Me: What does it mean to be a fan of something?
Jei: Well basically, when I think about what it means to be a fan, it’s… you want to support this thing that you actively enjoy or makes your day better, like with sports or TV shows or whatnot, and you want to go out of your way to actively engage in this thing, whatever it may be, exactly. So that’s what it means to me.
Have you been part of a fan community? How so? Please describe.
I can say yes. I mean, it really depends in terms of level of engagement. You can have sports fans and TV show fans or comic book fans. One big one that I can give an example of was… there was a show called Naruto, and it started off [as] a Japanese graphic novel [or manga] called, well, Naruto. Basically, it had a huge following, and when I first got into it I was in fifth grade, so I was 10 or so. When I was exploring it, there were a whole bunch of older people around me in forums and this and that, and they all knew these things that I didn’t know because apparently—and I didn’t know that there were more volumes [of the manga] available, because I was just watching the TV show—I didn’t know that I could have access to the rest of it, if I knew where to look. It was really wild. There were so many people being excited about it and talking about all these things, and they would dress up like characters, and like… it was just wild, you could see this level of engagement that varied per person. And I was tiny, so I couldn’t do as much as I would if I was into it now, but it was just interesting to see this whole community of people come together to appreciate this one thing.
How often and how long do you participate in these fan communities/fandom spaces?
So it really depends. Some things I had more interest with than others, so… In a previous example I said—like, for Naruto, I was in it for a few years because that was the biggest thing at the time. But then, in 2014, when Frozen came out, I was actually really big into that community because something about the movie itself resonated with me, and there were a lot of fan communities that were excited, and it was crazy. Disney pushed it for years (laughs), so it didn’t really die down immediately. So, I would go out of my way to talk to people about it, because it was just something that really interested me, from the music, the art, the character interactions—everything. It was intense, like, I wanted to know every single little detail that went into the process of making the movie, because it was just this masterpiece, personally, in my eyes, that came about. So yeah, for that one, it took, say, a year and a half or so, [that] I was actively a part of that group. Sometimes I jump from fandoms, like I’ll go from Frozen—and then another show that came out that was also very well crafted in my opinion was Gravity Falls. I was also on that for a year and a half. So sometimes I get into a phase for a bit, I guess, where I’ll be supporting something and then it tapers off, but for the most part it stays consistent. Like, I still love Frozen, so I’m happy that the second movie came out. (laughs)
Is your participation on a daily basis, or…? I’m not calling you out! Just asking. (laughs)
(laughs) So it really depends because, say it’s this brand new thing that I love, I’ll be crazy about it for a week or a few weeks or a few months, but if it’s something that… I don’t know, I’m kind of weird, maybe, compared to most people in the sense that I don’t actively seek out to engage things, like if people are finding out information on stuff—for example, K-Pop groups—I… personally, for me, it’s too difficult to go out of my way to find out where these people are finding their information from. Some people go too far with it, and I don’t… I’ll go into that [at] a different time (laughs). I usually use those people to tell me what’s happening so that way I’m informed, but like, I don’t know where [they’re] getting that from. I still want to know so that I’m in the loop, so I’m sort of actively engaged for a while, but it tapers off for a bit, like I said, and then sometimes it picks up or I end up disappearing from that fandom.
Please describe a typical interaction or experience within these spaces.
It really depends [on] your audience. With Frozen, I found a lot of other young adults who enjoyed the movie, so it’s like, y’know, pretty personal conversations, not professional, but mature, y’know? But with different fandoms, depending on what you’re watching… For example—I’m just gonna go back to K-Pop—you have a mixed range, and now, younger people are getting into it, too, but there’s kids or teenagers coming into it, and some people haven’t learned how it’s okay to behave and how not to behave. So you’re gonna have a mixed bag of the kind of experiences you have, like… sometimes it’ll be good and everyone will be happy and sometimes you’re gonna get some random person chewing you off because… maybe you didn’t like so-and-so’s hair and they loved it and their whole life was based around their hair (laughs). So it really does matter who you’re talking to in that sense, at least, I think.
