Participatory Fandom on Tumblr

A graduate research project on artistic expression and fandom experiences

"Fandom is where you found yourself."

Hello, and welcome to my new media research blog, which is examining participatory fandom and artistic expression on Tumblr. Over the past few weeks, I have compiled data and scoured Tumblr, reading hundreds of tags related to fandoms, both popular and obscure, in order to attempt to understand the way in which young people are finding ways to reach out to one another and express themselves on this rapidly growing microblogging site. 

First, I have reblogged a graphic representation of a sampling of popular fandoms on Tumblr and provided some initial commentary on the goals of this project. This post is followed by several short discussions on the data I compiled from a survey of a small sampling of Tumblr users. Finally, the blog ends with several reblogged representations of fan art that is currently being produced on Tumblr, as well as some final reflections and observations. 

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to contact me at ek1215@wayne.edu, or drop me a note in my Ask box! 

Tumblr’s most popular fandoms: You’ve probably seen many of these on your dashboard. And you probably like at least one of them.

While there doesn’t seem to be any data-driven evidence to back this claim up, it does illustrate user observations of what is popular in terms of fandom on Tumblr. 

Interesting things to note and/or consider about these programs and films:

  • Two of the six listed here are based on popular book series that have transitioned into film franchises. Both of these series, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, are geared toward young adults and feature young children battling insurmountable odds and standing up to evil in order to make the world a better place. 
  • Two of the six are popular teen television series that have caused controversy over their treatment of teen sexuality. Glee is produced in the United States but has become a popular franchise worldwide and gained considerable attention for its treatment of homosexuality and bullying. Skins is a UK-based TV show that spawned an unsuccessful US-remake and is often cited for its graphic depiction of sex. 
  • Two of the series are scary and/or science fiction shows that feature comprehensive mythologies and story arcs, and are targeted towards young adults. Doctor Who is a UK-based series that was created in the 1960s and was rebooted for a new generation in 2005. Supernatural is an American series which also started airing in 2005. 
  • Half of the objects (Harry Potter, Skins, Doctor Who) are British staples. The other half (The Hunger Games, Glee, Supernatural) are American productions. Supernatural is the only program listed as being popular in Tumblr fandom that has not been a definite success in ratings and/or revenue and owes a large amount of its popularity and longevity to its status as a “cult series.” 
  • Each of the six objects listed here could be categorized broadly as series - book, film, and/or television. In other words, they are all long-lasting, multi-episode or installment pieces that encourage continued interaction with the material by the nature of their recurrence. 
  • While spanning a broad range of genres, each series deals heavily in the theme of the importance and impact of friendship and family. 
  • While my research indicated that many fandom participants favor musical artists (Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber) or athletes or sports teams (particularly baseball), neither of those are mentioned here. 

While no definitive conclusions can be drawn about these trends, it does provide an interesting illustration of what over 10,000 Tumblr users consider to be at least a partial representation of their fandom participation.

This blog entry also opens up further avenues of exploration. Is it coincidental that these fandom-popular series feature overlapping themes (sexuality, adversity, bullying, family) and largely appeal to young adults? Laurence Steinberg, Psychologist and author of Adolescence, would argue that it is not: these are widespread issues that teens and young adults face during their journey into adulthood [1]. Communications Scholar Art Silverblatt further posits that teen dramas, which also incorporate many of these themes, focus more broadly on the theme of “assertion into independence, which is a characteristic of the adolescent stage of development” [2]. In other words, it is not surprising that teens would gravitate toward series that in some way reflect the issues they face in their daily lives.

Given Mizuko Ito’s analysis that teen interaction with digital media often centers around “specialized knowledge networks and communities driven by specific interests and a wide range of social practices for sharing work and opinions,” [3] it is even less surprising that adolescents are turning to blogging platforms like Tumblr, which is rapidly rising in popularity [4], to coalesce and express their opinions and artistic inclinations through the lens of these series. They are being given the opportunity not only to work through the issues they face, but also shape and form their own identities, drawing examples from the fictional works they relate to.

Moving forward, we will examine statistical information I gathered throughout the course of my research and look at examples of the artwork that has been created within some of these fandoms.

