The first online space I really remember engaging in fandom was on kids forums like Neopets and Whuddleworld (RIP), where I’d just talk about baby’s first anime (mostly Pokemon, Yugioh (lol), and Inuyasha) and Harry Potter. That eventually moved to me roleplaying on Virtual Hogwarts, though I was never really that interested in Harry Potter--I think I mostly just wanted a community of like minded nerds I could nerd-out with. At its core, I think that’s what draws people to fandom spaces to begin with. When I think back to my Uhr-Fandom experiences, it reminds me to have empathy for those that seem to need a fandom to base their friend groups around, even if they’re uninterested in the media. At its core, fandom is a space for people to express their ideas and interests with the conveniences of a shared interest to base a community around.
However, I’ve noticed more and more in recent years that many fandom spaces have begun to rot: malicious attacks, harassment, and capitalistic greed. Let me break down some of this behaviour.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that bad behavior is not a new thing in fandom spaces; it’s always been around considering how people are in general. I am by no means saying or thinking that fandom is any kind of utopia where it’s nothing but kumbaya all the time. However, I do think that as the platforms we use to engage in fandom have become more and more personal and detached from having long-form conversation, the behavioral expectations for fandom have crumbled into the mess that we notice on most social media platforms today. In general, I think the behavior in all online spaces has decayed as a result of the direction social media has taken. Though, it fascinates me to see younger people online who have no understanding of digital boundaries or how to communicate with others. There’s just no decorum anymore as everything has become super searchable and presented as part of your feed rather than a part of a larger website community. I think the shift on social media spaces to present the media you engage with as being personalized and tailored just for you has really destroyed any sense of actual community online--because it’s just “for you” and not a part of anything greater. Can you really say you’re engaging with others and a part of a fan space when everything you’re seeing is a part of an algorithm you’re forced to see?
With that, I think the idea of having an individualized space online has moved more to content rather than user experience, which I think has led to a lot of loss in many communities. For example, I’ve been on a bit of a WinAmp kick after stumbling across a ton of old skins while looking through old archives of geocities sites. It got me thinking about the complete and total lack of any real kind of customization with the platforms and software most people use these days. Your computer is no longer customized to reflect your personality and interests, rather it’s just a lightly aestheticized algorithm machine. And with this, fandom lost a lot of the cutesy little identifiers and fan creations that we would use to decorate our spaces and share with one another. Now, the focus seems to be on creating cheap merch through questionable Chinese manufacturers that no doubt treat their employees horribly just so fans can get their pin of the month for whatever disposable anime released before fading into the background of the next new, shiny series. I am just fed up with the strange, disposable nature of fandom I’ve noticed in more recent years (read: the last 6-7 years lol…perhaps not that recent). There is this FOMO phenomenon in fandom that I don’t remember noticing until there was a big rise in simulcasts. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the issue or the fact that so many people have taken to fandom as their main source of income, and so there’s this cannibalizing cycle of quickly having to pick up each new thing to pump and dump merch. I just wish there was more permanency and individualism in fandom and I think corporatizing art and the internet has really killed a lot of the longevity of most fan spaces. I really only see staying power with series that are over 10 years old or are part of an older franchise. Fandom has become disposable and I’m gonna do my damndest with those that I know to make sure my experience in it won’t be reduced to joining every random zine scam that pops up and abandons the fanbase as soon as they entered it.