Describe your ‘history’ with a fandom. What made you join? What made you stay?
Hmm… So usually when I get big into a fandom of any kind, it’s because I’ve made some sort of meaningful connection with it or I’ve found something [in] it that really resonated with me at the time or helped me figure something out about myself. So, I mean, indirectly projecting on what was happening in the story or just something that happened to click. And… what made me join… So, being able to find something that connected usually makes me join, and what makes me stay is, like… if I can find like-minded—I mean, even if I don’t find like-minded people who enjoy it—it’s just comforting to know… Let’s say, take Frozen for example, I really connected with Elsa’s character in the way she was brought about, from being super scared about her powers into growing into herself as a person, and then finding other people who are like, “Yo, I really loved Elsa,” besides “Oh my gosh, her character design is so well done,” or something, y’know? People who actively discuss her story in terms of how it built up—those people make it better to stay in the environment, because you’re finding people who are like-minded in that sense. Helps you feel a little less alone in whatever—maybe this is my case—whatever you’re dealing with, and it’s just comforting, in a way.
If you knew then—back when you first joined a fandom—what you know now as a fan in this community, would your fan experience be different? Would you join it again?
Yeah, for some. For the other ones, I am actually returning to some of the fandoms I used to visit. Frozen II is out, so I’m going back to the movies, because—”Oh, look, the sequel is finally out after all these years! I’ve been waiting so long!” like The Incredibles II, y’know? Like, everyone was waiting a long time for this movie to come out. But the one that I would say maybe is a good example for this one at least is Naruto. When I was younger, I was brand new to the internet (laughs). And back then, the internet, I want to say, was a lot less strictly regulated or censored than it is now. So, coming back, if I were to go back now, I know I would be, like… Well, I mean, now it’s a lot stricter, rules-wise. There are probably things on [sites] that shouldn’t be there that weren’t as strictly regulated as they could’ve been, but being more mindful of your audience that you might be there with people who might see things they’re not supposed to see. In the sense of… sometimes people might throw out inappropriate art of adult characters, and you don’t want a child to be exposed to that. So being more mindful of your audience and realizing that anyone can stumble upon this, make sure that you’re in the right place. Because when I was younger, I kinda found some stuff that I probably should have never found at the age of 10. So just being more mindful, I guess. Before, 2005, was so much different than now, 2019. Back then, it was really easy to find stuff you weren’t supposed to get into (laughs). So yeah, just definitely that, I would think.
Would you join that fandom again?
Oh, definitely. Naruto was a fun fandom, I really enjoyed [Naruto the character’s] whole story. I used to hate him as a kid and didn’t realize why. He was the underdog character, and everyone was—not rooting against him—but they weren’t rooting for him, and now that I’m older, I’m like, “Y’know what, root for the underdog. You never know what they’re coming from, what they’re going through,” and he just became my favorite character somehow. So that’s kinda funny (laughs). Started from loving the angry, “I’m gonna destroy everyone to avenge my family,” character, to the main character who I used to not like because he was always so positive, and… I don’t know. I feel like I grew up to understand him more. If I went back to it, I would appreciate his character more. It would be nice to get back into it and go back to do a readthrough of the 699 chapters (laughs).
How important are your fandoms to you? Why are they important?
Hmm… Why are they important to me? Because it’s like… these things that you’re engaging in… Hopefully you’re not hurting anything or anyone. But it’s like… things that are happy to help you be happy throughout the day. Maybe you’re supporting a group of people, like K-Pop groups. You’re supporting a group of people who are doing these things, and you’re happy watching their content, and watching them be content as people, too, like making sure they’re happy, too, in a way. So it’s like… knowing that they’re creating a craft for not just you, but other people, too… A lot of people can benefit from this because everyone connects to different things, and if these people—the longer they’re around [the fandom], maybe the more they can connect with other people, and then [the artists] are growing as people, too. Like, obviously, you don’t know this person, you’re not like, “Oh my god, yes, I’m best friends with so-and-so, because I know their whole life story because the internet told me and I’m a fan of them.” It feels nice to support something that you know is going to a good cause, in a way. So… I think it’s important to—especially for people who don’t have that; like maybe they haven’t come to a realization yet. Maybe a group drops a song that’s about something that happened in their lives, [and] it connects with someone, it can help that someone not feel alone. [Whether] it’s a song, or an art medium, or a book, or whatever it is—I think it’s a good way for people to figure out a place they can belong.