Sources:

1. Steinberg, L. (1993). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill

2. Silverblatt, A. (2007). Genre studies in mass media: A handbook. M.E. Sharpe.

3. Ito, M., et. al (2008). Living and Learning with New Media. Chicago: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

4. Van Grove, J. (2011). “Tumblr Tops 13 Million Uniques in July.” Mashable.

(via melisandre)

(You can click on any of the graphs in the following entries to enlarge them)

As part of my research for this project, I conducted a survey of 49 Tumblr users in order to create a small sample pool with which to gain information about experience in participatory fandom. Clearly, given the millions of users on this platform, these results can in no way be used to definitively determine demographics or make any scientific judgments about correlation in fandom participation based on age or sex. 

I have chosen to include the data I collected as a means of providing context to the written responses that corresponded with my survey. I believe it helpful to understand the general response pool in the context of the answers.

The first two graphs I will share comprise the age ranges and sex of users polled. A vast majority of respondents were females. The ages of the respondents varied, although two thirds were under the age of 21.

Given the data collected, I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the participants whom I will be quoting in terms of their fandom experience tend to skew younger in age and be female more often than they are male. This information will be helpful in making overall conclusions.  

These graphs illustrate the number of blogs and the kinds of blogs that participants reported running. The text on the second graphic may be difficult to read, so I will expand on the data here: 

  • 16.33% of respondents reported running strictly personal blogs - i.e. blogs that contained no fandom-related material.
  • 18.37% of respondents reported running exclusively fandom-related blogs.
  • 61.22% of respondents reported running blogs that were a combination of personal material and fandom-related material. 
  • 4.08% of respondents reported running blogs that did not fit into any of these categories. None of these respondents elaborated as to the nature of their blog. 

This information is interesting, as it seems to indicate that within the pool of users surveyed, a vast majority combine their fandom experiences with their real-world experiences and/or personal lives. This may indicate that the respondents don’t see a marked difference between the two facets - that their fandom is so much a part of their identity that they don’t feel the need to differentiate it. It may also indicate that the social experience on Tumblr is tied closely with fandom.

David Buckingham’s research on identity formation and digital technology seems to reinforce this set of data, as it indicates that teens are utilizing new media “to create new, autonomous forms of communication and community” [1]. Coupling this information with Susannah Stern’s examination of teen blogging and her conclusion that teens view their blogs as a kind of “site and self in progress,” [2] it is easy to understand why so many respondents would be creating blogs that fuse personal information with fandom-related material. 

1. Buckingham, D. (2008). "Introducing Identity." Youth, Identity and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.  

2. Stern, S. (2008). "Producing Sites, Exploring Identities: Youth Online Authorship."  Youth, Identity and Digital Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 95-118.

These four graphs show the data collected regarding frequency of Tumblr use and modes of technological engagement. 

It is important to note that for the question - “How Often Do You Log On Tumblr,” there were other potential responses (Weekly, Monthly, I rarely log on), none of which were selected by the respondents. In other words, all of the 49 respondents engage on Tumblr daily, and some are on so frequently that they report never bothering to log out of the site. This makes sense, as a majority also reported spending more than seven hours a week on Tumblr.

Additionally, a majority of respondents reported spending more time on Tumblr than they do on other Social Networking Sites (SNS) like Facebook and Twitter. Finally, the users surveyed tended to log on to Tumblr from personal computers. Well over half also access Tumblr from their mobile devices. 

What this seems to amount to is an extensive engagement with Tumblr amongst the survey respondents. Over three quarters of those interviewed use Tumblr as their primary venue for online social engagement. This seem odd, given the obvious global popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, according to Mashable, Tumblr is gaining users at a staggering rate, and has recently surpassed WordPress in the total of unique blogs it hosts. According to Sarah Kessler, a key to Tumblr’s popularity is that it is more like a social networking site than a blogging platform, and that it blends together popular elements of both, providing a unique experience for users to share and personalize a wide range of information [1]. In this context, the level of engagement amongst these survey respondents can be viewed as an embrace, for these individuals, of the platform to fit their individual online engagement needs. 

