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Fan Identity and Social Media (In Progress, mySLC ate the second half of this post)

Trekkies are fans of Star Trek.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, when inception of the Trek fandom, fan participation was limited to small, local gatherings, printed fanzines distributed through mailing lists compiled at these gatherings or via word of mouth. Some fans were also interested in other science fiction shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Some were activists, marching on the NBC studios in Burnank to support the shows renewal. Some wrote fanfiction, or drew fanart, to publish in zines. Some attended those small, local gathers, and some helped those small gatherings to become huge ones.

This is the fandom identity. Affection for a certain work of media, and how one chooses to express that love as part of a larger community.

Now, we factor in the internet.

Suddenly, there is the ability to make millions of connections with the click of a mouse. The thousands of Fanfiction.net or AO3 users looking in the Kirk/Spock tag can read your fanfiction. Your artwork is being circulated on Tumblr with tens of thousands of notes, people you don’t know nor will you ever meet commenting on it, sharing it, and passing it along. People who aren’t even INTO Star Trek are seeing it by virtue of following people who do. You can sign up for twenty online fanzines in no time, contribute to them as well. Your peers are thinking and writing critically abut feminism and representation, so in turn, do you.

What happens to the fandom identity when you factor in a social media platform like Tumblr? What kind of identity to computer-savvy “digital natives” of our generation create when fandom isn’t limited by where you live or how many people you actually, physically know?

Fan identity can be broken down into three parts:

THE FANDOM

Given the scope and breadth of microblogging websites like LJ and Tumblr, which allow you to follows hundreds, even thousans of other people, all with different interests – fans are exposed to dozens of fandoms a day. Some they consider themselves a part of, others, not so much. So fans not only have an understanding of the fandoms they consider a part of their identity, but also a sense of the fandoms that others consier a part of theirs.

The thing you are passionate about is the center of the fandom identity, and social media has tweaked this – it allows us to generate additional information about other people based on what we know about their fandoms. For example: to look at the first page of my Tumblr, you would see four posts about NBC’s Hannibal, one about the video game Portal, two Parks and Recreation, two Elementary (a modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes starring Lucy Liu as Watson), and a some pictures about taxidermy.

From this, another participant can gauge my level of interest in these things – Hannibal is my “main” show, most likely, given the frequency of the posts about it (and my overenthusiastic tags), I might be a casual gamer given the Portal post, and I like Parks and Rec and Elementary probably about the same. All of these assumptions are completely correct, based just on the factual evidence presented.

BUT someone who knew a thing or two about Hannibal gains even more insight into who I am. Even if they don’t watch the show, if a post or two about it has floated across their Dashboard, they can make additional judgments about me. Most members of fandom know the temperaments of other fandoms – “Fannibals” tend to be a little macabre (supported by my clear love of taxidermy, good deduction fake person perusing my blog), “Sherlockians” tend towards the academic because their show is based entirely on deduction, “Whovians” are often fun-loving because their show is directed more towards children than adults, “SPNers” are devoted and obsessive. While none of these are accurate for everyone involved in these fandoms, it gives you an idea of how one participant in fandom (me) has had their worldview shaped by participating in fandom based in social media (Tumblr). Social media has given me an abstract knowledge of shows I don’t participate in, but allows me to still interact with the fans and fandom in a significant if simplistic way.

THE PARTICIPATION

THE INTERACTION

FAN PERCEPTION OF FAN IDENTITY

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