Fandom is what we call the participatory community of fans that grew out of the 1930s letter columns, in which they interact with one another in sf clubs; via correspondence, fanzines and online fora; and at sf conventions. Science fiction led to fandom's creation and continues to be its major focus, yet a liking for the genre does not of itself make you part of fandom. You cannot be a fan alone or even among others who also like sf — you must have contact with the microcosm.
Sociologically, fandom consists of fans who are in contact with others, indulging in fanac and maintaining interest in the community. It is a subset of the whole sf community; it overlaps but does not encompass prodom and does not include the vast majority of consumers of science fiction. (This last point is important: most fans love SF, but it's not that which makes them part of fandom.)
Anyone can join fandom, but like most communities, fandom expects newcomers to learn our language, traditions, customs and mores. Fandom is a gift economy and meritocracy that appreciates the desire to belong, effort to participate and the ability to express one's self -- either in writing or verbally. Communicating with other fen is an essential part of fandom. It offers both great rewards and deep pitfalls.
A smooth green slope ran gently downwards into the most beautiful country Jophan had ever seen — Fandom.... So brightly did the sun shine on Fandom that he and the other Neofen (as they now were) were blinded by the light and quite failed to notice the hazards, of which in Fandom there are many. — From The Enchanted Duplicator
Joining fandom requires climbing the Mountains of Inertia, moving purposefully past the Circle of Lassitude, overcoming the Jungle of Inexperience, disregarding the Canyon of Criticism and avoiding Disillusion — not always easy tasks.
Fandom began around 1930. Hugo Gernsback had begun Amazing Stories, the first prozine in 1926. Unable to pay writers to fill the whole magazine with fiction, he invited readers to contribute to a lettercol, and, with his second magazine, Science Wonder Stories, launched the Science Fiction League as a means of expanding readership. Soon the readers and SFLeaguers began writing to each other as well as the magazine, and the first local club, The Scienceers formed in Harlem in 1929.
When correspondence between these eofans had reached some proportions, and a few clubs came into existence, fanzines took form and increased fannish interaction. About 1935, fandom broke away from its commercially motivated roots and became an independent organism and began progressing through the numerical fandoms and expanded internationally. The first convention was held and then the first Worldcon, and fandom continued to grow, though it remained a proud and lonely thing to be a fan for decades.
As Roger Ebert put it in a 2004 article in Asimov's:
Fandom grew out of and fed a world-view that was dubious of received opinion, sarcastic, anarchic, geeky before that was fashionable....a world that stood outside the mainstream. Science fiction was the occasion for fandom, and often the topic, but the subterranean subject was a kind of kibitzing outsider world view.
In the 1960s and '70s, the movement spread like an epidemic. Subfandoms began splitting off from fandom, as devotees and promoters of comics, Star Trek, mystery fiction, sex or other subjects began to form separate institutions focused on those topics, sometimes with profit-making motivations; further "adjective fandoms" spun off from those, and as the term fandom proliferated in mundane use, groups such as "baseball fandom" and "Hello Kitty fandom," with no slightest connection to sf fandom have arisen.
There has been much controversy over whether Trufandom encompasses all these disparate groups or not. Some fans use general fandom as a term to designate fandom outside of any small section — outside of the apas, for example, or outside the N3F.
The word fandom antedates science-fiction fandom (and for that matter, science fiction). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it appeared in print in a sports context as early as 1896. Among fans, its use as a stand-alone noun means our fandom and nothing else. But fans will also use it with a modifier to describe social groups which have grown up around various aspects of pop-culture (e.g., "Anime fandom") which have appropriated the term and sometimes some of the other aspects of fandom.
|From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959|
|The world in which fans live and move and have their being. (With an ordinal number attached it refers usually to Speer's system of fan history, treated under Numerical Fandoms.) Sociologically it is the class of all fans who are in contact with others, indulging in fanac or simply being aware of the existence of fans all over the world. Physically it might be imagined as comprising all the science fiction houses, and all fans' dens as well as other storage space and equipment that they use in fan activity, and convention halls and streets and eke park benches while groups of fans are in possession of them. Unincorporated territories include the possessions of mere scientifictionists.
Fandom got its start in New York City around 1930 when people who had been writing to the prozines began writing to each other. In following years SF clubs were formed and monthly bulletins issued. The movement spread like an epidemic. In the 30s there were perhaps one or two hundred fans at a given time; by 1948, maybe a thousand; today there may be as many as five thousand in all parts of the world, about 2000 of these in America. (It has been suggested by Harry Warner that the size of active fandom is naturally limited by the availability of its objective; namely, egoboo.)
Aside from the fandom in the United States, Anglofandom began at the same time and at times has surpassed the Amerifans in activeness. Canadian fandom as an entity became important about 1940; it hosted the first Worldcon outside the United States (Torcon, 1948). By 1952 it had recovered from this experience, pretty nearly. Because of interest and friendship linkages beyond that of language, all three of these -- and probably the small but active Anzac fandoms -- can be considered, usually, as one unit. But fans outside the English-speaking bloc have increased tremendously in numbers since World War II, also.
From time to time, people will stand up and ask what is the purpose of fandom. The Michelistic reply was that fandom should associate itself with political movements for a scientific/socialistic world state; other semi-Michelistic replies are along similar lines in that some sort of political interest is enjoined. Speer maintains that fandom, as fandom, should influence the world only thru its influence on individual fans, who may be influential men some day. Some have believed that stimulation of science is our chief justification; others, that stimulation of fiction is our purpose -- i.e., that fans should function as connoisseurs of science fiction [persons with trained and cultivated tastes in the field] in trying to raise its literary standards. And there are those who hold the pleasure derived from fanac its own justification.
|From Fancyclopedia 1, ca. 1944|
|The world in which fans move and have their being. Physically, it mite be imagined as comprising all the science fiction houses, and all fans' dens as well as other storage space and equipment that they use in fan activity, and convention halls and streets and eke park benches while groups of fen are in possession of them. Unincorporated territories include the possessions of mere scientifictionists.
Fandom began around 1930, when correspondence between fans had reached some proportions, and a few clubs came into existence. In the following years fan magazine took form and gathered audiences. About 1935, fandom became an independent organism, and has passed thru the stage of First Fandom, First Transition, Second Fandom, Second Transition, and Third Fandom, as Speer so quaintly calls them. There are now about 500 people associated with fandom in some small way, of whom a hundred mite be called real fans; the disappearance of a selected twenty of them would probably mean the end of fandom as now known.
From time to time, people will stand up and ask what is the purpose of fandom. The Michelistic reply is that fandom should join the Leftist movement and work for a scientific-socialist world state. Other semi-Michelistic replies are along similar lines. Speer maintains that fandom as fandom should influence the world only thru its influence on the individual fans, who may be influential men some day. Some have believed that stimulation of science is our chief justification. Probably the majority believe that the pleasure derived from fan activity is justification enuf.
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