1. Kessler, S. (2011). "Tumblr Now Has More Blogs Than WordPress." Mashable.


The final portion of my survey concerned fandom participation on Tumblr. I collected data, as well as detailed responses about specific kinds of fandom activities experienced, the positive and negative aspects of participation, and whether or not Tumblr was a good venue for participating in fandom. 
Well over half of those surveyed were knowingly engaged in some kind of fandom-related activity. Most responses indicated a universal experience with “reblogging,” or sharing other user’s art on Tumblr. Many respondents indicated they both reblog and create new content:
 “Sometimes, I create, but most of the time I just re-blog.” 
“I use Tumblr to share updates on the progress of my fanfiction sometimes… but mostly I use it to reblog things that I find interesting or funny.” 
“Most of my posts are originals rather than reblogs at this current time.” 
 “(c)reate art and reblog. (a)ctive in more than one fandom.” 
“I don’t create anything. I always joke that I am more of a curator than a blogger.” 
“I try to share what I love with people of the same interests.” 
When discussing the pros and cons of participating in online fandom, many respondents indicated that they enjoyed the individual and group interactions they found on Tumblr, and appreciated the fan art they have access to:
“Tumblr is where you can find the most passionate fans of whatever the given fandom is, and more than any other social media site, tumblr is a community. It really is about sharing and adding your own spin, or commentary on to whatever it is that you’re sharing.” 
“I love finding other people who share the same interests as me and being able to have the best art, vids and news from my favourite fandoms on my dash.” 
Commonly cited issues with fandom activity on Tumblr included an issue of reblogging versus reposting others’ art. It is considered good Tumblr etiquette to reblog the owner’s post, but many users will share images and videos without properly crediting the creator. This leads to an repetition of the same items, which clutters users’ dashboards and limits exposure to new material.
Another major issue, according to respondents, is the intensity of response amongst users. The words “flamewars” “ship wars” “flaming” “drama” and “hate” were used more than once to describe conflicts within and between fandoms. Other users discussed the cliques that form within fandoms, and the difficulty that the site’s messaging system and interface pose in terms of communicating effectively one-on-one within the confines of the site. One respondent summed up many of these problems with this statement: 
“There are a lot of cliques. Sometimes a kind of style of graphic or art will get popular and all the art starts to look the same.” 
Despite the problems that respondents had within their fandoms, there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the question of whether or not Tumblr is a good place to participate in this kind of activity:
“It is. Being on Tumblr has made me love art so much more. I wrote fic for the first time because of the friends I met on the Tumblr and I’m making my first fanvid now. I feel more connected to my fandom than before.” 
“It definitely is. With things like Facebook, obviously not everybody is going to like what you like, because you don’t friend people based on that. With twitter, you can’t post complex thoughts about things, and posting/finding pictures is a huge hassle. On tumblr, you only follow who you want, and with the tags, it’s so easy to find things from your particular fandom.” 
“It brings people together in a public forum where they can express themselves freely.”
 “tumblr is great for becoming part of a community, and realizing that there are others out there who are equally as passionate about a fandom as you are.”  
“I feel that tumblr has given fans a simpler and a creative way of expressing their passion for a particular fandom.” 
“It’s made me a better fan.” 
“Being on Tumblr made me feel better about my art work. Other fans are so encouraging and I’ve learned so many tips about Photoshop.”  
“Yes, finding people who share a common interest across the world is amazing.” 
“It enables people to feel a sense of camaraderie and to share ideas and information.” 
 “Everyone is kind and accepting and willing to help you out when you’re just starting in a fandom.” 
Henry Jenkins describes a participatory culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” [1]. Based on the impassioned responses of the Tumblr users I surveyed, it seems reasonable to classify Tumblr as an emerging and effective participatory culture that caters to people who want to share their love of popular culture with others. It seems at least a portion of Tumblr users who are active in fandom are finding a sense of community and, through that, a stronger sense of their identity - gaining confidence in their artistic abilities, expanding their worldview, and receiving positive reinforcement regarding their opinions and tastes. 
In the following posts, I will be reblogging pieces of art that represent the fandoms listed in the blog’s first post. In doing so, I hope to illustrate the creativity at work on Tumblr and the sense of community that exists around that art, specifically in terms of the number of notes (likes, comments and reblogs) that these pieces of art receive on the site.