So you brought up how fans will support an artist. Is it the duty of a fan to support an artist to the point where they’re protecting, or knowing that artist?
I feel like in some cases, you have those casual fans—and I’m normally a pretty casual fan when it comes to things, like I’m not gonna go out of my way to find things, but I wanna see the group grow. When LOONA came to America for the first time, I wanted to see them perform. This is my way of supporting them, like… “Welcome to America,” y’know? “This is amazing. I’ve always wanted to see you since a year ago [when] I found you, and there you are!” Then there’s some people who take that responsibility to—not protect, but—“support” the band too far. There’s in-between people [who] go out of their way a little more. Some people I know—and it’s not a bad thing, this is a very cool thing, I think—they organize [gifts or snacks] to give to the members [as a welcome]. They just do little nice things for the stars when they come here. That’s okay, but then it becomes toxic when you have those people who take it upon themselves—it’s almost like a Social Justice Warrior, but not. They’re defending the artist without [the artist’s] voice being heard. Maybe they’re saying something for the artist even though the artist has said they don’t agree with this. In terms of K-Pop, at least. This applies a little bit more [for] when real people are involved as opposed to cartoons. But even [with] cartoons, people will fight over things. For example, in Gravity Falls, people would assume things on the part of the character that the creator never confirmed, so they would be like, “No, I’m pretty sure he said this!” and at one point the creator had to be like, “I don’t support either, please don’t fight over this. Don’t take it upon yourself to think this because of this.” So, I don’t think it’s necessarily the duty of a fan to make sure that a certain thing is upheld, like, everyone can support in their own way, but I know that if you’re too into something, sometimes it can get toxic. Some people go wild, especially when real people are involved—they’ll even find out when their flight is, and they’ll show up on the flight when they’re not supposed to be there. So, yeah, no, it definitely has its good side and its bad side, it just really depends on being aware of it. But say if your favorite artist is feeling sad, I don’t think you should take it upon yourself, like specifically go, “I need to make my life’s mission to make sure they’re super happy.” But it’s okay to support them so they can find their happiness, I guess? Just don’t go crazy with it, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. (laughs)
It certainly makes sense. Has fandom experience played a part in your identity/how you identify yourself today? How so?
Well, I would say definitely, because especially around 2011 or so, being part of a specific fandom and exposing myself to a different kind of community made me become aware that I was bisexual. I’ve been struggling with that identity for a long time, but exposing myself to [fandom] made me realize it was okay. So, I think that, depending on what it is, what you’re looking at—whether it’s sports, an art medium, or music—you’re definitely getting something that maybe might help you find something within yourself that you haven’t realized yet, too. So, I think that fandoms definitely played a large part in that because, like I said, you meet like-minded people who might have experienced something similar to you, whereas maybe in real life you haven’t met anyone like that, or you don’t know anyone like that, or maybe they’re too awkward, [or] they don’t know if they’re okay to talk about that. And it helps bring that conversation to the table for at least you to come to terms [with] it and maybe help out someone someday who might need to talk about it, too.
Do you create content as a fan? Please describe.
