With winter’s upcoming onslaught of superhero films flying across news feeds faster than a speeding CGI bullet, it’s likely that new fans of Hulk, Thor and Wonder Woman will appear. However, beyond the typical “fan” is another degree of complete dorkiness healthy obsession, known infamously as a “fandom.” A fandom is like a group of sports fans, except instead of sports they obsess over books and movies. These nerd herds usually arise when something with a less-than-popular past mixes with pop-culture stardom. Superhero movies are a great example of this anomaly in action. No doubt when the comic book of any spandex-wrapped city saver hits the shelves, some fans are going to be pretty excited. Inside jokes, plot-hole theories, and alternate ideas are discussed, and thanks to Internet forums (particularly Tumblr and Reddit), this information can be shared and compounded among fellow esoterians. Add on top of that a movie adaptation, and what is generated is a large, Internet-based group of fans promoting and analyzing a product out of mutual interest.
Though fans of a book, movie or TV show may talk about its characters, writing and stylistic choices, the standout characteristic that separates a normal group of fans from a fandom is the desire to expand the fictional world provided. A fan of the Star Wars films may enjoy them wholeheartedly, but a fandom member imagines different endings and tries to stretch the story beyond the floating blue credits at the end of the movie. For fandoms, there is a universe where innocuous characters are villains, fallen heroes are still alive, and the galaxy is in a completely different shape than where the films left it off. Though these concepts don’t often migrate from forums onto the big screen, they do generate interest and draw in outsiders who had previously been “just fans.”
Though it is cemented in the pixeled anonymity of the Internet, fandom culture is not an online-exclusive experience. Real-world tokens of fictional-world affinity are available every time you enter a Barnes and Noble or Hot Topic (actually, just a Barnes and Noble, since you are an adult). Doctor Who notebooks and Harry Potter neckties let other insiders know that you share in their interests and are “part of the club” in the same way sports jerseys do for team affiliations. Individuals have interest and passion towards a team, and take their expression beyond Monday night and into the real world. However, NFL, NBA and NHL merchandise and memorabilia are easily recognized by outsiders, while fandom merch may be subtler. Also, because of their typically quieter origins, fandoms tend to be less vocal and extroverted—at least in real life. A book signing or movie premier is going to be closer to a fandom member’s ideal experience than a stadium of cheering compatriots.
Admittedly, the concept of a “fandom” does seem like a reclusive echo chamber, and though balance is important in all hobbies and interests, the concept of an obsessive hobby or interest isn’t that foreign. History buffs wonder what would have happened if wars had been won or lost. Aforementioned sports fans engage in fantasy football, which is basically badly-written fan fiction mixed with gambling. Classical music aficionados will analyze Beethoven manuscripts and biographies until the composer’s secrets, including his favorite food, have been revealed (according to rumors, it was macaroni and cheese). There is nothing inherently detrimental with a passion-driven field of expertise developed outside one’s major, as long as it is kept in check. A fandom is a good example of a healthy obsession, but in a world of many intellectual occupations, the cranial quarters used to store Star Trek storylines may need to make space for final exam preparations. Nonetheless, look for activity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Harry Potter fandoms after the recent release of Doctor Strange and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.