The final portion of my survey concerned fandom participation on Tumblr. I collected data, as well as detailed responses about specific kinds of fandom activities experienced, the positive and negative aspects of participation, and whether or not Tumblr was a good venue for participating in fandom. 

Well over half of those surveyed were knowingly engaged in some kind of fandom-related activity. Most responses indicated a universal experience with “reblogging,” or sharing other user’s art on Tumblr. Many respondents indicated they both reblog and create new content:

  •  “Sometimes, I create, but most of the time I just re-blog.” 
  • “I use Tumblr to share updates on the progress of my fanfiction sometimes… but mostly I use it to reblog things that I find interesting or funny.” 
  • “Most of my posts are originals rather than reblogs at this current time.” 
  •  “(c)reate art and reblog. (a)ctive in more than one fandom.” 
  • “I don’t create anything. I always joke that I am more of a curator than a blogger.” 
  • “I try to share what I love with people of the same interests.” 

When discussing the pros and cons of participating in online fandom, many respondents indicated that they enjoyed the individual and group interactions they found on Tumblr, and appreciated the fan art they have access to:

  • “Tumblr is where you can find the most passionate fans of whatever the given fandom is, and more than any other social media site, tumblr is a community. It really is about sharing and adding your own spin, or commentary on to whatever it is that you’re sharing.” 
  • “I love finding other people who share the same interests as me and being able to have the best art, vids and news from my favourite fandoms on my dash.” 

Commonly cited issues with fandom activity on Tumblr included an issue of reblogging versus reposting others’ art. It is considered good Tumblr etiquette to reblog the owner’s post, but many users will share images and videos without properly crediting the creator. This leads to an repetition of the same items, which clutters users’ dashboards and limits exposure to new material.

Another major issue, according to respondents, is the intensity of response amongst users. The words “flamewars” “ship wars” “flaming” “drama” and “hate” were used more than once to describe conflicts within and between fandoms. Other users discussed the cliques that form within fandoms, and the difficulty that the site’s messaging system and interface pose in terms of communicating effectively one-on-one within the confines of the site. One respondent summed up many of these problems with this statement: 

  • “There are a lot of cliques. Sometimes a kind of style of graphic or art will get popular and all the art starts to look the same.” 

Despite the problems that respondents had within their fandoms, there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the question of whether or not Tumblr is a good place to participate in this kind of activity:

  • “It is. Being on Tumblr has made me love art so much more. I wrote fic for the first time because of the friends I met on the Tumblr and I’m making my first fanvid now. I feel more connected to my fandom than before.” 
  • “It definitely is. With things like Facebook, obviously not everybody is going to like what you like, because you don’t friend people based on that. With twitter, you can’t post complex thoughts about things, and posting/finding pictures is a huge hassle. On tumblr, you only follow who you want, and with the tags, it’s so easy to find things from your particular fandom.” 
  • “It brings people together in a public forum where they can express themselves freely.”
  •  “tumblr is great for becoming part of a community, and realizing that there are others out there who are equally as passionate about a fandom as you are.”  
  • “I feel that tumblr has given fans a simpler and a creative way of expressing their passion for a particular fandom.” 
  • “It’s made me a better fan.” 
  • “Being on Tumblr made me feel better about my art work. Other fans are so encouraging and I’ve learned so many tips about Photoshop.”  
  • “Yes, finding people who share a common interest across the world is amazing.” 
  • “It enables people to feel a sense of camaraderie and to share ideas and information.” 
  •  “Everyone is kind and accepting and willing to help you out when you’re just starting in a fandom.” 

Henry Jenkins describes a participatory culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” [1]. Based on the impassioned responses of the Tumblr users I surveyed, it seems reasonable to classify Tumblr as an emerging and effective participatory culture that caters to people who want to share their love of popular culture with others. It seems at least a portion of Tumblr users who are active in fandom are finding a sense of community and, through that, a stronger sense of their identity - gaining confidence in their artistic abilities, expanding their worldview, and receiving positive reinforcement regarding their opinions and tastes. 

