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Fandom and Creativity

Imagination by SynpaiBFandom is a funny thing. It’s also a complex thing with practically a life of its own; an organic organism that has taken on a different meaning besides stereotypical lines of nerdy thirty-year-old men queuing up outside comic and bookstores for the latest release or, dressing up like favourite—yet fairly “mainstream”—characters on Halloween. In fact, way back then, it probably wasn’t even called “fandom”. We were probably just nerds and geeks and dorks or whatever was the flavour of the moment. But as geek culture has advanced and evolved, so too have fandoms. If we forget for a moment that there are some crazy, crazy people swimming around in fandom pools, cleaving hopelessly to a single obsession like a life-raft and unleashing showers of vitriol on all those paddling in different waters, fandoms are actually a thousand times more awesome than they ever used to be.

Generally I’m going to look at a couple of ways that people express a deep sense of like towards their chosen book, game, character—whatever. People get tattooed with symbols or marks or script; people cosplay, assembling costumes from scratch or forking out big, big moola for professionally tailored outfits; people write fan-fiction; people name their pets (and kids…!) after characters; people spend time and energy and money on making stuff that fits in with the theme of whatever it is they love. And the great thing about all this? Nobody gets laughed at. It’s all quidditch now. No more pointing and laughing at the guy dressed as Frodo for that party where everyone else is sporting guys and dolls attire. Clearly, the Frodo guy is cooler and everyone knows it. (Everyone who matters, anyway.)

Kvothe Cosplay 2 by LadyVincaI’m guilty of a few of these. I have cats named Reshi (The Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss) and Nicodemus Weal (Spellwright and Spellbound, Blake Charlton); I have cosplayed; and most recently, I have a tattoo. That’s what got me thinking about fandom and its depth, importance and significance. I sat for an hour in a chair and allowed someone to etch something very permanent in to my skin—something that would endure. That’s a big statement.

Whilst sitting there, mildly bemused that the anticipated pain was absent, I thought about what I was doing. Essentially, I was paying homage to something I love. And yet…that implies that the tattoo was for something other; a necessary or partially obligatory statement. But the tattoo was for me.

I’ve seen plenty of examples of people being tattooed online: The Demon Cycle writer, Peter V. Brett often tweets pictures he has been directed to; pictures of people sporting wards. Some people even make “warded” props and items. My tattoo is a statement of my passion for something, yes, but the majority of the people who will ever see it will not see what I see. They will see elegant, artfully applied bold, black lines curving into a design almost runic, almost a kanji. They will not see a Shadowhunter Mark. They will not immediately understand the rune, what it means, from which world it originates. They won’t know that the Mark means I have a parabatai—they won’t even know what a “parabatai” is. They likely will never have heard of Cassandra Clare.

But I know.

Cosplay of The Hound by Autumn2MayIn a sense, cosplay is much the same. Whenever dressing up for a convention, there will always be people who stare, desperately trying to decide just what universe your costume is from. For some, it will be on the tip of their tongue, and later that day, when munching lunch or attending a screening, it will come to them like lightning and they’ll blurt out to their neighbour, “That minor character from that anime nobody’s seen! That’s who that guy earlier was!” Then there are the fans who immediately recognise you and wish to take photographs to add to their hoard of other convention photographs. Some won’t even acknowledge they know who you are and will toddle on by on their merry way, commenting nevertheless to their friends how awesome your cosplay is. They might even discuss its accuracy for ten minutes or so over lunch. Maybe they’ll Google the character as a reference point. But you’ll probably never know just how many people notice and subsequently discuss the cosplay. This is fine, because the cosplay isn’t for them. It’s for the wearer; just like the tattoo. It is the same with fanart and fanfiction—they are, by and large, for the artist.

There is a central point that ties all of these expressions of fandom together: appropriation. When you like something past a certain point, you want it. Whether it’s a limited edition book, a pair of shoes, a delectable brownie sundae, a character, a house—when you want this thing, you naturally find a way of somehow getting it. With fictional characters this might, at first, sound difficult. How can you own something that, essentially, doesn’t exist?

By creating it.

Hunger Games Cupcakes by SweetToothYou make a cosplay, you get that tattoo, you write that epic extra scene that you feel the book lacked but that is only for you, you draw, paint, sculpt, carve fancy wards on dice and leather pouches. You find a way of acquiring some small piece of what you love and pulling it into your life. Even so much as buying a poster or acquiring an author’s signature are appropriations of a sort. The poster of that movie will sit above your bed; you can look at it, remember the movie, and remember why you love it. It is your poster, in your room, with your thoughts. And the book with the signature? It’ll sit in a special place with other signed books; its special brethren. You know it’s special, you know it’s set apart from the other books on the shelves by virtue of that scrawled signature you went to London or wherever to acquire. The writer knows you love their work. Even if just for thirty seconds, the writer made a connection with you and that connection is etched into the book. And that book is yours.

Never mind cosplay and the hours spent becoming a character. For that day, for the time spent at that convention, you are no longer you. You are the character. It is a transformation that you permitted, strived for. It is yours. You will have the photographs, the memories of the convention, the memory of the attention and acknowledgment. All yours. Appropriation.

