Fandom = Self-Expression Within Group Participation

By | Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Leave a Comment
I'm only one chapter into A Wealth of Fable and came across this 1955 quote from Bob Bloch...
The need for self-expression, the need for an audience, is the raison d'etre for fandom's existence, with science fiction, per se, as the thin excuse for a focal point of presumably mutual interest. Fandom is not, in my opinion, a way of life. Fandom is a way of self-dramatization.

Harry Warner then goes on to paraphrase Walter Breen's writings from the early 1960s...
He equated science fiction fandom with a wide assortment of other fandoms, tracing in them a set of common traits. When a fandom develops out of a hobby, Breen theorized, an in-group feeling becomes evident and strong, a hard core of politically oriented individuals attempt to take over and run the group. A pair of contrasting attitudes corresponding to 'fijagh' and 'fiawol' appear, in-group language forms, and cultlike features may develop. There's a tendency to broaden fanac beyond the original subject matter, and it may become preferred to mundane activities. Publishing or collecting for egoboo purposes afflicts individuals, organizations like the NFFF develop with internal dissensions, hucksters move in, cons and recruitment bob up, historical periods are found in the fandom, in-group mythologies come into being, and there is concentration on past glories. Such organizations cut across mundane class structures, Breen added. He found this as true for science fiction fandom as for the Circus Fans of America, American Numismatic Association, Confederate States of America, trolley car fandom, groups devoted to various composers, Marxism, bird watching, ancient music fandom, and homosexuality enthusiasts.

Leaving aside the heavy reliance on fandom-speak and the subtexts behind "homosexuality enthusiasts", I generally agree with the sentiments here. I draw a the same conclusions (and quite a few more!) in my book, Comic Book Fanthropology.

I'm curious, though, why these types of ideas -- since they have clearly been around since the 1950s -- have gotten so little attention and/or traction within fandoms. I might go so far as to suggest that it's self-evident, but I really don't think that's the case. Especially in light of the number of times I see intelligent fandom-studying people become surprised when comic fans come into conflict with Twilight fans. When I see them become surprised when they encounter cosplayers who are more interested in the 'egoboo' associated with the other costumers than sharing a specific love of a character. When there's a clear division between newspaper cartoonists using a traditional syndicate and webcartoonists doing their own thing. This all should be perfectly expected, based on ideas that have been around, as I said, for at least half a century.
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