In the following posts, I will be reblogging pieces of art that represent the fandoms listed in the blog’s first post. In doing so, I hope to illustrate the creativity at work on Tumblr and the sense of community that exists around that art, specifically in terms of the number of notes (likes, comments and reblogs) that these pieces of art receive on the site.


The Hunger Games has experienced an interesting evolution in terms of Tumblr fandom, as there has been an active discussion on the site since before the film adaptation of the popular young adult book series even started production.
Now that the film is only a few months away from premiering on the big screen, promotional images and materials are being released. Fans on Tumblr are working with a very few pieces - images and video clips - and finding creative ways to repurpose them in their artwork.
This vibrant image, created by asimplemuggle, 19 years old, depicts the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, with her signature bow and arrow and long braid staring out over the docile forest in her home. The picture of Katniss was borrowed from a recently released digital poster, pictured below (click on the image):

What is most interesting about this is that the first image, created by a fan, is as visually engaging as the professional poster advertising the film. The fan-created image is also just one example of the sheer artistry that Tumblr artists often exhibit. Looking at this image, it is impossible to tell that the figure in it has been lifted from another picture. It serves as a somber and gripping tribute to the character and the series, and seems to encompass the anticipation for the upcoming film in a way that the poster itself does not.

The Hunger Games has experienced an interesting evolution in terms of Tumblr fandom, as there has been an active discussion on the site since before the film adaptation of the popular young adult book series even started production.

Now that the film is only a few months away from premiering on the big screen, promotional images and materials are being released. Fans on Tumblr are working with a very few pieces - images and video clips - and finding creative ways to repurpose them in their artwork.

This vibrant image, created by asimplemuggle, 19 years old, depicts the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, with her signature bow and arrow and long braid staring out over the docile forest in her home. The picture of Katniss was borrowed from a recently released digital poster, pictured below (click on the image):

What is most interesting about this is that the first image, created by a fan, is as visually engaging as the professional poster advertising the film. The fan-created image is also just one example of the sheer artistry that Tumblr artists often exhibit. Looking at this image, it is impossible to tell that the figure in it has been lifted from another picture. It serves as a somber and gripping tribute to the character and the series, and seems to encompass the anticipation for the upcoming film in a way that the poster itself does not.

(via asimplemuggle-deactivated201303)

SKINS - GEN 4 - SERIES 7 - 7.05: HAYLEY (CHAPTER 1)

skins-gen-4:

The tree on the left, the thin one with big, bushy leaves, was cut out slightly on the left, you couldn’t see all of it and you need a good enough gap so it’s not touching the edge of the frame.

Hayley slid the camera across slightly to the left, and then looked at it again, much better. She tilted it slightly upwards to get more of an obscurely shaped cloud in the shot.

She frowned and went into the option bar; she turned the tone up to get a lighter colour. This time it looked a lot better; it was like a framed picture on the screen.

Read More

While a great deal of the fan art on Tumblr is pictoral in nature, a lot of fans choose to express their creativity by writing fanfiction - stories based off of pre-established characters and series. This author, 15 years old, chose to write an entire new series based off of Skins, inventing entirely new characters but still keeping the basic premise of the show in tact, as the show often cycles new characters in and out with each new season. 

This video, created for YouTube and shared uniquely several times on the Tumblr platform, is an ode to the series Supernatural, a horror show about two brothers who hunt and battle ghosts, demons and other creepy characters. 

The creator has compiled the show’s most memorable moments into a fanvid that celebrates the tone of the show while somehow superceding it. According to Mizuko Ito, viding is one of the most popular forms of fandom participation, and the wider availability of digital technology and video software has made the ability to make professional-looking videos easier with each passing year [1]. 

This video is an excellent example of fanart that is embraced by the community. Comments on the video are overwhelmingly positive, and can best be summed up by the following statement: 

  • EVEN IF YOU DON’T WATCH SUPERNATURAL, WATCH THIS. BECAUSE IT’S SERIOUSLY THE MOST AMAZING, PERFECT, FREAKY, FANTASTIC THING OF MY LIFE. 

