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Introduction to Fandom

Updated on June 3, 2014
The Harry Potter fandom is one well known all over the world, even by those otherwise unfamiliar with fandom culture.
The Harry Potter fandom is one well known all over the world, even by those otherwise unfamiliar with fandom culture. | Source

How knowledgeable are you about fandom culture?

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“Fandom” is a term that is becoming more common every day. As someone who has been immersed in fandom for half of her life, it continually mesmerizes me how mainstream fandom culture is becoming. Still, even the concept of fandom remains a mystery to many people. This article is meant to provide a brief introduction to the world of fandom, but it is by no means all-inclusive. Fandom really does seem like a world all on its own sometimes, and it is impossible to introduce it entirely in one place. My hope is that this article will be a great starting point that provides enough information for someone to start learning more about fandom.

What does "fandom" even mean?

The “fan” part of “fandom” is pretty straight-forward. It means fan, of course. The suffix “dom” is used as a reference to words such as “kingdom.” In other words, a fandom is a group of people united together by a love for something specific, just as a kingdom is a group of people united together under the rule of a king or queen. There are all sorts of fandoms for anything you can possibly think of from books to TV shows to celebrities. Even the fans of a sports team can consider themselves a fandom. This diversity means that individual fandoms can be very different from each other, even if there are some similarities among most fandoms.

Social Media and Fansites

Most fandoms have some sort of presence online now that we live in such a digitized age. In fact, the Internet is usually credited with creating current fandom culture because of its capability to bring large groups of fans together from all over the world, even if they don’t know anyone else “in real life” (a term often shortened to “irl” in Internet talk).

With the dominance of social media these days, most fandoms will have some sort of presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. These are a great start for anyone wanting to get into fandom, as you can dip your toes in using a site that you already use. Social media can also serve to introduce many people to a fandom they would have never known about otherwise.

However, if you are a big enough fan of something, you may want to eventually look up fansites on the topic. As opposed to social media, which is used for just about everything, fansites are websites centered around one particular topic or fandom. The exact content varies from site to site, but you can usually expect to see fandom news, fun articles on topics of interest to fans, and forums where you can chat with other fans. These are great resources if you’re just not getting enough out of social media.

Canon and Spoilers

You might be more familiar with the term “canon” when it comes to literature. The word is often used to describe literary works that are deemed important and the most valuable or worth studying. These literary works are ones accepted as “genuine” just as the canon in fandom is the “genuine” facts as opposed to ones created by fans.

In fandom, canon is used to describe any piece of information that is an absolute fact set by the creators of the work. If it is stated in the book or shown in the movie, then it is canon. The contrast to canon is fanon, which a term used to describe information created by fans (and sometimes even accepted by a good portion of fans) that did not actually come from the creators of the fictional world or story. There can be a grey area between canon and fanon, however. Sometimes the creators of a work will tell fans a piece of information that was not actually in the work during an interview, on a blog, or through some other way of communicating. There is a lot of debate among fans about whether or not this is canon information since it comes from the creator or fanon because it is not in the work.

What will happen in future canon is considered a spoiler to those who have not yet learned the information. This can mean that it is information in a book that is not yet published or an episode that has not yet aired. However, spoilers are relative, and the term can also be used to describe any canon information that has been released publicly but is unknown to a particular individual. Preventing the “spoiling” of an individual is why many will label certain information with spoiler warnings if it could easily be seen by someone who does not yet know the information.

Have you ever read fanfiction?

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The infamous fanfiction gets talked about a lot by people outside of fandom, and it is usually in a negative light. Even within fandoms, some people refuse to go near this aspect of fandom because of the negative press it has received. While true that much of the more “out there” fanfiction can be found by those looking, there is a wide spectrum in the fanfiction community that covers just about everything. There is horribly written fanfiction, but there are also stories that will blow you away with their writing. There are some odd ships out there that will leave you confused (and sometimes scared for the author’s sanity), but the canon couples are always well represented as well. It can be a great way for both readers and writers to get even more out of the fandom and explore more of the world that they enjoy.

Cosplayers dressed up at a convention.
Cosplayers dressed up at a convention. | Source

Have you ever role-played?

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Role-playing is another common fandom activity that has similarities with fanfiction, yet is also very different in key ways. There are a wide variety of different forms of role-playing. Cosplaying may be one of the most infamous, with people dressing up as their favorite characters and meeting in person to act as if they are those characters.

