Not dead as a parrot, but not easy to find either

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Title: Not dead as a parrot, but not easy to find either (the first sentence of the post)
Creator: Margie
Date(s): April 15, 2005
Medium: online
Fandom: multi
Topic:
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Not dead as a parrot, but not easy to find either is the first sentence of a post by Margie to FCA-L to the 2005 thread "Is fandom dead?"

It is quoted here with permission from the author.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the rapid changes of fandom
  • mailing lists, forums, Live Journal, and balkanization

The Essay

Not dead as a parrot, but not easy to find, either, if they don't know to be looking for a different form.

The fact that the question can be asked at all in a fannish forum and get responsed pretty much answers it: nope, fandom isn't dead. But it's changed pretty radically over the past decade, and especially over the past five years or so.

This change isn't the first or last, certainly, but I think this one goes deep in some really fundamental ways.

LJ is a huge (HUGE) part of that, but it was happening before that, with Yahoo and Onelist and eGroup, etc., as people found it easier and easier to break away from the main gathering places of fandom to carve out little niches for themselves. First there were balkanized fandoms with people creating specific lists for specific interests within a show/source (pairings; genre like h/c, angst, etc.), then vanity lists, then LJs, all adding to the breaking down of wider fandom into smaller chunks.

I think that now, what we have is less "fandom" as a culture that is made up of many individuals, and more thousands of people each creating their own individual form of fandom, specific to them, in which they might (or might not) overlap with other people.

With the shift away from more public/shared space (Usenet, broad/general lists) where people had to agree to play in the big sandbox together, to a more private/individual space (targeted lists, LJs) where everyone has their own sandbox with total control over it, I think we *have* lost the overarching fannish culture, or at least parts of it, especially for newbies.

This is also due to the way "fandom" keeps growing, seemingly exponentially -- yes, it's more easily available to more people, and that's a good thing, but it's also more easily available to people who are extremely casual in their interest, which dilutes the feeling of fannishness, at least for me. It may be easier to find fandom, but it seems like you have to look harder to see the fans once you get there.

I'm seeing this, btw, not just in terms of LJ, but on lists as well, where newbies come in and don't even realize there is such a thing as fandom -- they like one show, they go to talk about it, that's it. It's taken the place of the water cooler at work, rather than being something they really obsess over. And they don't see the surrounding culture in any way.

(This also isn't new, although it's getting more extreme -- years ago I got into list convos with people who refused to believe that the fandom for a given show was part of anything bigger, because all they could see was that one list or set of lists, for that one show.)

Some start seeking wider fandom out once they find out about it, but for a lot of people, there's no point; they don't want to be "a part of fandom", they just want to talk about their show.

Again, that's perfectly fine, but I *personally* am not really interested in water-cooler-level discussion -- that's not what fandom is for me. That's what I do at work with my boss and a few other people, as we chat for a few minutes about tv along with our pets and our homes and the annoying new directive from HR.

Obviously, an even bigger factor than things like LJ is the fact that fandom got so incredibly big, so incredibly fast -- there just wasn't room for all the newbies to acclimate, or even to notice that there was anything to acclimate *to*. And the more people came into fandom without realizing that's where they were, the more fandom itself changed, of necessity.

The other part of it is a fundamental shift in how many people approach fandom. It used to be almost entirely a subject-based culture -- whether that subject was critique/meta (FCA), a show, a book, whatever. People gathered in one or two spots to discuss that subject, developing public relationships (support, disagreement, raging hatred <g>) that went private when they started to get too personal or OT. You got a wide range of people discussing things (or at least with the potential to discuss them), but a narrow range of visible topics.

Now, with the shift to LJ, it's become much more a personality-based culture. Rather than seeking out a central(ish) list where a particular subject is discussed,with a separate list for each interest, people seek out other specific people whose entire lives and fannish interests appeal, so as to read, or at least be able to read if they so choose, everything they say on every subject, and in turn they write about whatever takes their fancy in their LJ, trusting that anyone reading them is interested in everything they say. That provides a wider range of subjects per person, but a narrower range of people, and thus potential opinions.

(I base this strictly on personal experience, of course -- right now I'm on lists with a cumulative total of upwards of 5,000 fans [even assuming a good bit of overlap on lists within the same fandom], but most people I know who have LJs have anywhere from 10 to 500 people on their "friends" list, usually in the middle of that range. I don't know anyone who has even 1,000 people on their "friends" list, and certainly not 5,000.)

Of course, part of that could just be that lurkers are being erased out of the equation -- people don't add them to their "friends" list because they never say anything. That would certainly account for the fact that those "friends list" numbers look to be about 10% of the list numbers, given the traditional (if now sort of outdated) "10% of people on a list are active posters". But that still means they've lost the *potential* of hearing what those lurkers have to say, potential that always exists on lists.

Anyway.

For a huge number of people, the shift to "whole-person" fandom is obviously fantastic -- they like reading about people's personal lives and the complete range of their fannish interests, presumably because they like the feeling of knowing more about the people whose posts they're reading. The fact that fandom has shifted so enthusiastically to LJ is pretty damn good proof that this approach is very appealing to much of fandom.

For me personally, it's much less fantastic; I'm very subject-oriented when it comes to fandom, and I'm *not* interested in reading about strangers' pets, health, finances, families, favorite recipes, quiz results, jobs, and diets, nor am I interested in every single fandom out there -- I have a few that I'm very invested in, and that's pretty much it. So having to wade through all that other stuff to get to the particular posts I want is incredibly annoying to me (where for other people, it's very enjoyable, and is often the whole point of catching up on their "friends" list).

I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, just that it's a thing. But I found online media fandom a decade or so ago, and my first thought was "Oh my god, I'm *home*." I don't really have that feeling anymore, and I don't think I'd think it if I stumbled across media fandom for the first time today. I think I'd still like it, but -- it's no longer that place that's full of people *just like me*, who get intense about the same things I get intense about, in the same way I get intense about them. When I first found it, I could immerse myself in media fandom -- and did, happily. If I found media fandom today, I think it would be a much more casual thing for me, because fandom itself feels so much more casual.

So, yes, I think if someone who was (very) involved in subject-based fandom, where personal stuff was considered largely OT and was kept to private email, suddenly showed up in 2005 with absolutely no knowledge about the shift to personality-based fandom, where often fannish posts are in the minority among the personal info, it would be extremely startling, to say the least, and would probably require a fair amount of adjusting.

[snipped]

That's basically the shift that's happened in fandom. It's practically invisible to the people who were/are a part of it because it's a comfortable, natural evolution of fandom -- but to at least some of those on the outside of that shift, it's sort of uncomfortable and strange, and hard to adapt to.

References