It is absolutely worth a look, if for no other reason than to appreciate how a combination of fantastic editing and clear devotion to a series can result in a thoroughly affecting piece of art. 

1. Ito, M. (2011). Machinima in a Fanvid Ecology. Journal of Visual Culture, 10:5, 51-54. 

(Source: kissedmequiteinsane, via commandercaswell)


Harry Potter is a unique series in the realm of fandom on Tumblr because many active participants are experiencing what one of my survey respondents indicated was a mourning period in the wake of the recent release of the final film adaptation in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. That respondent stated that he or she became more active, both in creation and sharing Harry Potter-related art, on Tumblr leading up to and after the release of the last film because it helped he or she: “remember my childhood and share my pain with it being over.” 
Fans on Tumblr have channeled their sadness over the “end” of the series by creating artwork that both celebrates and reflects on many of the major themes of the series, and the final installment in particular: loss of innocence, growing up and moving on. 
This stunning piece, created by Tumblr user felineofavenueb, 19 years old, speaks to those issues directly, showing the hero of the series, Harry, in the moments leading up to his most heroic moment, in which he faces evil itself and experiences a true loss of what innocence he had left.
The text on the piece are lyrics from a song, “We are broken,” by the band Paramore. They speak to not only the experience of the characters, but perhaps that of fans as they let go of a series that they associated so closely with their own innocence and childhood. 

Harry Potter is a unique series in the realm of fandom on Tumblr because many active participants are experiencing what one of my survey respondents indicated was a mourning period in the wake of the recent release of the final film adaptation in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. That respondent stated that he or she became more active, both in creation and sharing Harry Potter-related art, on Tumblr leading up to and after the release of the last film because it helped he or she: “remember my childhood and share my pain with it being over.” 

Fans on Tumblr have channeled their sadness over the “end” of the series by creating artwork that both celebrates and reflects on many of the major themes of the series, and the final installment in particular: loss of innocence, growing up and moving on. 

This stunning piece, created by Tumblr user felineofavenueb, 19 years old, speaks to those issues directly, showing the hero of the series, Harry, in the moments leading up to his most heroic moment, in which he faces evil itself and experiences a true loss of what innocence he had left.

The text on the piece are lyrics from a song, “We are broken,” by the band Paramore. They speak to not only the experience of the characters, but perhaps that of fans as they let go of a series that they associated so closely with their own innocence and childhood. 

(Source: durins)

Fandom is focus. Fandom is obsession. Fandom is insatiable consumption. Fandom is sitting for hours in front of a TV screen a movie screen a computer screen with a comic book a novel on your lap. Fandom is eyestrain and carpal tunnel syndrome and not enough exercise and staying up way, way past your bedtime.

Fandom is people you don’t tell your mother you’re meeting. Fandom is people in the closet, people out and proud, people in costumes, people in T-shirts with slogans only fifty others would understand. Fandom is a loud dinner conversation scaring the waiter and every table nearby.

Fandom is you in Germany and me in the US and him in Australia and her in Japan. Fandom is a sofabed in New York, a roadtrip to Oxnard, a friend behind a face in London. Fandom talks past timezones and accents and backgrounds. Fandom is conversation. Communication. Contact.

Fandom is drama. Fandom is melodrama. Fandom is high school. Fandom is Snacky’s law and Godwin’s law and Murphy’s law. Fandom is smarter than you. Fandom is stupider than you. Fandom is five arguments over and over and over again. Fandom is the first time you’ve ever had them.

Fandom is female. Fandom is male. Fandom lets female play at being male. Fandom bends gender, straight, gay, prude, promiscuous. Fandom is fantasy. Fandom doesn’t care about norms or taboos or boundaries. Fandom cares too much about norms and taboos and boundaries. Fandom is not real life. Fandom is closer than real life. Fandom knows what you’re really like in the bedroom. Fandom is how you would never, could never be in the bedroom.

