Feb. 21st, 2002

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For all that I bitch about it, I really, truly like fandom.

I enjoy the occasional kernuffle. If we don't argue and fuss about things, how are we ever going to find out what other people think? If there's no conflict, how are we going to be an interesting, diverse, living community?

I enjoy being part of such a large community. I enjoy being part of such small communities. This is not the contradiction it may seem.

Fandom itself is a large community. We all have something in common, even when we differ on particulars. Some particular corners of fandom are also large communities. Harry Potter slash, for example is a large community. Joining the Harry Potter slash community was something of a relief for me. It's been a long time since I was involved in FPS, and the FPS world is in some ways fundamentally different from the RPS world. The anonymity of joining a list where people's first thought upon seeing my name would not be, "Evil Bitch" was a nice change. Sure, I don't mind being The Bitch, but sometimes I just want people to read my stories for themselves without having any preconceived notions about me as a person. I am not my stories, but I think the belief that stories and author are one is pervasive enough that people will read stories with that in mind. I also find it comforting to walk into a fandom that's already firmly established, a fandom that already has many, many stories. That kind of established fandom allows me to draw upon or react against other people's characterizations and plot lines in a way that smaller fandoms don't.

But fandom is not simply one large community. There are smaller communities within fandom, subsets, if you will, of the set of all fans. There are well defined subsets based around a fandom, a list, or a domain. There are more nebulous subsets as well, such as the group of people who might gather in a multi-fandom chat room, the people on my friends page, or the fandom people to whom I send snail mail. I enjoy being part of these smaller communities. I like the way they overlap and interact. I like being able to draw different experiences, ideas, and ways of looking at things from each of them.

I like, too, the way smaller and larger communities interact. Larger communities can lead me to smaller communities, which can then lead me to other larger communities.

Fandom is a communal endeavor. Whether you're on the fringes where all you do is go looking for the occasional article about your favorite celebrity or whether you're in the thick of things writing fan fiction and creating fan sites, you're doing it in relation to other people.

For me, media consumption itself is a communal activity. The way I draw meaning out of texts such as television shows, movies, and the personal lives of celebrities is through my interactions with other people in regards to the TV shows, movies, and celebrities. While I may often have the TV or a movie on in the background, and while I may skim the entertainment headlines, the only way I make some connection with whatever I'm watching on TV or reading about celebrities is by talking about it with other people. The TV shows I actually watch on a fairly regular basis these days are those I discuss with my mother (ER, CSI, The Guardian, Judging Amy), those I talk about with people online (CSI, Malcolm in the Middle, the occasional awards show), or those about which I read or write fic (Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Malcolm in the Middle).

The exceptions (Grounded for Life, Alias) are shows I interact with in different ways. Grounded for Life and Alias both employ non-traditional structures to tell their stories. The stories in Grounded for Life are revealed gradually as some member of the family tells them to another member of the family. Episodes of Alias often begin with the end of last week's story, end with the beginning of the next week's story, and contain some development of the ongoing threads. Storytelling fascinates me, and even more so when the telling is unusual. The unusual modes of storytelling are what keep me watching Grounded for Life and Alias, even without having some sort of concrete communal involvement behind it.

This, then, is what fandom boils down to for me: communal involvement and storytelling. The communal involvement is why I'm not just out there writing my fic and never joining any lists or reading the Live Journals of other fandom people, and the storytelling is why I read and write fic instead of simply enjoying the text as is.

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Ruth Sadelle Alderson

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