Fandom FAQ

If you’ve been reading this blog, or following along in the Facebook group you’ve probably heard mention of fandom programs. Maybe you are a hardcore fan yourself or maybe it seems like this fandom thing is a totally different language. If that’s the case I’ve got you covered with the basics of fandom. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

What is fandom?

Fandom is the community of fans of a movie, book, tv show, band (aka bandom), or just about any kind of media you can think of. There are huge, long-lasting fandoms like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Dr.Who, and there are smaller, quieter fandoms for individual books, movies, or webcomics.

Participation in fandom can take many forms including fanart, fanfiction, fanvids, roleplay, cosplay, discussions, and viewing parties–either virtually or in real life.  Now that most fandoms are active on Tumblr photosets or gifsets are often shared as well.

A key part of fandom is that it’s transformative. These transformations take many forms, but one important one is to take one of the many media properties built around straight white men and expand the roles of women, people of color, people with a disability or those who identify as something other than cis and straight in the story.

As Katie Behrens says in her essay Why You Should Pay Attention to Fandoms:

The thought process behind participatory fandom is simple: “I really like X, I want more of X, I will create more stuff about X!”  At its core, fandom is creative.  Fans are inspired by stories to create.

Like any other community fandoms have their ups and downs. Fandoms celebrate together, get angry at showrunners together, and when the worst happens fandoms grieve together. There are the people who everyone has heard of, sometimes called BNF’s for Big Name Fans. There are people like community moderators and those who organize events like big bangs (coordinated posting of fanfiction around a specific theme) that help make the community a fun, safe place.

Fandoms can also have problem people from the regular everyday cliques to the idiots who tweet mean things to actors’ significant others because it doesn’t match the fantasy world they have built up in their heads. Luckily the internet is a big place and you can unfollow people.  If you are on Tumblr there are even browser extensions that let you hide content with certain words.

What is a ship?

Short for “relationship” it is a romantic pairing. Shippers are fans who support that particular relationship.  Ship Wars are more prevalent in some fandoms than others, but generally involve fans of two mutually exclusive ships (Harry/Hermione and Harry/Ginny for example) in conflict with each other or which one is the true “endgame”, meaning the couple that gets to live happily ever after.  Ships are usually designated with either a slash between their names or a combination of the two people’s names like Destiel in the Supernatural fandom or Klaine in the Glee fandom.

“Slash” is a term for male/male pairings while “femslash” refers to female/female pairings. “Het” is pretty self-explanatory. There has been some discussion in some various fandoms over whether “slash” should be used for canon same-sex pairings or not. OTP (One True Pairing) refers to the fan’s primary ship. BroTP is sometimes used to refer to platonic ships while NoTP is a pairing the fan is against or has no interest in.

What do you mean by canon?

Canon refers to things stated clearly in the text while “fanon” refers to things that are simply accepted by a large (but never all) amount of fans. For example, a relationship between Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks is canon, while a  something-more-than-friends relationship between Remus Lupin and Sirius Black remains fanon.

Headcanon is something that the individual fan believes to be the case, usually for something not covered in canon.  For example, your headcanon might be that the BubbleGuppies are the last of an endangered species which is why all the characters around them are crabs, fish, and snails and why Mr. Grouper is able to take them on such amazing field trips.

What’s the deal with fanworks?

Fanfiction is basically stories that take elements of canon and ask what if? What if these characters met under different circumstances? What if this person wasn’t straight? What if the apocalypse happened? What if this canon event had a different ending?  Fanfiction comes in all levels of quality from an eleven year old’s experiment with their first Pokémon story to published authors like S.E. Hinton, who has written in the Supernatural fandom.  Sometimes people who write fanfiction go on to become published authors, with Cassandra Clare being the most (in)famous example, but certainly not the only.

Fanart is art based on other works, the art can either stick with canon or re-imagine its elements just like fanfic. Fanvids are usually remixes of cannon elements, often set to music to evoke a particular mood or feeling. Roleplay is another form of  fanwork where fans take the identity of a character and interact with other fans playing characters of their own. Again, these can take place within the context of canon or in another setting entirely.

Is that legal?

Yes, mostly.  I’m going to play the “librarian not qualified to give legal advice” card but say that if you are not making money you are almost certainly safe. The argument as I understand it comes down to fanwork being transformative rather than derivative.  Fanlore has a list of creators who encourage fanwork and those who are really against it. And yes, the irony of people who publish works that are basically “What if Dracula was hot?” being against fanwork is ironic, but whatever. History has shown us that when privileged people write fanfiction it’s Paradise Lost, West Side Story, and official tie-ins. When women and other marginalized groups do it the work is dismissed as fanfic.

Isn’t some of that stuff a little um, mature?

Yes. There are a lot of fanworks whose content is more suitable for adults.  However, in every fandom I’ve so much as dipped a toe in these things are clearly marked.There is also a ton of stuff that is perfectly suitable for teens to admit they are reading. The best place to start looking for fanfiction is An Archive of Our Own and those fics are not only rated but encourage warnings and tagging to help readers avoid content they don’t want to see. Authors on Tumblr, LiveJournal, or other platforms often use movie ratings as heads-up to content. It is considered extremely bad etiquette to under-rate a fic or not give appropriate warnings for content that might be upsetting or triggering.

Where do I even find this stuff?

That varies from fandom to fandom, but your best bets are An Archive of Our Own (A03) and Tumblr. You can search A03 by fandom, by ship, and by character, and limit the ratings of the results you want to see. I also recommend sorting by “Kudos” which is when a reader likes a story in order to find some of the best known and often best-written work.

Like finding anything else on Tumblr fandom is kind of a crapshoot. Searching tags for specific titles or characters will get you started. When you find a handful of blogs you enjoy pay attention to who they reblog and check out those accounts as well.  Don’t get discouraged and remember it’s a community like any other. It might take some trial and error to find the part of a fandom where you’re most comfortable. If there is a lot of drama (aka “wank”) where you are it’s never too late to go looking for different people to follow.


What fandoms are my teens into?

You’re going to have to ask them, but Tumblr Fandometrics can tell you what is popular across the board. Try putting up a display board asking them to share their OTP’s and go from there.

Want more?

This handout from the 2012 YALSA Symposium has some great references and links to get you started.


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