching the show and feeling the euphoria that comes with watching the show, he’s been buying merch like no one’s business, and he’s been buying fanart. He really wants to cosplay a character now at a convention, so I would say that his level of involvement is similar to my level of involvement. So currently, if I had to say I’m into a fandom, I’m into the WWE fandom (laughs), because I love my pro wrestling. I’m really into Stranger Things right now, mostly by proxy because of my brother. I haven’t really had the time to be invested, but I recently did something for the Ru Paul’s Drag Race fandom. I’m really into the Pokémon fandom, [too], because I’m planning a cosplay for a convention coming up.
How often and how long do you participate in these fan communities/fandom spaces?
So some have been around for a very long time, like, I’ve always lowkey been into anime. I might occasionally not watch—it fluctuates—I’ll watch some, and then I don’t watch any, and then I come back to it and I watch some more, and I come back, and I go back. So, I would say sometimes it can be years, sometimes it can only be a couple months. It kinda depends on the fandom and what I’m into and what’s really holding my interest. For example, I was really into Fairy Tail for a very long time. I was into it for a good 4 years, and then I kind of stopped being involved in the fandom because—it’s not that I grew out of it, it’s just that I lost track, that I got behind, I haven’t had the time to just catch up… I would say that is a good example, that I was in that fandom for a good 4-5 years. And then there’s some that I’m really short-term in, like My Hero Academia. I was into it for a good 6 months and then I stopped because I had a lot to do. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that it depends on my life (laughs), and what life decides to throw at me, what fandoms I’m into at the time, then how long I’m into it. It could be like, “Hey, y’know, I’m really binge-watching this awesome anime, and oh, guess I missed one day of watching episodes. Oh well, I guess I’m not going back to it (laughs) because I’ve been so busy.” Because then school comes back and I have to get back to work.
Please describe a typical interaction or experience within these spaces.
So, it depends, because you have your positive experiences and your negative experiences. A really positive experience is when you get to—I’m thinking of when I go to conventions and I’m dressed up as a character and someone recognizes me and we just start chatting about the fandom and how much we love this “item,” or when my brother runs into my room screaming about the most recent thing Eleven did in Stranger Things and I listen and I’m really into it with him and experiencing that joy with him. It’s just like a shared joy, is the best way that I can describe it. You start feeding off of each other’s excitement and each other’s joy. You’re really into it and you’re feeling all these emotions and you’re like, “Wow, this is… I feel so alive in this moment.” That is a very positive interaction. Then you have your negative interactions, and that’s where we get into “stan culture,” and how, [to] some people, you can’t have a criticism of a fandom or else it’s considered treasonous and slanderous. People defend their own fandoms as if it’s their baby, and it’s like, “Okay, people, calm the—can I curse in this?—yeah, CALM THE FUCK DOWN.” (laughs) And then you have those negative interactions where it’s like—for example, WWE… has a huge problem with misogyny. You can’t be a fan and not understand and see that, in my opinion. And so, sometimes when you call out that stuff, people are like, “Well, you shouldn’t be watching it, then.” It’s like… no, no, no… You can enjoy something and want it to be better than it is. Then you have those other fan interactions where somebody doesn’t like something that’s going on in the series—I’m thinking Voltron—how it gets really negative, becomes a negative, toxic space [where] people are feeding off other people’s negativity and it’s starting to affect people in real life. That’s when I start distancing myself away from fandom, because those are negative interactions I really don’t want to be involved in. But, I’m thinking positive interactions are shared euphoria, and then negative interactions can drive you away from a fandom.
What if there’s a fandom where you know it’s toxic before you get into it, would it keep you away from the content?
It depends. I’m trying to think of a good example for that, because I really haven’t had that good of an example. I kind of knew with the pro wrestling that it was a little toxic because it was very much a “boys club,” so it was very hard as a female to get really into it and not be considered—”Oh, you’re just there because the men are hot.” No, I’m there because I like the story a lot, and what’s going on… and because the men are hot (laughs), but like…
It’s the cherry on top (laughs).
