I love the fandoms I take part in. They’ve brought me happiness, frustrated me, helped me through bad times and made me cry all while introducing me to friends and ideas I would have never met otherwise. While Doctor Who is my family fandom; the one I will always come back to, I also have Supernatural, Firefly, South Park, Kids in the Hall, and the Walking Dead. Each of them have shown me something and helped me discover a bit more about myself.
Recently, I fell head over heels with the TV show Chuck, and like the other shows I fell hard. So hard in fact that I took a step back to look at the process, how I went from scoffing a show I knew little about (telling my partner Chris that no, I didn’t want to watch it and that it wouldn’t interest me) to watching five seasons in less than a week. As I stared, I noticed that the process for me was the same for every single show*. It also bore a similarity to the five stages of grief if I tipped my head the right way.
*Although I wrote this from a TV show point of view, you can easily replace TV show with book, movie or anime. If it exists there’s a fandom for it.
When a death occurs, it is believed a person goes through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some people will skip a step entirely, and each step may take a different amount of time for different people. With fandoms we begin with an event or a series of mini-events.
A friend mentions a great TV show that they just started watching. They say you will LOVE it. Or, you happen across other people talking about this great thing on twitter or tumblr. With tumblr it seems like everyone is talking about it.
Step 1 – Denial:
You attempt to ignore the TV show, stating you don’t have time. Maybe you don’t recognize any of the actors or it’s in a genre you don’t usually watch. Maybe friends have done a horrible job explaining the premise. You may have heard negative things about it from critics or other friends. For some, the fact that everyone seems to love it is reason enough to ignore it. Time passes and some people, if pressed will move to…
Step 2 – Anger/Cautious interest
This stage can go one of two ways. In the five stages of grief, step two is represented by anger, but with fandom it may be replaced with cautious interest. This is often the stage where the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon can come into play. (Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some piece of information and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly.)
The TV show and it’s fandom seem to be everywhere. In the case of shows that have finished airing, this sudden revival may be sparked by a Kickstarter campaign, like Veronica Mars or rumors of a reboot. An actor may mention how much they miss the show which the news then blows out of proportion. Your tumblr feed is full of people talking about it; your friends live tweet the show. Coworkers talk about the latest episode around the water cooler or on facebook. Some people may get frustrated at this point and avoid the show, this is usually my course of action. I will eventually give in, but it could take a long time.
For some, this often leads to an inevitable screening of an episode of the TV show while at a friend’s house. Your friend may even make a point of picking the best episode to get you hooked. Friends sometimes know what you like better than you do. The fandom may give them suggestions to hook new fans. Doctor Who is full of suggestions for the best place to start or to introduce a new fan.
You may or may not admit you enjoyed it. You may downplay how MUCH you enjoyed it.
Step 3 – Bargaining:
This is where friends are often the tipping point.
“I’ll give it a chance,” you say to friends. “But, if I watch an episode of Sherlock, you need to give Downton Abbey a try.”
Whether due to peer pressure, or curiosity you finally cave. You may still be very reserved about it. Maybe you don’t want to appear too keen, because what if you’re wrong? You may bargain with them to get them to watch a show you enjoy. This stage may immediately lead to binge watching. Friends of soon-to-be new fans should be careful at this stage to encourage but not overwhelm. Keep your opinions about other shows to yourself. You watch the TV show, it’s as good as everyone says…
Step 4 – Depression:
You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
You’ve run out of creator made content, now what? If the show is still airing, you probably have to wait for the next episode. If the show is off the air, some people will stop here, they will only consume creator made material and be perfectly content with that. That’s okay, not everyone treats fandom the same way. You are still just as much a part of the fandom if you choose to be.
Others will start to look around and ask questions, they feel connected to the show and want it to continue. They may want to “fix” parts of it, they may just want more of a character’s backstory. Watching the show may have helped them through a difficult time and now it’s over. At this point you may already be at step five…
Step 5 – Acceptance/Part of the fandom:
This stage may happen right away or it may take time.
Some people watch a TV show and after a couple of episodes feel a connection to it. For some that connection doesn’t happen until you’ve seen all or a lot of the episodes, maybe more than once. At this stage you may have created fanworks, perhaps in an effort to fix the mistakes you perceive in the show.
You may have consumed other fans creative works or both. You may have a favourite ‘ship, gone to conventions, met the actors/writers/creator. You may have friends because of the show or are looking for friends to talk about the show with. You may have a podcast, write essays, make costumes or began a hobby/degree/job related to the TV show. You may or may not contribute to the fandom.
However, you’re happy you started watching the show, even with the drama that every show makes and the bad episodes that air. You talk about the show and you may try to get friends to watch it. You may be the tipping point for a friend or you may start the process over again with a new show. Regardless, there is a very good chance that at this stage you have evolved somehow. Fandoms can change a person, hopefully for the best, and help shape their future.
Take a moment to think of how you felt when you saw that first episode of the show that you love so much. Now tell me what you think, how did it feel falling into fandom? Do you still participate? Leave a comment.
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