This is a stunningly good and extensive compilation of fannish meta on the subject of ageism in fandom. We thought we’d chime in with a bit of scholarship around fandom and age.
“Access to fanfiction in the post–Star Trek, pre-Internet era was rather limited. Since most fanfiction was distributed through self-published newsletters and zines—and one could usually only acquire such things in the context of attending conventions—the fanfiction reading audience was limited mostly to adults, who were far more likely to possess the necessary mobility and financial resources. (The fanfiction writing audience, however, was in theory considerably larger, with fans lacking access to more formal methods of fannish distribution penning what Fanlore calls “drawerfic,” stories intended only for the eyes of the writer or a small group of friends.) Since those with access to circulating fanfiction were primarily adults, there was no perceived need to consider young people as a distinct potential audience. Moreover, much (though not all) fanfiction featured erotic content—material that, as Eric L. Tribunella remarks, “epitomize[s] what it means to say a text is ‘for adults’”.”
– Tosenberger, C. (2014). Mature poets steal: Children’s literature and the unpublishability of fanfiction. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 39(1), 4–27. https://doi.org/10.1353/chq.2014.0010
Shaming older fans, saying they should grow out of their passions, is of course nothing new. Have a look at Camile Bacon-Smith’s analysis of Mary Sue (and why we hate her) to see that people outside fandom, especially those who’ve sought to control women (and queer people of all genders), have been using this argument for decades. All that’s new is that this argument has now been taken up by people within the fannish community. Some of this can probably be traced to the culture clash between older and younger fans when younger fans finally got access to fannish communities through the internet.
More from Tosenberger:
“However, the mainstreaming of Internet technology in the late 1990s radically altered the fannish landscape, not only in terms of the day-to-day functioning of fandom, but of its demographics as well. Media fans tended, as a group, to be “early adopters of digital technologies” (Jenkins, Fans 138) and had begun migrating onto the Net in the mid- ’80s, but while this new medium was faster, the actual participatory fannish community didn’t change much until access to this technology became widespread—fortuitously concomitant with the runaway success of the Potter series. Suddenly, the ability not just to read, but to write and distribute transformational fanworks was available to anyone with an Internet connection. And that “anyone” included children and teenagers, who were often more Net-savvy than their parents.
And not only were Potter fans younger, they were also less experienced in traditional fandom cultural norms. As Harry Potter became the primary “threshold fandom” of the Internet era, there was a great deal of friction in the early years between older media fans, whose behavior codes and expectations were formed in the time of zines, and newer so-called “feral” fans, who had never experienced the mentoring and initiation into fandom that was practically a requirement in the pre-Internet era.”
And if you’re interested in older fans’ actual lived experiences of fandom, here’s a great paper by Line Nybro Petersen (2017): “‘The Florals’: Female Fans over 50 in the Sherlock Fandom.” In “Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game,” edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.
“Fandom is closely tied to being passionate, being enthusiastic, being excited. It is a space for feeling better and happier. I am interested in how these fans negotiate the passion that they experience through their devotion to the Sherlock series in relation to their perceptions about age. Being a fan of Sherlock wittingly or unwillingly becomes both a feminist and anti-agist endeavor because insisting on being passionate about a TV series and its actors as a 50-year-old is sometimes met with skepticism and wonder. One fan in particular is very clear about her feminist standpoint with regards to her own fan practice and the way in which passionate women are often regarded in a societal context: "Ageism is the cause, but also the idea that being fanatically obsessed with a subject equals being a loser is also in the mix. I have asked male friends over the age of 50 if they get the same treatment in their fandoms (football, Marvel, Doctor Who) and they report that they don’t”.“