Yeah, exactly. I think it could sometimes—mostly if I have someone else to come into the fandom with, then it’s like… I think I can get past that toxicity because I have this friend in real life who’s also into it, so I can chat—I can kiki with them about that stuff.
“Kiki”? What is “kiki”?
Oh, like chitchat. Sorry, using a drag term. Yeah, so, you can chitchat about that with that real life friend who you know is not negative. So, that makes it a lot easier, because I got into wrestling with my brother, so I was able to have someone who I knew wasn’t of [a] toxic mind about that fandom and was able to enter that fandom with someone else. So if we did run into toxic people, there was somebody else who would be like, “Yeah, that’s toxic bullshit.” Like, there’s been so many times that I’ve been at a wrestling event and something happens and I’d just turn to [my brother] and we’d just share this look, and it’s like, “We get it,” where both of us are like, “This guy’s bullshit,” or “This is bullshit,” and it’s a sense of camaraderie. So, getting into a negative space like that, if you have someone already who’s going to get into it with you, you have a sense of camaraderie and you’re able to shield yourself from it.
Describe your ‘history’ with a fandom, which you kind of mentioned before, but feel free to expand. What made you join and what made you stay?
The biggest one I’m thinking of right now is Fairy Tail, because that was the one that I was probably into the longest. The second to that might be the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. I’ll talk about both of them. What made me get into Fairy Tail was [that] I really liked adventure-type anime, like I was really into One Piece, I was really into Naruto, I was really into BLEACH—
Ah, your basic shounens. Sorry (laughs), continue.
(laughs) It was action-adventure-y and it was becoming one of the big four, so I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna give this a try,” and I really fell in love with all of the characters. What really kept me in that fandom was that I was really invested in what was going to happen to them and how they were going to develop and their relationships with each other… I was really into shipping at the time. I still am, and a lot of those characters—what was really awesome about Fairy Tail was that the author actively did ship his characters, like he actually did make them get into relationships and he actually teased it. It wasn’t something that just happened eventually when the show was done—”Oh, by the way, these two who have apparently not had that much chemistry actually written for them are now in love.” (silent pause)
Cough, Naruto, cough. But Fairy Tail’s author was actively building up relationships between characters and I was really invested in that and how these relationships would turn out, the biggest one being Gajeel and Levy—how they started as enemies and then [became] friends and then lovers, and it was kind of a very slow build and I was very invested in it. And then for the MCU, I was really invested with the characters, as well. I really wanted to see how they would develop, which other characters would come in, because I was already kind of a comic fan before I got into it. So I was excited to see what characters they would bring in and what storylines they would touch on. I’m very character-centric in terms of, like, if I don’t like the characters in something, I can’t enjoy it. Cough, Code Geass, cough (laughs). If I don’t like the characters, I can’t get invested in it. So, for me, what makes me stay is those characters and their interactions with each other and if I can root for them. If I can root for them, I can stick around.
If you knew then—when you first joined whatever fan community you want to talk about—what you know now as a fan in this community, would your fan experience be different? Would you join it again?
Well… I don’t think I really would have changed much, honestly, because it’s so… those things [were] so integral to my childhood and growing up. I don’t think I would’ve changed. I mean, granted, maybe with Fairy Tail, I would’ve criticized it a little more if I had known how fanservice-y it [was going to be]. And fanservice, for people who don’t know, is when the author draws characters—especially female characters—in very sexually promiscuous poses, and it’s a way of drawing attention to the comic, and that’s why it’s called “fanservice.” And it was very fanservice-y, and it kind of did turn me off a little bit from the comic, so maybe if I had known that, I would’ve been a little more hesitant to get into it because I was already, at that time, like, “Well, I don’t like when comics exploit women,” so I probably would’ve been. But honestly, I don’t know if I would’ve been totally out of it because they were so integral to my childhood—I say my childhood, [but it was] my teenage years. Being a part of those fandoms was so integral to me growing up and my understanding of relationships and people, that I don’t know if I would have changed much, to be honest.
