When I hear the name “Tom Petty”, the first thing I think of is an old standup routine about Google that my old roommates used to repeat. Only after thinking about the routine do I remember “Free Falling” or “American Girl” or the Travelling Wilburys. Consequentially, both the Tom Petty fans and the Cliff Richard fans described in “Tom Petty: Temperance and religiosity in a non-marginal, non-stigmatized brand community” (Schau, Muniz Jr) and “Imprinting, Incubation and Intensification: Factors Contributing to Fan Club Formation and Continuance” (Henry, Caldwell) were utterly foreign to me.
One thing that occurred to me while reading, with this standup piece in mind, was that perhaps the fan activities we learned in class were not wholly sufficient: is it not a unique fan activity to learn as much as you can about an artist? (Or, in the parlance of that standup bit, remember where Tom Petty is from?) The Tom Petty fans make this fan activity explicit with a list of “10 Things Every TPATH fan knows” (Schau, 158) but this is classified by the author under a ‘ritual’. I’m not sure this knowledge gaining is necessarily ritualized in most fandoms, though, but it seems to me to be a form of fan activity. Nowadays, with the Internet in our lives, it’s not necessary to remember anything about your fandom– it’s easy to look any bit of trivia up. I can easily identify a hardcore fan by their memorization of these inconsequential facts.
(I once wondered how wizards in Harry Potter learned foreign languages, and asked two of my fan friends. Within minutes, they reported that this was not addressed in canon, but that no spell for translation existed, citing the Goblet of Fire chapters during the Wizarding World Cup. I don’t think any lesser fan could’ve answered this query so thoroughly.)
The other thing that struck me about these readings was that I don’t think I’ve been as big of a fan of anything as the fans of Richard and Petty are in these articles. I haven’t really made friends because of a particular fandom; I’ve only deepened pre-existing friendships by bonding over them. This is true despite how I used to work for anime conventions and was the anime club president during high school. During conventions and meetings I would only hang out with friends I’d already known, and honestly, being a part of them made me a bit sick of anime in general. (I quit watching it abruptly when high school ended.) But Cliff Richard fans, in particular, forged new friendships because of Richard– it was rather cute when a fan answered what life would be like without Cliff with the immediate response, “we would not have met.” (Henry, 171).
I’ve felt like a fan of things for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve really felt a sense of belonging or partook in traditions and obligations. Have I been a fan without being part of a fan group? I suppose the anime club did not count.
Perhaps this is because I haven’t experienced a “bolt of lightning” imprinting of fandom as described in class. I’ve mostly fallen into fandoms very casually– my friends would’ve read or experienced something, and I’d join in. I’d watch a TV show because it was on when I got home from school, and then become a fan as I watched more regularly. For any given fandom I identify myself as a part of, I don’t think I can recall the moment when I became a fan. Perhaps I’m permanently stuck in the ‘incubation’ stage of most of my fandoms, but I do know that fangroups exist for them– I just have little interest in devoting the time in finding them and maintaining those relationships.
Other things I didn’t identify with in these articles are the parasocial relationships and admiring a celebrity for having characteristics I desire for myself. I’m areligious and don’t admire any celebrities in particular. I suppose they offer me nothing in terms of personality traits I admire. For fandoms that are media properties, it makes more sense to me– I gravitate towards coming of age stories and stories that involve “special” outcasts (see: X-Men and Harry Potter fandoms.) It’s a common fixation, almost the entirety of the young adult fiction genre, as well as the collective works of Ayn Rand.
Although I don’t participate in fan communities myself, I do have a good number of friends who do participate in fandom– two of my friends, as I mentioned, are hardcore Harry Potter fans and run a Harry Potter roleplaying blog. It’s been interesting to observe, and I do think the patterns mentioned in these pieces have largely been followed by them. Their ability to quote J.K. Rowling seems pseudo-religious, and they’ve been on legitimate Harry Potter pilgrimages: they’ve been to fan conventions to meet the actors of the films; they’ve seen Rowling at readings; they’ve been to Universal Studios for the Harry Potter ride. One of them even flew to Florida just to go to LeakyCon, a Harry Potter fan convention, and attributes Potter for getting her through high school bullying (even though the stigma may have contributed to the bullying? It’s tough to say.) That sounds like a pseudo-religious tale of the miraculous.
Even if I don’t think I’ve been a part of a fan community, it’s been interesting being adjacent to fans who inarguably are. Also: I at least know where Tom Petty is from.
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