So, yeah. I wanna say up until at least 2015 I used to make a lot of fan content in the sense that I really got into writing. If I ever drew pictures for a fan group—[like] fanart—I wouldn’t post it online mostly because I wasn’t as confident with my ability. But I did write fan fiction at one point in time, and it was fun… It was… fun. Fortunately when I was writing it, it wasn’t like… I don’t know, I was in high school (laughs), so I was still young. I mean, I continued in college up until sophomore year. I started getting busy with life, that’s why I more or less stopped, but I would say it was fun, you know, being able to contribute and have people read your stuff, see you get feedback from people who also are into what you like. Feels like a community—like a nice little family that you built, depending on what it is, y’know? It’s cool. Yeah, I used to create content. (laughs)
You said you stopped writing fan fiction and drawing fan art. Do you create content in any way now?
If anything, it gave me the platform to create content for myself, like to build on my own interests, but it was definitely a good medium to practice on. I’d consider doing stuff for fandoms I’m in now, but I’m like “Hmm… Do I have the time?” or “Am I that motivated enough?” But I would definitely consider to try to—for the fandoms I’m in right now—probably, maybe, someday, again, create content (laughs), depending on what it is. That’s where I stand with that.
Have you ever had career or professional opportunities open up for you as a result of your experiences as a fan?
None that… Well, I guess Pokémon is a fandom, right? Well, when I was in a painting class my senior year of college—I’m a science major, so (laughs), I honestly shut that whole part out—I was taking an art class, and I was just painting Pokémon, and just doing things—because, I don’t know, it’s just… things that I enjoy—and the teacher kinda noticed that I was painting and was like, “Oh, have you ever considered a career in the arts?” and I was like, “I mean… yes, but no” (laughs). It wasn’t that it opened up an opportunity, per se, but it made me get a perspective, I guess, that if I wanted to really apply myself to that kind of thing, that I could maybe do it. So it wasn’t directly like, “Oh my gosh, here, meet this person who’s gonna open a door for you to work in this field,” but it was definitely like… He gave me ideas like if I wanted to actually pursue that, it’s like, “Oh, go do this and that, and then maybe you can network your way around that.” So, I would say that, definitely, exposing yourself as a fan to other people does certainly—maybe not for me, specifically, but for other people—it could definitely be a gateway for them to build upon to where they need to be.
Have you ever discovered new interests because of your fandom experiences?
Yes (laughs). So depending on what it is, either I expand more on wanting to draw more, wanting to write more, wanting to make music, or wanting dance or something (laughs). I wanna say each [fandom] definitely interests me in a different way. Like, let’s say finding a connection—let’s say I find this one fandom I’m in and help to figure out a part of myself… It sort of helps me delve into a self-searching journey kind of thing? And… I don’t know, especially recently with K-Pop, I’ve wanted to… like, I’ve never wanted to dance before, but listening to it, I’m like, “It’d be so cool to dance.” And I’ve never really felt the urge before. It was always like, “Nah, I don’t wanna dance, (scoffs), who dances? Like, I don’t do that.” But now there’s this sudden urge to know how to dance. I just wanna do it. So yeah, I would say each different fandom you’re in, or at least for my case, has definitely brought up some sort of “I wanna do this,” “Now I wanna do that,” “Now let’s go do this!” That’s how it is for me, at least.
Do you tell people outside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
It really depends on the crowd you’re with. Like, I have a group of close friends that I can talk to—”Oh, I’m in this brand new fandom you guys may not know about,” and they’d be like, “Wait, you know about it, too?!” We share amongst each other if we’re comfortable with each other, but let’s say I’m at work… I’m at my job, and these people don’t know me, and I don’t know them… I’m not like, “Oh yeah, I really like Frozen,” y’know? They’ll be like, “What? You like that kids movie? Blah blah blah.” So, depending on what it is, there might be some stigma. I definitely feel [that] with some things. For example, anime. It’s a Japanese cartoon. But when adults...—“ok boomer”—no I’m just kidding (laughs). The older generation will be like, “Cartoon? I used to watch that when I was a kid, but now I’m too busy riding the capitalist machine”—You don’t have to write that (laughs)—“riding the corporate train, because I work every day for the rest of my life. I don’t have time for personal interests.” … I’m gonna reword this so you can reuse it a different way. Maybe they work every day and they’re very limited in what they can enjoy or whatnot, or maybe that’s how they were raised. So they’ll be like, “Oh, you’re still watching cartoons. That was a thing I used to do as a child, that’s not okay.” But the thing is, some anime is very dark. For a child, like—I don’t think it was aimed [at] children. Like, it’s advertised for and marketed like, “Yeah, anyone can watch this!” I don’t think you… want a child to watch this (laughs). Attack on Titan, for example, is a very dark show. Maybe there are kids watching it, but I don’t even as an adult, I’m like… oh my goodness (laughs). So, definitely with the type of whatever-it-is, depending on whether it’s music-related, art-related, depending on who you’re with, there might be some stigma attached, so I don’t necessarily go out of my way to tell everyone, unless I can see something subtle that they might have, like a keychain or a thing on their desk to indicate [a fandom]. It’s very hard to initiate a conversation like that.
