It’s May, and besides the end of the academic spring term and Mother’s Day, the calendar has also brought in the local Renaissance Fair, conducted every weekend this month in Muskogee, Oklahoma, less than an hour’s drive from where I live.
A couple of years ago I loaded up my two boys and my mom and set off to experience it. Six sunburned, gleeful hours later, the kids were brandishing wooden pirate swords, I had the Gypsy-style ankle bells I’d wanted all my life, and we were all tired and happy and full of turkey legs.
Given this timely local backdrop, I read the article “Bowlers, ballads, bells, and blasters: Living history and fandom” in the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures with something approaching delight.
Most of my fannish experiences these days happen on the internet. But in this article, Mark Soderstrom draws a wide and inclusive circle around several types of face-to-face activities that he links in “style”, or perhaps in affect, with fandom. He describes his interest in Renaissance festivals, historical music, dance, reenactment, and fandom. And he writes, “The intersections of these interests in the lives of many individuals, and the way these activities organize community and create relationships of reciprocal exchange, function to create social networks that offer an alternative to modern patterns of consumptive leisure and the alienated marketplace.”
There’s been a great deal of descriptive and analytical work done about how fandom and fan works are a gift economy, how we repurpose commercial and corporate creations, texts and paratexts for our own purposes, and how community building happens on the internet. I appreciated Soderstrom’s article so much because it ties these ideas back into face-to-face activities that coexist, and have always coexisted, with internet fandom, and, of course, predate it.
Soderstrom describes, for example, someone who’s interested in morris dancing, SCA and “Firefly”, and who can find at SF cons other people who share these interests, and a venue to pursue them.
He writes, “It seems that shared dispositions bring these interests back into orbit with each other.” Because in a way, they are all fandom. Or fandom-like.
Also, he notes, the word-of-mouth communications that occur in these overlapping fan-like communities can lead to actual job leads of all kinds, based on “who you know.” Kind of an “good ole fan network” instead of a “good ole boy network”.
He speculates, “These social networks of affiliation, discourse, and material interaction account for at least some of the longevity and continuity of fandom.”
I really appreciated the reminder to include face-to-face or “real life” activities when I consider fannish community and affiliations, even though I chiefly experience fandom online these days. In my teens I attended a few SF cons, but my fourth-ever con was Escapade 2010! When I was 48 years old! In between those experiences, I discovered online fandom, but of course face-to-face fandom is equally alive and well, in all its diverse incarnations.
As Soderstrom concludes, “Shared dispositions to envisioning and exploring alternate realities historic, future, or fantastic are complemented by social and material exchanges that result in overlapped history and SF/F fan communities that endure through time.”