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Feminspire | April 21, 2014

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Fandivism: How Fandom and Activism Intersect in Awesome Ways

Fandivism: How Fandom and Activism Intersect in Awesome Ways

Confession: I’m a Fangirl. Harry Potter, Glee, and Supernatural are some of the fandoms I’m most active in (and will therefore focus on in this article), though I gush over many other books, television shows, movies, plays, and musicals both in the privacy of my own head and to my very tolerant friends and family. I can quote large sections of dialogue verbatim, I have elaborate theories or “headcanons” about characters and events, I have cried over the plights of fictional characters more times than I can count, I have a special tumblr solely dedicated to my obsessive love for certain shows, and yes I am a “shipper.”

I’m also an Activist. I am not alone in being both of these things, and in fact participating in Fandom has actually taught me more about the diversity of human beings, social justice, and even myself than almost anything else I have done. I have met and talked to (or rather, messaged with) amazing, intelligent, and above all passionate people who care just as much (if not more) about real people than the characters they analyze and idealize so fervently.

Harry Potter is perhaps the biggest fandom in existence today due to the overwhelming popularity of the books and films, as well as the enormity of the fictional world JK Rowling created. You are hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t read the books or at least seen the movies, let alone someone who hasn’t heard of Harry Potter at all. As such, it’s not surprising that a major charity group, The Harry Potter Alliance, would come into fruition made by fans dedicated to justice. Their mission statement explains that the group, “takes an outside-of-the-box approach to civic engagement by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights.”

This outside-of-the-box approach has been quite effective. Some of their major successes include raising over $123,000 for Haiti, donating more than 87,000 books to communities around the world, and were selected by Facebook from a group of 10,000 other charities to receive a $250,000 grant to do their work. In short, the fans of Harry Potter took their love of magic and pulled off some real life miracles.

Glee’s fandom is also very large, and it has the advantage of being made up primarily of self-defined outcasts, and more often than not it is the marginalized, oppressed, and lonely who work hardest to do good. The show itself makes a point to engage with fans for the sake of supporting charitable causes. Earlier this season, as a part of “The Break Up” episode, actors from each of the couples signed tissue boxes that were auctioned off for charity to the tune of nearly $15,000. Columbia Records and FOX television also elected to donate all net proceeds from the sale of Glee’s 500th song to the GiveANote Foundation, and of course all of this money will be from fans who bought the song.

Glee’s fans do not need the Powers that Be to organize for charitable purposes, however. The Box Scene Project, a group initially created to campaign for the release of a scene between Kurt and Blaine, one of the main and most beloved couples on the show (a mission that they succeeded in) has raised over $70,000 for various charities along the way. They continue to raise money and work for equal and fair representation of LGBT couples on Glee and in the media as a whole. Considering the youth of the Glee fandom, this is quite the impressive track record and overall goal.

Supernatural’s fandom is small compared to Glee, Harry Potter, and many other followings, but what it lacks in size, it makes up in passion and devotion. There’s a reason Supernatural is considered somewhat of a “cult hit” and that is because of the devotion of its fan base (say what you will about cults, but it cannot be denied that the members are serious about what they do). The actors have a close relationship with the fans due to the many conventions they attend, and at those conventions money is often raised for charity through auctions or just calls for donations.

Castiel, Angel of the Lord, is utterly indifferent to sexual orientation

Misha Collins, who plays a well-loved character and is known for his eccentric engagement with his fan base, started Random Acts, a charity whose mission is to, “conquer the world, one random act of kindness at a time. We’re dedicated to funding and inspiring acts of kindness around the world.” As the name implies, they have been involved in many “random” projects, all designed to allow people to get individually involved in making the world a better place.

And finally, my editor, Jill, is a Star Wars geek and she requested that I give a shout-out to the good bad-guys of the 501st Legion. These “bad guys doing good” are an expansive all-volunteer group of (mainly Imperial and Sith Lord) Star Wars costume enthusiasts, with chapters all over the world, who attend charity events, visit sick kids in the hospital, and fundraise for various charities.