Role-playing also happens using computers in a variety of different formats. MMORPGs are computer games (World of Warcraft is one famous example) where players create a digital character, called an avatar, that they move around a fictional world.

Text-based role-playing is also common, and it is this form of role-playing that is most similar to fanfiction. In text-based role-playing, the role-players write out their character’s actions and dialogue like they would a fanfiction except it is in shorter sections, they only have control of their own character(s), and it is a back-and-forth with other players. This text-based role-playing can be done through forums, chat rooms, or other mediums. There is really as many different ways to role-play as you can think of, and there are a wide variety of every type of opportunity out there.

Do you consider yourself a shipper?

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Shipping is another term that is becoming more common amongst the general public. “Ship” is short for relationship and is a term that refers to a couple. “Shipping” is the act of wanting a certain couple to be together. This can mean a variety of things from a person hoping that the couple ends up together in canon to the person just enjoying fanfiction portraying the couple together without any expectations of it happening in canon. “Shippers” are the people doing the shipping. Shippers are typically a subset of the larger fandom and not the entire fandom, although how much of the fandom identifies as a shipper varies. Many people support the canon ships and go along with what happens in canon without considering themselves a shipper because they are satisfied with whatever happens, as opposed to wanting one specific romantic outcome.

Shippers are often seen as more on the fanatic side in fandoms for several different reasons. Some will accuse shippers of caring more about relationships than other aspects of the story. Others accuse shippers of believing things about canon that are not true because they are blinded by their own feelings, such as when someone fully believes a couple will end up together even though there is no actual evidence for it.

Much of the negativity towards shippers actually comes from other shippers who ship a rival ship These sorts of rivalries are commonly called “shipping wars.” They consist of arguments amongst shippers over which ships are better and which ships will become canon. These arguments can get rather nasty, and many shippers choose not to participate, choosing to stick to just enjoying their ship(s) instead. Often, no one has the intent to hurt others or get heated, but arguments will blow up anyway.

Another aspect of shipping that has become better known is the idea of mashing characters’ names together to form a ship name. This is becoming a common thing with celebrity couples as well, with Brangelina for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie being a well-known example. Many, although not all, ships will have a mashed up couple name, but how often it is used varies amongst fandoms. Occasionally, a fandom will name a couple using a different method, such as recalling something that reminds them of the couple. The name can sound very out of place to someone who does not understand its source. If you do not know of a ship’s name, your best bet is to refer to it by both characters’ names and a slash in the middle such as this: Ron/Hermione. Everyone will know you are talking about a couple.

Learning More

There are many different terms used in fandoms, and many of them vary from fandom to fandom. To completely learn about fandom culture, you really have no choice but to jump right into it and immerse yourself. What may seem overwhelming and confusing at first will eventually become clearer as you learn about the fandom you have chosen to participate in.

If you have any questions about fandoms or fandom culture, feel free to ask them in the comments below.


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    • Deanne Victor profile image


      5 years ago from Bronx, New York

      Merthur is canon. ~Throws my arms up~ That is all. LOL

      Loved this article.

    • Haley Keller profile imageAUTHOR

      Haley Marie 

      5 years ago from Indianapolis

      Thanks for the comment!

      I agree with what you said about shippers. I don't get the people who get worked up about what others ship at all.

      Also, I do know about the term Word of God, but as I was writing, there kept being things I wanted to add. I had to stop somewhere. Haha. I was trying to keep in the most common terms and everything but not make it too overwhelming with unfamiliar terms.

    • fingerspoised profile image


      5 years ago from Methuen, MA

      I'm impressed that you were able to write so clearly, informatively, and with such nuance about such a broad topic in such a succinct way :) Many of the articles I've read regarding fandom sacrifice either brevity or clarity, and it's refreshing to find one with both.

      I'm also impressed at the small but important differences you made with regard to shippers; there seems to be a misplaced belief that if you ship something, you MUST be convinced that it is or will be canon, when in many situations it's simply a dynamic one finds interesting and wants to explore (that isn't to deride or to put down those shippers who DO want their ships to become canon -- we've all been there! That's just to say that it's important to let people know that sometimes, to paraphrase, "a ship is just a ship." It should go without saying that other fen shouldn't be screaming at shippers, "STOP SHIPPING [X/Y], IT'S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!" simply because it's rude... but, to add another layer to it, it also makes false assumptions).

      Also, just FYI, in my experience when a piece of info is stated by the creator but not included in the text itself, we often say it's WoG -- Word of God :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for the information. I've never even heard of fandom, but now I know.


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