Introduction by Kris Rothstein
Fans get a bad rap. Sure, there’s the occasional loony but most fans are level-headed, discerning and, obviously, enthusiastic. Everyone should be lucky enough to love something passionately, outrageously, unreasonably.
For some people, being a fan means little more than religiously watching a particular TV show or owning all of the CDs by a certain band. The most devoted fans need more. They seek out fellow fans in person, online or at thematic conventions. They may reinterpret their favourite characters through the medium of fan fiction. They may write academic essays on Aristotelian ethics in Star Trek or the influence of Arthurian myth on JK Rowling. These fans are actively engaged with their obsession and would probably agree that their fandom has been instrumental in shaping their identities.
Most fans used to be fairly isolated. Now that they can find each other so easily on the Internet, fan culture is becoming more defined. Enthusiasts of esoterica have discovered that they are not alone.
My interest in collecting stories by and about fans began with my love for the English pop band Blur. Through their music I made new friends, travelled the world, tracked down obscure songs, searched for the Holy Grail of rare records. Most people I knew listened patiently to my stories but there were a few old friends who thought I’d become a little strange. When one half-seriously described me as a groupie, I knew it wasn’t a compliment. What was wrong with being a fan, I wondered? Why were fans, especially women, put down with the derogatory label ‘groupie’? I noticed that when fandom appeared to be detached and scientific, like the memorization of baseball statistics or chart-topping songs, that it was taken seriously. Less respect was apparent for the intensely personal and emotional aspects of being a fan.
As a kid my fan obsessions were super nerdy. For a few years I was consumed by the history of the English royal family. I was especially passionate about Richard III, the fifteenth century king whose name had been smeared by Shakespeare. I visited the castle he lived in with his wife Anne Neville and the site of the battlefield where he was killed. I had a poster of him on my wall. When I was about fifteen I developed an interest in tennis. I’d seen German player Boris Becker play at Wimbledon and I thought he was the greatest. But I didn’t know anyone else who liked tennis. Maybe that’s why I joined the Boris Becker Fan Club. I got a package of paraphernalia in the mail—bumper stickers, buttons, pens. I also received a regular newsletter, which included a column for people looking for pen pals. I advertised and soon I was corresponding with girls from the USA, Mexico, England, Australia and Germany. It was thrilling to find people who understood when I enthused about Boris and my other favourite players.
In the summer of 1994 I watched the premier of My So-Called Life, a TV show so well-written, well-acted and achingly real that it inspired some of the first Internet fan communities. I joined an online mailing list where a small group of smart, funny and emotionally-aware people debated the meaning of every detail and discussed how relevant the show was to their own past or current high school experience. I still love the show almost as intensely as I did a decade ago. I’m still inspired by its integrity, humour and insight.
Things changed when I discovered Blur. I spent my days listening to their music, tracking down magazine articles about them and emailing fellow fans. I made some of my closest friends through Blur. I realized that being a fan meant going beyond loving a particular book or film or band. At their best, fans are extremely creative—they want to provide new meanings and contexts for the elements of popular culture they love. They create communities and make connections where none existed before. This collection of writing and art reflects the complexity of the relationship between fans and what they love. It also explores the ways we reshape culture and how that enhances out lives.
Rhee and Joy Helton describe how the comic Optic Nerve and
the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired them in hard
times and helped them learn new things about themselves. Rachel Rivera
theorizes how being a fan is integral to her identity. Frayn Masters,
Kevin Sampsell, Erin Stanley and Brian Joseph Davis offer sometimes
strange windows into the world of celebrity and our fascination with
it. Margaret Sullivan adds a little high culture in her essay about
the devotion inspired by Jane Austen. Jenny Fry writes her ‘Autofanography,’
detailing her progression from six year-old Superman fan to twenty-nine
year-old Smallville obsessive. Cassandra Claire shares stories
from the intense world of Harry Potter fandom, where her fan fiction
has made her a celebrity in her own right. Emily Almond is still looking
for strong women on the big and small screens. Beth Wiegmann provides
sustenance for a long quest. Cecilia Tan salutes women who love baseball
and loving hockey makes Doretta Lau feel like a real Canadian. Jim
Munroe shows an Eminem fan in a sympathetic light and Cathleen Conway
tells the story of how Blur changed her life.