That kinda goes into my next question. Do you tell people inside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
I guess it depends on how they seem. Like, I usually—not scope out—but I’ll see how they are, maybe what they’re interested in first before I talk about it, because some people are crazy… [Crazy] in the sense that, if they really like this one thing, but you like this one other thing that’s still a part of the same group [i.e., a different book series or K-Pop group], they’ll be like “Whaaaaat?! Blah blahblah blah bLAH blah blah.” They’ll get mad at you for nothing sometimes. I guess it really depends on the person, but for the most part, if I wanna make more friends on the topic, I will, [but] then there’s sometimes you meet these people who are very… their foot’s down on this opinion, they’re not gonna budge their minds… “You can’t tell me this, because this is the way I see it.” So, I do tell people, but then it also depends on how [those] people are. Some are just very… Like right now, my mind is thinking [BTS fans or] ARMYs … (laughs)
Feel free to expand on that. (laughs)
With the K-Pop community, for example, getting into K-Pop is tricky, I wanna say. Because, I like one group that’s not necessarily well-liked, but it is also well-liked, called LOONA. Depending on where you step, like if you make the wrong comment on a post somewhere, like someone posts a picture on an account that happens to be a BTS ARMY fan account, and you say something like, “Oh my gosh, yeah, I remember LOONA covered this song!” then you could get attacked for nothing. It’s like stepping on a landmine, if you’re on the wrong post, depending on who you’re talking to. So, you gotta be careful, I guess. You can say, “Yes! I’m interested in K-Pop as a whole,” but then some people will be like… maybe “supremacists”…? [That’s] not the best word to use, but they’ll think they’re Holier Than Thou, like, “Oh, because I’ve been into it since second generation KPOP, I’m the better fan” or something, y’know? So it’s like… I would say it happens with comic books, too. You have people like, “Oh, do you know the whole Batman origin story?” and it’s like, “No, I do not. I’m a new Batman fan,” or something like that. Yeah, that’s my opinion on that.
Is it a new fans v. old fans kind of thing?
I wanna say it really depends, like sometimes that is the case and people will be like, “I’ve been here since the beginning.” Pokémon is a good example. I’ve been around since the first generation, and they keep adding more and more and more [new Pokémon], but I’m not like, “Oh my gosh, the original 165!” Like… so? Who cares if they’re adding more. It looks like they might be running out of ideas, because some of them are kind of weird. But at the same time I’m not gonna be like, “Wow, they made an ice cream pokemon? What the heck is—” like I see so many people complaining about that. [You] see other ones who’ve been here since the beginning like, “They made the game so dumb, it’s like for kids or something!” Well, I mean, they are marketing it to kids, like… you can still play it, but obviously they want new people to play it, they want the fandom to keep growing. So, sometimes it is that way, but you gotta do your own thing, y’know, like, if someone’s gonna be a butthead since (laughs) they’ve been here since the beginning… well, how do you know the new person joining isn’t gonna bring something awesome to the table? Just because you’ve been here, there’s no reason to cast them out.