While I’ve focused primarily on major, highly organized efforts to show a quantitative measure of fandom’s goodness, there is a far more personal, less easily measured current of support provided for fans by other fans. Fans follow each other’s blogs, write fiction or create art for and with each other, interact on a surprisingly personal level, and in essence create a community anyone is welcome to join so long as they love the fiction the people in it love.

I have also personally seen the Fandom galvanize several times to emotionally and even financially help a well-known writer/artist that has fallen on hard times. More often, I have seen fans comfort and support other fans (both anonymous and not) in matters ranging from sexual orientation to mental health issues. In short, to be part of a tight-knit fan group is not unlike being part of a tight-knit community, or even a family. And that is unquestionably a positive thing to have in a world where all too often people feel alone in spite of sharing the planet with over seven billion people.

Of course, as in any community, there are negative aspects of Fandom, and even the best of fans sometimes engage in rather unfortunate behavior. Different interpretations of characters, relationships, plotlines, dialogue, and the direction of a series as a whole can cause conflict within the group. Sometimes, this conflict escalates to the point that people outside of the fandom see that far more than the truthfully far more common camaraderie. However, these disagreements also show the passion fans have for the things they love. And that passion has been and continues to be used for good, both on a large charity scale and on a smaller but just as important community one.

At the beginning of this article I confessed to being a Fangirl. Now, at the end, I can confidently say that I am proud to be a part of Fandom.

Written by Cheyenne Connors
Follow her blog, Just Your Average Liberal Feminist Realist, or her Twitter!

Images from the Huffington Post’s Jeff Bendery

  • Kylie Lacusky

    Disappointed to not see any analysis on the fetishization of homosexuality in fandoms (Supernatural esp) or how the powers that be in these fandoms (esp Supernatural, again), use queerbaiting to draw in fans, because that’s where the headline had me thinking this was headed.

    • http://twitter.com/epileptrick Stefanie B

      That is exactly what I expected the article to be about. I’m sick of people turning my struggle into a joke about their “OTP”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cheyenne.connors Cheyenne Connors

        As someone who ships and a bisexual woman, I can say that I as well as the groups/circles I’m in do not do that. We have our Fandom and we have our Causes and while they may intersect, one is not based in the other. I think the signs were a clever way to get attention/publicity, but I think their point/meaning was genuinely about real life people. Fiction allows us to explore other people’s issues/empathize/identify with characters. Thanks for the feedback, and I hope that despite not meeting your expectations, the piece was of some value.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cheyenne.connors Cheyenne Connors

      That’s another perspective on the source material itself, but I was looking at the fandom’s positive work. Also, while I do not deny there is fetishization exists, many fans care about the relationships and write fiction (erotic and not) to explore them. However, there are many such articles/writings that look at what you commented on. This piece, however, is about the Good Things, which I think matter just as much. After all, the whole orchard shouldn’t be tossed out for a few bad apples. :)

    • Sara Luckey

      That’s an important issue. Have you considered submitting a pitch about your idea and fleshing it out into a post so that the things you think should be written about or that you would like to see written about are put forth? You can e-mail [email protected] to submit a pitch, I believe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anna.mcfarlane.77 Anna Mcfarlane

    I found this when I was studying Harry Potter as a literature student. Here’s a paper I wrote on hate speech and Harry Potter, in case anyone’s interested: http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/341/rp_341_11.pdf

    • http://www.facebook.com/cheyenne.connors Cheyenne Connors

      Thank you! I am an English major so this looks like a really cool read. :)

  • Brenana

    Although I, too, have great faith in the power of fandom, there is a VERY FINE LINE between using fictional characters to help spread awareness among the masses and using said characters to trivialize and/or romanticize very real issues that underrepresented communities face. I often have to agree with the naysayers of fandivism when I see fellow queer people being reduced to Destiel or Johnlock or living fan fiction