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.”

[META] Fandoms: Virtual and face-to-face
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2 thoughts on “[META] Fandoms: Virtual and face-to-face

  • 23/05/2011 at 13:43

    The anime convention is still the public face and the focal point of anime fandom in North America – the point where we go from being anime viewers/consumers to being fans/members of a fandom. As I’ve argued already, attending an anime convention, paying a registration fee, and, as is the case with many conventions, actually becoming a member of a non-profit that organizes the convention is a declarative action that in effect separates the fan (as a member of fandom) from the passive viewer.

    Anime fan and and semi-pro journalist Mike Tool has a really good approach to this, in his ‘retrospective on 15 years of anime cons’ piece:

    “Going to a convention and being a huge nerd with hundreds of others ultimately established me with a network of people that would come to define both personal and professional aspects of my life. A decade and a half later, I find that this still rings true – the movie premieres and special guests and stuff are pretty great, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t remember them the way I remember seeing my friends and making new ones. So when you’re queuing up for that Hatsune Miku movie showing at DoofusCon next week, don’t be afraid to turn to the guy or gal behind you and ask a question. How about “What was the last anime you watched?” As for me, it was the Gundam 00 movie.”

  • 23/05/2011 at 21:53

    While I would stop well short of making the definition of “being a real fan” dependent in any way on whether one has ever attended a con in person, I totally agree that hanging with fans at conventions is a great way of forming and/or nurturing a network.

    I went to a couple of SF cons in the 1970s, but my most intense fannish experiences have been formed online. I resumed going to cons in the ’00s, and the most recent con I went to was all about finally get to meet in person some of the people I had gotten to know already, online.

    And the artist with whom I collaborated on a self-published fairy tale book is someone I’d emailed and LJ’d with for years before we finally met in person.

    So I guess in my experience being a “real fan” can include either or both activities. But cons are great. I hope to go again one day.

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