Fan & Community
This particular section is where this whole project got its name. Inclusion and exclusion—two opposing concepts that both exist in fandom spaces in a messy blend of moral dilemmas, bonding through trauma and fascination, social ineptitudes, and true tests (and failures) of common sense. Been there, done all that. “But golly, Christina, it can’t be all bad. Ain’t it just a buncha people liking stuff?” Ye shall see, my friend. No community exists without its problems. Especially when there’s shipping involved. Things get messy. Like middle school cliques.
Inclusion (aka the best of times)
When a fan initially engages in a fan community, they find a designated place for people of a similar interest. In that way, they find a sense of belonging. Through interacting via social media and real-life circumstances like conventions, friendships are (most likely) formed. You just… are on the same wavelength as the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, and it’s pretty fulfilling, y’know? Daniel, Risa, and Tim (and more, I am sure) could attest to that. Plus. It’s not just a found friends/found family trope. We’re not stopping there. You start learning stuff about yourself, as well. Exploring fiction, communication with new people, all that good self-reflection stuff--leads to self-discovery, growth, and openmindedness. (See my Intro, Anime, and K-Pop Self-Docs.) And I think those are pretty pivotal in gaining that sense of belonging, even just in general.
Not that self-actualization isn’t a practicality, but in this little subsection I’ll be touching on the more practical… practices… of inclusion in fandom. (And wow that could’ve been worded better but that’s just amusing to me now so I’m leaving it.) Fans find places for themselves to belong in a community, and they also find designated spaces for aspects of fandom to take place. Just go through Affinity Online, which I mention in the Content & Community vignette and my YouTube Self-Doc. People thrive in these spaces, sharing their crafts and bonding. It’s rad, man. I mean, Mandark’s in a Facebook group for sculptor and YouTuber Ace of Clay, Craig LARPs on the weekends, Brian frequented r/overwatch (pre-Blitzchung controversy) for gaming support. Most (if not all) interviewees mentioned interacting with and/or participating in fan communities in some way. These communities that serve a purpose while acting as safe spaces are just… lovely. Comforting, even.
But. Then there's—
Exclusion (aka the worst of times)
Gatekeeping & Toxicity
Hoo boy. Here we go, friends. There is. A lot to say here. As much as the whole “we all share an interest and support each other!” is heartwarming and wholesome, fandom ain’t all sunshine and roses. We all know social media is a double-edged sword, and it doesn’t just stop where fandom is involved. Each fan community has its own sect(s) of bullies, stalker fans, among others with a “holier than thou” mentality, and oftentimes, that toxicity gets attributed to the entire fandom (but that’s more Fandom vs. The World). Most claims aren’t without reason, of course, considering the sorts of infighting you see that just… makes you worry for the sake of humanity a bit. Regarding general toxicity amongst fans, see … well, most of the interviews. Regarding gatekeeping specifically, see my interviews with Kris, Craig, and Arya. One way or another, every fan has had negative interactions in fandom spaces.
It sucks when a negative reputation precedes you. It’s the case for many a fandom. People gaining interest in A Thing but steering clear from its fandom based on that reputation is… very common. Brian brought this up in my interview with him, citing popular adult cartoon Rick & Morty along with Fight Club. In such cases, a fan will just engage in the content and avoid the community completely. Are they still a fan? Of course. Are they a member of the fandom? Perhaps not. It really depends on that fan’s perception of the distinction between “fan” and “member of fandom.” But that’s getting into semantics. Something else worthy of note before I wrap up here is the answers by interviewees to the “Would you join the fandom again?” question. It shows a difference similar to that “better to have loved and lost” quote. Even with negative aspects of fandom, most found that they would join the community again.