Fandom—the mental, digital, and physical space for fans to enjoy the heck out of a piece of pop culture—gets a bad rap sometimes. But the truth is, diehard Trekkers (never Trekkies, please), Potterheads, Whedonites, and their peers aren’t just connoisseurs of a given body of work. Whether dressing up for San Diego Comic-Con, reading fanfiction at the Archive of Our Own, or just proclaiming the awesomeness of a given movie, book, or TV show, fans’ allegedly geeky pursuits are all directed towards the same endpoint: community.
It’s not hard to love something in your own mind, but where’s the fun in that? When you stumble on a character you want to learn from (or at least speak as wittily as), or you start to wonder how much of the story is happening offscreen, or you see your own world reflected on the page, you’re all but guaranteed that someone else feels the same way. And together, you can explore whatever has you both so intrigued.
Those connections aren’t just the start of individual friendships. The power and potential of whatever we’re watching, reading, or listening to brings fans together and gives fandom shape. That’s the gateway to the best kinds of superficial excitement, new realms of academic thought, and creative exercises beyond what the original authors and creators could have imagined. There’s value in pop culture beyond entertainment, and having fellow fans to share (or debate) your discoveries with only compounds that value.
That’s the reason so much fandom action happens online. Not only can fan communities connect at the click of a mouse, but everyone has a voice on the Internet. It’s also the perfect place to build movements around a common interest—look at fans of NBC’s Chuck rallying for Subway sponsorship of their favorite TV show, Hunger Games aficionados banding together against real-world hunger, or Browncoats screening their favorite movie in support of its creator’s favorite charities.
Of course, Mr. Burns’ handful of “post-electric” survivors don’t have Internet access, or even much of a fanbase on hand. But even still, their appreciation for The Simpsons brings them together in spite (or perhaps because) of the world around them. They welcome a new member to their circle when he offers up some trivia they’d forgotten. In later acts, the act of being fans—of recalling and retelling Bart’s adventures and considering what these stories mean to their audiences—literally becomes our heroes’ livelihood*. And throughout the play, fandom gives the group a common cause to work off of—for basic survival, for income, and for the rebuilding of humanity.
Because, at its heart, fandom is about building community.
*Of course, in the event of an actual apocalypse, you may be better off having fans of the Terminator franchise or I Am Legend on your team.
~Allison Ehrich Bernstein, Working Group Member