What is Unconventional Fandom?

Katherine Celtics PrideLarsen and Lynn Zubernis offer a really unique and valuable story in their memoir, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. Not only is the story told through first-person recollections and stories, but it presents a more feminine standpoint on fandom. When I think of scholars on fandom (and I’ll be the first to admit, I only know one), Henry Jenkins comes to mind (his name is catchy). He is a self-proclaimed Acafan, which, as it turns out, is a legitimate term in fanlore. It literally means an academic who considers themselves a fan; Larsen and Zubernis most certainly fall under this category. While they definitely promote an academic message, Fangasm, from the very title itself, is clearly a lighthearted approach to fandom. That being said, it reinforces the impact that devout fandom can have on people. In a 2013 interview with The Chicago Tribune’s Courtney Crowder, Zubernis admits:

Fandom is a way people express and work through a lot of their stuff. When I was a clinician, I used to practice narrative therapy, which helps people rewrite their life stories and make meaning out of them. People do the same thing through fandom, through writing fan fiction or making fan art or any of the creative pursuits that go into fandom. I began to see that fandom was very therapeutic … in the sense that we all have to work through stuff, and some people do it within the very supportive fan community.

Zubernis’ claim is rather touching; it is hard for me to believe that fandom can be more than just the enjoyment of a particular program or character. That being said, my experience with fandom is almost strictly sports-related. Although I may not radiate it as much as other sports fans, my love of the Boston Celtics was planted in my being before I was born, dating all the way back to the games my mother used to go to in the 1960s and 70s. Not to make this too personal, but this Celtics fandom, especially within my family, makes me question how gender plays into fandom.

I can’t picture myself finding any healing or therapy in fandom of a television show. That being said, I don’t think most 65 year old women cry in excitement when they watch the Celtics play live at the TD Garden in Boston. I realize that sports cannot really be equated to TV shows or characters, but the sentiment is the same. My mother, instead of going crazy over some teenage boy, is able to, in a sense, practice “narrative therapy” in her devotion to the Boston Celtics, which each game she attends a reminder of her childhood.

In this way, fandom (in the broadest sense) promotes a genuinely positive message and impact, regardless of gender. This is not to say that the patriarchy does not find its way into the ideologies and perceptions of fandom. Zubernis continues in her interview:

We were trying to address questions like is it OK for women to be passionate about things? Is it OK for women to spend six hours watching TV like it is OK for men to spend all Sunday watching football?

It seems suspect that many men spend hours and hours watching sporting events, while some women don’t necessarily have that thing to be a fan of. I would be interested to hear how others have experienced fandom throughout their lives; what do you consider “unconventional” fandom?

Image found here.

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