When is a fan not a fan?

I am your only fan!

I am your only fan!

The internet has been an great enabler in two epic fields of human endeavour: porn and fandom. But it is the latter of these, more than anything, that has shaped and continues to shape the way we live online. Net 2.0? All about encouraging communities to grow up around their shared interests. Usenet and Archie (if you do not recognise these names, they’re from Net -7000000.0)? They were pretty much about the same thing. The world would be a dull and humdrum place if we didn’t have hobbies that we could get excited about. We’d have to talk about mortgages and the price of oil like normal people! (The great thing about the internet is that you can simultaneously in three different browser windows be complaining about your mortgage, starting a flamewar about Lost, and listening to Dragoncon filk or posting pictures of your cat in a sink.) Truth is, there’s no such thing as normal people. Everyone has hobbies, just not everyone takes it to the point of fandom.

Fandom is undoubtedly a life enhancing experience. It’s great fun to find a community of people who share the same interests, especially if you didn’t know anyone else in real life who did. Not only that, but fandom inspires and generates a lot of creativity. It’s hard to miss all the fanfic, machinima, artwork, filk, blogs, fan conventions, podcasts, fanzines; there’s a heck of a lot of work that people put into their fandom, to entertain other fans. Oh, and flamewars. Hundreds upon thousands upon millions of flamewars going on in bulletin boards all across the web even as I speak. If we put half the effort that we put into our fandoms into our real work– actually let’s just not think about that. Fandom lets people interact with their hobbies and with other fans in a very active way. I think that’s the main defining feature.

So as fans, we feel way more personally involved than non-fans. Plus being on the internet, it’s easy to feel anonymous under a login name that isn’t your RL one. And as everyone knows, that’s a recipe for trouble. When I say trouble, what I mean is crazy flamewars. And I mean that in a gentle, loving way, because like all browsing spectators, I LOVE a good flamewar. Ah, the drama, it warms the black coffee grounds of my heart. Except when it drives me nuts and makes me want to reach through the screen and throttle people.

Point is not about any specific forum or topic, but that fans can get very hysterical very quickly online. The escalation from ‘Yeah, that’s a bummer, ohwell never mind’ to ‘OMG WHAT A SLAP IN THE FACE TO THE FANS, I WILL SEND MY BROTHER ROUND TO BEAT YOU UP IN RL’ can happen within about two posts (1.58 on the trollometer scale). This is just tedious and no one likes to keep telling people to keep things in perspective. Not that people want to hear it anyway. The emotional investment that makes fandom capable of producing such amazing interactive content and debate also makes it liable to go up in smoke at the drop of a patchnote. Add in a smidgeon of regional pride and you have a recipe for FLAME. Yeah, I’m talking about the EU/US hissy fits of yesterday about the preview weekend. I think it’s in the nature of fandom that you spend at least half the time hating your fellow fans.

I’m not going to sit here telling everyone to get some perspective. But flamewars are one of the great cultural additions that the internet has made to our era. Maybe they just need a few more fans to the fire …