Big Name Fan

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Synonyms: BNF
See also: SMOF, Superfan, Hyperfan, A Taxonomy of Fans
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A Big Name Fan (frequently abbreviated BNF) is, as the term suggests, a well-known fan, either in an individual fandom or in the fannish community as a whole. It was a part of the vocabulary that media fandom inherited when it split off from science fiction fandom.

This term was originally attached most often to well-respected members of fandom, particularly those who organized or worked on conventions, produced zines, wrote for zines (either fiction or non-fiction), created fanart, and acted as the liaison with professional writers.[1] Online media fandom has its own criteria for what made a fan a BNF. [2]

In recent years, however, "BNF" has taken on a pejorative connotation, and is often used to describe fans over-impressed with their own prominence who may attempt to use their popularity for personal gain or to indulge their own unreasonable whims. It may be said that the accusatory aspect of BNFdom is meant to democratize fandom, to spread the wealth of recognition around by taking it away from those who have much of it, there by linking it to the tall poppy syndrome [3]; at present, there is no way to distinguish whether someone is being called a BNF in the purely descriptive sense or in the pejorative sense except by context. In effect, to be famous is to be vulnerable to the accusation of fame-whoring.

Once someone has gained BNF status, other fans' behavior toward and assumptions about them may change, as chronicled in Nobody Ever Admits They're a BNF by Hope, an essay posted to the Fanfic Symposium that pointed out, among other things:

[...]Get used to keeping things to yourself. There are lots of things that other people have the freedom to say that you don't. If you love your show and say so, you're forcing the unhappy fans to like it or shut up. If you hate your show and say so, you're forcing the happy fans to hate it or shut up. Any opinion you might have is actually policy making: you are dictating unto the rest of the fandom how things will be.
[...]You can neither add too many fellow BNFs to your friends list, nor remove too many non-BNFs from your friends list. If the former, you're part of a clique. If the latter, you're a bitch. [...] Also, you must friend everybody who friends you, or you're an inaccessible elitist.
[...]Everybody knows that once you become a BNF, you have to drop all the friendships you've already made and make friends only with the other BNFs. Whether you have ever spoken to BNF Mary, you are now friends with BNF Mary. Even if you thoroughly dislike BNF Mary, and BNF Mary equally hates you- you are friends. Everything BNF Mary does, she does with your explicit approval, even if she eats babies' brains with spoons for lunch.
[...]any business you choose not to conduct in the full view of fandom in an unlocked journal is being unfairly withheld from the fandom-at-large.
Locking your journal because you don't want Aunt Marge reading your slash is also exclusionary. Using a pseud when your real name can be found online is exclusionary. Because you're a BNF, it's okay for other people to use your real name in public, and there's nothing wrong with other people re-posting your locked LiveJournal entries so the whole fandom can enjoy. You are public property.[4]

It is unclear when the pejorative sense of BNF was born; ironically, by contrast, the science fiction fandom term Secret Masters of Fandom, which is roughly equivalent, began as a pejorative but moved in the opposite direction, and is now a neutral word.

See also Mina de Malfois for a fictional representation of a BNF.

Lack of consensus

It should be noted that there is no consensus as to what, exactly, a BNF is. A discussion post [5] shows just how much opinions vary on what a BNF is. A sample of the various opinions shared there of what a BNF is:

"To me personally, a BNF is an author in a fandom whose stories are almost universally praised."

"I'd say, really, someone should be considered a BNF if their name is familiar to people who aren't interested in the fandom."

"A BNF must be someone who is well known in their area of fandom: well known for doing something positive, not for committing plagiarism or getting into wankfests or fighting at conventions."

"I think of a BNF as being defined by influence, someone who's accumulated a lot of the social capital that fandom runs on."

"BNF is more a personality type for me than anything to do with quality or popularity of fandom output."
Another version of the neutral meaning of BNF is provided in Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun (Random House, 1988)
"Monk Malone? He's a BNF. I thought everybody had heard -- oh, no, I guess you wouldn't. BNF stands for Big Name Fan. He goes to all the conventions, knows all the filksongs, contributes to a dozen fanzines. He's a household word."

And for a few fans, a BNF can be platform specific (mailing list, LJ or tumblr}, with some concluding that the last BNFs died off when fandom migrated to tumblr. The following are comments from several members of fail-fandomanon in June 2013 where one fan asked: "Who are today's BNFs?"

