On the Nature of Fanhood

Fan up.

Picture is of no relation to the post. I just think its funny.

So, new season, new shows, blah blah, etc. So far I’ve seen Magi Puella Madoka Magica, Beelzebub, Gosick, and Level E, which just leaves Hourou Musuko and Fractale for TV series I’m planning to check out (maybe Suite Pretty Cure… I find the increasing pink frilliness of the show with each successive incarnation a bit off-putting, though…). I definitely do have stuff to say about the shows I have seen, but I’m holding off on doing so until I watch the second episodes of each. However, for now I will say that I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve watched.

But it actually wasn’t watching anime which brought me to this post. I was commuting earlier and listening to music while doing so. As I was going through the different artists on my mp3 player, I briefly wondered if I could call myself a fan of a particular artist, as I happen to own a few of his albums. All of which lead to the question: what makes a fan?

Its an interesting notion, that of being a fan. Its also fairly difficult to nail down, particularly as people enjoy arguing about it quite a bit. Fanhood can become a competition, and some will try to act as gatekeepers, delineating the “real” fans from the fakers and hangers-on.

Actually, this need to separate out the “real” fans from the rest in and of itself is a bit intriguing. After all: why? Why is it necessary to construct purity tests for fandoms?

With smaller fandoms, the reasoning isn’t terribly difficult to work out, and as we are part of a fairly small fandom (e.g. English-speaking anime fandom), what I’m about to say shouldn’t come as a shock. Quite simply, there aren’t many of us, and so there is stigma attached to being an anime fan. The general population by and large associates anime with children’s franchises such as Pokemon or with weird porn. To their minds, the anime fan is that loser guy living in his mum’s cellar at age thirty-two and still working at the CVS around the corner when he isn’t playing World of Warcraft. Or, uh, watching anime. This isn’t an attractive portrait, and it ends up engendering a two-fold response: first off, a desire to exclude people in order that we may cast off such a portrait, and, second, a desire to shore up our own defenses by making our group more exclusive, which in turn can provide a sense of superiority.

This also explains some of the bile directed at younger, newer fans, as they tend to be the individuals running around at conventions screaming and whacking people with paddles. Which, really, has much more to do with immaturity than anything, but I digress.

Of course, after all of that, its going to be a bit disappointing to read that what I think makes a fan ultimately is what a person themself thinks. Maddening, isn’t it? But I don’t think anyone else really can answer the question of whether one is a fan of something or not other than the individual in question. For instance, I own a bunch of U2 albums. But I don’t think of myself as a U2 fan. On the other hand, I own a bunch of REM albums. And I do think of myself as a fan of them. So where’s the difference? A person looking at my music shelves or mp3 player wouldn’t be able to tell. But I know I love REM and I enjoy some of U2’s stuff yet don’t love them.

However, I do think there is a certain degree of… well, I’m not sure how to put it. There is such a thing as a fake fan. I used to get into screaming matches with a friend in college who claimed to be a big fan of a hockey team, but could never even tell me which goalie they were using (and I always knew even though I myself hated the team he allegedly adored… ’cause if you’re a hockey fan, well, fuck, you’re a hockey fan! you’re gonna know something that important!).  So while I am leery of ceding much to the opinions of others, I will admit that the matter of fanhood isn’t entirely in the hands of the individual in question, although I also think that about half of them realize themselves that they aren’t “real” fans.

And, yet, I also think there are different types of fans. I may get annoyed when I have to tell a kid at a con what Kanon is and what it’s about, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a “real” anime fan; he’s just a different type from me, much more casual about it and with an income size which really only supports reading a few manga and watching dubbed stuff on TV. Yes, I may find myself feeling a bit flummoxed by it, but there’s nothing wrong with his approach to it all. I just happen to be more deeply involved with it than most. My little brother is a dorky little gamer, with dorky little gamer friends, and they watch anime sometimes. A couple of them even identify as anime fans. But gaming is their true passion. Different strokes for different folks. (My other dorky younger sibling worships at the altar of comics and disapproves intensely of manga at the moment.)

Then again, the idea of a ‘casual fan’ is a bit of an oxymoron, given that the root of ‘fan’ is ‘fanatic’. A casual fanatic? Hmm. Doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But I do think that the term isn’t wholly ridiculous, even if in full it is an oxymoron. Because does fan simply mean only fanatic any more? Not really.  The word has been diluted quite a bit by every day usage, much in the same manner as we’ve seen otaku come to have a much more generalized and less extreme meaning colloquially.

