Have you ever wondered about fandom? Have you wondered why you joined one? Have you ever wondered why a loved one has? Have you ever wanted to understand what makes it tick? Have you ever felt embarrassed that you're part of one---if not shamed? When someone asks you about your interests, do you ever hesitate to tell someone that you're into a TV show or movie or book or band for fear that they won't understand---that they won't get it or you? Then Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis might be the book for you.
Fangasm tells us that we can indulge our inner fangirl(or fanboy!)---and even let her out. It explores in depth what it is to be in a fandom---in particular the Supernatural Family---and that it is indeed something to celebrate. Fangasm explains that we seek out community for various reasons---to feel validated, to be free, and to become our real selves---the ones that we may have been hiding from our whole lives. It tells us why we seek out those that get it and to accept all the quirks that come with belonging to a fandom.
This is an intimate look inside at both the fandom and the creative team that makes Supernatural---but what makes Fangasm so appealing is it can apply to any fandom.
We all want to belong. We all want to feel validated. We all want to be someone. We all want to be happy. It's one reason why we become fans of something---be it sports, TV shows, movies, or music. It allows us to belong, to be validated, to be someone---to be happy. It's why people---especially women---become part of fandoms. It allows us to form bonds and communities, to unite around something bigger than ourselves, and to find our place in the world where we're safe.
And yet, most of us in fandoms have a sense of shame---that as safe as we feel in fandom, we make it our priority to keep fandom life and real life separate at all cost. It's as if the real self we're cultivating in fandom cannot meet our prim and proper or responsible real life self. It's much like the George Costanza quote, “If Relationship George walks through that door, he will KILL Independent George!”
Shame is a big component to being a fangirl. It's as if we're a dangerous element that is in need of suppression---hence why much of it falls under Rule #1: Don't talk about fandom. Many of us simply don't talk about fandom with others outside of fandom. We are secretive about it because we feel shame for being a fangirl for many reasons. Social norms dictate that we're to be responsible or about taking care of others. In many ways, that can be an isolating experience, keeping us so busy that we have no time to make friendships last or meaningful. We're expected to make sacrifices for others---put their wants and needs above our own---and in many ways make do without our own happiness. Selfish behavior of any kind---even if it's harmless like enjoying our favorite show or talking about it---is to be avoided at all cost and once indulged in we should feel the proper amount of guilt as if to balance things.
Fangasm turns this notion totally on its head.
Geek culture, as of late, has become a bigger piece of the mainstream landscape. Shows such as The Big Bang Theory and superhero franchises such as Iron Man are huge hits with a wide range of age, gender, and geek interest levels. Even so, the concept of fandom---and attempting to understand it---are relatively new. It's murky at times. What we are passionate about makes TPTB (The Powers That Be) money, certainly---but with the internet now such a large component of fandom, it's harder and harder to control the fandoms that spring up around various shows/sports/movies.
That message being sold in the form of a TV show/movie/book has now been disseminated into several forms and concepts---by fans for other fans. People create and share fanfic or fanart. Fanvids are extremely popular. Meta discussions are done between fans on websites, LJ, Facebook, and a host of other platforms---all without interference from official sources.
Fandom comes in such a rainbow of varieties. There's fans who have nothing to do with shipping (or relationships between characters). Some focus intensely on them. There's slash fans that pair same sex (mostly male) characters together. There's communities within communities in fandom, and it's what makes fandom such an exciting and vibrant place to be. There's a place in it for each of us!
And yet, we're all somewhat that “Independent George,” waiting for “Relationship George” to storm in and ruin everything.
Fangasm straddles both of these sides at times, trying to celebrate their fangirl natures while studying the whys and hows fandom exists. It's a fantastic journey that leads Larsen and Zubernis to the very heart of the Supernatural fandom---and its creative team (ie on set). In many ways, each of us can take that story and apply it to our own experiences in fandom---no matter which sandbox we play in. Each of us are divided in some way when it comes to fandom.
All of us are fans in some way of something and each of us indulge in that fannish activity in our own ways. Some of us just watch or read. Some of us write about it. Some of us create crafts or other projects to show our celebration. But our other self is that of the everyday---the responsible side, the adult side. We're employees or students or mothers or fathers. We're expected to be adult and concerned with our responsibilities.
And much like Larsen and Zubernis, we must find that balance to achieve that Fangasm we're all after.
Fangasm tells us, without apology, that it is more than okay to be a fangirl. By reading about their own issues and difficulties to come to that realization themselves, we can see ourselves and know it to be our truth, too. They talk about everything from dealing with friendships stretched and broken to difficulty with family and fandom balances. They tell us how hard it is to juggle the inner fangirl waiting to be let out with the responsible and professional adult we project to the world.
And throughout it all, they keep reminding us that no matter what, that fandom is okay.
They explain to us that fandom is a community, and that when we join that community, we can find ourselves among like minded people that will understand not only our passion and love for our particular fannish interest, they will understand that our relationship with that fannish pursuit also can inspire and help us in our everyday mundane life. Not only do they validate our fannish interests---they tell us that accepting it is good for our happiness. It's no so much just fandom itself that's the key here. It's what fandom stands for that is necessary: being happy with who we really are.
