The life of a fan is a wonderful one. We’re allowed to be stupidly excited about things in a totally un-ironic way and we have a rich, diverse subculture that is steeped in a creative history that may be surprising to some when you look further back into the history of modern ‘fandom’.
So where did ‘fandom’ begin?
Sherlock Holmes fans are widely believed to be the ones who first created an organised subculture that grew arms and legs and started the ball rolling on modern day fandom. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off the titular character in his literary series, there was a public demonstration held where people publically mourned the death of the main character.
They called themselves The Baker Street Irregulars and created some of the first fan fiction as early as 1897 and 1902.
Following on from this, in the 1930s when Science Fiction was at it’s glorious campy heights, enthralling people with the vision of the future that included flying cars and cities suspended in mid air (I’m still intensely disappointed that we don’t have flying cars, I’ll be honest), created yet another culture of people willing to dissect those stories looking not only at the “science” behind the futuristic gadgets and worlds but also examining the socio-political themes that ran through the books – and later films and TV shows.
From there, two main camps of “fans” appeared: the media fans and the sci-fi fandom. The main difference was that the media fandom created, quite literally, media and played around in the canon of the worlds that they loved by creating fanfiction and fan art whereas the sci-fi fandom were more focused on critical discussion and taking apart the science behind the things that they really loved and enjoyed.
What about today?
Nowadays, these camps are mostly fused into one with fandom as a whole often having a large part of their critical discourse – or “meta” – dedicated purely to ripping the show they love apart. In fact, George R R Martin, the author of the well known and very well loved A Song of Ice and Fire Series has said on record during an interview that he was very concerned about making a mistake by mis-stating a fact as his fans comb through his books in the greatest of details. For instance, he was pulled up on changing the gender of a horse from one book to another and the eye colour of a minor character.
The Supernatural fandom, in particular, is very good at looking into the small details of the show. A number of years ago, a group of dedicated fans (myself included, I will admit) got together and wrote a series of critical essays dissecting parts of series one that caught our interest. I wrote an essay about Sam in the episode Asylum which dissected the misdirected rage that he was made to feel by the crazy scientist ghost in the basement of the asylum which served as the background for the episode.
A much maligned subculture, fandom thrives in creating links with other people who have a common love for creative works made by others. That being said, you can be part of the fandom of almost anything – back in the day, My Chemical Romance had a huge fandom. Anything that could be enjoyed enthusiastically with another group of people who share your interest could be considered the start of a fandom. At it’s very core, being a fan is all about loving something and being part of a fandom allows you to share your enjoyment with other people.