I was staggering around the Internet this evening and I kept tripping over fan subcultures. You know the ones I mean: Harry Potter maniacs, Pern obsessives, people whose entire existence revolves around one rock band, fanfic addicts. It made me wonder about modern popular culture, which is to say U.S. culture.
I’ve read thousands of books so far in my life, and more than a few of them are in my personal Pantheon of literary quality; I re-read them regularly. I’m a lot less of a movie fan but there are a few I enjoy enough to see once in a while and know whole bits from, etc. And I spent years as a pop music critic and have been obsessively in love with a few musical acts over the years too.
But I’ve never felt the impulse to reenact my favorite movie, dress as my favorite character, go to conventions about some artist or work of art, write fan fiction, or in any way be a “fan”. In fact, I can’t stand it. It freaks me out! I remember back in the mid 80s when friends of mine were following some band like R.E.M. or the Meat Puppets all over the country and I was thinking “Great band, yeah! I buy all their records! I am yelling WOOHOO in the front row when then play in town. But FOLLOW them?”
The other thing that’s interesting to me is that the fan cultures I see on the Internet are all about pop culture, recent pop culture at that. You don’t see people getting together at a hotel to share their love of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain or Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Small fan subcultures like the Lord of the Rings folks balloon to huge size when the feature film comes out. And some of these, like the furries, are entirely creations of pop culture. No one dressed up as a cartoon animal and went to conventions about it until cartoon animals had been around for quite a while.
I don’t want to get too McLuhan about it, but it seems that fan subcultures are linked very closely with television and movies, as though these groups of people imprinted on a visual image like baby ducks. Does fandom push our parent/child button or something?