A Beginner's Guide to Fandom: A Fangirl's Perspective

In addition to fanfiction, fanvids are one of the most common creative projects that fans take part in. A fanvid, or fan-made video, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like- a video made by a fans for or about their fandom’s TV show or film. In many respects it’s similar to fanfiction in goals, but it uses visual and auditory cues rather than the written word.

Henry Jenkins commented on fanvids in a response to a widely circulated Star Trek fanvid. He commented that they have become much more common in recent years due to technology making it easier not only to make videos (using digital software) but to distribute them (using sites like YouTube). He noted:

“YouTube is the place right now where work travels from one grassroots community or subculture to another. There are real advantages to such a site since it results in cross-influences and more innovation, experimentation, and diversity, yet there are also losses to this process of decoupling amateur media from its original contexts of production and consumption.”

As with fanfiction, fanvids viewed by people outside the fandom can misinterpret or simply not understand what the fan is saying or why in the video. This is particularly true involving videos depicting romantic or sexual relationships. However, some fans have taken the technology posing this potential problem and turned it into a positive fandom project. A YouTube channel, Are You Watching Supernatural, contributes to fandom by making short promotional videos of Supernatural designed to attract more viewers to the show. Fans enjoy them because they are well-made videos that echo literary and social themes in the show and emphasize reasons Supernatural is great to watch. However, by targeting non-fans, the videos are also able to reach across the social lines a closed fan community can sometimes create in order to connect with those unfamiliar with the show and the customs and practices of fandom.

In addition to promotion of the fandom, fanvids let fans tell visual stories using methods unavailable to the fanfic writer. The combination of picture and sound produces a different effect on the viewer than a story does in its reader. For example, the video below (by KrokiRefur) edits clips from Supernatural of the characters’ car and pairs it with a song about a car-turned-serial-killer. A fanfic of this nature would be difficult to take seriously, but the video works because of the way she put it together.

This kind of video is what Jenkins calls a “constructed reality” video. The most sophisticated fanvids are not the ‘music video’ equivalent of a TV show or movie; instead, they use digital media to create an original story. As he puts it,

“…It creates a new story by linking together shots from the original series as opposed to using those shots simply to interpret or provide an alternative emotional perspective on events already depicted in the aired episodes.”

Another option afforded to fanvids unavailable to fanfiction is commentary on the show or movie’s cinematic style in the show’s own medium. For example, Ash is a fan who made this video to link Supernatural to various film traditions it employs in the show.

The resulting video is both entertaining and thoughtful to watch, as she uses the video to comment on Supernatural’s visual and historical ties to the Western, horror and film noir genres.


Searching on YouTube with a TV show or movie as the keyword is a quick way to discover many, many fanvids. One simpler way to do it, however, would be to use ‘vid rec’ communities such as this one, which is specific to Supernatural, or this one, which has multiple fandoms represented.

I would also recommend Deirdre-C’s fanvids. She ranges from funny to serious and is very good about matching clips to appropriate audio. She also has an ongoing list of recommendations which are helpful for me. I’ve found that often the best people to recommend fanvids are those who make videos themselves; they’re attuned to the visual cues which make a video great that I might only be subliminally aware of.

{October 12, 2009}   Wiki Wiki Wiki!

I’m sure many of you have heard of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. While it’s arguably the most famous of its kind, Wikipedia is only a single example of a wiki- a Web site created, updated and maintained by Internet users. Wikis represent a collaborative effort between many people who visit and contribute to the site.

Henry Jenkins recently recommended the new issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, which included an article on wiki fandom and Lostpedia, the largest wiki for the TV show “Lost.” Author Jason Mittell notes:

“The basic definition of a wiki—a Web site that can be edited by its users via a simple Web interface—suggests a structure that privileges particular possibilities of use and creation. While wikis can be used on a small scale to allow a closed community of writers to collaborate, such as in a class, an office, or an organization, a wiki becomes exponentially more robust as its base of editors expands, as with Wikipedia, the world’s most famous wiki.”

In other words, when fans come together in increasing numbers, they can create an impressive project that could never be done by one person. Fandom wikis often act as a catalogue for the canon of a TV show, book, etc. (Canon is the published or broadcasted factual information for the show, including plotlines as well as things like interviews with the authors and pictures of the actors.) This serves as a wealth of information, but because anyone can contribute it can sometimes be chaotic, as Mittell says:

“Wiki content can appear and disappear according to a single user’s preferences, rather than by consensus or as a result of debate, even when a clear policy on such changes has been established—and often such changes are left in place, simply because nobody within the community notices the edit. While any wiki does reflect a version of consensus among the editing community at a given time, it is important to note that it is often a passively accepted status quo rather than an actively negotiated agreement. Active and vocal editors will be able to trump less forceful and less active users, even if their preferences or opinions are not widely shared.”

Fandom wikis, such as Lostpedia, differ significantly from sites like Wikipedia in that they allow users to add their own creative content beyond the bare facts. For example, it may allow such original research including examination of themes or analysis of storytelling devices. This is where fandom really shines: they can offer creative interpretations, theories and interconnections that enrich the viewing or reading experience.


Supernatural has a very active wiki known as Superwiki, which has a Twitter account as well. It serves not only as an information source for the show but for the Supernatural fandom as well. It catalogues interviews in the press with the show’s actors, writers and producers by season; it also has an academic articles page that links to published texts on issues such as gender and narrative within Supernatural.