"Intellectually, I know that fandom is all about tumblr these days, and that the biggest BNFs are probably in Homestuck or Superwholock or somesuch. But I'm hilariously behind the times, and whenever I try to name a BNF I always come up with someone like astolat or speranza who was big in LJ's heyday but whose star has set among the bigger fandoms today. So, those of you in the know: who're the real powerhouses in fandom these days? What're they like? Why are they popular? Has the nature of BNFdom changed with the move to tumblr?..."

"I only had a concept of BNFs because people would link to their posts and their posts would start wank or be featured on metafandom. I have no idea who the BNFs are now, because I don't think there are any on LiveJournal anymore. I assume the Tumblr BNF's are the people who post the most for any particular tumblr tag and get reblogged the most, which is similar -- it was always the people who got wordy frequently in a way that appealed to others that became BNFs....."

"I might be old school, but I don't consider people BNFs unless they're famous for fanworks - fic, art, vids, etc. or organizing something like fests such as Yuletide or popular Big Bangs. Random comments or gifsets being reblogged on tumblr? Not so much. I don't even look at the names of the people who originate this flotsam, unless it's some kind of good original art....."

"Oldschool would be thinking BNFs are famous concom members....."

"[A BNF is a concom member] That kind of goes without saying, I thought, along with people featured in a lot of zines. Just thinking of internet stuff. Well-known makers-of-fanworks have been around since the internet and just moved around from mailing lists and dedicated sites and other platforms to different spaces...."

"What does it matter? People need to move on from this label, it's ridiculous and encourages a highschool mentality. Maybe this is one thing tumblr can be good for, and kill it off...."

"How exactly are we defining BNF? My own definition of BNFs were writers who wrote really popular stories with 1000+ kudos on AO3....."

"Anyway, who cares anymore? They're only entertaining when we're there to point and laugh at them when wank happens. As for tumblr, I can't remember anyone I've reblogged from. Half the time, I don't know the source of the material I'm blogging so I don't know how they can get BNF status via tumblr...."

"I'm in one of the biggest fandoms (and my OTP is huge too) and I'm on Tumblr a decent amount more as a lurker and I have no idea who the BNFs are. I know people who make GIFs that get tons of notes, but they don't start and rarely even contribute to wank or even seem to have much of a personality. I know people who have written incredibly well-regarded and recognized fics, but it doesn't seem like they get an undue amount of attention for them and they don't contribute to wank either. I do think Tumblr has changed the definition of BNF a lot. I feel like it used to be very opinionated fic writers, and LJ made that easier in a way Tumblr doesn't....."

....I'd say for the purposes of this discussion, meta is a fanwork. Also wank. Otherwise I could never have named many BNFs. They're BNF's long as they create something often enough that people know who you mean if you mention their name, and people probably know who you mean even if you talk about them without naming them."[6]

For some, it's still all about fame. Fame of any kind:

Well, you know, people get famous in fandom for doing different things. A person can become a BNF by writing something that everyone wants to read, or drawing something everyone appreciates, or vidding, or some other creative craft. Goodies are goodies, and people are more than willing to lavish love on anyone who gives them more of what they love.

People can also become a BNF for providing a huge service to their fandom community: running an archive, providing information that others can't get, organizing fandom events. They are giving people goodies again, but a different type.

But if you really want to be famous and you have no other goodies to give people, you can always try being such a raging dramallama that people can't help but remember your name. Consider it performance art. Everyone loves looking at a train wreck. But like other forms of BNFdom, many will try, few will actually succeed.

There are a few truly glorious BNFs who provide fandom entertainment in more than one arena, but really usually one area is as much attention as anyone can handle.[7]

Additional Reading

References

  1. Willis, Walter A. How to BNF Without Tears Originally in BEM #1, April 1954. (Accessed 25 October 2008)
  2. Minisinoo. SOCIAL STRATIFICATION and the "BNF" Phenomenon. Posted 16 February 2003. (Accessed 25 October 2008)
  3. Tall Poppy Syndrome on Wikipedia
  4. Nobody Ever Admits They're a BNF, by Hope, posted July 9, 2004. Accessed May 30, 2009.
  5. kettu. Big Name Fans in fandom_discuss. Posted 27 January 2008. (Accessed 25 October 2008)
  6. Who are today's BNFs? thread dated June 3, 2013; reference link.
  7. what makes a BNF not a BNF thread dated January 8, 2014.
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