How important are your fandoms to you? Why are they important?
They’re pretty important to me, considering the fact that I do put financial value in them. They’re very important to me because they’re kind of part of your identity because, as much as people are like, “Oh, it’s just a TV show, it’s just a movie, it’s just this, it’s just that,” what you’re part of… it’s a premade community for you. I always say that the reason I love going to conventions is because, when you meet people at conventions, it’s like you’ve known them for years because you have shared interests and you don’t have to build up those shared interests or find people. It’s like—they’re there already, ready for you, and you’re just able to talk with them, and so… it’s part of your identity because it allows you to be able to access other communities that you fit into. So, I feel like fandom is very much part of people’s identities because, one, they shape you. Like, my understanding of relationships—“good and bad” understandings of relationships—came a lot from fandom and a lot from characters and interactions. Also, just in general, themes of second chance, of pushing through, never giving up—those things came from fandom and came from these “things that shouldn’t matter.” They really make you feel a certain way, make you be a certain way. So, they’re very important to me because they shaped me and made me who I am.
It’s funny. You actually kind of answered this next question, too. Has fandom experience played a part in your identity or how you identify yourself today? How so?
Oh, yeah! Think of how many animes have themes of “never giving up” and “persevere” and stuff like that. Granted, I deal with anxiety, so that always affects how I feel about perseverance, but when somebody can persevere, I consider it a very positive attribute, and that was because I watched anime and that was a big [theme of it]—perseverance, pushing through, even when the going gets bad to keep going. And then [there’s] friendship being a very big theme in anime… it really shaped my idea of loyalty to friends—I’m a very loyal person because of it. Y’know, like, that’s your nakama [compatriot/friend], that’s the person you hold onto the most in your life, and that person is so important to you and you really go to bat for that person whenever you can. So, those concepts, those themes, for fandom, really helped shape who I am as a person and how I view my relationships with people, how I view people in general, and also, how I view myself.
Do you create content as a fan? Please describe.
I used to write fanfiction. I kind of do, still, but I’ve been a little too busy for that, but I do cosplay a lot, so I do enjoy dressing up and being the character for a day, and that’s the way I would say—I’m not really artistically inclined. If I was, I’d probably make fanart.
Have you ever had career or professional opportunities open up for you as a result of your fandom experiences?
I wouldn’t say so, because… A lot of times, it’s kind of considered childish to be into fandom, which is bullshit, quite frankly. But, there’s a feeling of, “You have to keep it hidden in the adult world,” so I never really discussed my fandom interests with anyone who would be in a position to offer me a position. So, I’ve kept that to myself because it was considered unprofessional, but I’m sure it could open up [opportunities] for some people, especially artists. I can see how that would be really helpful, like if someone was really into your art at a higher company, they would be like, “Oh, we should hire this person,” but in my profession—I’m a teacher by trade—it’s not really considered “classy” (laughs) to discuss, “Hey, y’know, what do you think of that new…” Oh, wait! There was something. So, I got help from a coworker when I was in a really bad time and I feel like the reason he helped me was [that] we really connected [through] Star Wars and the MCU, and I feel like that really helped me with him because he was in a higher position than me and he was able to watch out for me and keep me stable through the whole process when I was struggling at work. So, I feel like that would be the only instance of that, but in my career, it’s kind of considered a faux pas to be discussing that stuff like, hey, in the middle of an interview, “What do you think of the MCU?” and it’s like… not really considered tasteful. But, it definitely helped me with connections with some of my coworkers, but not all my coworkers are into that stuff, like one or two, so…
So, it’s more social opportunities?
Yeah, it’s definitely more social and less professional, I would say.
Have you ever discovered new interests because of your fandom experiences?
