Although we tend to think of sf fandom as the fandom, there are many others. I have already mentioned media, comics and gamer fandoms as groups which overlap our own. Media fandom is the closest and a direct descendent, the two distinguishing characteristics being (1) a limited focus on a particular media production (e.g., Dr. Who) and (2) a more commercially oriented fan press. Comic fandom has roots nearly as old as our own, and has a similar structure of fanzines, conventions, and clubs. It tends, however, to be more focused on buying and selling, and is therefore somewhat tainted with the profit motive. Gamer fandom also has its own fanzines, conventions and clubs, but of course the focus is on board games and role playing.
Video and movie fandoms are similar to media fandom, but are not limited to sf. Amateur film and video fanzines (as opposed to the commercial variety) tend to focus either on collecting or on obscure, low budget films with cult followings.
Punk music gave rise to its own fandom (sometimes called punkdom) devoted to new wave music, and while punk has since faded, subsequent musical movements carried on its fandom-like traditions. Although concerts take the place of conventions in these movements, and there are no formal clubs to speak of, they do produce an amazing number of fanzines. Most of these are at least as literate as the sf variety, and often more politically aware.
Beyond punkdom lies a whole world of small press publications which operate on an essentially fannish basis. Poetry, for example, is no longer a commercial proposition in our culture, and so has retreated into a network of amateur magazines published at a loss by enthusiasts. These are generally less pretentious than the literary magazines funded by universities, and publish a wider range of styles.
Beyond the literary zines are the thousands of "non-consensus reality" movements; groups who publish because the mainstream press does not carry their message. Minority religious (Astrology, Pagan, etc.), political (libertarians, socialist, survivalists, etc.), and social (New Age, back-to-the-land, animal rights, etc.) movements network through their small press publications, much as do fans. Most observers would agree that 50% of these groups are part of the lunatic fringe, but it is unlikely that any two observers could agree which half was which.
With the advent of desktop publishing, we may safely anticipate the further explosive growth of the small press universe. As it becomes easier and easier for anyone to publish a respectable looking newsletter, every baseball card collector, frustrated poet, and social activist will put out their own zine. (There are already three magazines, believe it or not, targetted to collectors of various styles of barbed wire.) Thus whatever one's interest, rest assured that somebody out there is writing on the topic, and it is just of matter of tying into the network.
If you are interested in investigating other fandoms, you may wish to subscribe to Broken Pencil, PO Box 203, Station P,Toronto, Ontario M5S 2S7 Canada (Email Broken Pencil.) BP reviews hundreds of Canadian zines each issue. Until the recent demise of its print edition, Factsheet Five. was the older, larger American equivalent, and reviewed thousands of zines from a wide variety of fandoms. (There are some very strange people out there.) The more timid may prefer Small Press Review (from Dustbooks P.O.Box 100 Paradise, CA 95969 USA) which covers the more literary end of the continuum.
The emergence of the Internet has allowed for the explosive growth of virtual communities, many of which have, or may be expected to, evolve fan-like institutions. Listserves, newsnets, chatrooms,instant messaging, and most recently blogs (web logs), have introduced apa-style conversations to the general public. These electronic formats have the advantage over printed apas that turnaround time between exchanges is measured in hours, minutes, or even seconds, rather than months. (There are also no printing or postage costs, and many individuals either have free internet access through school or work, or are already subscribing to an online service for other reasons.) It is now common for individuals to consider their electronic correspondents their chief referent group and for these virtual networks to take on a life of their own. One can easily anticipate the emergence of conventions organized to allow distant members of this or that virtual network (say, all those writing mutually referenced blogs on breakfast foods) to finally meet in person.
As a sociologist, I have argued elsewhere that our culture is moving towards a greater emphasis on avocational subcultures (i.e., various fandoms) as the primary vehicle for the creation of community and self-identity. I have argued that the increasing alienation of most consumers from their work identities has forced them to look for meaning elsewhere. As the number of career positions declines dramatically and increasing numbers find themselves in deadend service jobs, people no longer think of themselves as what they do. They may make their living as a McDonald's fry chef, but that this is "merely their day job" and "not who they really are." Ask a Starbucks cashier who he is, and he is likely to answer in terms of an unpublished writer, an actor waiting for his big break, or a businessman awaiting the right opportunity. Few people take Starbuck barista as their overarching identity. As membership in a geographical, religious or ethnic community also declines in importance, many people seek to distinguish themselves by their expertize as a skateboarder, or amateur gourmet chef, or skier, or hockey fan, and define themselves by their success within these avocational subcultures. As they become known within their local militia or animal rights group, they develop a fannish style career of neo to well known local to, perhaps, nationally renowned figure in their own specialized pond. They may be just another annoymous shoe clerk at the mall during the week, but on weekends get to be General in the Militia or national reviewer of Canadian Poet Weekly. Day jobs serve to support one's family and one's hobby-habit, but form no part of one's core identity. Instead, the hobby activity becomes central to identity, and it is career progress within the context of this avocational subculture which determines one's "success".
In such a context, it is often useful to view the world as a series of overlapping fandoms. If one is experienced with sf fandom, one has an excellent background for understanding and anticipating the social dynamics of almost any avocational subculture. Ironically, where media portrayals of Trekkies often have a "Get a life!" subtext, I would argue that Trekdom and fandom were in fact early exemples of what has become a general social phenomenon. In an attempt to create community and personal meaning admist the predominant alienation of work relations within advanced capitalist societies, avocational subcultures provide many individuals with the careers and lives they need. Tempting though it may be to dismiss another's fandom as the exultation of the trivial, this is quickly becoming the dominant pattern of personal meaning and interaction in our culture.
Interview anyone closely, and you are likely to encounter their version of fandom early in the discussion. For most, this will mean participation in some avocational subculture (hobby or sport group); many others are discovering and developing their virtual community online; a declining percentage still find fulfilment running their church group or ethnic association. Even those of us with professional careers and identities are part of some occupational community, which generally operate as scaled up versions of fandom. I can certainly name all the BNFs in my field, meet with them regularly at conferences, and publish in zines called academic journals. The only real difference between my overly specialized professional colleagues and the typical sf fan, is that sf fans tend to be more culturally literate.
So, ulitmately, it's all fandom.
[The "next" button will take you to a concluding comment on sf fandom. A fan glossary of terms currently used in sf fandom can be found on the page following that one.]
This page last updated: March, 2003
Colophon Credits and copyright information.