Fangirls and Community

Weirdly, this post occurred to me as I finished Brad Warner’s Sex, Sin, and Zen last night, coupled with the exciting revelation that I get to go be a fangirl with some of my favorite fellow fangirls in April *bounce, bounce,* when Loaded plays the Revolver Golden Gods Awards Show (add to this Alice Cooper AND Avenged, how was I to miss???).  Anyway, I’ll get back to his book and his notion of the effect of personal choices within a community in a bit, but if I recall correctly, I was initially inspired by the realization that I am something of a Brad Warner fangirl (read all the books! link to his blog! *sigh*) and in that regard, fangirl possibly doesn’t mean in my head quite what it might once have.

Fangirl (per Urban Dictionary) [A/N– all spelling errors belong to the site/poster, not kitsch]:

A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions. 

I’m fond of the use of rabid here; good image, fits the rest of the definition, which seems to regard fangirls as a subspecies of Saint Bernard (read it again, am I wrong?).  I tend to use the term somewhat more loosely, as a female-identified fan of a particular stripe.  You sort of know us when you see us at a concert (yes, I have an lj, and yes, we’ll get to that in a moment).  We often travel in packs, it is true, and we are often a tad…let’s go with overwhelming to the uninitiated.  Couple of examples, all pulled from personal experiences:

At the Avenged show last month, I found myself, as my partner-in-crime observed, square in the ZackyV fangirl squad.  This was not, she also rather cheekily noted, an entirely incorrect placement, either (and not a bassist.  Who would have imagined?).  Now, I’m older than most of the denizens by a decade or more (man, that was horrible to admit–and older than the object of their affection by 6 years.  Ack), and while I sport a few tattoos, piercings, and dyed-hair, I’m afraid my particulars are rather tame in comparison to most of the girls that were in the area around me, owing to the realities of my calling (the industrial, visible tattoos, and penchant for wearing combat boots or Converse high-tops have probably pushed it about as far as I can go, though I would rock blue hair and a lip ring, thank you).  Now, for those of you who don’t congregate in General Admission pits, please note that I am not referring to the sort of lady who pitches her recently-shed thong (not footwear) on to the stage.  Or bra, if you were from an older, calmer era–about 1990.  Those are not fangirls; we have other names for them….like Roxana Shirazi (I kid).  Fangirls, at least the younger and more boisterous set, come equipped with signs that name the object of affection’s dogs (case in point:  “Icky for Prez”* was one that was spotted) and stuffed animals of various sorts.  While such items were certainly present in the ZV fanbase, I did find myself wondering what the group in front of stage left was like…I couldn’t see any of what was thrown at Syn, but I feel certain there were similarities.  Including signs about Pinkly (shut up. That one at least has an easy explanation for its placement in my brain).  And the pet thing…I’m pretty sure this random information collection habit is a holdover from my youth (I arguably reached stalker-like knowledge of the objects of my fangirl affection pre-internet.  Fangirls got it easy now, I tell you.).

More well-known around these parts is the fangirling over Duff and his various bands.  I’ve connected with other women (and men, but we’ll leave them off for right now) over Duff’s bands and Duff himself through various media, including (once upon a time) letters and (now) email, discussion boards, the comment section for Duff’s blog on Reverb, and in person over the years.  And while we embrace our inner teen divas when we rock out at concerts (yeah, much excitement right now), gone are the signs (mostly–they still crop up from time to time) and gifts are likely to be books from discussions or food, should there be any at all.  Giggling and screaming, admittedly, has probably not reduced by much.  Pack-level attacks, on the other hand, probably have, what with our far cooler adult approach to seeing the objects of our affection.

Hey, I managed to keep a straight face to write that!

Once upon a time, of course, I was one of those teen fangirls, complete with signs suggesting rather lewd behaviors (the lovely lady formerly known as CDR, should she read this AND remember any of those signs, is specifically forbidden to relay the contents of those messages.  Ahem.) and, probably, some sort of gifts.  I know I gave Steve Brown (Trixter) a photo album for his birthday one year–filled with live shots of the band (I think.  I don’t really recall what was in it now).  So, I get where the young fangirls were coming from, and I was amused and amazed at the similarities some 20 years on.