Yeah, that’s all I have to say. To quote a great… uhh… being: IT’S OVERRR!!!

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11 Responses to On the Nature of Fanhood

  1. Sebz says:

    The general population by and large associates anime with children’s franchises such as Pokemon or with weird porn. To their minds, the anime fan is that loser guy living in his mum’s cellar at age thirty-two and still working at the CVS around the corner when he isn’t playing World of Warcraft. Or, uh, watching anime.

    a jobless? harsh [implied] reality, that.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, the dude is working at CVS, so he’s not jobless… just, y’know, not ambitiously employed.

  2. hikaru says:

    Ah, you must not be as fussy as I when it comes to music. All the CDs I own are of bands that I am a big fan of. I won’t buy anything that I am a ‘casual fan’ of. In that sense, you can tell which artists I am a fan of by looking at my CD collection, which would be the opposite of your case. However, songs that I have on my computer but haven’t bought physical copies of are from artists that I consider myself to be a ‘casual fan’ of, so looking at my music folder wouldn’t give someone a good indication of whether I really like the artist or not.

    It’s true that ‘fan’ no longer implies ‘fanatic’. Nowadays it just indicates that you like something. I think that ‘fangirl’ and ‘fanboy’ are now the terms used to describe the obsessive followers. Although that may change within a short amount of time too. According to the glossary in ‘My Girlfriend is a Geek’ volume 1, the term fujoshi (which I think isn’t really that old a term) used to refer only to girls who like yaoi but in recent years as been applied more loosely to refer to girls that like anime and manga, “without a strong predilection for BL” (<- quoted from the book ^_^).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I buy a lot of my music used, and I find it hard to argue against picking up a CD by a band I only casually listen to when it is $5 for the used CD versus $1.20 on iTunes for one song.
      In general, I’m not really into digital downloads of music. I like having the physical product. I like looking at the art for the releases, which isn’t the same with the download releases.
      Ugh, I hate the term ‘fujoshi’.

  3. I’m not sure what I feel makes a fan. I think you need a vague idea what you’re talking about, at least (as in your hockey example). However, I’ll also agree that fans define themselves. I listen to some of Kesha’s music and hate myself for it, but it’s upbeat and I enjoy it…I am by no means a Kesha fan. Then I listen to bands like Kamelot and I’m definitely a fanatic in that case. It’s up to you. Are you, or are you not, a fan?

  4. kluxorious says:

    You are a fan if you start going crazy, giddy, fawning over the said artist/show/whatev in your wake. For the last few weeks, I have develop a fandom for Super Junior, a Korean idol pop group. The interest came out of nowhere and now I can’t get enough of them. I listen to their music almost 24/7, bought all the CDs and DVD available and is going to their Asia concert at the end of the month. I’m obsessed. I think that makes me a fan.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I would definitely agree that you are a fan, but I maintain that it is largely a personal distinction.

  5. Valence says:

    To be honest when I started watching anime my parents asked if I had any mental problems. No joke.

    What is being a fan? I suppose it’s the love for the subject involved. Being able to talk about something with great amounts of energy and passion – being able to talk about a subject a length – does that make one a fan?

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I don’t recall what my parents’ reaction was… I first started watching anime eleven years ago.

  6. Joe says:

    Perhaps “being a fan” is to go beyond mere* enjoyment of a team, artist, product, etc. and to buy into the whole “essence” of what they represent. This is tremendously subjective for everyone but occasionally groups can agree on a common “meaning” to rally around.

    For anime, I guess this means identifying with the spirit of a given title, or bestowing a special, personal approval onto the characters, themes, or various idiosyncrasies. Maybe it’s a public declaration of one’s significant emotional investment in a specific title? Anyway, it’s a hugely intangible concept that’s probably not pinned down quite so easily. Who knows!

    *No negative connotations implied by this, just differentiating between casual/”in the moment” enjoyment and “appointment” enjoyment. We all need a little of both in our lives.

  7. Mystlord says:

    I kind of just equate the word “fan” with “interest”. I haven’t actually seen a need to expand my definition beyond that. I mean I don’t think you need to be a literal fanatic to be a fan of something, but you can be. It’s just part of a level of “fandom” that corresponds with just how much interest you have in a particular thing. And well, that pretty much means that being a “fan” is really, really subjective.
    And I don’t think the term “casual fan” is an oxymoron or contradictory at all. It’s just the same as saying that I enjoy something, but only on a casual level.

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