Precious Cargo by Paolo RiveraAll these things, all these methods of expressing just how crazy much you love what you love, they all generate more attention and more notice and more everything that is channelled towards the object of all the excitement. Someone will ask after the slightly unusual name of your cat when you summon the creature forth by calling “Foody-foody Commander Lathraea!” instead of the usual “Mittens” or “Mopsy”; someone will ask what you’re doodling when your notebook is covered with Wards and scribbles of demons; someone will ask if you’re cosplaying someone specific when you walk into a lift dressed in medieval garb, taking notice of that very distinctive serpent amulet hanging about your neck. And then that someone, those several someones, might just look up the name of that book, that movie, that game. And they might just enjoy it, too.

Which is good, obviously—but it isn’t the singular point at the centre of everything you do when you decide to label yourself as a follower, a member of a particular fandom. You do it to submerge yourself in whatever fictional world strikes a chord with you, whichever world seems so much better than the one you live in. Essentially fandoms produce things: cosplays, art, fiction, etc. They are evolving organisms that give and give and give. The effort is all channelled towards the original object. A fandom takes something fictional and adds to it, makes it bigger, stronger. This is good, because bigger means more notice and more notice means more sales, which means (hopefully) more pennies for the writer. Tattoo by Artist UnknownIn a simple sense, fandom creates free (yet passionate) advertising. There are people who give more to a fandom than others—and that’s okay. It’s fine to just get a tattoo, just as much as it’s fine to go all out and enter author contests with as much work as this involved…

Fandom creates, encourages and harnesses creativity. Whether a discerning eye selecting the most attractive or appropriate design for a tattoo or sketching a character portrait, there is a creative mind involved. And creativity is what allowed for the subject to exist in the first place. It’s a cycle that fuels itself and the result is, at every point, the expression of something, the creation of something. Which is pretty damn awesome, if you think about it.

Title image by Synpai.

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7 Comments

  1. Bibliotropic says:

    If it wasn’t for fandom crossover, there are a bunch of awesome things I wouldn’t have discovered, or at least wouldn’t have discovered so soon. Fandom, when it doesn’t devolve into a bunch of dick-waving, is the most awesome community, a great way of expressing and creating and connecting with people who love to geek out as much as you or I do over their chosen loves. Online fandom was one of the first places I ever actually felt a real sense of community and felt that it was okay to actually express some of the stuff I liked and how much I liked it, because hey, if that person over there is making an awesome costume of their favourite character, then surely it must be okay to talk about a fic I wrote or a really great RP session I had that was set in somebody else’s world. I’ve done embroidery based on books, I’ve written songs based on video games, and it’s a great feeling to know that not only am I supporting the work itself, but also adding another finger to keep the community and the love of fanworks and awesome things afloat.

  2. Houston says:

    Great article! I really want stuff like this that tells people about the true nature of fandoms, for better or for worse. 😀

  3. Charlemagne says:

    Every time you write, I find myself nodding along, agreeing with everything you say. This article wasn’t just interesting, though – it was thought-provoking, and I love it. I loved the way you analyzed fandom, and the way you’ve defined it.

    Also, I wish I could write like you. Superbly jealous. 😉

  4. Really well-written article. Abnormally well-written. But yeah, I agree. heh.

  5. Hi!
    My name is Gabriel.. I’m from Brazil.
    I’ve a website for new writers.. and I’m just passing here to say that I loved this post and this site! 😀

    That is a very nice explanation about Fandom.

    Well… I will come back here whenever I can.

    And yes.. sorry about my english.. I don’t practice my english so often.

  6. Cynthia says:

    “Fandom creates, encourages and harnesses creativity. Whether a discerning eye selecting the most attractive or appropriate design for a tattoo or sketching a character portrait, there is a creative mind involved. And creativity is what allowed for the subject to exist in the first place.”

    Well said. I get so excited every time I see a fan-made t-shirt or necklace or a work of fan fiction. It doesn’t even matter if I’m in that fandom, I just love seeing where someone went thanks to a TV show or movie or comic. I know there are some creators who don’t like fans messing with their work, but if I was a TV show creator, I’d be thrilled to see the crochet version of the characters I put into motion.

  7. Casey Gravelle says:

    You forgot about the quoting! Members of a fandom will often quote whatever it is that they follow. They will do it a lot, and quite possibly more than is strictly necessary. But the thing is that to them, it is necessary. It’s like another language that they share only with people who are a part of that same fandom.
    It’s a way of finding people that you are guaranteed to at least share one interest with, and likely more. I met my first room-mate in college because one of us made a Doctor Who reference. I’ve made countless friends by quoting Star Trek in public. And I am still in contact with most of these friends.
    But, on a slightly less jovial note, quoting can tell your closest friends how you’re actually feeling, while leaving mere acquaintances wondering what happened. If I tell a friend that I’m “All right”, they know that I’m really not because of that one episode in Doctor Who where the Doctor says he’s “All right”.
    Fandoms are a way of creating something, yes. But they are also a social structure. A way to keep friends together and make new friends. A way to communicate with people in ways that you might not be able to do otherwise.

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