Probably cosplay, honestly, because that wasn’t something I ever really—like, I liked dressing up, but I never really thought of it as something that I could do for a character until I really got into fandom. I’m thinking of when I was really into the Vocaloid fandom and I realized that cosplay was a thing. I was like, “Wow, I can dress up as my favorite Vocaloid? That sounds so awesome.” I was already a kid who loved dress-up, so it renewed this interest in childhood me to dress up and be a character for a day. So, I’d say cosplay in particular, and also fan fiction because it got me writing again, which was really nice. Oh! Drag makeup was something that I had no interest in. And makeup in general was something I had almost no interest in until I started watching drag queens, and I realized that their makeup skills were so amazing and they could transform their entire faces, and I was like, “Wow, that seems like a lot of fun.” It’s my way of pretending to be something else for a day, and it’s always fun to do that. Drag makeup, for sure—getting into drag really got me into makeup and now I’m into the beauty community on YouTube, and honestly it’s made me want to have my own YouTube channel, but that’s far in the future. Definitely that stuff was a big inspiration for me because it was not something I considered or was very good at, just something I did, and then I was like, “Oh, wow, these beautiful creatures (laughs). Look how great they are. I wanna be that beautiful, too, so it’s like… let’s cover the eyebrows and have some fun!” (laughs) And now it’s something I do to relax.
You mentioned YouTube. Are you into any YouTuber fandoms?
I try not to be. I’m more into general topics, like the beauty community—people who are into makeup, like Tati Beauty, Laura May, Smokey Glow, Abby Williamson, Spooky Lips and Fat Hips… I’m trying to expand my repertoire into listening to different types of makeup artists. And the secondary fandom I’m into when it comes to YouTube is actually the witch community. There’s actually a lot of witches who pass on their knowledge through YouTube, and I’ve been listening to them as well to learn more about my own craft, so I’m not sure if that’s really fandom-esque. It’s more religious. I wouldn’t say I’m part of a YouTuber fandom, I’m part of a YouTube fandom—[that] is the way I would describe it.
In very loose terms, are all religions technically fandoms?
I mean, have you seen the Renaissance and all the art that came from it?! That was basically fan art, let’s be real. Have you seen the Renaissance man? (laughs) I would say yes, I mean… feelings of euphoria, feelings of intense emotion—people feel that for… It’s centered on, usually, characters of great heroics and stuff like that, so yeah, I would consider it fandom-esque. When you break it down, all religion is fandom because you’re a “fan” of this—usually it’s a holy book (laughs)—you’re a fan of that book, and you follow, and you feel feelings of intense euphoria and other things for that book… The only difference is there’s leadership within religion. I think that would be the only thing that would [differentiate] it from fandom because there’s not really leadership in fandom, necessarily. You have your creators and they kind of… It’s not leadership, is what I’m trying to say. I feel like there’s no set leadership within fandom. It’s like collections of groups and pockets of people who just also interact with each other.
In that case, could there be some kind of self-defined hierarchy within a fandom?
Personally, I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s gatekeeping nonsense. I’m thinking about being a woman into comics or video games—how a lot of times it’s like, men think there’s a hierarchy where you have to prove that you’re a fan in order to be part of their group. So, I find “hierarchy” to be bullshit gatekeeping and I think it needs to be done away with. I feel like anybody who feels euphoria for that particular fandom should be considered a fan.
Jumping back, you said that religions could be considered fandoms… Could fandoms be considered religions?
I mean, there are witches who use pop culture as part of their religion, so I wouldn’t say no to that question. I’m thinking of witches who use Sailor Moon as patterns for deities and stuff like that. There’s, for example, the movie Avatar—y’know, the 12 ft-tall blue people. There are some people who actually pray to [Eywa], the goddess in that movie, as their personification of Mother Earth. So, I wouldn’t be opposed to saying that fandom could be religion, I mean I’ve seen people use fandom in religion. [For another example,] The Crystal Gems, from Steven Universe, being used as a template for gem association within witchcraft. There’s a whole subsection of pop culture witchcraft. Put that in your paper. (laughs)
You kind of touched on this before, but do you tell people outside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
Sometimes… I don’t tell people who are my bosses, because I want to be taken seriously. But I will tell my peers that I’m really excited for the next Marvel movie, or I’m going out with my friends or my brother to this convention. And, oftentimes, if I see a person in public who’s wearing a fandom thing, I’ll always be like, “I like your shirt,” which is my way of being like, “Heyyyy, we’re into the same things, we can talk if you want to.”
