Laura Hale, founder of FanHistory.com, writes this interesting piece on how fandom looks now compared to the late 1990s/early 2000s. While she's not speaking specifically to comic book fandom, it remains perfectly applicable.
She does point out the difficulty in sorting through everything these days. Although she doesn't use the example, back in the day, there were science fiction fans. Then, they splintered into 'hardcore' science fiction fans who were looking for stories based on scientific theories and sci-fi fans who were more interested in Buck Rogers and John Carter. Today, not only do you have groups dedicated exclusively to Star Wars or Firefly, but you've got different factions within the body of Star Trek fandom. (TOS vs. TNG vs. whatever-they're-calling-last-year's-revamp for example.)
Plus, as I've mentioned on this blog repeatedly, things are speeding up, too. Which Hale notes compounds the difficulty of recording everything that's going on.
Not surprisingly, she's expressing a little frustration.
But there's a couple of things I might note to help alleviate some concerns.
First, with the digital technology we're using, much of fandom's actions are being recorded automatically on the fly. These days, if you hit a convention, you can snap pictures with your camera-phone and have them uploaded to Flickr or Facebook or wherever within seconds. Virtually real-time reporting. Plus, it's automatically backed up and archived for retrieval at any later time. When I was writing the portion of Comic Book Fanthropology on the conflicts between comic fans and Twilight fans at Comic-Con International, it was insanely easy to not only dig up one- and two-year-old quotes made at the time, but I was able to find dozens of pictures documenting some of the protesters. The documentation was done at the time, and retrieving it was simply a different process than it would've been a decade or two earlier. (Google-Fu vs. tracking down and sorting through old fanzines.)
Second, the wealth of documentation that's happening means that there's more available to work with. Trying to document fandom's happenings from the 1930s and 40s is NOT an easy task; I speak from first-hand experience here! There simply wasn't much recorded at the time and so we're left having to make assumptions and broad generalizations based on extremely limited examples. The older fans I profiled in my book were chosen, in part, because something had already been written about them! When some of the current fans I wanted to profile decided they were unable to participate, it wasn't difficult at all for me to grab someone else who had plenty of information about themselves readily available online.
I'm not saying that documenting fandom is easy. Trust me, I know it's anything but! But I think the larger issue is that we're living in a new society that's still primarily governed using the thoughts, ideas and mores of the past. One of the reasons I try reading the works of Henry Jenkins, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky is because they're farther along in understanding this new culture we're in. They're still trying to figure out the new rules, too, but they've got a better handle on them than most everyone else, I think. As much as I don't like Iron Man, I do respect the futurist mentality he tries to embrace because, frankly, that's where we have to be if we're going to keep up with where the planet's going!
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