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What Makes a Fan?

The other day I posted the claim that There Is No Such Thing As Science Fiction Fandom. It was as I acknowledged in the article, an over-reaching claim. But I basically stand by the point I was making that fandom has splintered into many specialized form and there really isn’t an overall fandom at this point.

Over at dashPunk, C. E. Dorsett posted a rebuttal of sorts suggesting that it’s not that fandom is splintering its that the term science fiction fandom has been co-opted in Fandom vs. The Scifi Channel. It’s an intriguing argument but, guess what, I don’t agree.
IMG_7614.JPGImage by jophan via Flickr
It’s a well constructed case (read it and see), but I disagree on a couple of the pillars which the argument is founded on.

Definition of Fandom

Now here’s a tricky one. If we can’t assign a precise definition of science fiction how do we then define science fiction fandom? C. E. Dorsett argues that fans are fanatics (that’s certainly the origin of the word) and that most people who are currently enjoying SF are really just enthusiasts.

Seems reasonable, but even here it gets sticky. At exactly what point do you move from enthusiast to fan? How much science fiction must you consume, how broad do your interests have to be? I have met some Doctor Who fans (and they were most definitely fans not enthusiasts) who had little interest in the larger science fiction genre. So they are fans of a science fiction show (books/radio series/ etc.) but they are not science fiction fans. On the flip side there are fans of prose science fiction who have nothing to do with science fiction movies, tv etc.

This is of course an inherent problem when you try to categorize people. They don’t fit into boxes very well.

C. E. Dorsett has a second condition however to try and define the science fiction fan:

Enthusiasts think they are fans. They get excited by the release of an SF film, maybe play some games, but are not defined by their interest in SF.

Enthusiast or Fan?

I’ve been reading it since before I was 10; writing this website for the last decade; I can quote you the history of obscure Marvel Comics characters; own a substantial scifi DVD collection; I’ve even got Star Wars action figures in my cube at work.

But I’ve only been to one convention (and have no particular urge to attend another); I’m not a member of any local science fiction groups and I would be equally happy discussing politics, general television or wrestling with you.

So then am I an enthusiast not a fan? I certainly don’t define myself by my interest in science fiction. And if I’m not a fan then you’ve defined Science Fiction Fandom to an incredibly tiny minority of the people who enjoy science fiction.

Confusing the matter even further is the dictionary definition of a fan:
a person who admires or is enthusiastic about a pop star, actor, sport, or hobby:

Which would put us all back in the enthusiast category. Definitions are difficult things and it always seems like you can argue them six ways and back. You can say that the general public is using the words differently to the way the fans have used them and that may be true. But the thing is that’s how language works. Definitions change over time and the common use becomes the correct use.

Science Fiction Fandom Exists and Its Just Like Me!

In the end then this definition works to the extent that it refutes the notion of a splintering fandom by simply stating that they were never really part of fandom in the first place. It’s a reductionist argument which simply eliminates that which doesn’t fit instead of seeking a way to acknowledge it.

And there’s something very defensive about that approach that I don’t like. It almost has the smell of “but we’re better than them” and oh I do so detest cliques.

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Eoghann Irving is amongst other things the creator and Editor of Solar Flare. He has a life long interest in all forms of science fiction and fantasy and a pressing need to share this interest with anyone who will listen. Find out more at his personal website

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2 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. This is clearly an argument that can go round and round!

    I certainly consider myself a sci-fi fan (and possibly a fanatic), however I have only been to a couple of cons, one was a 1 day con held in London in the mid 1980’s and the other was GenConUK in 1998 (was it really that long ago), but I was mainly at Gencon to help demo a game, although that was probably an excuse I used to get there. I enjoyed both and would consider going again if time permitted.

    I enjoy both genre and non-genre shows, movies and books etc. but always come back to Sci-fi. If something has even a vague Sci-fi hint about it, it will always attract me over a “mundane” show! Simply put I suppose if I was ship-wrecked on a desert island I would probably choose 9 out of 10 sci-fi books to take with me (and no the 10th would not be the bible)!

    I think that in many ways Sci-fi fandom has simply shifted online. I have many many friends online that form a real sci-fi fan (informal)network, people I simply would not have even known existed if it were not for our shared love of sci-fi.

    That is fandom!

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