Exactly. So, I usually don’t tell anybody who’s in a position of authority over me, but I will tell people who are on the same level as me that I’m into certain things.
So along that same line, is there a kind of stigma?
There is a stigma because it’s considered childish to be so into something, but let’s be real… have you seen sports teams, and the men who are dressed in full regalia at every game who are definitely in higher positions of power than me? (laughs) When you think about it, it’s just like… what we consider “acceptable fandom.” Sports teams are “acceptable fandom.” Some TV shows are “acceptable fandom.” Like, acceptable for adults to be into, but cartoons are not “acceptable fandom.” Comics are not “acceptable fandom.” Some lower-art TV shows. I feel like, in some ways, being a reality TV show fan is actually considered more “okay” than being a comic fan, and I find that to be a little disappointing because I feel like all fandoms should be considered [respectable], and be considered “okay” because we all have fandoms. We all do. It might be different, like, for example, my brother is not only into Stranger Things, but into shoes! Like… don’t know how, but he’s into the fandom of being into really cool shoes and being a sneakerhead, and I don’t understand it but it makes him happy, so what am I to say? Who are you to tell somebody else that something shouldn’t make them feel happy? So long as they’re not blowing all their money on it. Cough, [my brother], save your money for a new phone instead of buying a new pair of shoes.
You kind of touched on this, as well. Do you tell people inside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
Oh, of course. You always try to [have] solidarity with someone, because you want somebody else to feel comfortable and know that, “Hey, I acknowledge your presence within the fandom and, hey, I’m there, too.” So, it’s okay. When I see adults wearing comic book shirts, I’m always like, “I like your shirt!” because I want them to feel confident wearing that shirt out in public, because it’s hard to be like, “I’m a fan!” in public. I have a bag that I get compliments on and have to explain to people what it is—it’s my Gajeel and Levy [from Fairy Tail] bag. I’ve gotten compliments on that bag where somebody’s like, “I like your bag!” and you’re just like, “Yes! Thank you for liking my purchase and liking what I feel.” Then you get into conversations with people, and that’s really fun. I love telling people in the fandom that I’m in the same fandom, because it opens a door to conversation. Granted, that might be because I’m an extrovert, and I’m like, “Yes! Talk to me! Please!” (laughs) Other people would be like, “No, I don’t tell anybody anything.”
Well, that’s all the questions that I have. Was there anything you wanted to circle back to or rant about?
Fuck stan culture. Just felt like that needed to be said. Because, it’s not a race to see whose fandom is better, guys, it’s just… it’s all fun and games and we shouldn’t be negative in that space, because it’s supposed to bring everybody euphoria. And also, the whole hierarchy nonsense—I think I’ve already said it—I find that there should not be a hierarchy in fandom because that will alienate people from fandom and that’s not fair to others because I feel like what makes you a fan is feeling that joy when that show comes on, and that should be the only criteria. Just because somebody got into something not as hard as you, or somebody is just touching the surface of it, or somebody is just getting into it when it’s been on forever—that shouldn’t negate someone else’s experience. You shouldn’t negate and dictate somebody else’s experiences within that fandom, with that item of fandom. Biggest example I can think of is [that] my boyfriend has a habit of telling me, “If you play games, you’re a gamer.” Like, it shouldn’t be a criteria of, “Well, what kind of games do you play?” or “How long have you been playing games?” If you play games, you’re a gamer. So, if you are a fan, you are a fan. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I think that’s all I have to say.