When fandom was less mainstream

I came into fandom over ten years ago, when I was searching for more of Harry Potter: as a kid who loved stories and who loved re-re-re-re-reading the same books over and over (to the desperation of my mother, who likes reading new things and very rarely goes back to the old), I just didn’t have enough of my story-drug. Especially since, at the time of my arrival in Harry Potter, I only had access to the first three books. The fourth was in the process of getting published in Romania and the fifth wasn’t out even for UK people. No amount of piracy, buying, bribery or sneakiness was going to get me more of that series.

The internet, however, after a lot of pushing, prodding and kicking, yielded more Harry Potter stories. They were unofficial things that I downloaded from where my friends pirated music (internet connections were too crappy and expensive in those days for film piracy). After I fell in love with a series based on Harry Potter and pursued it to the depths of the internet, in the pre-Google era (or was it simply before we knew how to google properly?), I ran into fanfiction.net, the website for crazy people writing stories about their favorite stories.

Fandom was stealthy back in the day. If JK Rowling ever ran into the steamy sex Harry and Draco were having, she gracefully avoided the topic. The raging fans wanted to know more, not to impose more – in a way, I felt that there was a distinct break between creator and audience… and I feel that’s the best way to go.

Other fandoms I joined later on, with the most notable example of Supernatural, sometimes have a more direct relationship with the creators. Supernatural actors getting asked, again and again, how they felt about being depicted in various ways fanfiction – sometimes sexually, because that’s the most shocking. The shows themselves feeding the fans, sometimes by including fans, sometimes by referencing fans, sometimes by mentioning their theories and pet stories (Sherlock and Moriarty almost-kissing in an episode of Sherlock (BBC) springs to mind). Storms of fans raging about creators and the weird things that come out of their mouths when their brains are shut down (Steven Moffat, from Sherlock/Doctor Who is a favorite target).

Fandom is a lot more mainstream. “Did you know,” they say, “that 50 Shades of Grey was originally Twilight fanfiction?” And people find out. “Did you know,” they say, “that Cassandra Clare’s series was originally Harry Potter fanfiction?” And, again, people find out.

The academia, headed by people such as Henry Jenkins, with early interested people like Camille Bacon-Smith, helped bring it out of the shadows, too. Hell, my own MA dissertation was about fanfiction, adding my own grain of sand to the mountain. We – we, the fans, we the academics, we, the well-intended – have dragged fandom out of its status of a strange subculture, and now it is… just strange, I suppose.

I miss the days of quiet fandom, of awareness that shows didn’t go our way, or cater to our wills. I miss the secrecy of what we did – back when it wasn’t dragged into the open for a laugh at the actors’ expense. I miss, what, the lack of entitlement on our side? I guess I really miss that.

Or maybe I’m just deluding myself into thinking that a time of cozy, secret fandom ever existed.

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