What I want to get at here is the formation of community–real, functioning communities–built around a shared adoration of a band/book/person/etc.  I’m utterly fascinated by the creation of such communities, their ability to self-sustain (or not), and the particulars of the communication strategies.

One other common feature of (some–YMMV) fangirls, and this is particularly visible now in communities,  is fanfiction.  Real Person Fiction, as such, has been around practically forever (I’m willing to hazard a guess that Farinelli had a good bit scrawled about him, never mind the fannish movie made in 1994.  Ah, stupid me–googled it.  There is fanfiction NOW about him.  Sheesh.).  I wrote (hideous) fanfiction as a teen, most of it band-related, along with those friends who participated in the same.  In those stories, we tended to work out our anxieties about growing up, about identity–and the band members functioned mostly as sockpuppets for whatever crisis we were attempting to work through at the time.  While I’m sure communities did arise out of such works, I first became aware of such communities only in my twenties, when a friend of mine joined a Xena community (I’m not sure how most of their exchanges were conducted, though.  One person subsequently self-published a novel from the community works, if I recall correctly).  I don’t write fanfiction anymore, but I do read it (as I’ve mentioned endlessly), and I participate at slightly more-that-lurker levels in some commenting areas, but the primary difference for me between now and then (other than identity establishment, maybe) is that I now have a shared language based on community (and to describe the fanfiction community as large would be a rather egregious understatement) standards and agreement, which means we all can more or less have a clue WTF the other person is ranting about.  The language includes an extensive vocabulary, rules–these are the most fluctuating**–and expectations of behavior from authors and commenter.  I’m also fascinated by the breadth of fandom–fiction, discussion boards, tumblr sites, and so forth (along with related expectations regarding ownership, censorship, and plagiarism); take a gander if you’ve not–it’s wild out there.

For the most part, the fanfiction of my youth, not unlike zines and DIY cassettes of the same period, was exchanged primarily through personal means–there was no large-scale publication that I am aware of, prior to the advent of online exchange.  Say what you will about fanfiction, there are serious communities that form around it, and those in bandoms are particularly interesting to me.   These communities form rules–some highly concrete (how to post, standards of exchange (banned words, slash/gen/het), ) and some more ephemeral–particularly in the portmanteaux that have become so common (Brangelina), the alliances behind which can cause some almighty arguments in communities*** (to say nothing of the One True Pairing fights) over what will be regarded as a canonical shorthand for a particular pairing; Glee fandoms have some of the best fights about them (personally, I still haven’t recovered from the advent of Puckleberry).  Like other online communities, the fangirl/fanfic communities have particular attitudes and, for lack of a better phrasing, flavor, based on the personalities of those involved and the participation level of the moderators (who deserve their own discussion).

To follow:  Some Communities are Self-Policing.


*Were Rikki sitting here, she would require the following confession, so in a spirit of honesty, she nailed me on the appropriateness of our placement in the pit when I translated the sign for her.  Her response was naught but a lifted eyebrow and a giggle.  At me.

**A recent occurrence, courtesy of one of my favorite fandom rant sites:  a lengthy debate over the necessity of trigger warnings and, more over, correct trigger warnings (that this debate mirrored one that happened at Shakesville was both astonishing and a bit heartwarming, though I tend to suspect there are more than a few of us in both communities).  The Supernatural fandom was particularly set afire by fics posted on this matter after episode 6.15.  That I am aware of the ferocity of the debate in that fandom is testament to how widespread it was (for that brief internet moment), since I am not a part of that fandom, though I do watch the show.

***We’ll leave off the various splinterings in fangirl communities over wives/girlfriends.  That, my friends, gets ugly.  Far more so than I care to touch, thankyouverymuch.  Like some of the stuff below, I feel certain the same existed in my own youth (I seem to recall some of it in conversations), but nothing like what I see online.  These debates seem particularly common on tumblr sites.

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