Fandom is shipping, never shipping, het, slash, gen, none of the above, more than the above. Fandom is love for characters you didn’t create. Fandom is recreating the characters you didn’t create. Fandom is appropriation, subversion, dissention. Fandom is adoration, extrapolation, imitation. Fandom is dissection, criticism, interpretation. Fandom is changing, experimenting, attempting.

Fandom is creating. Fandom is drawing, painting, vidding: nine seasons in four minutes of love. Fandom is words, language, authoring. Fandom is essays, stories, betas, parodies, filks, zines, usenet posts, blog posts, message board posts, emails, chats, petitions, wank, concrit, feedback, recs. Fandom is writing for the first time since you were twelve. Fandom is finally calling yourself a writer.

Fandom is signal and response. Fandom is a stranger moving you to tears, anger, laughter. Fandom is you moving a stranger to speak.

Fandom is distraction. Fandom is endangering your job, your grades, your relationships, your bank account. Fandom gets no work done. Fandom is too much work. Fandom was/is just a phase. Fandom could never be just a phase. Fandom is where you found a friend, a sister, a kindred spirit. Fandom is where you found a talent, a love, a reason.

Fandom is where you found yourself.

http://hesychasm.livejournal.com/187818.html  (via copper-girl)

Given the ultimate research goals of this project, I thought it would be beneficial to end the blog with this piece. Written by a fan, about the nature of fandom, it describes the experience of participating in fan-related activity; the good and the bad. It also illustrates the diverse nature, the wide range of people who are drawn to participatory expression of fandom. Given the sheer number of notes of this piece on Tumblr alone, I think it is fair to say that many fandom-active individuals feel that this represents their experience to some degree.

When I first began to put together ideas for this project, I have to admit I had certain preconceived notions about what my research would uncover. I have had a Tumblr account, and have followed various fandom-related blogs, for almost a year now, though I’ve always been more of a bystander. I had my series that I liked, and had no idea how extensive the world of fandom was on Tumblr. All I knew was that every time I logged on, I was blown away by the artistic expression I saw on my dashboard, and I wanted to understand how it came to be that Tumblr had come to pull together so many talented young people.

I have realized over the past few weeks, reading through the responses of those who graciously took the time to complete my survey, and spending hours looking through various tags in an attempt to find examples I could use to illustrate my observations, that the real story here is the art itself - it’s about the people creating it and sharing it. 

The responses to my survey illustrated that Tumblr is home to a group of dedicated and passionate fans. These fans coalesce into tight-knit, if imperfect, communities and at least some of the youth that participate in these fandoms find real value in aligning themselves with others who share their interests. As a result, these respondents expressed genuine positive effects in their lives, including an increased feeling of confidence in their knowledge and abilities and an increased desire to share and create pieces of art. 

While it’s clear that Tumblr is not the first forum to facilitate fandom, it does represent what some might see as the future of fandom - a multimedia-friendly interface that allows for simultanous sharing and discussion, as well as social-media integration in the form of friending and following [1]. The community that is being built on Tumblr does not seem to be an extraneous part of the lives of those who exist in it. Indeed, according to the responses I received, it seems to be fitting in to a larger part of who these fandom participants are. They seek to express their affection for the series they find that in some way reflect issues they face in their own life. They use Tumblr when they are away from their computers on their mobile devices. They cite real, solid friendships forming as a result of their participation in these communities. And in some cases, they are finding new modes of expressing themselves by opening up about their interests online. 

The ultimate goal of this research was to determine, to some degree, whether online participatory fandom encourages or inhibits artistic and individual expression in youth and young adults. By polling a sampling of adolescents and young adults who have had experience in fandom throughout their teen years, I gathered data that provided some level of context as to what a group of users have experienced. By drawing from these responses and illustrating my observations with reblogged pieces of art and expression from various fandoms represented on Tumblr, I hopefully made a case for the idea that fan communities online help young people to bolster their artistic and expressive urges and develop their talents and identities. 

Thank you to everyone - artists and fans alike - who participated in this project. Please, feel free to reblog or comment on any post made on this blog! Your input will only help to continue the discussion about fandom online.

1. Kopytoff, V. (2011). "Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter." New York Times

(Source: gointorosedale, via bridgeisburning)