They highlight several powerful fangirl responses to what fandom means to them. Some talk about how they grew and learned due to the community they had found in fandom. Some talked about how they no longer needed depression medication because fandom gave them what the drugs couldn't anyways: a sense of belonging. Some told tales about getting through dark times---such as an illness or a loved one's illness/death. All of these moments resonate, reminding us what fandom really means.
To those on the outside of fandoms, it seems a trivial matter---childish, silly, and perhaps crazy. To outsiders, fandom couldn't possibly mean any of those things to us. There's no way being a fan of something as silly as a TV show could bring such impact to anyone's life.
But they'd be wrong.
Fangasm shows us that it does indeed validate not only us as fangirls—but the creative team out there making our favorite show. With the internet connecting fans and creative teams more and more often, we are seeing that there is a mutual appreciation on both sides. They're just as thrilled that we're fans as we are to be fans.
What Fangasm wants do more than anything with their book is stamp out the shame and misunderstanding that surrounds fandoms, fangirls/fanboys, and the rest of the world. Many fangirls are stereotyped as being crazy, out of touch with reality, and a danger. It is this that makes many fangirls nervous and hesitant to embrace who they are.
It's this that makes being a fangirl some dirty secret---for the so-called First Rule of Fandom: Never Talk About Fandom to take shape.
It's ironic that we are allowed to indulge in sports and being sports fans by and large, but anything outside of that concept is considered controversial. Fangasm is shedding a light on that fact, showing us that not only are fangirls smart, witty, passionate, and wonderful---they’re also real. They are grounded and perceptive. They are creative and supportive. They can bring greatness to the world around them.
That doesn't mean that Fangasm shies away from those darker sides of fandom---known to anyone in a fandom as wank. They acknowledge its existence, addressing it openly and carefully through their own experience. Much like addressing fandom and its existence itself, we as fans must address wank and its root causes if we are ever to find a way to lessen or stop it.
Most of all, what Fangasm teaches us is that there is no “wrong” way to be in fandom. What works for one person---writing gen fiction or meta analysis---might not work for another---someone who prefers slash or fanart. Fangasm instead tells us how thinking or doubting our fellow fangirls can lead to the anger and resentment---that rather we should celebrate each of our individual contributions to fandom.
Fandom comes in many different shapes and sizes. It comes in many different shades. That's what makes fandom such an exciting community. Its wide variety and different landscapes make it full of infinite possibilities. We all get back what we put into it in some way. Each of us bring something to the table, and each of us approach fandom differently for our own reasons. By embracing that, each of us can truly find our own Fangasm.
Fangasm demonstrates beautifully over and over again just how we're all in the same boat. We just want to be validated. We just want to enjoy the fun and freedom fandoms allot us. We want people to understand that we're not crazy or over-sexed or silly. We're intelligent. We have something to offer the world.
As a fangirl myself, I was shocked by how much I felt these feelings of shame---seemingly without knowing it. I remember getting into Supernatural, and treading carefully into the fandom waters. Sure, this wasn't my first fandom. I'd been a part of The X-Files and Inuyasha fandoms prior---but I had no idea I felt shame for each one and each one a different way.
It's not that these things were bad or that I was bad for liking them. It was that I liked something so much and that it made me happy that made me feel shame. In hindsight, I see that shame as a direct result of feeling selfish for following my interest so passionately and indulging in it. Rationally, I know I have nothing to feel shame about---but this book told me why I did and how to rethink it.
I'm also discovering, that fandom hasn't reached its full potential. Not by a long shot. We all spend so much time in our own heads, shaming ourselves, and when it finally leaks out or bursts forward, guess what. We start shaming each other, attack dog style, looking to climb the way up the mountain on the backs of everyone else. We want to belong, to be involved in something, to be validated---but we also want to push our own shame on to others because we can't stand it anymore.
I see it all the time in fandom. It's how wank wars start. Someone is angry at a fan for saying something or writing something or whatever---and the next thing we know it's Wank War!
Personally, it's why I think every single fan of ANYTHING must read this book. It's the only way we can, as fandoms, acknowledge our own shame, see it for what it is, and address it. It's the only way we can understand that our shame is misguided, and while we feel it, we have to do something to counter it, to change it. If not, then we will see the same thing happen in every single fandom that ever exists: the infighting, the backstabbing, and the resentment that only festers. If we don't handle our own shame as individuals, there's no way we can as a collective handle our shame.
I'm also amazed by what I learned about the creative people and how they feel about fans. I'm not surprised that they really didn't think too much about what we do in fandom until confronted by it. I'm pleased that they were willing to embrace it so much. I'm not sure about other fandoms, but Supernatural has really found ways to bridge the gap between us and make us all part of one group---they're almost as much a fan of us as we are of them. I felt that when I met Robbie Thompson for instance.
Am I stunned that TPTB in the end turned against the book? Nope. Saw that coming a mile away. After all, they want us to embrace our passion if they can control every aspect of it and they can make money from it. But am I ever glad someone else found this book---and its predecessor---worth publishing. We need the truth out there. We as fangirls need to know we're okay, and Fangasm tells us that explicitly.
Thanks so ever much to Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis for writing this book. I needed it.
If anything, fandoms give us each something special that no other community seems to do: ourselves.