The Alchemy of Fandom

Fandom grows up around all sorts of things. I have long argued that ‘geek’ (or whichever similar term you prefer) is a label that can be applied more widely than it is – it’s just that sports geeks, or fashion geeks, are somehow more accepted, even if some of us still don’t understand how you can be that into it. Still, it’s quite common for people to look at the work and fervour of devoted fandoms and think – all this, over that?

It’s ‘just’ a comic. ‘Just’ a tv show. It’s ‘not real’.
People outside a fandom are often startled, even made uncomfortable, by the depths of people’s investment in these frivolous things.

Leaving aside the “but it’s not real” argument for now (because oh, is that a post in itself), I’ve been thinking recently about the way that talented participants in a fandom can extrapolate from an original work, interpreting it and re-presenting it through their own emotions and their understanding of what they love. This has been driven home to me by works of the Homestuck fandom. Although the work itself ranges from simple, cartoonish art to rather more epic cinematics, the fandom takes it to whole new levels. What I’m interested in right now is emotional depth. Fan works can be imbued with a fan’s feelings about the original source, their own relation to it and their interpretations, and this can add a whole lot that might not be initially appreciated if one reads/views the source alone.

Take this example from Homestuck (warning: potentially seizure-inducing!)

What kind of alchemy turns the mad, loud, painfully bright video linked above into this?

Of course there’s more context. PhemieC‘s song above is also about the greater developments on either side of the psychedelic Trickster interlude – the angst and frustration and self-loathing that drive Jane beforehand, and the regret and awkward truths that follow in the wake of it. It captures the freedom of having no inhibitions while reminding us (as the original story does) that it’s not that simple; the apparent simplicity of this mode of being is poisonous. Everything in ‘Sweet’ comes from Homestuck, it’s not extrapolated particularly far from the original, and yet PhemieC’s song carries an emotional quality that the original doesn’t. It distils some of the six thousand or so pages that lead to this point in the story down to something that non-readers can understand, and conveys something that reading all of that did.

Not to mention, it’s pretty and catchy, while Trickster Mode makes your head hurt just looking at it after a short while.

I call this an alchemy because it really does turn one thing into another. The silly and light-hearted can become a vehicle for serious issues (as Homestuck itself does, overall) – or the serious and dark can become silly, as meme culture often transforms snippets from shows such as A Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. In the movement from original work to fan work, the fans put in a little of themselves and their fandom, their relationship with the show or it’s characters (cf: shipping!). Some examples may be closer or further from the original intent (see again: shipping), but I find it fascinating how good fan art, music or fiction can convey how someone feels about what they’re a fan of – and in a way that other fans recognise and relate to themselves.

Just a thing to think about.

Also you should read Homestuck.



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