Of fandoms and fun

Or lack thereof.

A few days ago, inspired by a tweet that briefly crossed my timeline, on my fandom-oriented account I posted this:

Fandoms are supposed to be fun. If they become tedious, stressful, or frustrating, it might be a good idea to reconsider the level of involvement you’re comfortable with, or take a step back and look back towards what brought you to it in the first place. It shouldn’t be a chore.

A pretty obvious thing, isn’t it? Should be, at least; or so I hoped. Imagine my surprise when that tweet had gone viral within the first 12 hours, and snowballed from there. As of 25th of September, its stats are these:

Those numbers are wild (to me at least, which I know is subjective), but they’re not the point of this post. What matters about them is with how many people that tweet resonated. 496 quote retweets, and all of them are along the lines of “This!”, “A reminder for myself”, etc, etc. That, the level of engagement with that tweet, and the post that had inspired me to write it made me realise that what I considered a thing so obvious that it shouldn’t be said, in fact isn’t.

Which brings me to the point, and that is: fandoms and fun—and lack thereof.

We all know how it starts. We watch a show or a film, read a book, see a theatre play. Some we forget, others stir something in us to the point of looking for more: art, transformative fiction, a sense of belonging to a community that comes with interacting with fans loving the same thing we do. Some of us create, others passively consume, and both sides are equally important in order to make a thriving, supportive fandom.

(Let’s pretend for a moment that antis don’t exist; ’tis neither the place nor time for that particular can of worms.)

What prompted that tweet of mine was a post from a content creator, it’s my own perspective as well, and so this will be the focus of my musings. Please keep in mind that I’m writing about my own experiences and attitude towards engagement in fandoms, and by no means do I assume it’s universal for everyone (as my tweet proved, actually). Well then, we’re good? Let’s go.

So you like something. A show, a book, it doesn’t matter. For the sake of this post, let’s call it The Thing, and you – The Creator. The Thing brings you so much joy that at some point you decide to create something for it. You start drawing fanart or writing fanfics, and it brings you joy as well. If you share it with others, it may bring them joy as well, which is fantastic. The feeling of mutual screaming in joy over The Thing—it’s truly amazing.

When does it stop? And why?

I’ve seen so many people apologise for being unable to participate in all days of fandom events (or at all). I’ve seen people drowning under a bunch of stories in progress and real life responsibilities. I’ve seen Creators grinding out work after work until nothing’s left in them but burnout and distaste towards The Thing that once made them happy. As someone who suffers from and is currently getting help with occupational burnout, I know perfectly well how horrible that feeling is. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would do this willingly to themselves.

Fiction can serve as means of escapism. This is perfectly fine; it’s one of the roles stories have always had. But when The Thing stops being fun and slowly morphs into an obligation, something has clearly gone wrong. When, at the end of the day, you take a step into the current fandom of your choice and everything you see brings you frustration, why do you keep doing it? It’s one thing to debate and analyse, to discuss The Thing under a critical lens with someone who approaches it with the same level of maturity. It’s something else altogether if there’s a wall between you, over which your words can’t go but theirs do, and they are so warped that you produce hundreds upon hundreds of words of analysis the other party will never care about. The wise and obvious way to approach this matter would be to mute and/or block keywords, tags, and people that have soured your experience. I know that hate-reading is a thing, but damn if it isn’t an exhausting one.

You can like The Thing and never venture past that. It’s fine. You can like The Thing and create fanworks and/or meta for it, and that’s also fine. It still brings you satisfaction. But when a hobby and a cool way of spending your precious free time turns into something closer to yet another job wearing you out, that satisfaction is clearly gone. And if it is, what’s left to keep you interested?

The limit of the engagement with The Thing and its fandom before it becomes a chore clearly differs for everyone. Sometimes, it’s difficult to put The Thing behind us; at other times it happens on its own when the fire goes out. But pushing for interactions and continuous creation when the mere thought of it makes you nauseous, is simply, at its core, harmful. Keeping up with what doesn’t appeal to you anymore perpetuates the cycle of frustration. And there’s so much frustration we deal with in our everyday life that adding more can’t be a good idea.

It’s all right to step aside. It’s all right to look at what you used to love and realise you no longer do. It’s all right to realise you might still do but participating in the fandom of The Thing at large may not be a good idea. And it’s fine. The Fandom may be just you and The Thing, because at the end of the day, the most important aspect of it is that you have fun, that you have something that helps you unwind. The Thing isn’t a job. The Thing is there to bring you joy. Never forget that.