What is truly notable about Lostpedia, Superwiki and other fandom wikis is that they offer information as well as a chance for dialogue. Other modes of discussion such as forums or blogs are limited by storage space, decentralization (not everyone has a LiveJournal account, for example) and the inability to widely circulate theories without becoming chaotic. Once fans start to build up the content and membership of a wiki, it can become a more universal place for a fandom to congregate, speculate and discuss at length the material it shares an interest in.

Ashley Flattery is not a groupie.

The 20-year-old French major at the University of Florida, a friend I met nearly a year ago, is involved in bandom, a subset of general fandom that follows bands instead of a TV show, book or movie series. She follows Panic! at the Disco, but general bandom also includes Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Cobra Starship, The Hush Sound and The Academy Is… [Note: the ellipsis is part of the name].

Ashley Flattery

Ashley Flattery

“If you divided up all the bands, you’d have crossovers all over the place, so it’s just simpler to say bandom,” she said.

Her activities in bandom include reading fanfiction, following blogs of both band members themselves and other fangirls, and doing internet memes. She also goes to band performances when she can.

“Since bandom does have a live show component, you can meet up to go to a show together, and I’ve met a few friends that way,” she said.

According to Flattery, bands often cater to members of bandom because they became popular in the first place largely due to their internet following.

“They play it up,” she said. “It’s kind of a marketing ploy for them.”

Bandom is different from the nature of other fandoms because they are based on real people rather than fictional characters and situations.

“It’s a real person fandom, so generally we’re considered the creepy stalker person in fandom,” she said.

She feels this characterization is unfair, however.

“With regular celebrities, stalking kind of implies showing up at their house at 3 o’clock in the morning with a video camera,” she said. “Stalking in the context of bands involves keeping up with blogs and Twitter.”

While there are occasionally people who fit that stalker stereotype, Flattery said they are shunned by the rest of bandom.

“Because bandom doesn’t have the fourth wall like others do, we try to create one,” she said, “and that includes not showing up at people’s houses at 3 o’clock in the morning and not mentioning fanfiction to the artists.”

While people in fandom may write or create things that aren’t rated PG, Flattery said fangirls often have a strong sense of what is appropriate when interacting with band members. For example, she cited the case of a fan comic called The Gay Starfish about an obviously fictional relationship between two male My Chemical Romance members.

“It was extremely popular to the point that the author published it online,” she said. “However, she found out that a fan took that comic and made the band members aware of it. It’s at that point that she basically shut it down.”

Flattery said what she enjoys most about bandom are the amazing people in it. She feels the online community greatly enriches her life in unique ways because of the solid relationships built over the years.

“It’s a dimension that most people who aren’t in a fandom don’t understand at all,” she said.

While the bands were the fangirls’ catalyst, bandom continues because of the people involved.

“Originally, it was just the shared interest of the band, but now it’s become more about the community.”

One of my personal heroes, Larry Lessig, gave a talk to TED in 2007. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit devoted to discussing and implementing ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’ While not specifically addressing fanfiction, Lessig talks about some of the legal issues surrounding user-generated content on the internet, including remixes and fan-made videos. The video is 18 minutes long and worth every second. (Here’s a transcript, but I recommend watching, as he shows several videos.)

“In my view the most significant thing to recognize about what this Internet is doing, is its opportunity to revive the read-write culture that Sousa romanticized. Digital technology is the opportunity for the revival of these vocal chords that he spoke so passionately to Congress about. User-generated content, spreading in businesses in extraordinarily valuable ways like these, celebrating amateur culture. By which I don’t mean amateurish culture, I mean culture where people produce for the love of what they’re doing and not for the money. I mean the culture that your kids are producing all the time. For when you think of what Sousa romanticized in the young people together, singing the songs of the day, of the old songs, you should recognize what your kids are doing right now. Taking the songs of the day and the old songs and remixing them to make them something different.”

What he says here comprises the essence of fandom- taking something you see and remixing it purely out of love and not for profit. Fans create their own culture when they produce new and meaningful content to share freely with each other, and any person with internet access can join in.

Where this can get problematic is when extremists on both sides of the copyright law debate get involved. After all, fans are technically writing about characters someone else owns. But what constitutes ‘fair use’ in a world where digital copies are free, instantaneous and widely available? Lessig advocates two changes to the way we think about copyrights as they apply to user-generated content (i.e. fanfiction):

“First, that artists and creators embrace the idea; choose that their work be made available more freely. So, for example, they can say their work is available freely for non-commercial, this amateur-type of use, but not freely for any commercial use. And second, we need the businesses that are building out this read-write culture to embrace this opportunity expressly, to enable it, so that this ecology of free content, or freer content can grow on a neutral platform where they both exist simultaneously, so that more-free can compete with less-free, and the opportunity to develop the creativity in that competition can teach one the lessons of the other.”

This common-sense approach is one of the best proposals I’ve heard yet. Viewing user-generated content in fandom as a potential source of creativity rather than a threat to revenue benefits everyone. John Rogers, the creator of TNT’s “Leverage,” has an open-minded view regarding fanfiction (his response to this particular question is about halfway down the page):

“I think what TV/corporate media had wrong for a long time was how they understood the idea of a “water cooler show.” They saw it as making the audience talk about their show, on their terms. So any fan-created media is them losing control of their material. I see this more as the natural evolution of culture in a shared digital age. I will be blunt — other than the satisfaction of our own creative urges (and all that entails: the quest for perfection, artistry, craft, etc), our job in media is to give you stuff to talk about in your conversations, to integrate into your social circle in whatever way you see fit.”

Writers should embrace fandom’s creative possibilities and stop worrying about how to dictate the terms under which people like their material. Otherwise, their unrealized potential will be all that’s left to comfort them when the digital culture leaves them behind.

et cetera