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

{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.”

et cetera